Commentary Magazine


Topic: Detroit

Detroit, Chicago, and Public Debt

When the city of Detroit finally imploded last month, liberal pundits and politicians told us that it was an anomaly. Rather than address an approach to governance in which overspending driven by liberal ideology and powerful municipal unions created an unsustainable equation, they urged us to put aside the notion that what happened there would be repeated elsewhere. They said the specific conditions that led to the Motor City’s bankruptcy were more a function of the decline of the auto industry and the peculiar dysfunction of local politics.

But while Detroit’s problems were undoubtedly exacerbated by those circumstances, the same math that sunk that city is at work throughout the country as similar municipal financial obligations are piling up in spite of the dwindling resources available to meet them. As today’s front-page story in the New York Times makes clear, even prosperous cities that have little in common with the devastated urban wasteland that Detroit has become may soon face the same dilemma. If a booming metropolis like Chicago is sinking under the weight of underfunded public worker pensions, how could we possibly expect Detroit or hundreds of other municipalities to survive?

The pension fund for retired Chicago teachers stands at risk of collapse. The city’s four funds for other retired city workers are short by $19.5 billion. At least one of the funds is in peril of running out of money in less than a decade. And starting in 2015, the city will be required by the state to make far larger contributions to the funds, which could leave it hundreds of millions of dollars in the red — as much as it would cost to pay 4,300 police officers to patrol the streets for a year.

It is true that Chicago’s fiscal woes are at present nowhere near the catastrophic level of those of Detroit. But what the Times (whose editorial page has been a consistent advocate of the “what me, worry?” liberal school of fiscal irresponsibility) rightly terms the “overwhelming pension liabilities” of cities like prosperous towns like Chicago, San Jose, and even a reviving Philadelphia are putting their futures at risk. The question is, are local politicians prepared to bite the bullet and face down their erstwhile union allies and deal with the source of the problem?

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When the city of Detroit finally imploded last month, liberal pundits and politicians told us that it was an anomaly. Rather than address an approach to governance in which overspending driven by liberal ideology and powerful municipal unions created an unsustainable equation, they urged us to put aside the notion that what happened there would be repeated elsewhere. They said the specific conditions that led to the Motor City’s bankruptcy were more a function of the decline of the auto industry and the peculiar dysfunction of local politics.

But while Detroit’s problems were undoubtedly exacerbated by those circumstances, the same math that sunk that city is at work throughout the country as similar municipal financial obligations are piling up in spite of the dwindling resources available to meet them. As today’s front-page story in the New York Times makes clear, even prosperous cities that have little in common with the devastated urban wasteland that Detroit has become may soon face the same dilemma. If a booming metropolis like Chicago is sinking under the weight of underfunded public worker pensions, how could we possibly expect Detroit or hundreds of other municipalities to survive?

The pension fund for retired Chicago teachers stands at risk of collapse. The city’s four funds for other retired city workers are short by $19.5 billion. At least one of the funds is in peril of running out of money in less than a decade. And starting in 2015, the city will be required by the state to make far larger contributions to the funds, which could leave it hundreds of millions of dollars in the red — as much as it would cost to pay 4,300 police officers to patrol the streets for a year.

It is true that Chicago’s fiscal woes are at present nowhere near the catastrophic level of those of Detroit. But what the Times (whose editorial page has been a consistent advocate of the “what me, worry?” liberal school of fiscal irresponsibility) rightly terms the “overwhelming pension liabilities” of cities like prosperous towns like Chicago, San Jose, and even a reviving Philadelphia are putting their futures at risk. The question is, are local politicians prepared to bite the bullet and face down their erstwhile union allies and deal with the source of the problem?

Some three years ago, Jeff Jacoby presciently wrote in COMMENTARY about the looming meltdown that threatened the nation. In his “What Public-Sector Unions Have Wrought,” Jacoby rightly pinned the problem on the unprecedented growth of government workers throughout the 20th century and their ability to force states, cities, and other local authorities to grant them generous benefits and pensions via collective bargaining negotiations in which the unions held all the cards. Their ability to blackmail governments via strikes that effectively shut down vital services combined with the political and financial clout they exercised to, in effect, elect their own bosses, the unions were able to rig the game “in favor of a privileged government elite and against the private taxpayers who pay its bills.” The result was the creation of a “multi-trillion dollar avalanche” of debt that no city, no matter how well off it might be, could possibly afford.

The only answer to this problem is to reform the collective bargaining process and to institute a series of changes that will end the guarantee of a lavish pension to current and future public workers. As Jacoby wrote:

Without depriving employees of any benefits they have earned to date, governments have to be able to amend the terms on which future benefits are earned. Tens of millions of Americans working in the private sector—including many belonging to labor unions—know from first-hand experience that the terms and conditions of future employment can be changed. That is how real life works, and a government job should not confer immunity from real life.

That still makes sense, but instead of confronting the reality of the meltdown, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker did with his controversial reforms that led to a union mob storming the state capitol in Madison and an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to force him from office, most states and cities are just looking for more ways to raise money from already overburdened average taxpayers who aren’t likely to be able to enjoy the same kind of benefits from their own jobs. To his credit, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has confronted this issue and enraged unions that think they should get their benefits even if no one can pay for them.

But what must be understood is that this drama isn’t limited to Detroit or Chicago. Liberals have spent the last century believing that paying for government spending is an insignificant detail. That has created a debt crisis that will soon have to be faced virtually everywhere in the country. It’s high time for liberals to face up to this fact and admit that the era of unfunded big government spending and public-sector union power must end now.

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Detroit at Bay

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan announced today that he will be appointing an emergency manager to oversee Detroit, which is bankrupt in every way but officially. Its liabilities exceed $14 billion and it is short of cash just to meet current obligations. As Governor Snyder expressed it at a town hall meeting today, “The way I view it, today is a day to call all hands on deck.”

The urban disaster that is today’s Detroit is almost beyond imagination. Just compare it to Hiroshima. In 1945, the latter was flattened by an atomic bomb and Detroit was the fourth largest city in the United States, with a population of over 1.8 million, the center of its largest and most powerful industry. Today, Hiroshima is a gleaming, modern city and Detroit has a population of 706,585 and ranks 18th, behind such cities as Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Long the arson capital of the United States, whole neighborhoods are now barren wastelands.

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Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan announced today that he will be appointing an emergency manager to oversee Detroit, which is bankrupt in every way but officially. Its liabilities exceed $14 billion and it is short of cash just to meet current obligations. As Governor Snyder expressed it at a town hall meeting today, “The way I view it, today is a day to call all hands on deck.”

The urban disaster that is today’s Detroit is almost beyond imagination. Just compare it to Hiroshima. In 1945, the latter was flattened by an atomic bomb and Detroit was the fourth largest city in the United States, with a population of over 1.8 million, the center of its largest and most powerful industry. Today, Hiroshima is a gleaming, modern city and Detroit has a population of 706,585 and ranks 18th, behind such cities as Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Long the arson capital of the United States, whole neighborhoods are now barren wastelands.

To be sure, the suburbanization of America beginning after World War II has not been kind to the nation’s older cities. Indeed, every city in the country that had a major league baseball team in 1950, which is to say the largest cities in the northeast quadrant of the country, has seen a marked decline in population, with the exception of New York (always the exception). But many of those cities are now bouncing back. Not Detroit. Led by a kleptocracy in league with municipal unions, Detroit continues to hemorrhage population, wealth, and quality of life. It didn’t take an atomic bomb to destroy Detroit. Mayors such as Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick were quite enough.

As the New York Times reports:

The state-appointed manager, who could be selected later this month, would ultimately wield powers aimed at swiftly turning around the municipal government’s dire circumstances — powers to cut city spending, change contracts with labor unions, merge or eliminate city departments, urge the sale of city assets and even, if all else failed, to recommend bankruptcy proceedings.

Because Detroit is the creature of the sovereign state of Michigan, the governor has the power to impose such discipline, whether Detroit’s government likes it or not (needless to say it doesn’t). What a pity no one has the power to impose it on Washington D.C.

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Helen Thomas Loses Some Awards, Wins Others

After Helen Thomas’s “go back to Germany” rant ended her career last June, there were still some left-wing journalists who twisted themselves into pretzels trying to argue that Thomas’s remarks weren’t anti-Semitic, per say, but simply “anti-Zionist.”

But Thomas’s recent statements remove any doubt as to where she stands. Jonathan Chait, who defended Thomas’s remarks in June, has begrudgingly acknowledged that her newest tirade probably crossed the line into anti-Semitism. “I prefer to hold off on imputing motives of bigotry without strong proof,” writes Chait. “[B]ut there’s not a whole lot of doubt remaining here.”

In response to Thomas’s latest, the Anti-Defamation League called on organizations to revoke any awards given to her in the past. This prompted her alma mater, Wayne State University, to nix an award it had been giving in her name:

Wayne State University, the Detroit, Michigan, institution that Thomas graduated from in 1942, said in a statement Friday that the school will no longer give out the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award.

“Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints,” the school’s statement said. “However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas during a conference yesterday.”

But Thomas’s controversial outburst last June actually won her accolades from some Arab-American organizations. The Council on American Islamic Relations presented her with a lifetime achievement award in September. And the Arab American National Museum played host to Thomas’s most recent anti-Semitic speech, which received a standing ovation from the audience.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee also presented Thomas with the “Mehdi Courage in Journalism” award last month. The namesake of the award, the late M.T. Mehdi, served as an adviser to the Blind Sheik, who famously noted that “most Jews are sick people and would benefit from Dr. Freud’s couch,” called Hitler “the real father of Israel,” and wrote a book arguing that Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Robert Kennedy was morally defensible because the senator had grown sympathetic to Zionism.

So the ADL may be wrong on this one. Let Thomas keep the awards — the tributes sound pretty fitting.

After Helen Thomas’s “go back to Germany” rant ended her career last June, there were still some left-wing journalists who twisted themselves into pretzels trying to argue that Thomas’s remarks weren’t anti-Semitic, per say, but simply “anti-Zionist.”

But Thomas’s recent statements remove any doubt as to where she stands. Jonathan Chait, who defended Thomas’s remarks in June, has begrudgingly acknowledged that her newest tirade probably crossed the line into anti-Semitism. “I prefer to hold off on imputing motives of bigotry without strong proof,” writes Chait. “[B]ut there’s not a whole lot of doubt remaining here.”

In response to Thomas’s latest, the Anti-Defamation League called on organizations to revoke any awards given to her in the past. This prompted her alma mater, Wayne State University, to nix an award it had been giving in her name:

Wayne State University, the Detroit, Michigan, institution that Thomas graduated from in 1942, said in a statement Friday that the school will no longer give out the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award.

“Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints,” the school’s statement said. “However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas during a conference yesterday.”

But Thomas’s controversial outburst last June actually won her accolades from some Arab-American organizations. The Council on American Islamic Relations presented her with a lifetime achievement award in September. And the Arab American National Museum played host to Thomas’s most recent anti-Semitic speech, which received a standing ovation from the audience.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee also presented Thomas with the “Mehdi Courage in Journalism” award last month. The namesake of the award, the late M.T. Mehdi, served as an adviser to the Blind Sheik, who famously noted that “most Jews are sick people and would benefit from Dr. Freud’s couch,” called Hitler “the real father of Israel,” and wrote a book arguing that Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Robert Kennedy was morally defensible because the senator had grown sympathetic to Zionism.

So the ADL may be wrong on this one. Let Thomas keep the awards — the tributes sound pretty fitting.

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The Myth of Jewish-Only Roads

Helen Thomas is at it again.

“I can call a president of the United States anything in the book,” she said at an anti-Arab-bias workshop in Detroit, “but I can’t touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.”

She’s right that no American would tolerate white-only roads. Israelis, likewise, would never tolerate roads for Jews only. That’s why such roads don’t exist.

The roads she’s referring to in the West Bank are Israeli, and they’re not just for Jews. Israeli Arabs can drive on them, and so can non-Jewish foreigners, including Arab and Muslim foreigners. Palestinians were once able to drive on them but have not been allowed to do so since the second intifada, when suicide bombers used them to penetrate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in order to massacre people.

There are also, by the way, Palestinian roads in the West Bank that Israelis can’t use.

I don’t know if Helen Thomas knows this and is lying or if she’s just an ignoramus. What I’ll bet she doesn’t know is that Arab residents of Jerusalem can use both the Israeli roads and the Palestinian roads. They’re the only people who live in the area who can do this. (Foreigners also are allowed to use both.)

This doesn’t remotely line up with her narrative of perfidious Zion. But it’s true.

Helen Thomas is at it again.

“I can call a president of the United States anything in the book,” she said at an anti-Arab-bias workshop in Detroit, “but I can’t touch Israel, which has Jewish-only roads in the West Bank. No American would tolerate that — white-only roads.”

She’s right that no American would tolerate white-only roads. Israelis, likewise, would never tolerate roads for Jews only. That’s why such roads don’t exist.

The roads she’s referring to in the West Bank are Israeli, and they’re not just for Jews. Israeli Arabs can drive on them, and so can non-Jewish foreigners, including Arab and Muslim foreigners. Palestinians were once able to drive on them but have not been allowed to do so since the second intifada, when suicide bombers used them to penetrate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in order to massacre people.

There are also, by the way, Palestinian roads in the West Bank that Israelis can’t use.

I don’t know if Helen Thomas knows this and is lying or if she’s just an ignoramus. What I’ll bet she doesn’t know is that Arab residents of Jerusalem can use both the Israeli roads and the Palestinian roads. They’re the only people who live in the area who can do this. (Foreigners also are allowed to use both.)

This doesn’t remotely line up with her narrative of perfidious Zion. But it’s true.

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The Policies That Keep Us Safe

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

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No Deal, Mr. President (Updated)

Whatever is going on with House Republicans, Senate Republicans seem to be holding firm on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. In the Washington Post, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was emphatic:

McConnell said Democrats have zero chance of passing Obama’s plan in the Senate. He said not a single Republican would support it, leaving Democrats short of the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster. “That’s a debate we’re happy to have. That’s the kind of debate that unifies my caucus, from Olympia Snowe to Jim DeMint,” McConnell said, citing the most liberal and most conservative Republicans in the Senate.

That plan, of course, is a combination of new spending and selective tax cuts while allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. It is not often that Snowe and DeMint are in lockstep, but the prospect of tax hikes in a recession has that effect. Moreover, a growing number of Democrats now support a full extension of the Bush tax cuts:

Half a dozen Democratic senators and Senate candidates have voiced support for a temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich. In the House, more and more incumbents have also taken that position. Among them is Rep. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who represents a traditionally Republican seat in the Detroit suburbs. Peters told the Detroit Free Press last week that extending the cuts “is the right thing to do, as anything less jeopardizes economic recovery.”

Given all that, it is no surprise that Minority Whip Eric Cantor has put out a statement that makes clear he’s not about to allow a tax hike on “small business people and investors. Raising taxes in this environment is a non-starter for me and millions of American small business people who are struggling to keep the lights on and meet their payroll obligations.” Cantor is calling for “Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to allow all members of the House — Republican and Democrat — to vote on legislation that would prevent tax increases for every American.” That sounds like the emerging consensus for the GOP, as well as for moderate Democrats who want to hold on to their seats.

UPDATE: Senator Lieberman has also joined the “No Deal” bipartisan coalition. He has released a statement that reads, in part: ” I don’t think it makes sense to raise any federal taxes during the uncertain economy we are struggling through. The more money we leave in private hands, the quicker our economic recovery will be. And that means I will do everything I can to make sure Congress extends the so-called Bush tax cuts for another year and takes action to prevent the estate tax from rising back to where it was.”

Whatever is going on with House Republicans, Senate Republicans seem to be holding firm on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. In the Washington Post, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was emphatic:

McConnell said Democrats have zero chance of passing Obama’s plan in the Senate. He said not a single Republican would support it, leaving Democrats short of the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster. “That’s a debate we’re happy to have. That’s the kind of debate that unifies my caucus, from Olympia Snowe to Jim DeMint,” McConnell said, citing the most liberal and most conservative Republicans in the Senate.

That plan, of course, is a combination of new spending and selective tax cuts while allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. It is not often that Snowe and DeMint are in lockstep, but the prospect of tax hikes in a recession has that effect. Moreover, a growing number of Democrats now support a full extension of the Bush tax cuts:

Half a dozen Democratic senators and Senate candidates have voiced support for a temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich. In the House, more and more incumbents have also taken that position. Among them is Rep. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat who represents a traditionally Republican seat in the Detroit suburbs. Peters told the Detroit Free Press last week that extending the cuts “is the right thing to do, as anything less jeopardizes economic recovery.”

Given all that, it is no surprise that Minority Whip Eric Cantor has put out a statement that makes clear he’s not about to allow a tax hike on “small business people and investors. Raising taxes in this environment is a non-starter for me and millions of American small business people who are struggling to keep the lights on and meet their payroll obligations.” Cantor is calling for “Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to allow all members of the House — Republican and Democrat — to vote on legislation that would prevent tax increases for every American.” That sounds like the emerging consensus for the GOP, as well as for moderate Democrats who want to hold on to their seats.

UPDATE: Senator Lieberman has also joined the “No Deal” bipartisan coalition. He has released a statement that reads, in part: ” I don’t think it makes sense to raise any federal taxes during the uncertain economy we are struggling through. The more money we leave in private hands, the quicker our economic recovery will be. And that means I will do everything I can to make sure Congress extends the so-called Bush tax cuts for another year and takes action to prevent the estate tax from rising back to where it was.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Because all our problems are solved, there’s time for this: “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former Marine and the sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, has convinced 79 senators to sign on to the measure [to rename the Department of the Navy] he introduced in late February. But even though it has broad bipartisan support, the bill’s fate could be decided by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his GOP counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who oppose the efforts to rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps currently operates under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy.”

Because of columns like this, Newsweek became a self-parody. Eleanor Clift on Helen Thomas makes up a cover story and reaches an obnoxious conclusion: “She was talking about the settlers, and if she had said they should go back to Brooklyn, where many of them are from, she probably wouldn’t have made news.” And then she makes excuses for a bigot: “Thomas has always been outspoken on the Palestinian issue, phrasing questions in such a way that sometimes made eyes roll in the press room. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Detroit, she felt she brought a perspective that people needed to hear.”

Because Obama is now a weight around the necks of his fellow Democrats, David Axelrod is forced to offer this spin: “I believe that ultimately these [2010] races are going to be decided at the local level at the, at the grass roots.  And the candidates who speak to the aspirations and concerns of people in their districts and states are going to win.”

Because there is no state in which Democrats escape Obama’s toxic effect: “Obamaland is crumbling. Democrats have firmly controlled Illinois, the president’s home state, for nearly a decade, turning it into what one Republican called ‘a deep blue state.’ But this has changed almost overnight. In the midterm elections on November 2, Democrats stand to lose the governorship, Obama’s old Senate seat, two to four House seats, and any number of state legislative seats and down-ticket statewide offices.”

Because there really is no way to overestimate their economic illiteracy, you shouldn’t be surprised when Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) say things like “Republicans need to stop talking about cutting taxes and ‘look to the future with a little more compassion and bipartisanship.’”

Because they have no clue what to do about the listing economy — cutting taxes and easing up on business burdens aren’t in their repertoire – the Obami’s solution is always the same: more government spending.

Because the mainstream media continually carry water for the Democrats, the obvious always comes as a surprise to their readers and the chattering class: “We’re all familiar with the factional fights among Republicans, the party purges, and rabid RINO (a.k.a. Republican in Name Only) hunting. … The divisions in the Democratic Party are deepening, less than two years after its galvanizing 2008 victory that left liberals crowing about the prospect of a 40-year majority. With Republicans essentially stonewalling any hope of bipartisan support for Obama’s policies, the reason the significant Democrat majorities have not materialized into a steady stream of legislative victories is because of these ideological and political divisions within the Democratic caucus itself, largely between big-city liberals and swing-district centrists.”

Because all our problems are solved, there’s time for this: “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former Marine and the sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, has convinced 79 senators to sign on to the measure [to rename the Department of the Navy] he introduced in late February. But even though it has broad bipartisan support, the bill’s fate could be decided by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his GOP counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who oppose the efforts to rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps currently operates under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy.”

Because of columns like this, Newsweek became a self-parody. Eleanor Clift on Helen Thomas makes up a cover story and reaches an obnoxious conclusion: “She was talking about the settlers, and if she had said they should go back to Brooklyn, where many of them are from, she probably wouldn’t have made news.” And then she makes excuses for a bigot: “Thomas has always been outspoken on the Palestinian issue, phrasing questions in such a way that sometimes made eyes roll in the press room. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Detroit, she felt she brought a perspective that people needed to hear.”

Because Obama is now a weight around the necks of his fellow Democrats, David Axelrod is forced to offer this spin: “I believe that ultimately these [2010] races are going to be decided at the local level at the, at the grass roots.  And the candidates who speak to the aspirations and concerns of people in their districts and states are going to win.”

Because there is no state in which Democrats escape Obama’s toxic effect: “Obamaland is crumbling. Democrats have firmly controlled Illinois, the president’s home state, for nearly a decade, turning it into what one Republican called ‘a deep blue state.’ But this has changed almost overnight. In the midterm elections on November 2, Democrats stand to lose the governorship, Obama’s old Senate seat, two to four House seats, and any number of state legislative seats and down-ticket statewide offices.”

Because there really is no way to overestimate their economic illiteracy, you shouldn’t be surprised when Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) say things like “Republicans need to stop talking about cutting taxes and ‘look to the future with a little more compassion and bipartisanship.’”

Because they have no clue what to do about the listing economy — cutting taxes and easing up on business burdens aren’t in their repertoire – the Obami’s solution is always the same: more government spending.

Because the mainstream media continually carry water for the Democrats, the obvious always comes as a surprise to their readers and the chattering class: “We’re all familiar with the factional fights among Republicans, the party purges, and rabid RINO (a.k.a. Republican in Name Only) hunting. … The divisions in the Democratic Party are deepening, less than two years after its galvanizing 2008 victory that left liberals crowing about the prospect of a 40-year majority. With Republicans essentially stonewalling any hope of bipartisan support for Obama’s policies, the reason the significant Democrat majorities have not materialized into a steady stream of legislative victories is because of these ideological and political divisions within the Democratic caucus itself, largely between big-city liberals and swing-district centrists.”

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Way to Go, Senator Feinstein!

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

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UAW Enriched, Now What About the Taxpayers?

You might recall that three years ago, GM negotiated wage cuts with the UAW. That was supposed to lower the rate for new hires, to $25.65 per hour, a significant reduction over current rates of approximately $60 per hour. But that was a charade, and GM has yet to cut a single employee’s rate. This report explains:

GM can’t add new workers at the lower wage yet. It still has 5,000 laid-off workers who, under their contract terms, have first crack at any union jobs that the company adds, and most would return to work at the higher pay level. …

“That’s probably one of the reasons the UAW agreed to [the lower wages]. They knew right off the bat there wouldn’t be a lot of leeway for the companies to hire new workers,” said David Whiston, an auto analyst at Morningstar Inc. “There will always be this fundamental difference—that the Detroit companies have union shops” and the U.S. plants of foreign makers don’t.

When might the new, lower wages kick in? Hard to say, GM declares: “As GM’s U.S. sales recover, the company is ramping up production by adding shifts and overtime at several factories. These moves will allow GM to bring back many laid-off workers, but GM spokeswoman Kim Carpenter said the company doesn’t know when hiring will begin for the lower-wage jobs.”

This is what the taxpayers have been subsidizing. And certainly the safety net supplied by the Obama administration for the benefit of its union patrons prevented any real cuts for UAW workers, which in a non-bailout situation or an ordinary bankruptcy would have been among the first steps GM would have been forced to take.

And now we hear that with GM’s improved fortunes, the administration is considering an IPO to unload the 61 percent of GM shares it holds. How about this? In appreciation for having propped up a losing firm and sustaining the exorbitant compensation of UAW workers, any funds obtained from an IPO should go back to the taxpayers in the form of an income tax rebate. In fact, it sounds like just the sort of issue Republicans should present to the voters in November. One party wants government to keep the money; another wants to return it to the taxpayers. One party has used taxpayer funds to enrich Big Labor; the other wants to put money in everyone’s pocket. Sounds like a defining issue, and a stark reminder that the candidate who talked about fiscal responsibility and taming special interests has not practiced what he preached.

You might recall that three years ago, GM negotiated wage cuts with the UAW. That was supposed to lower the rate for new hires, to $25.65 per hour, a significant reduction over current rates of approximately $60 per hour. But that was a charade, and GM has yet to cut a single employee’s rate. This report explains:

GM can’t add new workers at the lower wage yet. It still has 5,000 laid-off workers who, under their contract terms, have first crack at any union jobs that the company adds, and most would return to work at the higher pay level. …

“That’s probably one of the reasons the UAW agreed to [the lower wages]. They knew right off the bat there wouldn’t be a lot of leeway for the companies to hire new workers,” said David Whiston, an auto analyst at Morningstar Inc. “There will always be this fundamental difference—that the Detroit companies have union shops” and the U.S. plants of foreign makers don’t.

When might the new, lower wages kick in? Hard to say, GM declares: “As GM’s U.S. sales recover, the company is ramping up production by adding shifts and overtime at several factories. These moves will allow GM to bring back many laid-off workers, but GM spokeswoman Kim Carpenter said the company doesn’t know when hiring will begin for the lower-wage jobs.”

This is what the taxpayers have been subsidizing. And certainly the safety net supplied by the Obama administration for the benefit of its union patrons prevented any real cuts for UAW workers, which in a non-bailout situation or an ordinary bankruptcy would have been among the first steps GM would have been forced to take.

And now we hear that with GM’s improved fortunes, the administration is considering an IPO to unload the 61 percent of GM shares it holds. How about this? In appreciation for having propped up a losing firm and sustaining the exorbitant compensation of UAW workers, any funds obtained from an IPO should go back to the taxpayers in the form of an income tax rebate. In fact, it sounds like just the sort of issue Republicans should present to the voters in November. One party wants government to keep the money; another wants to return it to the taxpayers. One party has used taxpayer funds to enrich Big Labor; the other wants to put money in everyone’s pocket. Sounds like a defining issue, and a stark reminder that the candidate who talked about fiscal responsibility and taming special interests has not practiced what he preached.

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The Obama Team’s Criminal-Justice Model Fails

The Obama administration came into office convinced that the Bush approach to fighting terrorism was flawed and that instead we could apply criminal-justice rules in the war against Islamic terrorism. It proved unworkable. Now the administration is in a muddle — trying to alter a criminal-justice model that plainly doesn’t work but misunderstanding the legal landscape and the alternatives they have.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain that by suggesting that Miranda rules need to be altered, Eric Holder has in essence confessed to error:

The administration is making a number of admissions here: Mirandizing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, after only 50 minutes of questioning was a mistake; terrorists are enemies of America, not ordinary criminals; and the law-enforcement approach to combatting terrorism, which is designed to obtain evidence admissible at trial after a crime has already been committed, is not the most effective way to obtain intelligence to prevent future attacks.

This is an important step forward and a sign that, after the Manhattan subway plot, Fort Hood, Detroit, and now Times Square, the administration has become more adaptable to the realities of the war on terror. Yet the jury is out on whether the administration has a real plan or is merely improvising. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad remains in the criminal justice system and has not been designated as an enemy combatant, though he is still eligible for such designation.

Burck and Perino make a key point: we can designate even U.S. citizens to be enemy combatants. (“No less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), resolved this question: The president has the authority to hold even U.S. citizens as enemy combatants if he believes they are working with the Taliban, al Qaeda or associated terrorist groups.”) This is probably true even if the U.S. citizen is on U.S. soil (“the federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit answered in the affirmative in Padilla v. Hanft).

So we have an administration that in all its condescension and criticism of the prior administration came up with a flawed alternative but that still lacks a full grasp of the alternatives. How could this be? Perhaps they are getting terrible advice from the Justice Department. One wonders what Elena Kagan thinks of all this. She, of course, is part of that brain trust. Maybe she should answer some tough questions at her confirmation hearing, starting with her views on what existing law says about terror suspects. Her colleagues might find it enlightening — provided she knows the law better than Holder.

The Obama administration came into office convinced that the Bush approach to fighting terrorism was flawed and that instead we could apply criminal-justice rules in the war against Islamic terrorism. It proved unworkable. Now the administration is in a muddle — trying to alter a criminal-justice model that plainly doesn’t work but misunderstanding the legal landscape and the alternatives they have.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino explain that by suggesting that Miranda rules need to be altered, Eric Holder has in essence confessed to error:

The administration is making a number of admissions here: Mirandizing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, after only 50 minutes of questioning was a mistake; terrorists are enemies of America, not ordinary criminals; and the law-enforcement approach to combatting terrorism, which is designed to obtain evidence admissible at trial after a crime has already been committed, is not the most effective way to obtain intelligence to prevent future attacks.

This is an important step forward and a sign that, after the Manhattan subway plot, Fort Hood, Detroit, and now Times Square, the administration has become more adaptable to the realities of the war on terror. Yet the jury is out on whether the administration has a real plan or is merely improvising. Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad remains in the criminal justice system and has not been designated as an enemy combatant, though he is still eligible for such designation.

Burck and Perino make a key point: we can designate even U.S. citizens to be enemy combatants. (“No less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), resolved this question: The president has the authority to hold even U.S. citizens as enemy combatants if he believes they are working with the Taliban, al Qaeda or associated terrorist groups.”) This is probably true even if the U.S. citizen is on U.S. soil (“the federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit answered in the affirmative in Padilla v. Hanft).

So we have an administration that in all its condescension and criticism of the prior administration came up with a flawed alternative but that still lacks a full grasp of the alternatives. How could this be? Perhaps they are getting terrible advice from the Justice Department. One wonders what Elena Kagan thinks of all this. She, of course, is part of that brain trust. Maybe she should answer some tough questions at her confirmation hearing, starting with her views on what existing law says about terror suspects. Her colleagues might find it enlightening — provided she knows the law better than Holder.

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Does the Obama Administration’s Anti-Terrorism Strategy Rely on Luck?

The administration is sensitive to the notion that they are relying on terrorists’ ineptitude and alert citizenry to defend America. On Fox News Sunday, the continually hapless John Brennan had this to say when asked if the administration was “more lucky than good in some of these terror cases”:

BRENNAN: I consider that homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence and the military have done an outstanding job since 9/11.

You know, when I hear these references to being lucky, tell that to the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, who are at our points of entry, who are working around the clock here in the United States and abroad. That’s not luck.

That’s patriotism. That’s dedication. That’s capability and talent. And so we’ve been able to stop them in their tracks. They are determined. They are going to continue to look for opportunities to get here to the United States. This is something that they have pledged to do.

I think we have a very strong track record, and that’s why we have redundant capabilities in place. We’re not lucky. We’re good.

Huh? How did the patriotism of American servicemen get into this? Brennan’s obvious discomfort — and resort to an off-putting non sequitur — suggests that the administration is becoming a tad sensitive to the criticisms that, given the four attacks on the homeland, something isn’t quite working properly. On the same program, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King introduced some much needed candor:

LIEBERMAN: Well, after the fact of the attempted bombing attack last Saturday night, the reaction was not just excellent, it was almost miraculous — 53 hours and we’ve apprehended him. Great cooperation. Just the kind of work that we all hoped would happen when we set up the Department of Homeland Security post-9/11.

But the fact is that we were lucky. We did not prevent the attempted attack. And that’s the — in some sense, the fourth break through our defenses. Last spring in Arkansas, Hasan, the Detroit bomber and this one.

Look, we’re in a big open society. And if people are fanatical enough to put their own lives on the line — “I want to kill other innocent human beings” — it’s hard to stop them every time, but that has to be our goal. So I’d say in terms of prevention, the system failed.

And what we’ve got to do now is to go back, put all the facts together and look at every point. Was there something the U.S. government, our allies, could have done to stop Faisal Shahzad before he parked that car in Times Square?

WALLACE: Same basic question picking up on that with you, Congressman King. Is there something more the Obama administration could have done with at least three attacks in the last six months — Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and now Shahzad?

KING: Well, I was very critical of the administration for the Major Hasan shooting. I was also very critical of the Abdulmutallab incident on Christmas Day.

As far as this one, Chris, the evidence isn’t in yet as to what was available. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t know if we could have stopped him before he got — Shahzad before he got to Times Square. We’ll have to wait until, you know, all the dots are put out there. It’s very difficult because we don’t get very much information from this administration.

But one real criticism I do have, Chris, is what happened in the last hours of the investigation. Beginning some time on Monday afternoon, high administration sources were leaking out the most confidential, classified information which compromised this investigation, put lives at risk and very probably caused Shahzad to escape and make it undetected to the airport.

They were putting out information I’d never heard of in a — in a case of this magnitude, and it was coming from the administration, coming from Washington. And I know the troops on the ground in New York were very concerned about it.

The administration’s hyper-defensiveness goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to open itself up to scrutiny when it comes to examining these incidents. As we saw with the refusal to respond to Lieberman’s subpoena on the Fort Hood massacre and the refusal to release information about recidivism of  released Guantanamo detainees, the administration insists that we take it on faith that they are “good” and have just the right policies in place. The track record they are developing, however, suggests otherwise. In any event, that’s not how our system should work. We have another political branch of government, not to mention the American people, that deserves answers to hard questions.

It is only because Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have largely allowed the administration to avoid oversight that it has gotten away with such a dearth of transparency. That may change this November. We may then finally discover just how lucky we’ve been.

The administration is sensitive to the notion that they are relying on terrorists’ ineptitude and alert citizenry to defend America. On Fox News Sunday, the continually hapless John Brennan had this to say when asked if the administration was “more lucky than good in some of these terror cases”:

BRENNAN: I consider that homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence and the military have done an outstanding job since 9/11.

You know, when I hear these references to being lucky, tell that to the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, who are at our points of entry, who are working around the clock here in the United States and abroad. That’s not luck.

That’s patriotism. That’s dedication. That’s capability and talent. And so we’ve been able to stop them in their tracks. They are determined. They are going to continue to look for opportunities to get here to the United States. This is something that they have pledged to do.

I think we have a very strong track record, and that’s why we have redundant capabilities in place. We’re not lucky. We’re good.

Huh? How did the patriotism of American servicemen get into this? Brennan’s obvious discomfort — and resort to an off-putting non sequitur — suggests that the administration is becoming a tad sensitive to the criticisms that, given the four attacks on the homeland, something isn’t quite working properly. On the same program, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King introduced some much needed candor:

LIEBERMAN: Well, after the fact of the attempted bombing attack last Saturday night, the reaction was not just excellent, it was almost miraculous — 53 hours and we’ve apprehended him. Great cooperation. Just the kind of work that we all hoped would happen when we set up the Department of Homeland Security post-9/11.

But the fact is that we were lucky. We did not prevent the attempted attack. And that’s the — in some sense, the fourth break through our defenses. Last spring in Arkansas, Hasan, the Detroit bomber and this one.

Look, we’re in a big open society. And if people are fanatical enough to put their own lives on the line — “I want to kill other innocent human beings” — it’s hard to stop them every time, but that has to be our goal. So I’d say in terms of prevention, the system failed.

And what we’ve got to do now is to go back, put all the facts together and look at every point. Was there something the U.S. government, our allies, could have done to stop Faisal Shahzad before he parked that car in Times Square?

WALLACE: Same basic question picking up on that with you, Congressman King. Is there something more the Obama administration could have done with at least three attacks in the last six months — Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and now Shahzad?

KING: Well, I was very critical of the administration for the Major Hasan shooting. I was also very critical of the Abdulmutallab incident on Christmas Day.

As far as this one, Chris, the evidence isn’t in yet as to what was available. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t know if we could have stopped him before he got — Shahzad before he got to Times Square. We’ll have to wait until, you know, all the dots are put out there. It’s very difficult because we don’t get very much information from this administration.

But one real criticism I do have, Chris, is what happened in the last hours of the investigation. Beginning some time on Monday afternoon, high administration sources were leaking out the most confidential, classified information which compromised this investigation, put lives at risk and very probably caused Shahzad to escape and make it undetected to the airport.

They were putting out information I’d never heard of in a — in a case of this magnitude, and it was coming from the administration, coming from Washington. And I know the troops on the ground in New York were very concerned about it.

The administration’s hyper-defensiveness goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to open itself up to scrutiny when it comes to examining these incidents. As we saw with the refusal to respond to Lieberman’s subpoena on the Fort Hood massacre and the refusal to release information about recidivism of  released Guantanamo detainees, the administration insists that we take it on faith that they are “good” and have just the right policies in place. The track record they are developing, however, suggests otherwise. In any event, that’s not how our system should work. We have another political branch of government, not to mention the American people, that deserves answers to hard questions.

It is only because Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have largely allowed the administration to avoid oversight that it has gotten away with such a dearth of transparency. That may change this November. We may then finally discover just how lucky we’ve been.

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If Jews Back Obama’s Pressure, Why Was the ‘Charm Offensive’ Necessary?

For those who were thrilled by President Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel and to treat Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as illegal settlements, the recent “charm offensive” by which the White House has sought to deflect the growing criticism from friends of the Jewish state has to be a downer. With recent polls showing that a majority of American Jews disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and with most of the centrist leadership of American Jewry expressing dismay over the president’s positions on Jerusalem, the left’s assertion that the president can count on Jewish support for his pressure on Israel has been effectively debunked.

But that hasn’t stopped The New York Times from once again trotting out one of the standards of their coverage of American Jewry. The headline of the piece published today on their website couldn’t make the agenda of the article any clearer: “On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree.” The familiar conceit of the feature is that while the big names of American Jewry and the leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations still support Israel, the rank and file do not.

The piece argues that the overwhelming support for Obama in the 2008 election and the reliably liberal Democratic cast of Jewish voters must mean that they applaud his clear animus for Israel. Of course, if that were true, Obama wouldn’t have bothered campaigning as if he were a devoted friend of Israel. Despite that, the leader of the left-wing J Street lobby is still trying to promote the idea that most Jews don’t support Israel’s policies and want Washington to pressure it to accept a two-state solution. But as uneasiness over the administration’s hostility grew in recent months, it became clear that even most Jewish Democrats knew that Israel’s government has accepted such a solution but that it is the Palestinians who won’t make peace. Thus, J Street has made little headway in Washington with a Congress that is still reliably pro-Israel and unhappy about the administration’s drift. But that doesn’t stop the Times from treating its claims as self-evident.

But for all the protestations by the left of Jewish support for pressure on Israel, it has to be obvious that the White House doesn’t buy it. If they were as confident as J Street that their Jewish Democratic base liked what they were doing, then why would they have spent so much time in the last month trying to back away from a fight with Israel that they had picked in the first place. Why shlep Elie Wiesel to the White House yesterday for a private audience with the president after he published an ad in several newspapers warning Obama that Jerusalem was the “heart of our heart and the soul of our soul” if the administration wasn’t convinced that the famed Holocaust survivor’s concerns weren’t far more representative of public opinion than the partisan natterings of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami?

While the charm offensive may not do much more than calm some panicky Jewish Democrats who are willing to believe Obama’s new promises just as they swallowed his campaign pledges, it does prove one thing: the White House knows that an open feud with Israel and its friends is political poison.

Indeed, the best the Times could do to support its thesis that Ben-Ami is right is to gather a few members of a Secular Humanist Temple in suburban Detroit to find a some Jews who are willing to attack Israel’s government. While the members of that tiny slice of Jewish demography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, the notion that this small splinter group of Jews who eschew religious faith in favor of a secular ethnicity is representative of American Jewry is absurd. But even there, among members of a Temple who cannot help but be far more liberal than the average Jewish congregation, the Times still discovered that there were some who were concerned about those who unfairly blame Israel for the conflict. As 87-year-old Rosetta Creed stated: “It makes me angry that the Israelis are always blamed for the problems and asked to make concessions,” Ms. Creed said. “You know, the Israelis are not the ones launching rockets and placing fighters in houses with children inside.”

For those who were thrilled by President Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel and to treat Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as illegal settlements, the recent “charm offensive” by which the White House has sought to deflect the growing criticism from friends of the Jewish state has to be a downer. With recent polls showing that a majority of American Jews disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and with most of the centrist leadership of American Jewry expressing dismay over the president’s positions on Jerusalem, the left’s assertion that the president can count on Jewish support for his pressure on Israel has been effectively debunked.

But that hasn’t stopped The New York Times from once again trotting out one of the standards of their coverage of American Jewry. The headline of the piece published today on their website couldn’t make the agenda of the article any clearer: “On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree.” The familiar conceit of the feature is that while the big names of American Jewry and the leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations still support Israel, the rank and file do not.

The piece argues that the overwhelming support for Obama in the 2008 election and the reliably liberal Democratic cast of Jewish voters must mean that they applaud his clear animus for Israel. Of course, if that were true, Obama wouldn’t have bothered campaigning as if he were a devoted friend of Israel. Despite that, the leader of the left-wing J Street lobby is still trying to promote the idea that most Jews don’t support Israel’s policies and want Washington to pressure it to accept a two-state solution. But as uneasiness over the administration’s hostility grew in recent months, it became clear that even most Jewish Democrats knew that Israel’s government has accepted such a solution but that it is the Palestinians who won’t make peace. Thus, J Street has made little headway in Washington with a Congress that is still reliably pro-Israel and unhappy about the administration’s drift. But that doesn’t stop the Times from treating its claims as self-evident.

But for all the protestations by the left of Jewish support for pressure on Israel, it has to be obvious that the White House doesn’t buy it. If they were as confident as J Street that their Jewish Democratic base liked what they were doing, then why would they have spent so much time in the last month trying to back away from a fight with Israel that they had picked in the first place. Why shlep Elie Wiesel to the White House yesterday for a private audience with the president after he published an ad in several newspapers warning Obama that Jerusalem was the “heart of our heart and the soul of our soul” if the administration wasn’t convinced that the famed Holocaust survivor’s concerns weren’t far more representative of public opinion than the partisan natterings of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami?

While the charm offensive may not do much more than calm some panicky Jewish Democrats who are willing to believe Obama’s new promises just as they swallowed his campaign pledges, it does prove one thing: the White House knows that an open feud with Israel and its friends is political poison.

Indeed, the best the Times could do to support its thesis that Ben-Ami is right is to gather a few members of a Secular Humanist Temple in suburban Detroit to find a some Jews who are willing to attack Israel’s government. While the members of that tiny slice of Jewish demography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, the notion that this small splinter group of Jews who eschew religious faith in favor of a secular ethnicity is representative of American Jewry is absurd. But even there, among members of a Temple who cannot help but be far more liberal than the average Jewish congregation, the Times still discovered that there were some who were concerned about those who unfairly blame Israel for the conflict. As 87-year-old Rosetta Creed stated: “It makes me angry that the Israelis are always blamed for the problems and asked to make concessions,” Ms. Creed said. “You know, the Israelis are not the ones launching rockets and placing fighters in houses with children inside.”

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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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The Least Transparent Administration

Among the Obama administration’s wildly inaccurate self-descriptors is that it is the most “transparent administration in history.” That is — as we have repeatedly seen in the national security  and civil rights realms– nonsense. We see it again in the Times Square jihadist attack. Even the Washington Post editors have had enough of the administration’s aversion to disclosure:

But much is still not known about the administration’s handling of this case. For example, how long was Mr. Shahzad questioned before he was read his Miranda rights? And what triggered the Justice Department’s decision to suspend the “ticking time bomb” exception in case law that gives law enforcement officers an opportunity to gather information before advising a suspect of his right to remain silent? The administration has also not publicly addressed whether it consulted with intelligence officials on the best way to deal with Mr. Shahzad. Nor has it said whether its High Value Interrogation Group (HIG) — a group of law enforcement and intelligence experts specially trained for terrorism cases — was up and running and deployed in the Shahzad case.

The administration rightly came under fire for its handling of the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen who tried to ignite explosives on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day. In that case, the Justice Department failed to adequately consult its intelligence partners and rashly embraced a law enforcement approach without fully considering other options, including holding Mr. Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant.

As in the Fort Hood massacre, the administration resists scrutiny here. It’s odd indeed that the Obama brain trust is willing — anxious even — to give KSM a public forum to spout his jihadist propaganda (we’re not afraid, pronounces Holder) but can’t discuss its own approach to jihadist terrorists in open hearings and press conferences. Is this the usual thin-skinned irritation with critics at work? Or does the administration at some level understand how out of sync with the public is its approach to terrorists?

House and Senate Democrats have shirked their responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight. We may have to wait until one or both houses flip to Republican control before we have chairmen willing to demand documents and grill Obama officials. We hope that the lessons learned from such investigations do not come too late to prevent yet another attack on the homeland.

Among the Obama administration’s wildly inaccurate self-descriptors is that it is the most “transparent administration in history.” That is — as we have repeatedly seen in the national security  and civil rights realms– nonsense. We see it again in the Times Square jihadist attack. Even the Washington Post editors have had enough of the administration’s aversion to disclosure:

But much is still not known about the administration’s handling of this case. For example, how long was Mr. Shahzad questioned before he was read his Miranda rights? And what triggered the Justice Department’s decision to suspend the “ticking time bomb” exception in case law that gives law enforcement officers an opportunity to gather information before advising a suspect of his right to remain silent? The administration has also not publicly addressed whether it consulted with intelligence officials on the best way to deal with Mr. Shahzad. Nor has it said whether its High Value Interrogation Group (HIG) — a group of law enforcement and intelligence experts specially trained for terrorism cases — was up and running and deployed in the Shahzad case.

The administration rightly came under fire for its handling of the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen who tried to ignite explosives on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day. In that case, the Justice Department failed to adequately consult its intelligence partners and rashly embraced a law enforcement approach without fully considering other options, including holding Mr. Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant.

As in the Fort Hood massacre, the administration resists scrutiny here. It’s odd indeed that the Obama brain trust is willing — anxious even — to give KSM a public forum to spout his jihadist propaganda (we’re not afraid, pronounces Holder) but can’t discuss its own approach to jihadist terrorists in open hearings and press conferences. Is this the usual thin-skinned irritation with critics at work? Or does the administration at some level understand how out of sync with the public is its approach to terrorists?

House and Senate Democrats have shirked their responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight. We may have to wait until one or both houses flip to Republican control before we have chairmen willing to demand documents and grill Obama officials. We hope that the lessons learned from such investigations do not come too late to prevent yet another attack on the homeland.

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Obama OKs Assassination of American Citizen

…and no, it’s not Rush Limbaugh.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.

Nice to know.

However, I respectfully request, Mr. President, that the following be added to your hit list:

• Customer-service rep #2346 at Time Warner Cable, Queens, New York
• Customer-service rep “Treacle” at Verizon Wireless
• Customer-service rep “Chandra” at Dell
• Customer-service rep “Mahmoud” at Vonage
• Customer-service rep “Captain Nightmare” at Citibank
• Whoever thought this was a good idea

…and no, it’s not Rush Limbaugh.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.

Nice to know.

However, I respectfully request, Mr. President, that the following be added to your hit list:

• Customer-service rep #2346 at Time Warner Cable, Queens, New York
• Customer-service rep “Treacle” at Verizon Wireless
• Customer-service rep “Chandra” at Dell
• Customer-service rep “Mahmoud” at Vonage
• Customer-service rep “Captain Nightmare” at Citibank
• Whoever thought this was a good idea

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Re: Gartenstein-Ross Defends Rashad Hussain

Hussain’s comment was not an isolated one. Josh Gerstein reports on the recording of the event that Hussain has tried to conceal from view:

Hussain refers to some provisions of the Patriot Act as “horrible” and called “dangerous” an aspect of that law that allows intelligence-related surveillance to be used in criminal cases. Most lawmakers, including many Democrats critical of the Patriot Act, have said the provision has proved valuable, because it removed a wall that made it difficult for those pursuing investigations of international terror or spying operations to share information with criminal investigators. Hussain did express support for other aspects of the law, including a provision permitting so-called roving wiretaps.

Hussain’s position seems to be in direct conflict with the current administration, but quite in tune with the grievance-mongering lobby of CAIR and other groups. But that is not all. In his speech, Hussain cited chapter and verse on the supposed persecution of Muslims:

— The court martial of Capt. James Yee, a Guantanamo chaplain initially suspected of treason and later charged with adultery. All charges were eventually dropped.

— The case of Jose Padilla, who was held without charge for more than three years as an enemy combatant on suspicions of trying to detonate a radiation-laced “dirty bomb” in the U.S. In 2006, more than a year after Hussain spoke, Padilla was charged in a terrorist plot unrelated to the dirty bomb allegations. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of Yaser Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan, held as an enemy combatant and released to Saudi Arabia weeks after Hussain spoke.

— The prosecution of an imam and a pizzeria owner in Albany, N.Y., for conspiring with an informant in a fictitious plot to use a missile launcher to attack a Pakistani diplomat. The men were convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, though their lawyers claimed the pair were entrapped.

— The prosecution of a Somali man, Nuradin Abdi, in 2004 for plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio. He pled guilty in 2007 to conspiring to support terrorism and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of an Oregon lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed for more than two weeks in 2004 as a material witness on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings that year. He was never charged with a crime, received an apology from the FBI, which said it misidentified his fingerprints, and brought a lawsuit that led to a reported $2 million settlement from the government in 2006.

— The prosecution of four men as alleged members of a Detroit-based Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” plotting an attack. Two of the men were convicted on terror charges in 2003 but the convictions were thrown out at the government’s request after evidence emerged of prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable informant. The prosecutor was charged criminally with concealing exculpatory evidence but later acquitted.

Hussain went on to tell the audience at the event, held roughly two months before the 2004 election, that electing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as president could stem the tide of such cases.

This kind of rhetoric may get cheers from the Left and from CAIR but is not, even for this administration, remotely acceptable. The Obami have pointedly refused to stick up for Hussain since Friday’s revelation. At this point, I suspect they would rather have someone else in that role – someone who does not see behind every legitimate effort to defend America from Islamic fascist the specter of anti-Muslim discrimination.

Hussain’s comment was not an isolated one. Josh Gerstein reports on the recording of the event that Hussain has tried to conceal from view:

Hussain refers to some provisions of the Patriot Act as “horrible” and called “dangerous” an aspect of that law that allows intelligence-related surveillance to be used in criminal cases. Most lawmakers, including many Democrats critical of the Patriot Act, have said the provision has proved valuable, because it removed a wall that made it difficult for those pursuing investigations of international terror or spying operations to share information with criminal investigators. Hussain did express support for other aspects of the law, including a provision permitting so-called roving wiretaps.

Hussain’s position seems to be in direct conflict with the current administration, but quite in tune with the grievance-mongering lobby of CAIR and other groups. But that is not all. In his speech, Hussain cited chapter and verse on the supposed persecution of Muslims:

— The court martial of Capt. James Yee, a Guantanamo chaplain initially suspected of treason and later charged with adultery. All charges were eventually dropped.

— The case of Jose Padilla, who was held without charge for more than three years as an enemy combatant on suspicions of trying to detonate a radiation-laced “dirty bomb” in the U.S. In 2006, more than a year after Hussain spoke, Padilla was charged in a terrorist plot unrelated to the dirty bomb allegations. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of Yaser Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan, held as an enemy combatant and released to Saudi Arabia weeks after Hussain spoke.

— The prosecution of an imam and a pizzeria owner in Albany, N.Y., for conspiring with an informant in a fictitious plot to use a missile launcher to attack a Pakistani diplomat. The men were convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, though their lawyers claimed the pair were entrapped.

— The prosecution of a Somali man, Nuradin Abdi, in 2004 for plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio. He pled guilty in 2007 to conspiring to support terrorism and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of an Oregon lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed for more than two weeks in 2004 as a material witness on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings that year. He was never charged with a crime, received an apology from the FBI, which said it misidentified his fingerprints, and brought a lawsuit that led to a reported $2 million settlement from the government in 2006.

— The prosecution of four men as alleged members of a Detroit-based Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” plotting an attack. Two of the men were convicted on terror charges in 2003 but the convictions were thrown out at the government’s request after evidence emerged of prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable informant. The prosecutor was charged criminally with concealing exculpatory evidence but later acquitted.

Hussain went on to tell the audience at the event, held roughly two months before the 2004 election, that electing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as president could stem the tide of such cases.

This kind of rhetoric may get cheers from the Left and from CAIR but is not, even for this administration, remotely acceptable. The Obami have pointedly refused to stick up for Hussain since Friday’s revelation. At this point, I suspect they would rather have someone else in that role – someone who does not see behind every legitimate effort to defend America from Islamic fascist the specter of anti-Muslim discrimination.

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Hunting Heads

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

If Christmas Day airline bomber Umar Abdulmutallab had been identified by Special Forces in Yemen, rather than being detained in Detroit, he could well have been summarily killed in a drone strike instead of being read his rights. Such are the features of the Obama approach to the war on terror.

The AP has a story today outlining something that has been apparent for months: that President Obama is relying to a much greater degree than Bush did on standoff drone attacks against terrorists in Asia and the Middle East. The AP piece presents this as a fresh, successful strategy, one applauded by Pakistani officials and made possible by the drawdown in Iraq, which is freeing up drones and intelligence assets for use elsewhere. In the AP analysis, moreover, Obama’s choice to leave behind terms such as “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism” is amplifying his effectiveness by abetting a policy of reaching out to Islamic allies.

This is one way of looking at it – but it’s a narrative that omits important context. Obama’s strategy isn’t a matter of increasing our reliance on drone strikes while at the same time maintaining the politically comprehensive Bush approach to combating Islamist terrorism. It involves instead shifting our approach away from Bush’s indispensable political element – fostering liberalization, consensual government, and civil security in the Islamic world – toward an emphasis on simply killing individual terrorists. But Obama has also adopted this strategy in the context of a kid-gloves policy toward foreign terrorists who happen to fall, still alive, into the clutches of the U.S. justice system.

We might certainly call the latter factor an ethical paradox, or perhaps simply a double standard. In neither guise does the Obama policy come off as principled from any universalist ethical sense. A policy of what amounts to assassination overseas, coupled with legalist zealotry for the rights of the accused at home, can’t help looking like a cynical combination tinged with domestic-constituency tending and rank hypocrisy.

Terrible things are done in war, of course; and the terrorists being targeted in standoff attacks are known to be ringleaders, most with ghastly bombings on their rap sheets. But the “big picture” justification for this tactic, the mitigating strategic objective of promoting a “better peace” in the Islamic societies, is something Obama has been at pains to shed. This policy trend must at some point call into question the purpose of our campaign of force. I’ve written here and here about Obama’s turn away from the core Bush tenet of fighting terrorism by means of promoting civil outcomes abroad. Whether by excising the promotion of freedom and democracy from our national objectives, or by envisioning for Afghanistan a “less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence” than in Iraq, the Obama administration has backed off significantly from Bush’s policy of shaping conditions for the better overseas.

It bears repeating that Bush chose to go all-in on that policy – with the surge decision in late 2006 – because the lighter-footprint approach favored by Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t working. There is a real risk with the light-footprint strategy that using head-hunting tactics against terrorists will begin to look more and more like taking the worst kind of law-enforcement approach: one that dispenses with the inconvenient constraints of law. Indeed, a diligent UN official has already made this point about our drone strike campaign.

Minimizing our own “skin in the game” may seem like a prudent policy in the short run. But it will not be to our advantage over the long run if Afghans, Pakistanis, or Yemenis come to see us as having arrived not to foster a better future for them, but rather to use their territory as a sniper perch.

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Cohen vs. Obama

When Richard Cohen sounds like Dick Cheney, the Obama administration is in a heap of trouble:

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves.

Not even a generally sympathetic liberal columnist like Cohen buys the hooey that the administration didn’t “lose anything” when it Mirandized the Christmas Day bomber:

Administration officials defend what happened in Detroit and assert, against common sense and the holy truth itself, that they got valuable intelligence — and so what more would you want? But Abdulmutallab went silent before terrorism experts from Washington could get to him. It has been more than a month since he last opened his mouth, and even if he resumes cooperating — a deal may be in the works — he now knows just a bit more about the present-day location of various al-Qaeda operatives than does Regis Philbin.

It seems that there is now general agreement even from the liberal punditocracy that Obama got it very wrong. He and his minions in the Department of Justice forgot — or never understood – that, as Cohen puts it, “the paramount civil liberty is a sense of security.” If not only the cabal of neocon critics but also card-carrying liberals agree that Obama has “shown poor judgment” and neglected citizens’ entirely justified concerns about their personal safety, then the president is in a perilous position indeed. He must scramble back from the limb he has crawled out on, reverse a host of policy choices, re-establish his bona fides as a resolute commander in chief, find personnel who can implement a not “Not Bush” policy, and devise new rhetoric to express appreciation for the security of those he swore an oath to defend.

That’s a tall order, certainly. But Obama can always tell us how “hard” these issues are, how long and intense was his rumination about them, and how none of this really vindicates his critics. Whatever rationalizations he needs, I’m sure he and his spinners can come up with them. But what is key is that he reverse his entire approach to terrorism — before he permanently loses the trust of not just pundits but the vast majority of voters, and more important, before we have not a close call but a disaster on his watch. If the unthinkable happens, there will be no one else to blame and, I suspect, no mercy shown by an electorate increasingly skeptical about Obama’s competence as the commander in chief in a war for the survival of our civilization.

When Richard Cohen sounds like Dick Cheney, the Obama administration is in a heap of trouble:

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves.

Not even a generally sympathetic liberal columnist like Cohen buys the hooey that the administration didn’t “lose anything” when it Mirandized the Christmas Day bomber:

Administration officials defend what happened in Detroit and assert, against common sense and the holy truth itself, that they got valuable intelligence — and so what more would you want? But Abdulmutallab went silent before terrorism experts from Washington could get to him. It has been more than a month since he last opened his mouth, and even if he resumes cooperating — a deal may be in the works — he now knows just a bit more about the present-day location of various al-Qaeda operatives than does Regis Philbin.

It seems that there is now general agreement even from the liberal punditocracy that Obama got it very wrong. He and his minions in the Department of Justice forgot — or never understood – that, as Cohen puts it, “the paramount civil liberty is a sense of security.” If not only the cabal of neocon critics but also card-carrying liberals agree that Obama has “shown poor judgment” and neglected citizens’ entirely justified concerns about their personal safety, then the president is in a perilous position indeed. He must scramble back from the limb he has crawled out on, reverse a host of policy choices, re-establish his bona fides as a resolute commander in chief, find personnel who can implement a not “Not Bush” policy, and devise new rhetoric to express appreciation for the security of those he swore an oath to defend.

That’s a tall order, certainly. But Obama can always tell us how “hard” these issues are, how long and intense was his rumination about them, and how none of this really vindicates his critics. Whatever rationalizations he needs, I’m sure he and his spinners can come up with them. But what is key is that he reverse his entire approach to terrorism — before he permanently loses the trust of not just pundits but the vast majority of voters, and more important, before we have not a close call but a disaster on his watch. If the unthinkable happens, there will be no one else to blame and, I suspect, no mercy shown by an electorate increasingly skeptical about Obama’s competence as the commander in chief in a war for the survival of our civilization.

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Time to Throw Holder Under the Bus?

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Evan Bayh, perhaps hearing footsteps back home in an election year, said of the KSM trial that it “sounded good in theory way back when but, in practice, it just was not the right thing to do.” When pressed by Chris Wallace, he stated he would not vote for the $200 million or so needed for a civilian trial for KSM. He was not alone in criticizing the administration:

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin argued these are the wrong decisions.  “We should have learned from the mistakes we made in the past.  We shouldn’t be Mirandizing foreign terrorists.  We should send them to military tribunals.  $200 million is about four times the startup cost of Guantanamo in the first place.”

Similarly, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander accused Attorney General Holder of “doing a better job of interrogating CIA employees than he is of interrogating terrorists.”

“He’s not making a distinction between enemy combatants, the terrorists who are flying into Detroit, blowing up plans, and American citizens who are committing a crime,” he added.

Alexander went so far as to call for Holder to step down.

Meanwhile, the administration’s official flack did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of either the KSM trial or of Holder himself. Appearing on CNN, Robert Gibbs would only say:

“He will be brought to justice, and he will likely be executed for the heinous crimes he has committed. … That you can be sure of.”

But he dodged repeated questions by CNN host John King about whether the administration might shift the venue back from federal court in New York to a military court, finally saying that “The attorney general believes the best place to try him is in an American courtroom,” but not committing to that option…

“We are talking with the authorities in New York,” Gibbs said. “We understand their logistical concerns. We have been discussing that with them.”

So this is all the attorney general’s idea, you see. Not exactly the “buck stops here” sort of decision-making we were assured we’d get from Obama. But aside from the lack of presidential accountability and candor (who believes Holder made this monumentally dumb decision with no input from the White House?), it does leave open the potential for a serious revision in personnel and policy.

There is wide consensus that the decision to try KSM in federal court in New York was a blunder. Suddenly, the wonders of military commissions have been rediscovered. The handling of the Christmas Day bomber is likewise the subject of broad criticism. Who is at the center of these and a host of other ill-advised decisions on the war on terror? Well, the president, of course, but he’s not going anywhere for three years. His attorney general, however, has had quite a run and is fast becoming a liability for the administration. What better way to pivot and restore some bipartisan credibility than to throw Holder under the proverbial bus?

We’ve learned that it takes a lot to get fired by Obama. But if anyone has earned that fate, it is Holder. His departure would earn praise from conservatives at a time when Obama is struggling to demonstrate some bipartisanship. It would suggest that there is hope yet for this administration to steer back toward the Center of the political spectrum and away from the netroot agenda that has proven utterly unworkable and politically toxic.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Evan Bayh, perhaps hearing footsteps back home in an election year, said of the KSM trial that it “sounded good in theory way back when but, in practice, it just was not the right thing to do.” When pressed by Chris Wallace, he stated he would not vote for the $200 million or so needed for a civilian trial for KSM. He was not alone in criticizing the administration:

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin argued these are the wrong decisions.  “We should have learned from the mistakes we made in the past.  We shouldn’t be Mirandizing foreign terrorists.  We should send them to military tribunals.  $200 million is about four times the startup cost of Guantanamo in the first place.”

Similarly, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander accused Attorney General Holder of “doing a better job of interrogating CIA employees than he is of interrogating terrorists.”

“He’s not making a distinction between enemy combatants, the terrorists who are flying into Detroit, blowing up plans, and American citizens who are committing a crime,” he added.

Alexander went so far as to call for Holder to step down.

Meanwhile, the administration’s official flack did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of either the KSM trial or of Holder himself. Appearing on CNN, Robert Gibbs would only say:

“He will be brought to justice, and he will likely be executed for the heinous crimes he has committed. … That you can be sure of.”

But he dodged repeated questions by CNN host John King about whether the administration might shift the venue back from federal court in New York to a military court, finally saying that “The attorney general believes the best place to try him is in an American courtroom,” but not committing to that option…

“We are talking with the authorities in New York,” Gibbs said. “We understand their logistical concerns. We have been discussing that with them.”

So this is all the attorney general’s idea, you see. Not exactly the “buck stops here” sort of decision-making we were assured we’d get from Obama. But aside from the lack of presidential accountability and candor (who believes Holder made this monumentally dumb decision with no input from the White House?), it does leave open the potential for a serious revision in personnel and policy.

There is wide consensus that the decision to try KSM in federal court in New York was a blunder. Suddenly, the wonders of military commissions have been rediscovered. The handling of the Christmas Day bomber is likewise the subject of broad criticism. Who is at the center of these and a host of other ill-advised decisions on the war on terror? Well, the president, of course, but he’s not going anywhere for three years. His attorney general, however, has had quite a run and is fast becoming a liability for the administration. What better way to pivot and restore some bipartisan credibility than to throw Holder under the proverbial bus?

We’ve learned that it takes a lot to get fired by Obama. But if anyone has earned that fate, it is Holder. His departure would earn praise from conservatives at a time when Obama is struggling to demonstrate some bipartisanship. It would suggest that there is hope yet for this administration to steer back toward the Center of the political spectrum and away from the netroot agenda that has proven utterly unworkable and politically toxic.

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Michael Hayden vs. Obami’s Folly

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is the latest and among the most credible critics of the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He writes:

We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not “an isolated extremist.” He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?

This is, as Hayden points out, one in a long list of misjudgments that began when we limited our interrogations to the Army Field Manual, stripped the CIA of its interrogation responsibilities (and then failed to implement the high-value detainee interrogation team), released the interrogation memos, began the re-investigation of CIA operatives, decided to try KSM, and, of course, determined to close Guantanamo without a reasonable alternative. Our anti-terror policies now have an entirely legalistic cast, and our intelligence-gathering has been subsumed to a new priority: the extension of constitutional protections to terrorists. As Hadyen dryly concludes:

In August, the government unveiled the [ High Value Interrogation Group] for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway.

Aside from the political controversy this has created and the lack of confidence it has inspired among the American people, the question remains whether we are now safer, and our intelligence agencies, more focused. Almost certainly, we are neither. This has been a grand experiment — allowing leftist lawyers to run our national-security policy. Perhaps after a year, we can now see how foolhardy the endeavor was. If the president cannot pivot (just as on domestic policy), it is time for Congress to step forward, use the power of the purse, and exercise its authority over the federal courts’ jurisdiction. Members of Congress, too, have an obligation to attend to the national security of the country. They would be well advised to review, assess, and then depart from the Obami’s ill-fated escapade.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is the latest and among the most credible critics of the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He writes:

We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not “an isolated extremist.” He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?

This is, as Hayden points out, one in a long list of misjudgments that began when we limited our interrogations to the Army Field Manual, stripped the CIA of its interrogation responsibilities (and then failed to implement the high-value detainee interrogation team), released the interrogation memos, began the re-investigation of CIA operatives, decided to try KSM, and, of course, determined to close Guantanamo without a reasonable alternative. Our anti-terror policies now have an entirely legalistic cast, and our intelligence-gathering has been subsumed to a new priority: the extension of constitutional protections to terrorists. As Hadyen dryly concludes:

In August, the government unveiled the [ High Value Interrogation Group] for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway.

Aside from the political controversy this has created and the lack of confidence it has inspired among the American people, the question remains whether we are now safer, and our intelligence agencies, more focused. Almost certainly, we are neither. This has been a grand experiment — allowing leftist lawyers to run our national-security policy. Perhaps after a year, we can now see how foolhardy the endeavor was. If the president cannot pivot (just as on domestic policy), it is time for Congress to step forward, use the power of the purse, and exercise its authority over the federal courts’ jurisdiction. Members of Congress, too, have an obligation to attend to the national security of the country. They would be well advised to review, assess, and then depart from the Obami’s ill-fated escapade.

Read Less




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