Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bloomberg

Curious Quote of the Day

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

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Turkel Report Reveals Ankara’s Responsibility for Flotilla Deaths

As Alana noted yesterday, the Turkel Committee’s investigation of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May largely confirmed what any fair-minded person already knew: that the blockade of Gaza was legal, that Israel therefore had the right to enforce it militarily, and that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked when they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, the probe did unveil one important bit of new information: that Turkey’s government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed that ensued.

The report revealed that Ankara had initially proposed having the Turkish Red Crescent take responsibility for the flotilla. Under this proposal, the ships were to dock in Ashdod Port, after which the Turkish Red Crescent would shepherd the cargo overland to nearby Gaza. Israel (obviously) agreed. And then, at the last minute, Turkey reneged.

In other words, Turkey recognized that the flotilla presented a potentially dangerous problem — that, unlike other flotillas before and since, this one, sponsored by an organization with well-known terrorist links, could not be trusted to divert peacefully to Israel or Egypt. So it proposed a solution and secured Israel’s agreement. And then, at the last minute, it decided instead to let the problem go ahead and explode. Consequently, nine Turks died.

Unfortunately, that has become the norm in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey: Ankara’s stated policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors, for all the paeans it has won in places like the New York Times, somehow never extends to Israel. On the contrary, Turkey often seems to go out of its way to create problems with Israel — as it did in this case by reneging on the flotilla deal.

Indeed, Erdogan appears to have made a strategic decision that anti-Israel incitement serves his purposes. The flotilla was obviously a gold mine in this department, but there have been many other equally telling incidents.

Take, for instance, the viciously anti-Semitic television series Valley of the Wolves, which featured such gems as Israeli soldiers murdering children at point-blank range and Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping babies to convert them to Judaism. When Israel complained, Turkey responded that freedom of the press precluded it from intervening.

That would be fair enough — except that Turkey has no qualms about intervening in television productions that don’t suit its purposes. Just this month, Bloomberg reported that “Turkey’s television regulator threatened to yank a new television series for failing to respect the privacy of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566.” In other words, insufficient deference to a long dead sultan is off-limits, but vicious incitement against live Israelis is fine.

That, in a nutshell, defines Erdogan’s Turkey. And last May, nine Turks died for it.

As Alana noted yesterday, the Turkel Committee’s investigation of Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last May largely confirmed what any fair-minded person already knew: that the blockade of Gaza was legal, that Israel therefore had the right to enforce it militarily, and that its soldiers fired in self-defense after being brutally attacked when they boarded the Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, the probe did unveil one important bit of new information: that Turkey’s government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed that ensued.

The report revealed that Ankara had initially proposed having the Turkish Red Crescent take responsibility for the flotilla. Under this proposal, the ships were to dock in Ashdod Port, after which the Turkish Red Crescent would shepherd the cargo overland to nearby Gaza. Israel (obviously) agreed. And then, at the last minute, Turkey reneged.

In other words, Turkey recognized that the flotilla presented a potentially dangerous problem — that, unlike other flotillas before and since, this one, sponsored by an organization with well-known terrorist links, could not be trusted to divert peacefully to Israel or Egypt. So it proposed a solution and secured Israel’s agreement. And then, at the last minute, it decided instead to let the problem go ahead and explode. Consequently, nine Turks died.

Unfortunately, that has become the norm in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey: Ankara’s stated policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors, for all the paeans it has won in places like the New York Times, somehow never extends to Israel. On the contrary, Turkey often seems to go out of its way to create problems with Israel — as it did in this case by reneging on the flotilla deal.

Indeed, Erdogan appears to have made a strategic decision that anti-Israel incitement serves his purposes. The flotilla was obviously a gold mine in this department, but there have been many other equally telling incidents.

Take, for instance, the viciously anti-Semitic television series Valley of the Wolves, which featured such gems as Israeli soldiers murdering children at point-blank range and Israeli intelligence agents kidnapping babies to convert them to Judaism. When Israel complained, Turkey responded that freedom of the press precluded it from intervening.

That would be fair enough — except that Turkey has no qualms about intervening in television productions that don’t suit its purposes. Just this month, Bloomberg reported that “Turkey’s television regulator threatened to yank a new television series for failing to respect the privacy of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566.” In other words, insufficient deference to a long dead sultan is off-limits, but vicious incitement against live Israelis is fine.

That, in a nutshell, defines Erdogan’s Turkey. And last May, nine Turks died for it.

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Morning Commentary

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his former Mossad chief’s assessment that Iran won’t acquire a nuclear weapon before 2015: “‘I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates,’ Netanyahu said. ‘They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments.’”

With the Russian and Belarusian governments cracking down on opposition leaders, the U.S. needs to figure out what steps to take now that the reset strategy has failed: “[The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Lilia] Shevtsova said the similar authoritarian direction the two countries are pursuing calls for the United States and Europe to create a coordinated policy for dealing with repressive regimes, one that could be developed for Belarus and fine-tuned for Russia.”

More information has surfaced about the strange online life of Arizona shooter Jared Loughner. A UFO website has told reporters that he frequented its Web forum, where his strange messages apparently confused the other posters: “His postings, they said, revealed ‘someone who clearly has many questions for which answers have been elusive if not outright impossible to obtain. And despite the best efforts by many of our members, it seemed there were no answers to be found here for which he was satisfied.’”

Now that the initial shock over the Arizona shooting has waned, here comes the inevitable debate over gun control: “’This case is fundamentally about a mentally ill drug abuser who had access to guns and shouldn’t have,’ [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said at a news conference Tuesday with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”

Robert Verbruggen explains why stricter gun-control laws would probably not have prevented Loughner from carrying out his attack last weekend: “If someone intends to assassinate a public official, he’s already planning to break a few laws; there is absolutely no reason to believe that one more law — a law that will presumably mete out less punishment than do laws against murder — will affect his calculations. And given how easy it is to conceal a handgun until one’s target is in sight, there’s little hope that this law will help security or police officers disarm assassins before they commence shooting.”

The four-minute video that perfectly encapsulates the hypocrisy of the anti-violent-rhetoric crowd: “Sadly, it’s never war-mongers like Palin and Beck that get shot.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his former Mossad chief’s assessment that Iran won’t acquire a nuclear weapon before 2015: “‘I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates,’ Netanyahu said. ‘They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments.’”

With the Russian and Belarusian governments cracking down on opposition leaders, the U.S. needs to figure out what steps to take now that the reset strategy has failed: “[The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Lilia] Shevtsova said the similar authoritarian direction the two countries are pursuing calls for the United States and Europe to create a coordinated policy for dealing with repressive regimes, one that could be developed for Belarus and fine-tuned for Russia.”

More information has surfaced about the strange online life of Arizona shooter Jared Loughner. A UFO website has told reporters that he frequented its Web forum, where his strange messages apparently confused the other posters: “His postings, they said, revealed ‘someone who clearly has many questions for which answers have been elusive if not outright impossible to obtain. And despite the best efforts by many of our members, it seemed there were no answers to be found here for which he was satisfied.’”

Now that the initial shock over the Arizona shooting has waned, here comes the inevitable debate over gun control: “’This case is fundamentally about a mentally ill drug abuser who had access to guns and shouldn’t have,’ [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said at a news conference Tuesday with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”

Robert Verbruggen explains why stricter gun-control laws would probably not have prevented Loughner from carrying out his attack last weekend: “If someone intends to assassinate a public official, he’s already planning to break a few laws; there is absolutely no reason to believe that one more law — a law that will presumably mete out less punishment than do laws against murder — will affect his calculations. And given how easy it is to conceal a handgun until one’s target is in sight, there’s little hope that this law will help security or police officers disarm assassins before they commence shooting.”

The four-minute video that perfectly encapsulates the hypocrisy of the anti-violent-rhetoric crowd: “Sadly, it’s never war-mongers like Palin and Beck that get shot.”

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Afternoon Commentary

With the Democratic party’s major losses in the midterm elections, there were predictions that President Obama wouldn’t win re-election in 2012. But during the lame-duck session, the president has managed to attain practically all of his legislative goals and undergo a remarkable political recuperation. Charles Krauthammer discusses the administration’s “new start” today in the Washington Post.

Tea Partiers have developed a reputation as self-interested individuals who oppose taxes because they don’t want to spread their wealth around. But according to AEI president Arthur Brooks, Americans who oppose wealth redistribution actually tend to be more generous when it comes to giving to charity than citizens who are in favor of government income leveling: “When it comes to voluntarily spreading their own wealth around, a distinct ‘charity gap’ opens up between Americans who are for and against government income leveling. Your intuition might tell you that people who favor government redistribution care most about the less fortunate and would give more to charity. Initially, this was my own assumption. But the data tell a different story.”

Amir Taheri writes that a battle is brewing in Iran, as thousands of workers continue to strike in protest of the government’s cuts in food and gas subsidies. “[F]or the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran’s working people at large,” writes Taheri, noting growing public anger over rising energy prices and food shortages, increased political activism among young labor-rights leaders and the impact of international sanctions on private businesses.

During the height of the Park 51 controversy last summer, many New Yorkers were angered by Mayor Bloomberg’s vocal support for the mosque leaders. Newly released emails now reveal that Bloomberg aides actually provided political assistance to Park 51 coordinators Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan.

The rape allegations against Julian Assange have prompted some feminists in the U.S. to call for a broader definition of what constitutes rape. In Reason magazine, Cathy Young argues these revisions would be problematic: “Earlier generations of feminists argued that rape should be treated the same as any other violent crime: The victim should not be subjected to special standards of resistance or chastity. These days, the demand for special treatment is so blatant that some activists openly support abolishing the presumption of innocence for rape cases and requiring the accused to prove consent[.]”

With the Democratic party’s major losses in the midterm elections, there were predictions that President Obama wouldn’t win re-election in 2012. But during the lame-duck session, the president has managed to attain practically all of his legislative goals and undergo a remarkable political recuperation. Charles Krauthammer discusses the administration’s “new start” today in the Washington Post.

Tea Partiers have developed a reputation as self-interested individuals who oppose taxes because they don’t want to spread their wealth around. But according to AEI president Arthur Brooks, Americans who oppose wealth redistribution actually tend to be more generous when it comes to giving to charity than citizens who are in favor of government income leveling: “When it comes to voluntarily spreading their own wealth around, a distinct ‘charity gap’ opens up between Americans who are for and against government income leveling. Your intuition might tell you that people who favor government redistribution care most about the less fortunate and would give more to charity. Initially, this was my own assumption. But the data tell a different story.”

Amir Taheri writes that a battle is brewing in Iran, as thousands of workers continue to strike in protest of the government’s cuts in food and gas subsidies. “[F]or the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran’s working people at large,” writes Taheri, noting growing public anger over rising energy prices and food shortages, increased political activism among young labor-rights leaders and the impact of international sanctions on private businesses.

During the height of the Park 51 controversy last summer, many New Yorkers were angered by Mayor Bloomberg’s vocal support for the mosque leaders. Newly released emails now reveal that Bloomberg aides actually provided political assistance to Park 51 coordinators Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan.

The rape allegations against Julian Assange have prompted some feminists in the U.S. to call for a broader definition of what constitutes rape. In Reason magazine, Cathy Young argues these revisions would be problematic: “Earlier generations of feminists argued that rape should be treated the same as any other violent crime: The victim should not be subjected to special standards of resistance or chastity. These days, the demand for special treatment is so blatant that some activists openly support abolishing the presumption of innocence for rape cases and requiring the accused to prove consent[.]”

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Private Sector Voicing Outrage at Bankrolling Public-Employee Benefits

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

Unions are a declining factor in the U.S. economy, but they still wield enormous political clout. Only about 7 percent of American workers in the private sector are union members, while 37.4 percent of public employees belong to unions. But unions have played an outsize role in American politics by bankrolling Democratic candidates for decades. And Democratic lawmakers have repaid union support by providing generous salaries and benefits for state and municipal workers.

But there is growing resentment among the public at this arrangement, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty points out in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Public-employee unions are becoming a huge burden for workers in the private sector, who must pay higher taxes for public-employee salaries, benefits, and pensions that are far more generous than they themselves enjoy.

According to one study, the present value of unfunded liabilities for local-government pensions amounts to $7,000 per municipal household in 2009 (using local-government accounting methods), but the actual cost may be much higher. Several states are already trying to rein in public-employee benefits, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

Already this year, 16 states have required public employees to pay more into retirement plans or cut benefits for new hires. Nine states increased the number of years new hires must work to earn full retirement benefits. Two states, Missouri and Illinois, raised the retirement age to 67. California’s new budget requires current state workers to contribute more toward their retirement and rolls back new hires’ pension benefits to 1998 levels.

With Republican governors now in control of 30 states, and the GOP in control of legislatures in 25 states (with Dems in control in only 16), public-employee unions may have a real battle on their hands.  And even with the money unions spent in the last election — $91 million in direct contributions, going almost entirely to Democrats — they weren’t able to overcome public outrage. But don’t expect unions to rethink their strategy; the likelihood is they’ll double-down in 2012.

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And These People Used to Like Him

OK, this is one rotten poll for the president:

More than 4 of 10 likely voters who say they once considered themselves Obama backers now are either less supportive or say they no longer support him at all, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 7-10.

Three weeks before the Nov. 2 congressional elections that Republicans are trying to make a referendum on Obama, fewer than half of likely voters approve of the president’s job performance. Likely voters are more apt to say Obama’s policies have harmed rather than helped the economy. Among those who say they are most enthusiastic about voting this year, 6 of 10 say the Democrat has damaged the economy. …

The erosion of backing for Obama among onetime supporters has been most notable among two groups of voters who were central to his election: women and independents. More than 6 of 10 of the former Obama backers who have turned away from him are women; 53 percent of the onetime supporters are independents.

Yikes. as Andrew Malcolm put it, “Other than that, his virtually nonstop cross-country campaigning for embattled Democrats in the Nov. 2 election is working perfectly.”

Obama has fused disparate groups into one giant not-Obama coalition. Unless he wants to reinvent himself, it’s hard to see how he can revive his presidency.

OK, this is one rotten poll for the president:

More than 4 of 10 likely voters who say they once considered themselves Obama backers now are either less supportive or say they no longer support him at all, according to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 7-10.

Three weeks before the Nov. 2 congressional elections that Republicans are trying to make a referendum on Obama, fewer than half of likely voters approve of the president’s job performance. Likely voters are more apt to say Obama’s policies have harmed rather than helped the economy. Among those who say they are most enthusiastic about voting this year, 6 of 10 say the Democrat has damaged the economy. …

The erosion of backing for Obama among onetime supporters has been most notable among two groups of voters who were central to his election: women and independents. More than 6 of 10 of the former Obama backers who have turned away from him are women; 53 percent of the onetime supporters are independents.

Yikes. as Andrew Malcolm put it, “Other than that, his virtually nonstop cross-country campaigning for embattled Democrats in the Nov. 2 election is working perfectly.”

Obama has fused disparate groups into one giant not-Obama coalition. Unless he wants to reinvent himself, it’s hard to see how he can revive his presidency.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not even Dana Milbank can make excuses for Imam Abdul Rauf: “He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals.”

Not even Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen is advocating a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts. “If [Republicans] were to come back and say, ‘hey, let’s just do one year for the top 2 percent, and permanent for the middle class,’ that would be something that obviously people would have to think about,’ Van Hollen said in an interview with Bloomberg this past weekend. Van Hollen’s suggestion partially mirrors a plan outlined by former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who argued that Democrats and Republicans should back a fixed two year extension of all the tax cuts and then end them altogether.”

Not even Senate Democrats want to end the Bush tax cuts: “[T]he list of Senate Democrats in favor of an extension is now up to five. Evan Bayh (Indiana), Kent Conrad (North Dakota) and Ben Nelson (Warren Buffett) were already on board, and this week Connecticut Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman and Virginia’s Jim Webb came around.”

Not even Connecticut is safe for the Democrats. “Pres. Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted in Connecticut, a state he carried by an overwhelming margin 2 years ago. A majority of likely voters — 52% — in the Quinnipiac poll disapprove of how Obama is handling his job as president. Only 45% approve of his performance. The Quinnipiac survey found Blumenthal leading former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 6 points — 51% to 45%.” Hey, if Scott Brown can win “Ted Kennedy’s seat” then McMahon can win ” Chris Dodd’s seat.”

Not even competent, says Mona Charen, of the president: “The president himself doesn’t at all concede that government is attempting to do too much (and failing at most of it). On the contrary, his vanity (and it is a common one for left-wingers) is that he believes his particular ideas on business investment, medical procedures, housing, and thousands of other matters are the solutions to our woes, but ‘politics’ keeps getting in the way.” All that Ivy League education did, it seems, is convince Obama of his own brilliance.

Not even Imam Abdul Rauf may be able to resist pressure to move the Ground Zero mosque. Now he’s telling us it is all about serving Lower Manhattan’s Muslim residents. Gosh, seems like there already are mosques in the neighborhood.

Not even second place for Charlie Crist if this trend continues: “The independent Senate bid of Florida Governor Charlie Crist is in serious trouble, according to a new Fox News poll. Crist drew 27 percent of likely voters in the poll of the three-way race. Republican Marco Rubio registered 43 percent support. Democrat Kendrick Meek came in third with 21 percent.” Republican Senate candidates also lead in the Fox poll in Nevada (by one point), Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Barbara Boxer is up by only 2 points.

Not even Dana Milbank can make excuses for Imam Abdul Rauf: “He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals.”

Not even Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen is advocating a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts. “If [Republicans] were to come back and say, ‘hey, let’s just do one year for the top 2 percent, and permanent for the middle class,’ that would be something that obviously people would have to think about,’ Van Hollen said in an interview with Bloomberg this past weekend. Van Hollen’s suggestion partially mirrors a plan outlined by former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who argued that Democrats and Republicans should back a fixed two year extension of all the tax cuts and then end them altogether.”

Not even Senate Democrats want to end the Bush tax cuts: “[T]he list of Senate Democrats in favor of an extension is now up to five. Evan Bayh (Indiana), Kent Conrad (North Dakota) and Ben Nelson (Warren Buffett) were already on board, and this week Connecticut Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman and Virginia’s Jim Webb came around.”

Not even Connecticut is safe for the Democrats. “Pres. Obama’s poll numbers have plummeted in Connecticut, a state he carried by an overwhelming margin 2 years ago. A majority of likely voters — 52% — in the Quinnipiac poll disapprove of how Obama is handling his job as president. Only 45% approve of his performance. The Quinnipiac survey found Blumenthal leading former WWE CEO Linda McMahon by 6 points — 51% to 45%.” Hey, if Scott Brown can win “Ted Kennedy’s seat” then McMahon can win ” Chris Dodd’s seat.”

Not even competent, says Mona Charen, of the president: “The president himself doesn’t at all concede that government is attempting to do too much (and failing at most of it). On the contrary, his vanity (and it is a common one for left-wingers) is that he believes his particular ideas on business investment, medical procedures, housing, and thousands of other matters are the solutions to our woes, but ‘politics’ keeps getting in the way.” All that Ivy League education did, it seems, is convince Obama of his own brilliance.

Not even Imam Abdul Rauf may be able to resist pressure to move the Ground Zero mosque. Now he’s telling us it is all about serving Lower Manhattan’s Muslim residents. Gosh, seems like there already are mosques in the neighborhood.

Not even second place for Charlie Crist if this trend continues: “The independent Senate bid of Florida Governor Charlie Crist is in serious trouble, according to a new Fox News poll. Crist drew 27 percent of likely voters in the poll of the three-way race. Republican Marco Rubio registered 43 percent support. Democrat Kendrick Meek came in third with 21 percent.” Republican Senate candidates also lead in the Fox poll in Nevada (by one point), Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Barbara Boxer is up by only 2 points.

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Back to the Future

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world. Read More

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world.

He writes:

Meanwhile, as the economy grows, the vast majority in the middle naturally want to live better. Their consequent spending fuels continued growth and creates enough jobs for almost everyone, at least for a time. But because this situation can’t be sustained, at some point — 1929 and 2008 offer ready examples — the bill comes due.

This time around, policymakers had knowledge their counterparts didn’t have in 1929; they knew they could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money. But, paradoxically, averting another Great Depression-like calamity removed political pressure for more fundamental reform. We’re left instead with a long and seemingly endless Great Jobs Recession.

The Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.

Where do I begin? The depression that began in 1929 came out of a severe depression in American agriculture, caused by a revival in European agriculture and falling food prices owing to land once devoted to fodder crops for horses and mules being turned over to production of human food as the internal combustion engine took over the transportation and farm-equipment sectors. It did not come out of excess personal debt and a real estate bubble.

They didn’t know in 1929 that you could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money? Here’s what Benjamin Strong, governor of the New York Federal Reserve and effectively head of the Fed, wrote in 1928. “The very existence of the Federal Reserve System is a safeguard against anything like a calamity growing out of money rates. … We have the power to deal with such an emergency instantly by flooding the Street with money.” The problem was that the Federal Reserve didn’t flood the economy with money after the crash in 1929 (Ben Strong died in late 1928) but kept interest rates high. An ordinary stock market crash and economic depression were turned into the Great Depression by horrendous government mistakes, of which the Fed’s was only one.

And if the New Deal was the way back to full recovery, why did it take 10 years (and suddenly vast orders for war materiél) to achieve it? Robert Reich should read Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, which pretty well demolishes the now ancient notions about the New Deal that liberals cling to, sort of like the way people in fly-over country cling to guns and religion.

He writes,

In the decades after World War II, legislation like the G.I. Bill, a vast expansion of public higher education and civil rights and voting rights laws further reduced economic inequality. Much of this was paid for with a 70 percent to 90 percent marginal income tax on the highest incomes.

Ah, the good old days of 91 percent tax rates on those rascally rich guys! Of course, those were mere nominal rates, the rich didn’t pay anything like that much, because deductions and other tax fiddles were nearly limitless in those days. All interest rates were deductible, for instance, allowing someone in the 91 percent bracket to borrow money and have Uncle Sam pay 91 percent of the interest costs.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

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Gallup Poll Results in Perspective

Yesterday I referenced the Gallup survey showing that Republicans lead by 51 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in Gallup’s weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The poll is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, put the results in context:

The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup’s history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats.

As a further reference point: in August 1994, Republicans and Democrats were tied in Gallup’s generic ballot (46/46). And in the final pre-election poll in 1994, when asked if the elections for Congress were held today which party’s candidate (Republican or Democrat) would you vote for in your congressional district, the public preferred the Democratic candidate by a two-point margin (43 v. 41).

The GOP gained 54 seats in the House.

(A caveat: the data do not appear to have Gallup’s likely-voter screen applied to them, a practice the organization now employs starting in October. Data of national adults, rather than likely voters, usually will add several points more to Democratic candidates.)

Now, the generic ballot question, though significant, is not dispositive. The problem for Democrats is that almost across the board, the polling news is awful. President Obama is witnessing a hemorrhaging of support from among independent voters. And the enthusiasm gap, which favors the GOP by 20-25 points, is also an ominous sign for Democrats.

“The intensity gap is the biggest I’ve seen in 30 years,” the Republican pollster Bill McInturff told Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt. “This is going to be a massive election like 1974, except it will happen to the Democrats this time,” according to McInturff. In 1974 Democrats, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (Nixon resigned in August), took 49 seats from the Republican Party and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark (from 242 to 291).

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville in the wake of 2008 Obama’s victory, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.”

It looks like Carville’s Democratic majority may fall around 38 years short of his prediction.

Yesterday I referenced the Gallup survey showing that Republicans lead by 51 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in Gallup’s weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The poll is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, put the results in context:

The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup’s history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats.

As a further reference point: in August 1994, Republicans and Democrats were tied in Gallup’s generic ballot (46/46). And in the final pre-election poll in 1994, when asked if the elections for Congress were held today which party’s candidate (Republican or Democrat) would you vote for in your congressional district, the public preferred the Democratic candidate by a two-point margin (43 v. 41).

The GOP gained 54 seats in the House.

(A caveat: the data do not appear to have Gallup’s likely-voter screen applied to them, a practice the organization now employs starting in October. Data of national adults, rather than likely voters, usually will add several points more to Democratic candidates.)

Now, the generic ballot question, though significant, is not dispositive. The problem for Democrats is that almost across the board, the polling news is awful. President Obama is witnessing a hemorrhaging of support from among independent voters. And the enthusiasm gap, which favors the GOP by 20-25 points, is also an ominous sign for Democrats.

“The intensity gap is the biggest I’ve seen in 30 years,” the Republican pollster Bill McInturff told Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt. “This is going to be a massive election like 1974, except it will happen to the Democrats this time,” according to McInturff. In 1974 Democrats, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (Nixon resigned in August), took 49 seats from the Republican Party and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark (from 242 to 291).

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville in the wake of 2008 Obama’s victory, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.”

It looks like Carville’s Democratic majority may fall around 38 years short of his prediction.

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Bad News, Again

Another dollop of bad news on the economy:

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. unexpectedly increased last week to the highest level since November, showing companies are stepping up the pace of firings as the economy slows.

Initial jobless claims rose by 12,000 to 500,000 in the week ended Aug. 14, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Claims exceeded all estimates of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News and compared with the median forecast of 478,000. The number of people receiving unemployment insurance fell, while those getting extended benefits increased.

The summer of recovery, as the Obami refer to it, isn’t. And the Democrats who keep telling us everything is getting better seem more and more isolated from reality. Rather than a double dip (I don’t recall any steep upward trajectory or job growth), we seem to be tumbling steadily downward:

While companies have boosted payrolls seven straight months, firings have remained elevated as the economic recovery shows signs of slowing. Private firms added 71,000 jobs in July, fewer than economists had forecast, according to government figures released Aug. 6. Unemployment held at 9.5 percent, near a 26-year high of 10.1 percent. More than a year after the economy began expanding following the worst recession since the 1930s, employers are slow to hire. That’s limiting consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.

Obama said we should judge him on the economy. Fair enough. He won’t be getting a B+.

Another dollop of bad news on the economy:

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. unexpectedly increased last week to the highest level since November, showing companies are stepping up the pace of firings as the economy slows.

Initial jobless claims rose by 12,000 to 500,000 in the week ended Aug. 14, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Claims exceeded all estimates of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News and compared with the median forecast of 478,000. The number of people receiving unemployment insurance fell, while those getting extended benefits increased.

The summer of recovery, as the Obami refer to it, isn’t. And the Democrats who keep telling us everything is getting better seem more and more isolated from reality. Rather than a double dip (I don’t recall any steep upward trajectory or job growth), we seem to be tumbling steadily downward:

While companies have boosted payrolls seven straight months, firings have remained elevated as the economic recovery shows signs of slowing. Private firms added 71,000 jobs in July, fewer than economists had forecast, according to government figures released Aug. 6. Unemployment held at 9.5 percent, near a 26-year high of 10.1 percent. More than a year after the economy began expanding following the worst recession since the 1930s, employers are slow to hire. That’s limiting consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.

Obama said we should judge him on the economy. Fair enough. He won’t be getting a B+.

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It Could Be Worse: The Mullahs’ Ground Zero Mosque

Here is the mosque-building crowd that the leftist punditocracy is defending:

The developers behind the Islamic center planned for a site near Ground Zero won’t rule out accepting financing from the Mideast — including from Saudi Arabia and Iran — as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project. The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised. …

“We’ll look at all available options within the United States to start. We’re hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors],” said [spokesman Oz] Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

Pressed on whether the developers were willlng to rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, “I can’t comment on that.”

It is hard to see how the mosque builders could be promoters of religious reconciliation if they’d take money from Saudi Wahhabists or the despots of Iran. Maybe they are, you know, trying to make a different sort of statement, pitching to potential donors that they, too, can have a piece of the edifice at Ground Zero. Would they sell naming rights? (The Ahmadinejad Social Hall. The Anwar al-Awlaki Courtyard.) The possibilities are endless.

And none of the chest-beaters preening over their devotion to “tolerance” — not Obama, Bloomberg, Pelosi, and certainly not the left blogosphere — thought to inquire about the very issue that concerned so many of the  mosque opponents. Now we face the prospect that a mosque will be built on Ground Zero by those who sponsor jihadist attacks:

Fifteen of the 19 [9-11] terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money. Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

Maybe David Axelrod and crew “missed” the issue, or maybe no one can raise concerns about exactly which Muslims the president is fawning over at the moment. He’s not one for inconvenient news, so after a while it would be human nature for staff to avoid raising issues, however basic and obvious, with a president insistent on making grand gestures, the facts be damned.

The controversy is indeed beginning to worsen the president’s already diminished standing with the voters. Wait until the voters hear that Iran and Saudi Arabia may be paying for the Ground Zero mosque.

Here is the mosque-building crowd that the leftist punditocracy is defending:

The developers behind the Islamic center planned for a site near Ground Zero won’t rule out accepting financing from the Mideast — including from Saudi Arabia and Iran — as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project. The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised. …

“We’ll look at all available options within the United States to start. We’re hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors],” said [spokesman Oz] Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

Pressed on whether the developers were willlng to rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, “I can’t comment on that.”

It is hard to see how the mosque builders could be promoters of religious reconciliation if they’d take money from Saudi Wahhabists or the despots of Iran. Maybe they are, you know, trying to make a different sort of statement, pitching to potential donors that they, too, can have a piece of the edifice at Ground Zero. Would they sell naming rights? (The Ahmadinejad Social Hall. The Anwar al-Awlaki Courtyard.) The possibilities are endless.

And none of the chest-beaters preening over their devotion to “tolerance” — not Obama, Bloomberg, Pelosi, and certainly not the left blogosphere — thought to inquire about the very issue that concerned so many of the  mosque opponents. Now we face the prospect that a mosque will be built on Ground Zero by those who sponsor jihadist attacks:

Fifteen of the 19 [9-11] terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money. Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

Maybe David Axelrod and crew “missed” the issue, or maybe no one can raise concerns about exactly which Muslims the president is fawning over at the moment. He’s not one for inconvenient news, so after a while it would be human nature for staff to avoid raising issues, however basic and obvious, with a president insistent on making grand gestures, the facts be damned.

The controversy is indeed beginning to worsen the president’s already diminished standing with the voters. Wait until the voters hear that Iran and Saudi Arabia may be paying for the Ground Zero mosque.

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Endorsed by the Mosque Builders’ Cheerleader

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer — for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer — for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

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Obama, the Mosque, and Ground Zero

At Friday’s iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama declared, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” On Saturday he offered this clarification: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

A few thoughts on this:

1. This has never been about the right to worship or religious freedom; it is about the wisdom of placing a proposed 15-story mosque and Islamic Center near Ground Zero. By his comments the president has shown, inadvertently, that the two issues are entirely separable. After all, if building the mosque were a matter of our “unshakable” commitment to religious freedom, and if that is what the controversy over the mosque were really all about, then Obama would have declared, in emphatic terms, what his position is. The fact that he won’t indicates that even Obama knows this is not an issue of high Constitutional principle; it’s a matter of a prudential judgment about context and location.

2. Assume the leader of the mosque had celebrated the American deaths on 9/11 and said that the agony of the slain brought him utter delight. Would that matter to Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, and the supporters of building the mosque? If not, they should say so and allow the voters to render their verdict on that disposition.

If so — if it is considered inappropriate to allow a Ground Zero mosque run by an imam who, while stopping short of advocating violence, did hold “radical” as opposed to “moderate” views — then aren’t we getting into dangerous territory, with government officials saying yes to religious leaders who are sufficiently “moderate” but no to religious leaders who don’t meet the Obama and Bloomberg test for theological integrity?

3. It’s hard to understand what President Obama is trying to achieve by wading into these waters. If his purpose was to speak out in behalf of the importance of religious liberty in America, the point is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be made. No serious person is arguing against religious liberty. If the purpose of Obama speaking out was to advance inter-faith comity and ensure that tensions don’t rise in America, then he has damaged that cause.

The American people were extremely fair-minded toward Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. There was no backlash against Muslims — appropriately so — and our political leaders, including President Bush, went out of their way to praise Muslim Americans and to distinguish between Islam and al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam. But precisely because those who plotted and executed the attacks on 9/11 did so in the name of Islam — and because Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said that the U.S. was “an accessory to the crime that happened” — there is resistance to allowing this particular mosque to be built in this particular place.

Many people believe that Imam Rauf is trying to co-opt a brutal attack against innocent Americans in order to make his own point. But even if you don’t agree with that assessment, forcing the public to accept the mosque may well (and unfortunately) deepen resentment against Muslims — and, as we have seen, for no high-minded, first-amendment reasons. The public will feel as if this were a stick in the eye — something unnecessary and even provocative.

Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues and one of the qualities that is most important for political leaders to have. It involves, among other things, the ability to anticipate the effects of one’s words and actions. What Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have done is to undermine the very cause they say they are trying to defend. By implicitly and explicitly siding with Feisal Abdul Rauf’s effort and trying to turn this matter into a false debate about religious freedom, they are sharpening the divisions in our country in a way that is both unnecessary and harmful.

Well done, gentlemen.

At Friday’s iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama declared, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” On Saturday he offered this clarification: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

A few thoughts on this:

1. This has never been about the right to worship or religious freedom; it is about the wisdom of placing a proposed 15-story mosque and Islamic Center near Ground Zero. By his comments the president has shown, inadvertently, that the two issues are entirely separable. After all, if building the mosque were a matter of our “unshakable” commitment to religious freedom, and if that is what the controversy over the mosque were really all about, then Obama would have declared, in emphatic terms, what his position is. The fact that he won’t indicates that even Obama knows this is not an issue of high Constitutional principle; it’s a matter of a prudential judgment about context and location.

2. Assume the leader of the mosque had celebrated the American deaths on 9/11 and said that the agony of the slain brought him utter delight. Would that matter to Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, and the supporters of building the mosque? If not, they should say so and allow the voters to render their verdict on that disposition.

If so — if it is considered inappropriate to allow a Ground Zero mosque run by an imam who, while stopping short of advocating violence, did hold “radical” as opposed to “moderate” views — then aren’t we getting into dangerous territory, with government officials saying yes to religious leaders who are sufficiently “moderate” but no to religious leaders who don’t meet the Obama and Bloomberg test for theological integrity?

3. It’s hard to understand what President Obama is trying to achieve by wading into these waters. If his purpose was to speak out in behalf of the importance of religious liberty in America, the point is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be made. No serious person is arguing against religious liberty. If the purpose of Obama speaking out was to advance inter-faith comity and ensure that tensions don’t rise in America, then he has damaged that cause.

The American people were extremely fair-minded toward Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. There was no backlash against Muslims — appropriately so — and our political leaders, including President Bush, went out of their way to praise Muslim Americans and to distinguish between Islam and al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam. But precisely because those who plotted and executed the attacks on 9/11 did so in the name of Islam — and because Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said that the U.S. was “an accessory to the crime that happened” — there is resistance to allowing this particular mosque to be built in this particular place.

Many people believe that Imam Rauf is trying to co-opt a brutal attack against innocent Americans in order to make his own point. But even if you don’t agree with that assessment, forcing the public to accept the mosque may well (and unfortunately) deepen resentment against Muslims — and, as we have seen, for no high-minded, first-amendment reasons. The public will feel as if this were a stick in the eye — something unnecessary and even provocative.

Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues and one of the qualities that is most important for political leaders to have. It involves, among other things, the ability to anticipate the effects of one’s words and actions. What Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have done is to undermine the very cause they say they are trying to defend. By implicitly and explicitly siding with Feisal Abdul Rauf’s effort and trying to turn this matter into a false debate about religious freedom, they are sharpening the divisions in our country in a way that is both unnecessary and harmful.

Well done, gentlemen.

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Journolisters Risked Their Integrity

When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

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When you read those who were part of the now infamous Journolist group — hundreds of mostly liberal journalists and academics who joined an online listserv — they present their discussions as inoffensive, unexceptional, and even high-minded. Here’s how Time‘s Joe Klein describes Journolist:

[Ezra Klein and I] became friends and he asked me to join his list-serve–which, he said, would be the kind of place to have the sort of creative discussion we’d had over breakfast. It turned out to be exactly that…and more, a place to chat about music and sports, a place to meet some spectacularly smart academics I’d not met before–and, not least, a chance to interact with the latest generation of opinion journalists, most of whom didn’t have a very high opinion of me…. These conversations were private, as most good ones are. We were taking risks, testing our ideas against others…

It sounds positively Platonic: great minds gathering to discuss great issues of the day. Iron sharpening iron. Who could object? And then, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Daily Caller, we have the chance to read what Journolisters actually wrote. Creative and spectacularly smart things like this:

LAURA ROZEN: People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.

MICHAEL COHEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression “Real America.” We should send there a** to Gitmo!

JESSE TAYLOR, PANDAGON.NET: Michael Barone?  Please?

LAURA ROZEN: Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now, And David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, THE NEW YORKER: As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?

MATT DUSS: LEDEEN.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Let’s just throw Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f*** up, as with most bullies.

JOE KLEIN, TIME: Pete Wehner…these sort of things always end badly.

ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA: F****** Nascar retards…

Ah, but there’s more.

NPR producer Sarah Spitz wrote that that if Rush Limbaugh went into cardiac arrest, she would “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out” as Limbaugh writhed in torment.

Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote — “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Bloomberg’s Ryan Donmoyer adds this: “You know, at the risk of violating Godwin’s law, is anyone starting to see parallels here between the teabaggers and their tactics and the rise of the Brownshirts? Esp. Now that it’s getting violent? Reminds me of the Beer Hall fracases of the 1920s.”

And, of course, there is Fox News. “I am genuinely scared” of Fox, wrote Guardian columnist Daniel Davies, because it “shows you that a genuinely shameless and unethical media organisation *cannot* be controlled by any form of peer pressure or self-regulation, and nor can it be successfully cold-shouldered or ostracised. In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tought legal framework.”

“I agree,” said Michael Scherer of Time. “[Roger] Ailes understands that his job is to build a tribal identity, not a news organizations. You can’t hurt Fox by saying it gets it wrong, if Ailes just uses the criticism to deepen the tribal identity.”

I understand people speaking candidly in e-mail exchanges and wanting to create a group of like-minded people to exchange ideas. And I accept that Journolist was started with good intentions. But somewhere along the line, it slipped off track.

What we had were journalists creating a “community” in which we see expressions of hatred that are both comically adolescent and almost psychopathic. We have them endorsing slander of innocent people simply because they hold a different point of view, comparing the Tea Party movement to Nazism, and participating in a post thread with the subject, “The line on Palin.” And we have journalists endorsing a “tough legal framework” to control what a news organization says.

What we have, in short, is intellectual corruption of a fairly high order. From what we have seen and from what those like Tucker Carlson and his colleagues (who have read the exchanges in detail) say, Journolist was — at least in good measure — a hotbed of hatred, political hackery, banality, and juvenile thuggery. It is the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from troubled, towel-snapping junior high boys. (It’s worth pointing out that if a principal got a hold of e-mails like the ones produced by Journolist, he would punish and probably suspend the offending eighth graders.)

Journolist provides a window into the mindset of the journalistic and academic left in this country. It is not a pretty sight. The demonization and dehumanization of critics is arresting. Those who hold contrary views to the Journolist crowd aren’t individuals who have honest disagreements; they are evil, malignant, and their voices need to be eliminated from the public square. It is illiberal in the extreme.

Some Journolist defenders argue that what has been published doesn’t capture the true nature of what went on at Journolist and that the published exchanges were taken out of context. The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson has a reasonable response:

So why don’t we publish whatever portions of the Journolist archive we have and end the debate? Because a lot of them have no obvious news value, for one thing. Gather 400 lefty reporters and academics on one listserv and it turns out you wind up with a strikingly high concentration of bitchiness. Shocking amounts, actually. So while it might be amusing to air threads theorizing about the personal and sexual shortcomings of various NewRepublic staffers, we’ve decided to pull back…. Anyone on Journolist who claims we quoted him “out of context” can reveal the context himself.

That is a fair challenge. If Journolist turns out to differ substantially from its portrayal, Journolisters should release the full exchanges. Ezra Klein, David Corn, Jonathan Chait, and Joe Klein have all offered defenses, though their efforts range from feeble to pathetic. (It was really and merely “an argument between moderate and left-wing journalists,” Chait assures us.) Assuming that Journolisters cannot provide a stronger defense, other members of the fourth estate should be troubled by what has been uncovered. After all, it is the probity of their profession that is being stripped away.

Those who participated in Journolist undoubtedly hope this story will fade away and be forgotten. I rather doubt it will. It is another episode in the long, downward slide of modern journalism. “We were taking risks,” Joe Klein writes in his own defense. And the Journolist participants surely were — not intellectual risks but risks with their integrity — and several of them have been caught dead-to-rights. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” Lincoln said. Neither can some broken reputations.

In many respects, the whole thing is dispiriting. On the other hand, it has had a clarifying effect. It turns out that the worst caricatures of liberal journalists were not, at least in the case of some, a caricature at all.

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Hillary vs. China

Throwing your weight around is a time-honored tool in the diplomatic toolbox. Some circumstances call for it, but in others, it is cringe-inducingly inappropriate. With an oddly overt poke in China’s eye at the Asean conference this week, the Obama administration has unfortunately chosen to engage in weight-throwing under the latter conditions.

Almost every relevant headline in the mainstream media is some variation on that of the New York Times: “U.S. Challenges China on Island Chain.” Hillary Clinton, speaking at an Asean meeting in Hanoi, reportedly “said [the U.S. was] ready to step into a tangled dispute between China and its smaller Asian neighbors over a string of strategically sensitive islands in the South China Sea.” The islands in question make up the Spratly archipelago, claims to which confer tremendous undersea mineral resources on those who can enforce them. Clinton properly identified the U.S. interest as relating to freedom of navigation for world shipping, but her method of offering U.S. intervention in the regional dispute – one that China calls a “core interest” of its own national security – could hardly have been less diplomatic.

Nor could the timing have been worse. As Jillian wrote yesterday, the U.S. and South Korea are launching a naval exercise series that is planned to involve major operations in the Yellow Sea, obviously a sensitive area for Beijing. (The Chinese were unamused by USS George Washington’s foray into the Yellow Sea in October 2009, as discussed here.) Moreover, Bloomberg reports that the American delegation to the Asean conference got some very pointed additional business done on the side, inaugurating discussions on military cooperation with conference host Vietnam and restoring ties between the special forces of the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. Both nations border the South China Sea and have island claims in competition with China’s.

The point here is not that the U.S. doesn’t have a security interest in the South China Sea, nor is it that we can’t play a constructive role in fostering a peaceful and equitable settlement of the Spratly Islands dispute. But an offer of mediation is a departure from our decades-old policy of tacitly enforcing regional stability and promoting our own primary interest – freedom of maritime navigation – while respecting the sovereign concerns of the Spratly claimants as a matter for them to work out among themselves. This week’s policy departure has the appearance of being blurted out without prior diplomatic spade work.

Such an Obama initiative, introduced less pointedly and with less of the appearance of challenging China, might well have achieved a productive effect. We do want all the nations of the region to know that the U.S. will act to prevent the imbalance of power that China tends to seek. But conveying that quietly, through dedicated military presence and assiduous bilateral diplomacy – and without dramatic announcements and provocative headlines – is worth every minute of the tongue-biting patience necessary to operating with greater foresight. There is no strategic payoff from issuing gratuitous and public challenges to China, which is what the Obama administration has effectively done.

Throwing your weight around is a time-honored tool in the diplomatic toolbox. Some circumstances call for it, but in others, it is cringe-inducingly inappropriate. With an oddly overt poke in China’s eye at the Asean conference this week, the Obama administration has unfortunately chosen to engage in weight-throwing under the latter conditions.

Almost every relevant headline in the mainstream media is some variation on that of the New York Times: “U.S. Challenges China on Island Chain.” Hillary Clinton, speaking at an Asean meeting in Hanoi, reportedly “said [the U.S. was] ready to step into a tangled dispute between China and its smaller Asian neighbors over a string of strategically sensitive islands in the South China Sea.” The islands in question make up the Spratly archipelago, claims to which confer tremendous undersea mineral resources on those who can enforce them. Clinton properly identified the U.S. interest as relating to freedom of navigation for world shipping, but her method of offering U.S. intervention in the regional dispute – one that China calls a “core interest” of its own national security – could hardly have been less diplomatic.

Nor could the timing have been worse. As Jillian wrote yesterday, the U.S. and South Korea are launching a naval exercise series that is planned to involve major operations in the Yellow Sea, obviously a sensitive area for Beijing. (The Chinese were unamused by USS George Washington’s foray into the Yellow Sea in October 2009, as discussed here.) Moreover, Bloomberg reports that the American delegation to the Asean conference got some very pointed additional business done on the side, inaugurating discussions on military cooperation with conference host Vietnam and restoring ties between the special forces of the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. Both nations border the South China Sea and have island claims in competition with China’s.

The point here is not that the U.S. doesn’t have a security interest in the South China Sea, nor is it that we can’t play a constructive role in fostering a peaceful and equitable settlement of the Spratly Islands dispute. But an offer of mediation is a departure from our decades-old policy of tacitly enforcing regional stability and promoting our own primary interest – freedom of maritime navigation – while respecting the sovereign concerns of the Spratly claimants as a matter for them to work out among themselves. This week’s policy departure has the appearance of being blurted out without prior diplomatic spade work.

Such an Obama initiative, introduced less pointedly and with less of the appearance of challenging China, might well have achieved a productive effect. We do want all the nations of the region to know that the U.S. will act to prevent the imbalance of power that China tends to seek. But conveying that quietly, through dedicated military presence and assiduous bilateral diplomacy – and without dramatic announcements and provocative headlines – is worth every minute of the tongue-biting patience necessary to operating with greater foresight. There is no strategic payoff from issuing gratuitous and public challenges to China, which is what the Obama administration has effectively done.

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We Don’t Need Clint Eastwood

It’s now come to this.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, President Obama said this:

I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a** to kick.

This burst of a**-kicking anger comes after the White House leaked to the media that:

To those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

And this, in turn, came after Senior White House aide David Axelrod told Bloomberg that the president’s outrage over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached “the upper scale” and is directed at both BP and federal regulators:

“His anger and frustration about those things, and his anger and frustration about any attempt to obfuscate the amount of damage that’s been done by the company is great,” Axelrod said in an interview. … Axelrod said the president’s outrage was “pretty great” when he learned of some of the “shortcomings” at the Minerals Management Service and its “coziness” with an industry it’s supposed to regulate. The president’s chief political adviser declined to quote Obama’s words, saying: “Knowing that Bloomberg is a family news service, I can’t share with you what he said.”

Just in case any of this has been lost on us, Robert Gibbs insisted that his boss was “enraged” at BP. CBS News’s Chip Reid asked Gibbs: “Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.”

“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip,” Gibbs said. “I have.”

Message: I’m angry. I’m really, really anger. In fact, I’m “plug-the-damn-hole-and-whose-damn-a**-can-I-kick” angry.

This is what an impotent and increasingly desperate White House does when it has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It hopes that the public will grade Obama on his emotions rather than his managerial skills. But it won’t work. Having blasted the previous administration over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and having insisted weeks ago that the federal government is firmly in control of this ecological catastrophe, the president will be judged – fairly or not – on the outcome of the oil spill. He owns it.

It is a characteristic of modern liberalism to want to be judged on feelings and intentions rather than on results and outcomes, on subjective emotions rather than on objective achievements. But many people will react to this PR offensive by wondering just how important Barack Obama’s emotional thermostat is in light of this unprecedented environmental disaster. Maureen Dowd may rank it high, but I’m not sure too many others do.

In attempting to create an image of America’s enraged commander in chief, the White House is jettisoning what was supposed to be one of the president’s impressive attributes: his calm demeanor, his detachment, his first-rate temperament. They are trying to remake Barack Obama to fit this moment. But it comes across to me, and I suspect to others, as somewhat forced, contrived, and inauthentic. It is a sign of a president who is thrashing about, frustrated he cannot extricate himself from an event that he cannot control and that is doing untold damage to him.

In the midst of this childish spin game, a person with standing in Obama’s life might whisper to him: “Mr. President, we already have one Clinton Eastwood. We don’t need you play-acting like you’re another.”

It’s now come to this.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, President Obama said this:

I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose a** to kick.

This burst of a**-kicking anger comes after the White House leaked to the media that:

To those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

And this, in turn, came after Senior White House aide David Axelrod told Bloomberg that the president’s outrage over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has reached “the upper scale” and is directed at both BP and federal regulators:

“His anger and frustration about those things, and his anger and frustration about any attempt to obfuscate the amount of damage that’s been done by the company is great,” Axelrod said in an interview. … Axelrod said the president’s outrage was “pretty great” when he learned of some of the “shortcomings” at the Minerals Management Service and its “coziness” with an industry it’s supposed to regulate. The president’s chief political adviser declined to quote Obama’s words, saying: “Knowing that Bloomberg is a family news service, I can’t share with you what he said.”

Just in case any of this has been lost on us, Robert Gibbs insisted that his boss was “enraged” at BP. CBS News’s Chip Reid asked Gibbs: “Have we really seen rage from the president on this? I think most people would say no.”

“I’ve seen rage from him, Chip,” Gibbs said. “I have.”

Message: I’m angry. I’m really, really anger. In fact, I’m “plug-the-damn-hole-and-whose-damn-a**-can-I-kick” angry.

This is what an impotent and increasingly desperate White House does when it has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It hopes that the public will grade Obama on his emotions rather than his managerial skills. But it won’t work. Having blasted the previous administration over its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and having insisted weeks ago that the federal government is firmly in control of this ecological catastrophe, the president will be judged – fairly or not – on the outcome of the oil spill. He owns it.

It is a characteristic of modern liberalism to want to be judged on feelings and intentions rather than on results and outcomes, on subjective emotions rather than on objective achievements. But many people will react to this PR offensive by wondering just how important Barack Obama’s emotional thermostat is in light of this unprecedented environmental disaster. Maureen Dowd may rank it high, but I’m not sure too many others do.

In attempting to create an image of America’s enraged commander in chief, the White House is jettisoning what was supposed to be one of the president’s impressive attributes: his calm demeanor, his detachment, his first-rate temperament. They are trying to remake Barack Obama to fit this moment. But it comes across to me, and I suspect to others, as somewhat forced, contrived, and inauthentic. It is a sign of a president who is thrashing about, frustrated he cannot extricate himself from an event that he cannot control and that is doing untold damage to him.

In the midst of this childish spin game, a person with standing in Obama’s life might whisper to him: “Mr. President, we already have one Clinton Eastwood. We don’t need you play-acting like you’re another.”

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Barack Obama “Really Excited” by Helen Thomas

In respect of the comment of the Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Helen Thomas, that the Jews of Israel should “go home” to Germany and Poland, there are two points to be made.

The first is that these comments should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’s career. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a page full of the relevant details; back in 2008 even the Washington Post, not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, was writing of Thomas’s “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies.” President George W. Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow once described her as offering “the Hezbollah view,” and back in 1991, George H.W. Bush, also not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, had to explain publicly to Ms. Thomas why Iraq was not justified in lobbing scud missiles into Israel.

The second is that, even given Ms. Thomas’s well known status as a virulent critic of Israel and as more of a speechifier than questioner at White House press conferences, President Obama has chosen to call on her at two of his six full-scale press conferences. The only ones who have gotten called on more by Mr. Obama work for either the big five television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, and CNN) or the Associated Press or Bloomberg wire services.

At his first presidential press conference, Mr. Obama called on her as follows: “All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Her question: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

At Mr. Obama’s most recent press conference, the president called on her again and she said, “Mr. President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘if we don’t go there, they’ll all come here.’”

At a third press conference, Ms. Thomas had gotten in a question even without being formally called on. Mr. Obama responded, “Hold on a second, Helen.”

You can maybe excuse calling on her at the first press conference on the grounds that Mr. Obama or his press aides wanted to defer to her seniority, to sound a note of continuity with past presidencies, and to elevate the new president’s stature somehow by showing the public that the same woman who once hounded Reagan is now hounding him. But three questions in six press conferences for Helen Thomas? And the president pronouncing himself “really excited”?

It’s enough to make a person wonder whether either the president or some of his close advisers are sympathetic to Ms. Thomas’s views or, at least, think they deserve a more prominent place in the public eye.

In respect of the comment of the Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers, Helen Thomas, that the Jews of Israel should “go home” to Germany and Poland, there are two points to be made.

The first is that these comments should come as no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has followed Ms. Thomas’s career. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has a page full of the relevant details; back in 2008 even the Washington Post, not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, was writing of Thomas’s “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies.” President George W. Bush’s press secretary Tony Snow once described her as offering “the Hezbollah view,” and back in 1991, George H.W. Bush, also not known for being a knee-jerk defender of Israel, had to explain publicly to Ms. Thomas why Iraq was not justified in lobbing scud missiles into Israel.

The second is that, even given Ms. Thomas’s well known status as a virulent critic of Israel and as more of a speechifier than questioner at White House press conferences, President Obama has chosen to call on her at two of his six full-scale press conferences. The only ones who have gotten called on more by Mr. Obama work for either the big five television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News Channel, and CNN) or the Associated Press or Bloomberg wire services.

At his first presidential press conference, Mr. Obama called on her as follows: “All right, Helen. This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Her question: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

At Mr. Obama’s most recent press conference, the president called on her again and she said, “Mr. President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘if we don’t go there, they’ll all come here.’”

At a third press conference, Ms. Thomas had gotten in a question even without being formally called on. Mr. Obama responded, “Hold on a second, Helen.”

You can maybe excuse calling on her at the first press conference on the grounds that Mr. Obama or his press aides wanted to defer to her seniority, to sound a note of continuity with past presidencies, and to elevate the new president’s stature somehow by showing the public that the same woman who once hounded Reagan is now hounding him. But three questions in six press conferences for Helen Thomas? And the president pronouncing himself “really excited”?

It’s enough to make a person wonder whether either the president or some of his close advisers are sympathetic to Ms. Thomas’s views or, at least, think they deserve a more prominent place in the public eye.

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The End of the Welfare-State Model?

Stuart Varney of Fox Business News said Thursday on Fox News Special Report that what we are witnessing with the debt crisis in Greece and the swoon of the markets over the last week and a half is the end of the welfare-state model of governance. I think he’s right.

Markets are notorious for sometimes being oblivious to developments in the economy that, in retrospect, seem obvious — and then, suddenly, waking up and acting. The American economy began to slow down in the spring of 1929, for instance, but Wall Street — usually ahead of the economy — paid no attention and soared over the summer to heights unseen before. Then, on the day after Labor Day, for a trivial reason, the market panicked in the last hour of trading, and the mood turned instantly from “the sky’s the limit” to “every man for himself.” Six weeks later, the great crash of 1929 happened.

For years, democratic governments have been promising citizens ever-increasing benefits in the future to win votes in the present. What they haven’t been doing is arranging to pay for them. Instead, they have used phony bookkeeping to make things look under control. New York City did this in the 60s and 70s until one day the banks said they weren’t rolling over the city’s paper anymore. Now, Greece has suffered the same fate. It lied to the EU to get in and has been cooking the books to hide the gathering fiscal disaster ever since. The market has now made it clear that it thinks Greek bonds are for wallpaper, not investing. With more than 10 billion euros in bonds coming due on May 19, Greece had no choice but to accept draconian cuts in its benefits and strict accountability in the future to be bailed out by its euro-zone partners. They, of course, fear the collapse of the euro as a currency and a spreading contagion to larger countries that have also been doing what Greece has done for so long.

Europe would need $60 trillion in the bank, earning government-borrowing-rate interest, to fund its future welfare benefits. Needless to say, no country has four times its GDP in the bank.

In short, the market has suddenly become aware that the emperor known as the welfare state is, financially speaking, buck naked. The cost of insuring against bank default in Europe, according to Bloomberg, is now more than it was when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Other rates are nowhere near those levels, but it would not take much to set off a global panic. Markets have been down all week, and the Dow was down today by 1.34 percent, down 7 percent since Monday.

Great Britain and the United States, insulated from the crisis in Europe because they do not use the euro, have big financial promises they can’t pay for, either. President Obama, of course, wants to make more promises.

If Greece stands up to its unions and its outraged bureaucrats and reforms its ways, I suspect the current crisis will pass. But unless the rest of the democratic world reforms its ways — and soon — then, as Bette Davis famously said in All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Stuart Varney of Fox Business News said Thursday on Fox News Special Report that what we are witnessing with the debt crisis in Greece and the swoon of the markets over the last week and a half is the end of the welfare-state model of governance. I think he’s right.

Markets are notorious for sometimes being oblivious to developments in the economy that, in retrospect, seem obvious — and then, suddenly, waking up and acting. The American economy began to slow down in the spring of 1929, for instance, but Wall Street — usually ahead of the economy — paid no attention and soared over the summer to heights unseen before. Then, on the day after Labor Day, for a trivial reason, the market panicked in the last hour of trading, and the mood turned instantly from “the sky’s the limit” to “every man for himself.” Six weeks later, the great crash of 1929 happened.

For years, democratic governments have been promising citizens ever-increasing benefits in the future to win votes in the present. What they haven’t been doing is arranging to pay for them. Instead, they have used phony bookkeeping to make things look under control. New York City did this in the 60s and 70s until one day the banks said they weren’t rolling over the city’s paper anymore. Now, Greece has suffered the same fate. It lied to the EU to get in and has been cooking the books to hide the gathering fiscal disaster ever since. The market has now made it clear that it thinks Greek bonds are for wallpaper, not investing. With more than 10 billion euros in bonds coming due on May 19, Greece had no choice but to accept draconian cuts in its benefits and strict accountability in the future to be bailed out by its euro-zone partners. They, of course, fear the collapse of the euro as a currency and a spreading contagion to larger countries that have also been doing what Greece has done for so long.

Europe would need $60 trillion in the bank, earning government-borrowing-rate interest, to fund its future welfare benefits. Needless to say, no country has four times its GDP in the bank.

In short, the market has suddenly become aware that the emperor known as the welfare state is, financially speaking, buck naked. The cost of insuring against bank default in Europe, according to Bloomberg, is now more than it was when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Other rates are nowhere near those levels, but it would not take much to set off a global panic. Markets have been down all week, and the Dow was down today by 1.34 percent, down 7 percent since Monday.

Great Britain and the United States, insulated from the crisis in Europe because they do not use the euro, have big financial promises they can’t pay for, either. President Obama, of course, wants to make more promises.

If Greece stands up to its unions and its outraged bureaucrats and reforms its ways, I suspect the current crisis will pass. But unless the rest of the democratic world reforms its ways — and soon — then, as Bette Davis famously said in All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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RE: The No-Fly List Didn’t Work, Mr. Holder

After discovering that the federal no-fly list failed to keep Faisal Shahzad off a Dubai-bound commercial flight, there is only one thing to say: It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Actually, that was said, word for word, by President Obama – back in December. He was talking about alleged Nigerian underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who managed to board a Northwest flight bound for Detroit, despite intelligence agencies having long been aware of the threat he posed.

That “systemic failure” led to an immediate investigation of the no-fly-list system. That investigation led, four months later, to Faisal Shahzad seated in an upright position, cash-bought ticket in hand, and ready to take off after allegedly trying to set Times Square ablaze.

What did the December investigation produce? At the time, Bloomberg reported, “Obama directed intelligence agencies to collect all information in government files that could be related to the bombing attempt, the date it was collected and how it had been shared between different departments. He also requested the criteria used for placing people on terrorist watch lists.”

It sounds reassuringly presidential, doesn’t it? But somehow we’re still left with street vendors and New York City Police as our first line of defense. This administration is great with broad, visionary talk: the universal this, international that, and historic other. But the particulars are another story.  Whether it’s getting individual Gitmo detainees relocated, explaining health-care reform, or making sure that suspected terrorists don’t get on airplanes, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Janet Napolitano are hopelessly adrift. This is an administration so swept up in its own sense of destiny it’s simply not governing in the here and now.

After discovering that the federal no-fly list failed to keep Faisal Shahzad off a Dubai-bound commercial flight, there is only one thing to say: It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Actually, that was said, word for word, by President Obama – back in December. He was talking about alleged Nigerian underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who managed to board a Northwest flight bound for Detroit, despite intelligence agencies having long been aware of the threat he posed.

That “systemic failure” led to an immediate investigation of the no-fly-list system. That investigation led, four months later, to Faisal Shahzad seated in an upright position, cash-bought ticket in hand, and ready to take off after allegedly trying to set Times Square ablaze.

What did the December investigation produce? At the time, Bloomberg reported, “Obama directed intelligence agencies to collect all information in government files that could be related to the bombing attempt, the date it was collected and how it had been shared between different departments. He also requested the criteria used for placing people on terrorist watch lists.”

It sounds reassuringly presidential, doesn’t it? But somehow we’re still left with street vendors and New York City Police as our first line of defense. This administration is great with broad, visionary talk: the universal this, international that, and historic other. But the particulars are another story.  Whether it’s getting individual Gitmo detainees relocated, explaining health-care reform, or making sure that suspected terrorists don’t get on airplanes, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Janet Napolitano are hopelessly adrift. This is an administration so swept up in its own sense of destiny it’s simply not governing in the here and now.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Is the media having buyers remorse too? “Ed Chen, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said he asked for the meeting ‘to clear the air because in my 10-plus years at the White House, rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.'”

A story about an Iraq vet, the Yankees and a rabbi. Honest.

David Ignatius suggests that if Obama is looking for “big ideas to shape its foreign policy,” he should consider promoting freedom of the press. Hasn’t Ignatius heard? Obama isn’t much interested in promoting any sort of freedom. It’s too much like George Bush, I suppose.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds Shermanesque about 2012.

One ludicrous nuclear summit begets another one: “Iran opened an ‘alternative’ nuclear disarmament summit in Tehran on Saturday, bringing together representatives of 60 countries including Russia and China to slam U.S. nuclear policy and encourage nations to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Stuart Rothenberg: “Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible. We’ve moved 44 seats toward the Republicans and only 4 toward the Democrats.”

By the time he’s done, he will have alienated everyone in the state: “Some of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s top fundraisers are warning that they will no longer support him if he bolts the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent. … If he abandons the GOP race, a group of his most prominent supporters indicate they will not follow him.”

Barbara Boxer isn’t entirely clueless: “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned that Democrats must match the Tea Party’s energy and enthusiasm or face the consequences in November. ‘At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party party,’ Boxer said.”

Is the media having buyers remorse too? “Ed Chen, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said he asked for the meeting ‘to clear the air because in my 10-plus years at the White House, rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.'”

A story about an Iraq vet, the Yankees and a rabbi. Honest.

David Ignatius suggests that if Obama is looking for “big ideas to shape its foreign policy,” he should consider promoting freedom of the press. Hasn’t Ignatius heard? Obama isn’t much interested in promoting any sort of freedom. It’s too much like George Bush, I suppose.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds Shermanesque about 2012.

One ludicrous nuclear summit begets another one: “Iran opened an ‘alternative’ nuclear disarmament summit in Tehran on Saturday, bringing together representatives of 60 countries including Russia and China to slam U.S. nuclear policy and encourage nations to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Stuart Rothenberg: “Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible. We’ve moved 44 seats toward the Republicans and only 4 toward the Democrats.”

By the time he’s done, he will have alienated everyone in the state: “Some of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s top fundraisers are warning that they will no longer support him if he bolts the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent. … If he abandons the GOP race, a group of his most prominent supporters indicate they will not follow him.”

Barbara Boxer isn’t entirely clueless: “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned that Democrats must match the Tea Party’s energy and enthusiasm or face the consequences in November. ‘At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party party,’ Boxer said.”

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