Commentary Magazine


Topic: effect

What Jerry Brown Does Not Propose to Cut, Realign, or Reform

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

It was easy to miss California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address on Monday this week. Besides competing with events in the Middle East, his speech had the disadvantage of being little more than a pitch to California voters for the budget plan his office published in January. The plan is touted as inflicting pain on everyone, but it doesn’t. It postpones, for separate deliberation, a remedy for California’s looming $700 billion public-pension deficit. And it leaves the state’s regulatory posture untouched.

The Brown budget plan does propose significant cuts in health, higher-education, and welfare spending. It proposes a “fundamental realignment” of government that would shift more of the responsibility to pay for police and fire services, criminal courts, prisons, and parole programs to the counties and major cities. Brown plans to ease this transition with a five-year extension of the current, elevated tax rates, from which the revenues would be distributed to local governments. His budget includes consolidation of administrative functions in the state government, along with cuts of 8-10 percent in state-worker compensation.

But ultimately, the Brown approach is narrow and exclusively fiscal. The governor is trying to balance the books without addressing the government-imposed conditions that tend, inevitably, to unbalance them. The problem of unsustainable pensions is one of those conditions — and while Brown does propose to address it, he hasn’t attached any real incentives to the debate. By contrast, however, he is prepared to hold state funds for police and fire services hostage to the people’s willingness to vote for a tax extension. It’s a tribute to his laid-back brand of pugnacity (and the quiescence of the California media) that this veiled threat has gone virtually unrecognized for what it is. A New York politician would not be so lucky.

As alarming as the pension problem is, a more fundamental dysfunction is California’s vigorous, energetic, enthusiastically experimental regulatory environment. Regulation, as much as the tax code, drives businesses and jobs out of the state. Besides creating the artificial drought in the San Joaquin Valley, regulation has shut down entirely such potential sources of revenue as offshore drilling and modernized refineries, while ensuring that the state’s power and water infrastructures will not be adequately updated, and imposing some of the nation’s highest compliance costs on businesses and customers.

But Jerry Brown doesn’t propose to change policy on these matters, nor does he propose any changes in the administration of the regulatory environment. State regulatory agencies and their charters will be affected, in his budget, only by the government-wide consolidation of functions.

At some point, it may occur to California voters that they’re being asked to do all the adjusting so that the state government need suffer no interruption in imposing an ideological vision on them. I don’t see any other state government proposing to make these same choices in 2011; as usual, California is out on its own limb. It will be instructive, and no doubt cautionary, to observe what happens.

Read Less

Is It 1848 in the Arab World?

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

Read Less

Those Christian Zionists Are at It Again

So the evangelicals are planting trees in Israel to help with the Carmel-fire disaster-relief effort? Clearly this is some sort of Christian Zionist ploy to entice more Jews into making aliyah so that the End of Days comes faster and we can finally get to the part when the Jewish people are condemned to an eternity of hellfire. Or at least I imagine that’s how Tikkun would frame it.

From the Jewish National Fund’s press release:

Representatives of the Ministry of Tourism KKL-JNF USA have begun to work together to recruit leaders and heads of the U.S. Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities for the rehabilitation of the Carmel forest region. Already in the coming days, fundraising campaigns aimed at forest restoration will begin among the American Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities with a view to planting trees to rehabilitate the Carmel forest area during the New Year for Trees (Tu Bishvat) which falls on 20.1.11.

The Carmel blaze destroyed more than 5 million trees, so this is a welcome effort. Israel is fortunate to have the support of the Christian Zionists, especially when some other groups — such as the New Israel Fund, an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel” — spend much of their funds and energy supporting those trying to get Tzipi Livni arrested in Europe.

So the evangelicals are planting trees in Israel to help with the Carmel-fire disaster-relief effort? Clearly this is some sort of Christian Zionist ploy to entice more Jews into making aliyah so that the End of Days comes faster and we can finally get to the part when the Jewish people are condemned to an eternity of hellfire. Or at least I imagine that’s how Tikkun would frame it.

From the Jewish National Fund’s press release:

Representatives of the Ministry of Tourism KKL-JNF USA have begun to work together to recruit leaders and heads of the U.S. Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities for the rehabilitation of the Carmel forest region. Already in the coming days, fundraising campaigns aimed at forest restoration will begin among the American Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities with a view to planting trees to rehabilitate the Carmel forest area during the New Year for Trees (Tu Bishvat) which falls on 20.1.11.

The Carmel blaze destroyed more than 5 million trees, so this is a welcome effort. Israel is fortunate to have the support of the Christian Zionists, especially when some other groups — such as the New Israel Fund, an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel” — spend much of their funds and energy supporting those trying to get Tzipi Livni arrested in Europe.

Read Less

Afternoon Commentary

The National Republican Congressional Committee  announced today that it is $12 million in debt — which turns out to be a small price to pay for 63 House seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in comparison, finished the midterms $19.5 million in debt, and with bruising losses. The Democratic committee also outspent its Republican counterpart $120.2 million to $93.7 million, showing that money doesn’t necessarily buy political victory.

Did bribery play a part in FIFA’s 2022 World Cup decision? That’s the theory being fueled by the blogosphere. Nate Silver runs through the possible explanations for the committee’s baffling choice and finds a legitimate case for selecting Qatar pretty flimsy.

Kerry is optimistic about a New START deal in the next few days, but it sounds like he’s being bit too idealistic. Republicans are still wary about rushing the agreement, and it looks like a vote may not occur before the end of the year.

Cables reveal that Russia waged a secret war on Georgia starting in 2004. This raises questions about the reset strategy and the reluctance of the U.S. to forcefully criticize Russia’s provocations against its neighboring state.

“Days of awe and light, with a dreadful new significance” — the tragic Carmel forest fire has left some Israeli officials dazed, as they struggle to beat back the flames that have already left more than 40 Israelis dead.

Recipe for a mess? The Pentagon is apparently worried that the federal courts may intervene to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy before officials have time to prepare. “You need that time cushion. The Congress, I’m certain, is willing to work with us on that,” [General James Cartwright] said.

Bad news: North Korea has likely built more than one uranium-enrichment plant, says the Obama administration, raising significant concerns about the number of atomic weapons the country will be able to pump out.

Is Obama making moves toward the center? Democrats are apparently grumbling over the president’s private negotiations with the GOP on a tax-cut extension, saying he’s “too quick to accommodate his adversaries.”

The end may be near for WikiLeaks. The website was forced to change its name and move to a Swiss server after getting pummeled by cyber-attacks. And now the British authorities are reportedly closing in on Assange.

The National Republican Congressional Committee  announced today that it is $12 million in debt — which turns out to be a small price to pay for 63 House seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in comparison, finished the midterms $19.5 million in debt, and with bruising losses. The Democratic committee also outspent its Republican counterpart $120.2 million to $93.7 million, showing that money doesn’t necessarily buy political victory.

Did bribery play a part in FIFA’s 2022 World Cup decision? That’s the theory being fueled by the blogosphere. Nate Silver runs through the possible explanations for the committee’s baffling choice and finds a legitimate case for selecting Qatar pretty flimsy.

Kerry is optimistic about a New START deal in the next few days, but it sounds like he’s being bit too idealistic. Republicans are still wary about rushing the agreement, and it looks like a vote may not occur before the end of the year.

Cables reveal that Russia waged a secret war on Georgia starting in 2004. This raises questions about the reset strategy and the reluctance of the U.S. to forcefully criticize Russia’s provocations against its neighboring state.

“Days of awe and light, with a dreadful new significance” — the tragic Carmel forest fire has left some Israeli officials dazed, as they struggle to beat back the flames that have already left more than 40 Israelis dead.

Recipe for a mess? The Pentagon is apparently worried that the federal courts may intervene to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy before officials have time to prepare. “You need that time cushion. The Congress, I’m certain, is willing to work with us on that,” [General James Cartwright] said.

Bad news: North Korea has likely built more than one uranium-enrichment plant, says the Obama administration, raising significant concerns about the number of atomic weapons the country will be able to pump out.

Is Obama making moves toward the center? Democrats are apparently grumbling over the president’s private negotiations with the GOP on a tax-cut extension, saying he’s “too quick to accommodate his adversaries.”

The end may be near for WikiLeaks. The website was forced to change its name and move to a Swiss server after getting pummeled by cyber-attacks. And now the British authorities are reportedly closing in on Assange.

Read Less

Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Read Less

A Natural Experiment in Political Economy

One of the reasons that political science is such an inexact discipline is the difficulty of experimentation. If you want to test, say, a drug, you take a bunch of genetically identical rats, give half of them the drug and half a placebo, and see what differences turn up between the two groups. But testing a political theory (or an economic one — and political science was known in the 19th century as political economy) is harder to arrange. Rats don’t vote and people do, at least in democracies.

So political scientists, like astronomers, have to wait for natural experiments to come along. To test, for example, capitalism against Communism, one might want to take an economically and ethnically homogeneous country — Sweden would do nicely — and divide it in half. Place one half under one system and the other under the other and wait 50 years to see which half prospers more. But the Swedes are unlikely to agree to be the rats in this experiment. Fortunately, the vagaries of Great Power politics in the 20th century produced two situations surprisingly like the ideal experiment: Germany and Korea.

The evidence from these natural experiments is overwhelming: capitalism produces wealth and liberty; Communism produces poverty, war, and famine. The wonder is that there are still so many Marxists around.

Perhaps the reason is that ideology makes you stupid.

It is often pointed out that the states make great laboratories for political-science experiments. And an experiment has been underway for quite a while testing the liberal model — high taxes, extensive regulation, many government-provided social services, union-friendly laws — against the conservative model — low taxes, limited regulation and social services, right-to-work laws. The results are increasingly in. As Rich Lowry reports in National Review Online, the differences between California and Texas are striking. Between August 2009 and August 2010, the nation created a net of 214,000 jobs. Texas created more than half of them, 119,000. California lost 112,000 jobs in that period. Lowry writes:

Texas is a model of governmental restraint. In 2008, state and local expenditures were 25.5 percent of GDP in California, 22.8 in the U.S., and 17.3 in Texas. Back in 1987, levels of spending were roughly similar in these places. The recessions of 1991 and 2001 spiked spending everywhere, but each time Texas fought to bring it down to pre-recession levels. “Because of this policy decision,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes, “Texas’ 2008 spending burden remained slightly below its 1987 levels — a major accomplishment.”

The result has been dramatic: “A new Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes that Texas experienced a decline of 2.3 percent from its peak employment [in the current recession], while the nation declined 5.7 percent and California 8.7 percent.” And people have been voting with their feet: A thousand people a day are moving to Texas. It will likely gain four House seats next year, while California for the first time since it became a state in 1850 will gain none.

So, again, the evidence would seem to be overwhelming: high tax-and-spend policies and regulation produces stagnation and unemployment, low tax-and-spend policies and regulatory restraint produce the opposite. So why are there still so many liberals?

Same reason.

One of the reasons that political science is such an inexact discipline is the difficulty of experimentation. If you want to test, say, a drug, you take a bunch of genetically identical rats, give half of them the drug and half a placebo, and see what differences turn up between the two groups. But testing a political theory (or an economic one — and political science was known in the 19th century as political economy) is harder to arrange. Rats don’t vote and people do, at least in democracies.

So political scientists, like astronomers, have to wait for natural experiments to come along. To test, for example, capitalism against Communism, one might want to take an economically and ethnically homogeneous country — Sweden would do nicely — and divide it in half. Place one half under one system and the other under the other and wait 50 years to see which half prospers more. But the Swedes are unlikely to agree to be the rats in this experiment. Fortunately, the vagaries of Great Power politics in the 20th century produced two situations surprisingly like the ideal experiment: Germany and Korea.

The evidence from these natural experiments is overwhelming: capitalism produces wealth and liberty; Communism produces poverty, war, and famine. The wonder is that there are still so many Marxists around.

Perhaps the reason is that ideology makes you stupid.

It is often pointed out that the states make great laboratories for political-science experiments. And an experiment has been underway for quite a while testing the liberal model — high taxes, extensive regulation, many government-provided social services, union-friendly laws — against the conservative model — low taxes, limited regulation and social services, right-to-work laws. The results are increasingly in. As Rich Lowry reports in National Review Online, the differences between California and Texas are striking. Between August 2009 and August 2010, the nation created a net of 214,000 jobs. Texas created more than half of them, 119,000. California lost 112,000 jobs in that period. Lowry writes:

Texas is a model of governmental restraint. In 2008, state and local expenditures were 25.5 percent of GDP in California, 22.8 in the U.S., and 17.3 in Texas. Back in 1987, levels of spending were roughly similar in these places. The recessions of 1991 and 2001 spiked spending everywhere, but each time Texas fought to bring it down to pre-recession levels. “Because of this policy decision,” the Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes, “Texas’ 2008 spending burden remained slightly below its 1987 levels — a major accomplishment.”

The result has been dramatic: “A new Texas Public Policy Foundation report notes that Texas experienced a decline of 2.3 percent from its peak employment [in the current recession], while the nation declined 5.7 percent and California 8.7 percent.” And people have been voting with their feet: A thousand people a day are moving to Texas. It will likely gain four House seats next year, while California for the first time since it became a state in 1850 will gain none.

So, again, the evidence would seem to be overwhelming: high tax-and-spend policies and regulation produces stagnation and unemployment, low tax-and-spend policies and regulatory restraint produce the opposite. So why are there still so many liberals?

Same reason.

Read Less

Bad News for Dems: Soros Only Bets on Winners

The New York Times politics blog reports that at an appearance last week sponsored by the Bretton Woods Committee, left-wing billionaire George Soros conceded the midterm elections to the GOP. Soros was a major backer of liberal Democratic candidates in the past three election cycles but said that he has backed off in 2010:

Asked if the prospect of Republican control of one or both houses of Congress concerned him, he said: “It does, because I think they are pushing the wrong policies, but I’m not in a position to stop it. I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche.”

Soros may be wrong about almost everything in terms of policy in his financing of left-wing politicians and groups that seek to undermine the defense of American interests against Islamist terror and the U.S. alliance with Israel (J Street). But he didn’t get filthy rich by betting on losers. In other words, that rumbling sound you’ve been hearing the past few months, and which liberal writers at the Times and elsewhere have been interpreting as the upsurge of an extremist conservative Tea Party faction that will soon recede, is actually the sound of a genuine and broad-based electoral landslide that is about to bury the congressional Democratic majority that Soros worked so hard to create.

The New York Times politics blog reports that at an appearance last week sponsored by the Bretton Woods Committee, left-wing billionaire George Soros conceded the midterm elections to the GOP. Soros was a major backer of liberal Democratic candidates in the past three election cycles but said that he has backed off in 2010:

Asked if the prospect of Republican control of one or both houses of Congress concerned him, he said: “It does, because I think they are pushing the wrong policies, but I’m not in a position to stop it. I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche.”

Soros may be wrong about almost everything in terms of policy in his financing of left-wing politicians and groups that seek to undermine the defense of American interests against Islamist terror and the U.S. alliance with Israel (J Street). But he didn’t get filthy rich by betting on losers. In other words, that rumbling sound you’ve been hearing the past few months, and which liberal writers at the Times and elsewhere have been interpreting as the upsurge of an extremist conservative Tea Party faction that will soon recede, is actually the sound of a genuine and broad-based electoral landslide that is about to bury the congressional Democratic majority that Soros worked so hard to create.

Read Less

Soros Unmasked

We have learned that J Street is not the grassroots group it has made itself out to be; rather, it is but one anti-Israel organization that George Soros had founded and funded. It isn’t simply $750,000 for J Street to advance its (or rather, Soros’s) Israel-bashing agenda. There is also Human Rights Watch.

As many others have documented, Human Rights Watch is another exercise in false advertising. Noah Pollak has adeptly analyzed HRW’s anti-Israel agenda, which has featured infamous figures like Joe Stork. Who is HRW’s sugar daddy? None other than George Soros – to the tune of $100 million.

Then there is MoveOn.org, the leftist group that ran the infamous “General Betray-us” ads and sought to move the Democratic Party and the country left. Who was the founder and financier of MoveOn.org? Well, it wasn’t netroots sending in pennies and dimes. It was Soros, who fed the group $5 million. With his pocket change ($20,000), he also contributed to the legal defense fund for terrorist’s lawyer Lynne Stewart. Read More

We have learned that J Street is not the grassroots group it has made itself out to be; rather, it is but one anti-Israel organization that George Soros had founded and funded. It isn’t simply $750,000 for J Street to advance its (or rather, Soros’s) Israel-bashing agenda. There is also Human Rights Watch.

As many others have documented, Human Rights Watch is another exercise in false advertising. Noah Pollak has adeptly analyzed HRW’s anti-Israel agenda, which has featured infamous figures like Joe Stork. Who is HRW’s sugar daddy? None other than George Soros – to the tune of $100 million.

Then there is MoveOn.org, the leftist group that ran the infamous “General Betray-us” ads and sought to move the Democratic Party and the country left. Who was the founder and financier of MoveOn.org? Well, it wasn’t netroots sending in pennies and dimes. It was Soros, who fed the group $5 million. With his pocket change ($20,000), he also contributed to the legal defense fund for terrorist’s lawyer Lynne Stewart.

The pattern is clear here: where there is a well-funded group seeking to undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship, delegitimize Israel, or push for America’s retreat from the world, it’s a good bet Soros is behind it. HRW and J Street should be seen in that light — the facade for a billionaire whose animosity toward Israel is well documented and who figuratively and literally bets against the West. (He bragged in 1992 that he broke the Bank of England by selling short $10 billion in British pound sterling.) A pro-Israel activist sums up (I have provided links for reference purposes):

Jeremy Ben Ami says he wants to change the meaning of “pro-Israel,” and now this week we hear from him what we’ve suspected all along: that J Street is “with the values and principles” of George Soros, and we all know what that means when it comes to Israel. His $100m gift to Human Rights Watch after their founder denounces them in the New York Times as obsessed with Israel and having lost all moral basis, their top military analyst is outed as an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia, and the head of their Middle East division, who has a poster in her office for a movie praising suicide bombing, is caught with her hand in the Saudi cookie jar begging for money to beat up on Israel, is a vivid reminder of who J Street’s mentor is.

And, of course, at the center of this operation is Soros’s right-hand man, Mort Halperin, who heads Soros’s OSI (the entity that spreads Soros’s money around). Follow the bouncing ball: Halperin is OSI’s senior adviser, but he’s also on Soros Street’s advisory council to keep an eye on Soros’s investment. And to boot, he wrote Richard Goldstone’s defense. How efficient.

A number of questions remain: How long will J Street survive? Are Jeremy Ben Ami’s days as a Beltway operator over? (The activist comments: “So when Jeremy says he wants to ‘redefine’ the word ‘pro-Israel,’ yeah, he does. So as to include anti-Israel, and hostile to Israel, and ambivalent to Israel, and  pretty much anything but actually ‘PRO-Israel.’ The jig is up.”) It will be fascinating to see if the media and politicians grasp that Soros-Halperin groups aren’t genuine expressions of popular opinion but rather the play things of a single billionaire. Will those who receive Soros’s money — think tanks, organizations, politicians — become concerned that they will be viewed as weapons in Soros’s personal arsenal?

And while we are on the subject of shadowy funders, Obama and David Axelrod have been whining about the influence of independent money in America politics. Obama has been obsessing over “corporate money.” (“The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”) He’s furious that “the biggest impediment we have right now is that independent expenditures coming from special interests — who we don’t know because they’re not obligated to disclose their contributions under a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United — means that in some places, you’ve got third parties that are spending millions more than the candidates combined, more than the parties in these states.” Axelrod is incensed about the “audacious stealth campaign being mounted by powerful corporate special interests.” He is so very concerned: “There is still time for the media to shine a light on these front groups. There is still time for an aroused public to rise up against this ominous special-interest hijacking of our elections. There is still time for candidates on both sides of the aisle to take the side of average Americans and challenge these groups to disclose their secret funders.”

So are they ready to call out Soros, demand that he stop flooding elections with his loot, and cut off ties with his lackeys? (One wonders if J Street’s officials will get any more White House visits.) Don’t hold your breath. It’s only the other guys’ money that is a threat; the liberals will — and apparently do — take Soros’s money anytime.

Read Less

Surge for New York GOP Portends National Disaster for Dems

If there were any doubt that politics as usual is out the window this fall, it is confirmed by the latest polls from New York, one of the most reliable Democratic strongholds in the country. New York Democrats have fielded an attractive and popular candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, while the state’s Republicans, who are in complete disarray, have put up a wacky though wealthy gadfly to oppose him. And of the two incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election, the one who is most vulnerable to a challenge, Kirsten Gillibrand, has drawn a lackluster opponent. But a funny thing is happening on the way to the Democrats’ November landslide. The polls are showing that the leads held by both Cuomo and Gillibrand are shrinking to the point where it is conceivable that both races could be competitive.

In the governor’s race, both Rasmussen and Quinnipiac show the gap between Cuomo and Carl Paladino to be narrowing. Quinnipiac showed Paladino trailing Cuomo by only six points among likely voters, while Rasmussen reported the Republican down by 16 points. In their previous polls tracking this matchup, the margins were respectively 30- and 29-point leads for Cuomo.

Over at the New York Times, analyst Nate Silver had claimed that these numbers were flawed because they didn’t add Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio to the mix. But even he admits that the Quinnipiac poll is causing him to reconsider his assumptions about this race. While a more accurate survey would have mentioned Lazio, Silver’s assumption that many New Yorkers would stick with the man who lost the Republican primary last week in a historic landslide despite the backing of almost the entire Republican state establishment is absurd. That the Conservatives, whose original purpose was to hold the state’s liberal Republican party establishment accountable for ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file Republicans, would choose to torpedo a Conservative insurgent like Paladino by sticking with the dead-in-the-water Lazio speaks volumes about their own irrelevance. Far from sabotaging Paladino, as Silver seems to think a Lazio candidacy would, all it might accomplish is to lose the Conservatives their place on the state ballot for the next four years, something that would happen if Lazio got fewer than 50,000 votes in November.

Meanwhile, just as astounding is the Rasmussen poll showing Republican Joseph DioGuardi trailing Gillibrand by only 10 points. Previous surveys had Gillibrand up by anywhere from 15 to 25 points. DioGuardi has little name recognition and even less money. But Gillibrand is so weak that even the former Westchester congressman now must be given a chance, albeit a slim one, to knock her off.

But though liberal writers like Silver are still trying to rationalize the tsunami of voter discontent that is giving a Tea Party favorite like Paladino and a fiscal conservative like DioGuardi a chance, what is happening can no longer be ignored. Both Cuomo and Gillibrand must still be considered strong favorites, but if Republicans are surging in a state like New York, this midterm election may turn out far worse than imagined for the Democrats and the liberal agenda pursued by President Obama. Demonizing the Tea Party and publicizing opposition research about a loose cannon like Paladino may seem like an effective way to stem the GOP tide, but Democrats must understand that the rules have changed. As the New York polls indicate, voter anger about spending, entitlements, and taxes have transformed 2010 from an ordinary midterm correction to what may turn out to be a Republican tidal wave.

If there were any doubt that politics as usual is out the window this fall, it is confirmed by the latest polls from New York, one of the most reliable Democratic strongholds in the country. New York Democrats have fielded an attractive and popular candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, while the state’s Republicans, who are in complete disarray, have put up a wacky though wealthy gadfly to oppose him. And of the two incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election, the one who is most vulnerable to a challenge, Kirsten Gillibrand, has drawn a lackluster opponent. But a funny thing is happening on the way to the Democrats’ November landslide. The polls are showing that the leads held by both Cuomo and Gillibrand are shrinking to the point where it is conceivable that both races could be competitive.

In the governor’s race, both Rasmussen and Quinnipiac show the gap between Cuomo and Carl Paladino to be narrowing. Quinnipiac showed Paladino trailing Cuomo by only six points among likely voters, while Rasmussen reported the Republican down by 16 points. In their previous polls tracking this matchup, the margins were respectively 30- and 29-point leads for Cuomo.

Over at the New York Times, analyst Nate Silver had claimed that these numbers were flawed because they didn’t add Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio to the mix. But even he admits that the Quinnipiac poll is causing him to reconsider his assumptions about this race. While a more accurate survey would have mentioned Lazio, Silver’s assumption that many New Yorkers would stick with the man who lost the Republican primary last week in a historic landslide despite the backing of almost the entire Republican state establishment is absurd. That the Conservatives, whose original purpose was to hold the state’s liberal Republican party establishment accountable for ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file Republicans, would choose to torpedo a Conservative insurgent like Paladino by sticking with the dead-in-the-water Lazio speaks volumes about their own irrelevance. Far from sabotaging Paladino, as Silver seems to think a Lazio candidacy would, all it might accomplish is to lose the Conservatives their place on the state ballot for the next four years, something that would happen if Lazio got fewer than 50,000 votes in November.

Meanwhile, just as astounding is the Rasmussen poll showing Republican Joseph DioGuardi trailing Gillibrand by only 10 points. Previous surveys had Gillibrand up by anywhere from 15 to 25 points. DioGuardi has little name recognition and even less money. But Gillibrand is so weak that even the former Westchester congressman now must be given a chance, albeit a slim one, to knock her off.

But though liberal writers like Silver are still trying to rationalize the tsunami of voter discontent that is giving a Tea Party favorite like Paladino and a fiscal conservative like DioGuardi a chance, what is happening can no longer be ignored. Both Cuomo and Gillibrand must still be considered strong favorites, but if Republicans are surging in a state like New York, this midterm election may turn out far worse than imagined for the Democrats and the liberal agenda pursued by President Obama. Demonizing the Tea Party and publicizing opposition research about a loose cannon like Paladino may seem like an effective way to stem the GOP tide, but Democrats must understand that the rules have changed. As the New York polls indicate, voter anger about spending, entitlements, and taxes have transformed 2010 from an ordinary midterm correction to what may turn out to be a Republican tidal wave.

Read Less

RE: Tim Kaine Struggles as Dems Face a Tsunami

Poor Tim Kaine. A day after he urges Democrats to stand by ObamaCare, this comes out:

Sixty-one percent (61%) of Likely U.S. Voters now at least somewhat favor repeal of the new national health care law, including 50% who Strongly Favor it. That’s up eight points from a week ago and the highest level of opposition measured since late May. … Only 33% say the health care plan will be good for the country, the lowest level measured since late July. Fifty-six percent (56%) disagree and believe the new law will be bad for the United States.

Meanwhile, Obama and his spinners are conducting events to tout their great accomplishment. You sometimes have to wonder which side they are rooting for.

Poor Tim Kaine. A day after he urges Democrats to stand by ObamaCare, this comes out:

Sixty-one percent (61%) of Likely U.S. Voters now at least somewhat favor repeal of the new national health care law, including 50% who Strongly Favor it. That’s up eight points from a week ago and the highest level of opposition measured since late May. … Only 33% say the health care plan will be good for the country, the lowest level measured since late July. Fifty-six percent (56%) disagree and believe the new law will be bad for the United States.

Meanwhile, Obama and his spinners are conducting events to tout their great accomplishment. You sometimes have to wonder which side they are rooting for.

Read Less

Tim Kaine Struggles as Dems Face Tsunami

At one time, Tim Kaine had a promising career. He was on Obama’s short list for VP and was mentioned as a possible Cabinet member. But instead, he was slotted as the head of the DNC and now watches as his party’s fortunes go down the drain. It’s hardly his fault; he’ll be no more responsible for the Democrats’ losses than Michael Steele will be for the GOP’s gains. But still, he makes a hapless spokesman for his party. And it is obvious that his task is to defend Obama, not to help his struggling congressional and Senate candidates.

On Candy Crowley’s State of the Union, he didn’t really have an explanation as to why so many Democrats are running against ObamaCare. The best he could muster was a plea to stop doing it:

KAINE: Well, Candy, I travel all over the country. I guess I’ve been in about 42 states, and most Democrats that I see on the trail are very proud of the accomplishment and they’re talking about it.

But you’re right, some, particularly House members in districts that, you know, can often get gerrymandered and become tough districts are distancing themselves from the health care bill. I don’t tell people how to run their races, but I’ve been on a ballot seven times and won seven races, and in my experience, you ought to be proud of what you’re doing and promote the accomplishments.

Now, obviously, folks who voted against health care, they’re going to talk about why. But I think for the Democratic Party, generally, this significant achievement for the uninsured, for people who have been abused by insurance company policies, for small businesses, for seniors, is something that we should be very proud of and we should be talking about.

I think he means that those in unsafe seats can’t win by defending their votes but that they should take one for the team. Then he struggled with this one:

CROWLEY: The Democrats have argued that because Republicans want to extend them for everyone, they are standing in the way of extending them for middle-class voters. Can’t you say the exact same thing about those 30-plus Democrats in the House and a handful of senators, all Democrats, who also think that even the wealthy should have their tax cuts stay in place? Aren’t they also standing in the way and holding middle-class taxes hostage?

KAINE: Well, it’s not standing in the way yet. We’re still in the debate and the dialogue place, and then we’re going to get to, eventually, having to vote. And I think that the comment that the speaker made in the clip that you showed is a good one, which is, if there’s uniform agreement — and there is — that we should extend tax cuts to middle-class folks and small businesses, then why do we need to wait until we fight out the other battle to go ahead and do what everybody agrees needs to be done?

CROWLEY: My point is that–

KAINE: I think uniform commitment by both Republicans and Democrats is important to act on, so we can give the middle class and small businesses tax relief.

CROWLEY: I guess my point is, you are slamming Republicans for holding the middle class hostage while they fight for the wealthy. Can’t the same be said for those Democrats who are now agreeing with Republicans on this extension?

KAINE: Well, they’re certainly expressing their preference. Now, I don’t think they’re expressing a preference to do exactly what the Republicans want to do. What the Republicans want to do is extend these tax cuts, make them permanent to the wealthy, and the CBO has estimated that would double the deficit projections going forward for the next couple of decades. This is from a Republican Party that’s been griping about deficits.

What I think the Democrats have been doing, that number that you mentioned, has been talking about some kind of a temporary extension for those at the top end. Obviously, this is going to be a hot debate in Congress between now and the end of the congressional session, but there isn’t any reason why if everyone agrees that tax cuts should go to middle class and small businesses, we can make that happen.

OK, she won that round. The Democrats’ class-warfare gambit doesn’t work, what with 38 Democratic House members and numerous Senate Democrats agreeing it’s dumb to raise taxes on anyone in a recession.

You see the problem. Kaine is Obama’s chosen chairman and owes his position and loyalty to the White House. But that’s not much help to Democratic candidates this year, who need to figure out how they can distance themselves from the president and his toxic agenda. As for Kaine, his mediocre tenure as Virginia governor looks positively brilliant in comparison with his current performance. Well, he’s just one of many Democrats to find their careers imperiled by Obama.

At one time, Tim Kaine had a promising career. He was on Obama’s short list for VP and was mentioned as a possible Cabinet member. But instead, he was slotted as the head of the DNC and now watches as his party’s fortunes go down the drain. It’s hardly his fault; he’ll be no more responsible for the Democrats’ losses than Michael Steele will be for the GOP’s gains. But still, he makes a hapless spokesman for his party. And it is obvious that his task is to defend Obama, not to help his struggling congressional and Senate candidates.

On Candy Crowley’s State of the Union, he didn’t really have an explanation as to why so many Democrats are running against ObamaCare. The best he could muster was a plea to stop doing it:

KAINE: Well, Candy, I travel all over the country. I guess I’ve been in about 42 states, and most Democrats that I see on the trail are very proud of the accomplishment and they’re talking about it.

But you’re right, some, particularly House members in districts that, you know, can often get gerrymandered and become tough districts are distancing themselves from the health care bill. I don’t tell people how to run their races, but I’ve been on a ballot seven times and won seven races, and in my experience, you ought to be proud of what you’re doing and promote the accomplishments.

Now, obviously, folks who voted against health care, they’re going to talk about why. But I think for the Democratic Party, generally, this significant achievement for the uninsured, for people who have been abused by insurance company policies, for small businesses, for seniors, is something that we should be very proud of and we should be talking about.

I think he means that those in unsafe seats can’t win by defending their votes but that they should take one for the team. Then he struggled with this one:

CROWLEY: The Democrats have argued that because Republicans want to extend them for everyone, they are standing in the way of extending them for middle-class voters. Can’t you say the exact same thing about those 30-plus Democrats in the House and a handful of senators, all Democrats, who also think that even the wealthy should have their tax cuts stay in place? Aren’t they also standing in the way and holding middle-class taxes hostage?

KAINE: Well, it’s not standing in the way yet. We’re still in the debate and the dialogue place, and then we’re going to get to, eventually, having to vote. And I think that the comment that the speaker made in the clip that you showed is a good one, which is, if there’s uniform agreement — and there is — that we should extend tax cuts to middle-class folks and small businesses, then why do we need to wait until we fight out the other battle to go ahead and do what everybody agrees needs to be done?

CROWLEY: My point is that–

KAINE: I think uniform commitment by both Republicans and Democrats is important to act on, so we can give the middle class and small businesses tax relief.

CROWLEY: I guess my point is, you are slamming Republicans for holding the middle class hostage while they fight for the wealthy. Can’t the same be said for those Democrats who are now agreeing with Republicans on this extension?

KAINE: Well, they’re certainly expressing their preference. Now, I don’t think they’re expressing a preference to do exactly what the Republicans want to do. What the Republicans want to do is extend these tax cuts, make them permanent to the wealthy, and the CBO has estimated that would double the deficit projections going forward for the next couple of decades. This is from a Republican Party that’s been griping about deficits.

What I think the Democrats have been doing, that number that you mentioned, has been talking about some kind of a temporary extension for those at the top end. Obviously, this is going to be a hot debate in Congress between now and the end of the congressional session, but there isn’t any reason why if everyone agrees that tax cuts should go to middle class and small businesses, we can make that happen.

OK, she won that round. The Democrats’ class-warfare gambit doesn’t work, what with 38 Democratic House members and numerous Senate Democrats agreeing it’s dumb to raise taxes on anyone in a recession.

You see the problem. Kaine is Obama’s chosen chairman and owes his position and loyalty to the White House. But that’s not much help to Democratic candidates this year, who need to figure out how they can distance themselves from the president and his toxic agenda. As for Kaine, his mediocre tenure as Virginia governor looks positively brilliant in comparison with his current performance. Well, he’s just one of many Democrats to find their careers imperiled by Obama.

Read Less

Palestinian Authority Heading for the Exits

The Palestinian Authority is itching to get out the talks. The settlement freeze is the excuse, while the reason is its inability to make and enforce a peace deal. This report tells us that the PA is pre-empting a potential compromise:

The agreement beginning to take shape on the settlement construction freeze is based on an “unspoken understanding” that security authorities will not sign new building permits, but the government will not issue a formal resolution extending the freeze. Furthermore, a review found that the building moratorium is due to expire on September 30, not September 26, as previously thought.

A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Haaretz on Tuesday that from the PA’s perspective, what mattered was not Israel’s declarations but the moratorium’s implementation on the ground.

In sum, nothing other than the impossible — a formal extension of the freeze — will do. So presto, the PA “gets out” of the direct peace talks they avoided for so long. But just in case, they have a new impossible position: “The same source told Haaretz that the PA intends to make clear in the direct negotiations with Israel that it will not agree to complete demilitarization of the territories, as this was a condition no sovereign state could accept.” As you can see, the “moment of opportunity” Obama waxed lyrically about is simply another in the unending tales of Palestinian rejectionism.

That the Obami invested so much time and credibility in this fruitless effort is a sign of both hubris (their predecessors weren’t “smart” enough diplomats, you see) and naivete. As with so much else in this administration, it is the conjunction of bad ideas and inept execution. In this context, the “peace process” has already claimed five lives. All so Obama would not have what is left of his credibility pulverized. In the end, one fears, more innocents will be hurt or killed, and the blow to Obama’s ego will have only been delayed.

The Palestinian Authority is itching to get out the talks. The settlement freeze is the excuse, while the reason is its inability to make and enforce a peace deal. This report tells us that the PA is pre-empting a potential compromise:

The agreement beginning to take shape on the settlement construction freeze is based on an “unspoken understanding” that security authorities will not sign new building permits, but the government will not issue a formal resolution extending the freeze. Furthermore, a review found that the building moratorium is due to expire on September 30, not September 26, as previously thought.

A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Haaretz on Tuesday that from the PA’s perspective, what mattered was not Israel’s declarations but the moratorium’s implementation on the ground.

In sum, nothing other than the impossible — a formal extension of the freeze — will do. So presto, the PA “gets out” of the direct peace talks they avoided for so long. But just in case, they have a new impossible position: “The same source told Haaretz that the PA intends to make clear in the direct negotiations with Israel that it will not agree to complete demilitarization of the territories, as this was a condition no sovereign state could accept.” As you can see, the “moment of opportunity” Obama waxed lyrically about is simply another in the unending tales of Palestinian rejectionism.

That the Obami invested so much time and credibility in this fruitless effort is a sign of both hubris (their predecessors weren’t “smart” enough diplomats, you see) and naivete. As with so much else in this administration, it is the conjunction of bad ideas and inept execution. In this context, the “peace process” has already claimed five lives. All so Obama would not have what is left of his credibility pulverized. In the end, one fears, more innocents will be hurt or killed, and the blow to Obama’s ego will have only been delayed.

Read Less

Talking Peace, Injuring Infants

Mahmoud Abbas wants to talk about a settlement freeze at the peace talks. But the settlement freeze isn’t happening. And there can’t be peace, no matter how many times George Mitchell shuffles between the parties and no matter what ludicrous deadline he sets so long as this goes on:

An Israeli infant was injured when Palestinians hurled rocks at a car traveling in the West Bank. The baby was treated at the scene of Tuesday afternoon’s attack near Karne Zur, south of Hebron, and then taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. Later Tuesday another car was damaged in the same area by rocks thrown by Palestinians, according to the IDF. Also Tuesday afternoon, Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli car traveling near Maale Shomron in the northern West Bank.

Obama keeps saying he’s very concerned about Palestinian incitement, very much determined to have Abbas prove his mettle. So how about it — why doesn’t Abbas get on Arab media and condemn these acts? Instead of a settlement freeze, how about a rock-throwing freeze? A maiming-children freeze? (Hey, if this goes well, we could work up to an honor-killing freeze.) Oh, you say, Abbas couldn’t ensure that even if he wanted to. I see. Then can we stop talking about peace?

Change minds and change behavior. Then and only then is there something to discuss.

Mahmoud Abbas wants to talk about a settlement freeze at the peace talks. But the settlement freeze isn’t happening. And there can’t be peace, no matter how many times George Mitchell shuffles between the parties and no matter what ludicrous deadline he sets so long as this goes on:

An Israeli infant was injured when Palestinians hurled rocks at a car traveling in the West Bank. The baby was treated at the scene of Tuesday afternoon’s attack near Karne Zur, south of Hebron, and then taken to a hospital in Jerusalem. Later Tuesday another car was damaged in the same area by rocks thrown by Palestinians, according to the IDF. Also Tuesday afternoon, Palestinians threw a firebomb at an Israeli car traveling near Maale Shomron in the northern West Bank.

Obama keeps saying he’s very concerned about Palestinian incitement, very much determined to have Abbas prove his mettle. So how about it — why doesn’t Abbas get on Arab media and condemn these acts? Instead of a settlement freeze, how about a rock-throwing freeze? A maiming-children freeze? (Hey, if this goes well, we could work up to an honor-killing freeze.) Oh, you say, Abbas couldn’t ensure that even if he wanted to. I see. Then can we stop talking about peace?

Change minds and change behavior. Then and only then is there something to discuss.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.’”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

Ho-hum. After Journolist, a report that network execs ordered news staff to go easy on Obama doesn’t seem so shocking.

Same old. Harry Reid insults another ethnic minority group. Marco Rubio reams him, but where’s La Raza and MALDEF?

Yawn. Another horrific poll for the Democrats to ignore: “Among whites with less than a college education—a group the two parties split in the most-recent midterms—the GOP has a 16-point advantage, 49% to 33%, when voters were asked which party they wanted to control Congress. Republicans, meantime, are gaining ground on a number of issues that have traditionally been advantages for Democrats. More Americans now think the GOP would do a better job on the economy—an advantage the party last held briefly in 2004 but has not enjoyed consistently since the mid-1990s. On one of the Democrats’ core issues, Social Security, just 30% now think the party would do a better job than the GOP, compared to 26% who favor the Republicans. That margin was 28 points in 2006.”

Franco is still dead. And Congress is still unpopular. “Congress’ job rating from the American people in August remains near the historical lows seen in recent months. Nineteen percent of Americans now approve of the overall job Congress is doing, while 75% disapprove.”

Predictable. Democrats are in “panic” mode, Rep. Paul Ryan explains. “‘The Left sees their agenda being rebuked by the voters this fall,’ Ryan tells us. As their electoral worries mount, he says, Democrats are scurrying to ‘nullify any notion that there is an alternative path for America. They want to delegitimize an alternative plan and win the argument by default, making the case that there is no other path for America than what progressives have mapped out for the country, and that any other talk, of any other idea, is just fanciful. That’s what’s troubling,’ Ryan says. ‘They are trying to deny the debate that must happen if we are going to get out of the mess that we’re in.’”

Par for the course. This time using schoolyard taunts to demean the left, Robert Gibbs enrages Democrats trying to survive the coming electoral tsunami: “A number of liberal TV and radio hosts continued to process Gibbs’s comments on Wednesday, questioning everything from his motives to what effect his remarks could have on Democratic turn-out in the midterm elections. And despite several efforts at levity by the embattled press secretary at Wednesday’s briefing, a number of high-profile liberal commentators warned that Gibb’s remarks could harm liberal enthusiasm in the midterms.”

More of the same. “Reset” means a license for the Russian bear to go hunting: “Russia said on Wednesday it had deployed high-precision air defense missiles in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, sending a defiant signal to Tbilisi and the West two years after a war with Georgia. The formidable S-300 missile system bolstered Moscow’s military presence in the disputed territory and drew an angry response from Georgia.”

Cat still got his tongue? Obama silent on Ground Zero mosque.

Read Less

The Power of Private Security Firms in Afghanistan Must Be Curbed

It’s easy to shake one’s head in dismay at the latest outburst from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. “Karzai Slams Foreign Advisers” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

And indeed, part of what’s going on here is dismaying — Karzai is throwing a fit over the recent arrest of Mohammad Zia Saleh, one of his national-security aides, on charges of corruption. The arrest was carried out by the Major Crimes Task Force, an Afghan investigative body that gets considerable assistance from Western law-enforcement agencies. Karzai claims that this is a violation of Afghan sovereignty and the constitution, although it is widely believed that he is simply upset that a member of his patronage network has been caught red-handed. The U.S. government is right to try to protect the Major Crimes Task Force and to keep Saleh in jail, although in the future the law enforcers will have to do a better job of laying the political groundwork for such high-profile takedowns.

But Karzai’s latest eruption contains not only cause for concern but also an opportunity that the West should seize. For he fulminated not only against Western advisers but also against the security firms that protect Western interests in Afghanistan:

“The people who are working in private security companies are against Afghan national interest, and their salaries are illegal money. They are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night,” Mr. Karzai said in Saturday’s speech. “If they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police.”

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the proximate cause of this outburst was a road accident in Kabul involving a DynCorp convoy that led to anti-American rioting. But most private security contractors aren’t foreigners. They’re Afghans who work for private security firms that are closely connected to the power structure. Indeed, as this study from the Institute for the Study of War notes, President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, is one of the largest employers of private security forces in the country thanks to his control over firms such as Watan Risk Management and Asia Security Group, which are paid to safeguard NATO supplies.

The gunmen employed by Watan and its ilk routinely terrorize Afghans in ways far more corrosive than anything done by DynCorp; they are also implicated in payoffs to the Taliban. If NATO is going to bring more security to southern Afghanistan, it will have to curb the power of these firms and give more control of the roads to Afghanistan’s lawful security forces. President Karzai’s statements provide a perfect opening to do just that.

It’s easy to shake one’s head in dismay at the latest outburst from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. “Karzai Slams Foreign Advisers” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

And indeed, part of what’s going on here is dismaying — Karzai is throwing a fit over the recent arrest of Mohammad Zia Saleh, one of his national-security aides, on charges of corruption. The arrest was carried out by the Major Crimes Task Force, an Afghan investigative body that gets considerable assistance from Western law-enforcement agencies. Karzai claims that this is a violation of Afghan sovereignty and the constitution, although it is widely believed that he is simply upset that a member of his patronage network has been caught red-handed. The U.S. government is right to try to protect the Major Crimes Task Force and to keep Saleh in jail, although in the future the law enforcers will have to do a better job of laying the political groundwork for such high-profile takedowns.

But Karzai’s latest eruption contains not only cause for concern but also an opportunity that the West should seize. For he fulminated not only against Western advisers but also against the security firms that protect Western interests in Afghanistan:

“The people who are working in private security companies are against Afghan national interest, and their salaries are illegal money. They are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night,” Mr. Karzai said in Saturday’s speech. “If they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police.”

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the proximate cause of this outburst was a road accident in Kabul involving a DynCorp convoy that led to anti-American rioting. But most private security contractors aren’t foreigners. They’re Afghans who work for private security firms that are closely connected to the power structure. Indeed, as this study from the Institute for the Study of War notes, President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, is one of the largest employers of private security forces in the country thanks to his control over firms such as Watan Risk Management and Asia Security Group, which are paid to safeguard NATO supplies.

The gunmen employed by Watan and its ilk routinely terrorize Afghans in ways far more corrosive than anything done by DynCorp; they are also implicated in payoffs to the Taliban. If NATO is going to bring more security to southern Afghanistan, it will have to curb the power of these firms and give more control of the roads to Afghanistan’s lawful security forces. President Karzai’s statements provide a perfect opening to do just that.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

Dorothy Rabinowitz isn’t snowed by the liberal claptrap over the Ground Zero mosque: “[H]ow is it that the planners, who have presented this effort as a grand design for the advancement of healing and interfaith understanding, have refused all consideration of the impact such a center will have near Ground Zero? Why have they insisted, despite intense resistance, on making the center an assertive presence in this place of haunted memory? It is an insistence that calls to mind the Flying Imams, whose ostentatious prayers—apparently designed to call attention to themselves on a U.S. Airways flight to Phoenix in November 2006—ended in a lawsuit. The imams sued. The airlines paid.”

Obama’s Iraq speech left Peter Feaver cold: “President Obama’s speech on Iraq was a disappointment. Not a surprise, but a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was yet another missed opportunity. He could have shown real statesmanship by acknowledging he was wrong about the surge. He could have reached across the aisle and credited Republicans who backed the policy he vigorously opposed and tried to thwart, a policy that has made it possible (but by no means certain) to hope for a responsible end to the Iraq war. … Instead of giving such a speech, Obama gave a campaign address trying to claim credit for anything that is going well in Iraq and trying to avoid blame for anything that is going poorly.”

An avalanche of bad polling for Obama: “President Obama’s job approval numbers fell to a new low Tuesday as the White House struggles to convince voters it is leading the economy out of recession. Unemployment stands at 9.5 percent but is widely expected to rise in the coming months, starting with the monthly report for July, set for release on Friday. … Such numbers are trouble for House and Senate Democrats, because low presidential approval ratings are generally disastrous for the president’s party in a midterm election.”

Marc Ambinder, however, is still shoveling White House hooey (not to mention playing the race card): “So Obama’s net effect on congressional races might just turn about to be a big ‘meh.’ As skeptical as white people are about Obama’s policy agenda, enough still want him to succeed.” If all the polling is wrong, this would be a reasonable argument.

It’s not the first time the media made a mountain out of a molehill: “The government is expected to announce on Wednesday that three-quarters of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated — and that much of the rest is so diluted that it does not seem to pose much additional risk of harm.”

Shouldn’t Fox give Glenn Beck the cold shoulder? He’s up to his old, noxious tricks — tossing around Holocaust comparisons again.

Bravo! Senate Republicans freeze confirmation of new DNI until the Obama administration releases threat-assessment data on Gitmo detainees.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

No joke: Mother Jones has an excellent expose on the al-Qaeda lawyers’ antics in showing terrorists photos of CIA officials.

No news network except Fox has picked up on the New Black Panther Party scandal.

No meltdown (yet): “The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is little changed from earlier this month, with Republican Rand Paul continuing to hold a modest lead over Democrat Jack Conway. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 49% support to Conway’s 42%.”

No good news for the Democrats. Stuart Rothenberg: “The news on joblessness and the U.S. economy, combined with growing concerns over the federal deficit, Europe’s financial health (particularly growing debt), the lack of progress of the war in Afghanistan and the damage resulting from the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, are burying the president and his party in an avalanche of public dissatisfaction.”

No answers (from Elena Kagan): “Republicans and Democrats alike expressed frustration that she wasn’t willing to answer more questions despite having once written a book review saying Supreme Court nominees needed to do just that.”

No “shift” or “rift” between Israel and the U.S., says Yoram Ettinger. It’s worse: “Obama is an ideologue, determined to change the US and the world, irrespective of his declining fortunes internally and externally.” The result is an “unbridgeable gap” between the two countries.

No better distillation of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy than this from Elliott Abrams: “The Obama Administration appears to have three basic premises about the Middle East. The first is that the key issue in the entire Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that it is a territorial conflict that can be resolved in essence by Israeli concessions. The third is that the central function of the United States is to serve as the PLO’s lawyer to broker those concessions so that an agreement can be signed.”

No cloture vote. With senators’ newfound concern for fiscal responsibility (it’s an election year), Harry Reid can’t round up enough votes to pass unemployment benefits. “Reid intends to call a vote Thursday evening on the smaller benefits bill — now paired with a homebuyer’s credit provision that may help garner more support. But the majority leader conceded he might not be able to clear the bill before the July recess. A more comprehensive tax extenders and unemployment benefits bill failed to pass the procedural block on three consecutive tries.”

No timeline on immigration reform: “President Barack Obama will talk about the urgency of the need for immigration reform in a major speech on Thursday, but will not give a timeline for action.” (It would be nice if he felt the same about a troop pullout from Afghanistan.) Makes you almost think he’s not serious about doing something, only making a campaign issue out of it.

No joke: Mother Jones has an excellent expose on the al-Qaeda lawyers’ antics in showing terrorists photos of CIA officials.

No news network except Fox has picked up on the New Black Panther Party scandal.

No meltdown (yet): “The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is little changed from earlier this month, with Republican Rand Paul continuing to hold a modest lead over Democrat Jack Conway. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 49% support to Conway’s 42%.”

No good news for the Democrats. Stuart Rothenberg: “The news on joblessness and the U.S. economy, combined with growing concerns over the federal deficit, Europe’s financial health (particularly growing debt), the lack of progress of the war in Afghanistan and the damage resulting from the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, are burying the president and his party in an avalanche of public dissatisfaction.”

No answers (from Elena Kagan): “Republicans and Democrats alike expressed frustration that she wasn’t willing to answer more questions despite having once written a book review saying Supreme Court nominees needed to do just that.”

No “shift” or “rift” between Israel and the U.S., says Yoram Ettinger. It’s worse: “Obama is an ideologue, determined to change the US and the world, irrespective of his declining fortunes internally and externally.” The result is an “unbridgeable gap” between the two countries.

No better distillation of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy than this from Elliott Abrams: “The Obama Administration appears to have three basic premises about the Middle East. The first is that the key issue in the entire Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that it is a territorial conflict that can be resolved in essence by Israeli concessions. The third is that the central function of the United States is to serve as the PLO’s lawyer to broker those concessions so that an agreement can be signed.”

No cloture vote. With senators’ newfound concern for fiscal responsibility (it’s an election year), Harry Reid can’t round up enough votes to pass unemployment benefits. “Reid intends to call a vote Thursday evening on the smaller benefits bill — now paired with a homebuyer’s credit provision that may help garner more support. But the majority leader conceded he might not be able to clear the bill before the July recess. A more comprehensive tax extenders and unemployment benefits bill failed to pass the procedural block on three consecutive tries.”

No timeline on immigration reform: “President Barack Obama will talk about the urgency of the need for immigration reform in a major speech on Thursday, but will not give a timeline for action.” (It would be nice if he felt the same about a troop pullout from Afghanistan.) Makes you almost think he’s not serious about doing something, only making a campaign issue out of it.

Read Less

Obama Grasps at Straws

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Read Less

What Obama Has Done Wrong in the Middle East

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

Read Less

Is the Connecticut Senate Front-runner “Martha Coakley in Pants”?

If there were any Senate seat up for election this fall that was considered completely safe for the Democrats, it appeared to be the one that Chris Dodd is vacating in Connecticut. While the scandal-plagued Dodd looked vulnerable to any Republican challenger, once he promised not to run and Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s popular attorney general, threw his hat into the ring, there seemed no doubt the Democrats would hold on to the seat.

Little attention has been paid to this race since Dodd’s withdrawal. But, according to the New York Times, perhaps Blumenthal isn’t quite as much of a shoo-in as expected. He still has a double-digit lead in all the polls but, as the surprisingly unsympathetic feature in the Times shows, the Democratic front-runner isn’t doing as well as expected. According to the article, Blumenthal “flopped” in a debate against an obscure primary rival and has now categorically ruled out any other such confrontations. As the Times tells it:

He appears almost incapable of offering concise answers to even the most predictable questions, like why he is running for the Senate. And his reliance on prosecutorial parlance and legal arcana has raised unflattering comparisons to another attorney general in a Senate race who seemed a sure winner only to lose in spectacular fashion. Some Democrats are calling him “Martha Coakley in pants,” referring to the candidate who lost the Massachusetts Senate election in January.

The Times puts most of the problems down to the 64-year-old candidate’s inexperience in dealing with competitive politics. Though he has won five consecutive statewide elections for his current office, the last time he faced serious opposition was in 1990. Though always rumored to be interested in various other offices (as one Democratic bigwig told me in the mid-1990s when I was working as a journalist in the state, “There’s nothing that guy doesn’t want to be”), Blumenthal always found a reason not to run. What quickly emerged was that while he longed to be a senator or a governor, he wasn’t willing to fight for it. It was only when Dodd ended his re-election bid earlier this year that Blumenthal figured he could safely glide into a higher-ranking job without getting his neatly combed hair mussed up. But as the Times piece shows, it isn’t proving to be as easy as he thought.

Along with describing this former athlete’s physique in terms that are hardly flattering — “at 5-foot-11 and a gaunt 155 pounds, [Blumenthal] wears his dark suits like a wire hanger” — the story detailed the would-be senator’s awkward “Rip Van Winkle” campaign as he hemmed and hawed his way through a litany of bland and confused responses to questions about his positions. Moreover, his 20 years as attorney general, in which he often aped the Elliot Spitzer pattern of attacking private businesses, may also now come back to haunt him as his former victims surface with tales of misleading and false prosecutions.

The point is, the former wunderkind of Connecticut politics — he was appointed a U.S. attorney at age 31 — may no longer be ready for prime time. Given the overwhelming advantage the Democrats have in registration in the state and Blumenthal’s personal popularity, it’s hard to believe that the seat is really in play. Yet with a spirited and well-funded Republican challenge certain to come from professional-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon, the state may find out whether, as Gov. Jodi Rell said in 2006, Blumenthal is a candidate with a “glass jaw.” McMahon may be no Scott Brown, but so far, Blumenthal is giving every indication that the comparisons with his Massachusetts counterpart Coakley are completely not off base. If 2010 turns out to be a “wave” election in which even the safest Democrats are swept out in an anti-Obama landslide, Blumenthal may be in for a far tougher ride than he ever imagined.

If there were any Senate seat up for election this fall that was considered completely safe for the Democrats, it appeared to be the one that Chris Dodd is vacating in Connecticut. While the scandal-plagued Dodd looked vulnerable to any Republican challenger, once he promised not to run and Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s popular attorney general, threw his hat into the ring, there seemed no doubt the Democrats would hold on to the seat.

Little attention has been paid to this race since Dodd’s withdrawal. But, according to the New York Times, perhaps Blumenthal isn’t quite as much of a shoo-in as expected. He still has a double-digit lead in all the polls but, as the surprisingly unsympathetic feature in the Times shows, the Democratic front-runner isn’t doing as well as expected. According to the article, Blumenthal “flopped” in a debate against an obscure primary rival and has now categorically ruled out any other such confrontations. As the Times tells it:

He appears almost incapable of offering concise answers to even the most predictable questions, like why he is running for the Senate. And his reliance on prosecutorial parlance and legal arcana has raised unflattering comparisons to another attorney general in a Senate race who seemed a sure winner only to lose in spectacular fashion. Some Democrats are calling him “Martha Coakley in pants,” referring to the candidate who lost the Massachusetts Senate election in January.

The Times puts most of the problems down to the 64-year-old candidate’s inexperience in dealing with competitive politics. Though he has won five consecutive statewide elections for his current office, the last time he faced serious opposition was in 1990. Though always rumored to be interested in various other offices (as one Democratic bigwig told me in the mid-1990s when I was working as a journalist in the state, “There’s nothing that guy doesn’t want to be”), Blumenthal always found a reason not to run. What quickly emerged was that while he longed to be a senator or a governor, he wasn’t willing to fight for it. It was only when Dodd ended his re-election bid earlier this year that Blumenthal figured he could safely glide into a higher-ranking job without getting his neatly combed hair mussed up. But as the Times piece shows, it isn’t proving to be as easy as he thought.

Along with describing this former athlete’s physique in terms that are hardly flattering — “at 5-foot-11 and a gaunt 155 pounds, [Blumenthal] wears his dark suits like a wire hanger” — the story detailed the would-be senator’s awkward “Rip Van Winkle” campaign as he hemmed and hawed his way through a litany of bland and confused responses to questions about his positions. Moreover, his 20 years as attorney general, in which he often aped the Elliot Spitzer pattern of attacking private businesses, may also now come back to haunt him as his former victims surface with tales of misleading and false prosecutions.

The point is, the former wunderkind of Connecticut politics — he was appointed a U.S. attorney at age 31 — may no longer be ready for prime time. Given the overwhelming advantage the Democrats have in registration in the state and Blumenthal’s personal popularity, it’s hard to believe that the seat is really in play. Yet with a spirited and well-funded Republican challenge certain to come from professional-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon, the state may find out whether, as Gov. Jodi Rell said in 2006, Blumenthal is a candidate with a “glass jaw.” McMahon may be no Scott Brown, but so far, Blumenthal is giving every indication that the comparisons with his Massachusetts counterpart Coakley are completely not off base. If 2010 turns out to be a “wave” election in which even the safest Democrats are swept out in an anti-Obama landslide, Blumenthal may be in for a far tougher ride than he ever imagined.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.