Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York

Horrible Message Discipline Indeed

Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.”

“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”

Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?

I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.

The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.

Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.

Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.”

“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”

Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?

I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.

The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.

Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.

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Reapportionment Means Obama Just Lost Six Electoral Votes

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

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The Estate Tax

The tax bill that passed the House last night and headed to the president’s desk (he’ll sign it this afternoon, apparently) raises the estate tax to 35 percent on estates over $5 million ($10 million for couples), from zero percent this year. Had nothing been done, however, it would have reverted to what it had been in 2000: 55 percent on estates over $1 million.

The estate tax goes all the way back to 1797, when Congress passed a stamp tax on wills to help finance the new American Navy. It was repealed in 1801. The Civil War and Spanish American War also saw estate taxes that were soon repealed when the wars were over. But the modern estate tax was not enacted as a revenue-raising measure so much as a social engineering one. Theodore Roosevelt was the first major politician to call for an estate tax to prevent the accumulation of great fortunes from one generation to the next. In 1906, he wrote:

As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government.

The colossal fortunes created by the industrialization of the country in the post–Civil War era caused many to worry about the development of a plutocracy, a few families with so much money, and thus power, that they could dictate policy. In 1916, the modern estate tax was passed. It called for a 1 percent tax on estates over $50,000 and going up to 10 percent on estates over $5 million (a very large fortune indeed in 1916). The tax was raised the next year, lowered but not eliminated in the 1920s, and then raised sky-high by Franklin Roosevelt, peaking at 71 percent for estates over $50 million in 1941. FDR made no bones about his reasons: “The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people.” FDR, it turns out, was wrong. Read More

The tax bill that passed the House last night and headed to the president’s desk (he’ll sign it this afternoon, apparently) raises the estate tax to 35 percent on estates over $5 million ($10 million for couples), from zero percent this year. Had nothing been done, however, it would have reverted to what it had been in 2000: 55 percent on estates over $1 million.

The estate tax goes all the way back to 1797, when Congress passed a stamp tax on wills to help finance the new American Navy. It was repealed in 1801. The Civil War and Spanish American War also saw estate taxes that were soon repealed when the wars were over. But the modern estate tax was not enacted as a revenue-raising measure so much as a social engineering one. Theodore Roosevelt was the first major politician to call for an estate tax to prevent the accumulation of great fortunes from one generation to the next. In 1906, he wrote:

As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual — a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government.

The colossal fortunes created by the industrialization of the country in the post–Civil War era caused many to worry about the development of a plutocracy, a few families with so much money, and thus power, that they could dictate policy. In 1916, the modern estate tax was passed. It called for a 1 percent tax on estates over $50,000 and going up to 10 percent on estates over $5 million (a very large fortune indeed in 1916). The tax was raised the next year, lowered but not eliminated in the 1920s, and then raised sky-high by Franklin Roosevelt, peaking at 71 percent for estates over $50 million in 1941. FDR made no bones about his reasons: “The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people.” FDR, it turns out, was wrong.

In the post–World War II era, the estate tax had little to do with revenues, never providing more than 2 percent of total federal income. Nor was it about plutocracy prevention. As I pointed out in a recent article in Philanthropy magazine, unlike European fortunes, American ones just don’t last, thanks to the tradition of dividing them among many heirs, new and larger fortunes being created in each generation, and the grand American tradition of the American rich making massive eleemosynary bequests. Of all names associated with the great fortunes of the Gilded Age, only Rockefeller, Mellon, and Hearst are to be found on the Forbes 400 list today. A considerable majority of the current list created their own fortunes.

Today only the liberal elite still subscribes to the idea of estate taxes. As William McGurn pointed out in the Wall Street Journal the other day, the American dream of getting rich and passing that wealth on to one’s children is very much alive and well. In the 1972 campaign, George McGovern called for a tax of 100 percent on estates over $500,000. The socialist Michael Harrington said to a friend who had been campaigning for McGovern in New York’s garment district that he must have had an easy time selling the idea to the poorly paid workers there:

The friend informed Harrington how wrong he was: “Those underpaid women … were outraged that the government would confiscate the money they would hand down to their children if they made a million dollars.” No matter how he tried to tell these garment workers how unlikely they ever were to see a million dollars in their lifetimes, they couldn’t get past the idea that the government would take it from them if they did.

The liberal elite has been agonizing over the zero-percent estate tax rate this year, as most recently manifested in Bernie Sanders’s socialist cri de coeur in the Senate. But while the estate tax was zero in 2010 (Good timing, George Steinbrenner and John Kluge!), the capital-gains tax applied. Most great fortunes consist of unrealized capital gains, but after the estate tax is paid, the heirs’ cost basis for the stock they inherit is bumped up to the date of death. Not in 2010, when it remained at the decedent’s cost basis, which is often virtually zero. That strikes me as the only estate tax we should have in a country where even the poorest can dream of one day being rich.

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Morning Commentary

Michael Steele is expected to announce he will not run for a second term as chairman of the National Republican Committee, Fox News reports. A sizable crowd of candidates is vying for Steele’s job, including Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, longtime Republican official Maria Cino, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, and former RNC political director Gentry Collins. But at the moment, no clear front-runner has emerged.

Nate Silver says that the worst thing for Obama to do right now is to take his liberal base for granted (information the president might have found more useful a week ago).

Speaking of alienating the base, Peggy Noonan writes that no president has done it quite like Obama has: “We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.”

While Americans mourn on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, terrorist supporters will be flocking to New York to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the Israel-bashing UN Durban Conference on Racism: “There’s only one reason the new conference will convene in New York in September 2011: to rub salt in the city’s wounds, to dance on the city’s graves,” says a New York Post editorial. “Participants at the original conference, which ended three days before 9/11, openly celebrated Islamic terrorism.”

President Obama and John Boehner’s first joint bipartisan move should be to quit smoking, says Tom Brokaw: “Tobacco kills more than 443,000 Americans a year, more than 10 times the number who die in traffic accidents. Yet for all the warnings on cigarette packages, in public-service ads and in news stories about the acute dangers of smoking, an estimated 40 million Americans still smoke.” Ah yes, nicotine withdrawal — the best way to bridge an already adversarial relationship.

Disgruntled WikiLeaks employees are defecting to a new pro-leak website, which is set to launch today: “The founders of Openleaks.org say they are former WikiLeaks members unhappy with the way WikiLeaks is being run under [Julian] Assange. ‘It has weakened the organization,’ one of those founders, Daniel Domscheit-Berg says in a documentary airing Sunday night on Swedish television network SVT. He said WikiLeaks has become ‘too much focused on one person, and one person is always much weaker than an organization.’”

Michael Steele is expected to announce he will not run for a second term as chairman of the National Republican Committee, Fox News reports. A sizable crowd of candidates is vying for Steele’s job, including Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, former RNC co-chair Ann Wagner, longtime Republican official Maria Cino, former Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, and former RNC political director Gentry Collins. But at the moment, no clear front-runner has emerged.

Nate Silver says that the worst thing for Obama to do right now is to take his liberal base for granted (information the president might have found more useful a week ago).

Speaking of alienating the base, Peggy Noonan writes that no president has done it quite like Obama has: “We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.”

While Americans mourn on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, terrorist supporters will be flocking to New York to celebrate the 10-year reunion of the Israel-bashing UN Durban Conference on Racism: “There’s only one reason the new conference will convene in New York in September 2011: to rub salt in the city’s wounds, to dance on the city’s graves,” says a New York Post editorial. “Participants at the original conference, which ended three days before 9/11, openly celebrated Islamic terrorism.”

President Obama and John Boehner’s first joint bipartisan move should be to quit smoking, says Tom Brokaw: “Tobacco kills more than 443,000 Americans a year, more than 10 times the number who die in traffic accidents. Yet for all the warnings on cigarette packages, in public-service ads and in news stories about the acute dangers of smoking, an estimated 40 million Americans still smoke.” Ah yes, nicotine withdrawal — the best way to bridge an already adversarial relationship.

Disgruntled WikiLeaks employees are defecting to a new pro-leak website, which is set to launch today: “The founders of Openleaks.org say they are former WikiLeaks members unhappy with the way WikiLeaks is being run under [Julian] Assange. ‘It has weakened the organization,’ one of those founders, Daniel Domscheit-Berg says in a documentary airing Sunday night on Swedish television network SVT. He said WikiLeaks has become ‘too much focused on one person, and one person is always much weaker than an organization.’”

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The Rangel Censure Joke

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

For months now, we’ve witnessed a charade when it comes to the wrongdoing of Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. The charade came to a climax yesterday with the official vote to censure Rangel. But what is censure? Censure is nothing. Rangel will have to stand before his colleagues and have the details of his wrongdoing read aloud to him. That’s it.

You’re hearing, I’m sure, about how this is extraordinary because it’s the first time in 27 years that a House member will be formally censured. Yes, it’s very rare, so the punishment sounds very dire. But how totally dire can it be when the House has actually expelled more members in the past 30 years than it has censured? Since 1980, two sitting congressmen were kicked out of the body because of their illegal behavior (Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who took an ABSCAM bribe, and Jim Traficant of Ohio, following convictions for tax evasion and bribery).

Everybody knows that Rangel played it extraordinarily fast and loose with federal income tax laws, the rules governing nonprofits, and New York City’s rent-control statutes. On a planet filled with graft-mad politicians, what Rangel has done is small beer, even by recent standards of the House of Representatives — in which one San Diego Republican named Duke Cunningham took millions from defense contractors, and William Jefferson of Louisiana had that famous $90,000 in his freezer. Neither was censured or expelled, because they left the House before action could be taken against them. This is what explains Rangel’s seemingly inexplicable hauteur in relation to the charges; it is as though he were saying, “You’re nailing me for this? I’m only doing what everybody does, and I’m not getting credit for much I’ve turned down!”

Rangel’s true wrongdoing has far more to do with the ways he and others impeded economic progress in Harlem than it does with a Caribbean vacation or a fourth cheap apartment. But the only censure he gets for that is from the people who know the truth about it.

There’s something of a game afoot here. Rangel, by fighting so hard against censure, has made it seem like it’s just a terrible, terrible punishment; but it isn’t at all. Maybe it’s kind of embarrassing, although it couldn’t be much more embarrassing than what he’s already been through. By acting as though he’s being scourged, he’s playing a role. Indeed, he has played it so well that he got himself a standing ovation from the very same Democrats who had just voted to censure him. Which really gives the game away.

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Rangel Censured for Ethics Violations

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure from Congress last night, after members voted 333-79 in favor of the motion. Only two Republicans voted against the motion, and 170 Democrats voted for it.

While arguing against the censure, Rangel apologized but remained defiant. The Democrat was found guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations last month, the largest number of violations made by any single member of Congress in history.

“Let me apologize to this august body for putting you in the awkward position today,” said the congressman. “I have made some serious mistakes.”

But he also added that “Never in the history of this great country has anyone suffered a censure when the record is abundantly clear that…the committee found no evidence at all of corruption.”

The big surprise of the night came when conservative Rep. Peter King (R-NY) mounted a public defense of Rangel. “I have found no case where charges similar or analogous to those against Congressman Rangel resulted in censure — a penalty thus far reserved for such serious violations as supporting armed insurrection against the United States and the sexual abuse of minors,” he said in a statement.

The last time a House member was censured was 27 years ago, and the punishment has been used only 23 times.

Dave Weigel finds Rangel’s odds of surviving pretty good: “Can his career survive? Well, three of the last five members who were censured — Gerry Studds, Thomas Blanton, and Charlie Wilson (yes, that Charlie Wilson) — were re-elected for years.”

I’m sure Rangel will be fine. Even though facing an ethics trial, he swept to easy victory in New York in November, winning his district with 81 percent of the vote.

The text of the resolution to censure can be found here.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) received a censure from Congress last night, after members voted 333-79 in favor of the motion. Only two Republicans voted against the motion, and 170 Democrats voted for it.

While arguing against the censure, Rangel apologized but remained defiant. The Democrat was found guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations last month, the largest number of violations made by any single member of Congress in history.

“Let me apologize to this august body for putting you in the awkward position today,” said the congressman. “I have made some serious mistakes.”

But he also added that “Never in the history of this great country has anyone suffered a censure when the record is abundantly clear that…the committee found no evidence at all of corruption.”

The big surprise of the night came when conservative Rep. Peter King (R-NY) mounted a public defense of Rangel. “I have found no case where charges similar or analogous to those against Congressman Rangel resulted in censure — a penalty thus far reserved for such serious violations as supporting armed insurrection against the United States and the sexual abuse of minors,” he said in a statement.

The last time a House member was censured was 27 years ago, and the punishment has been used only 23 times.

Dave Weigel finds Rangel’s odds of surviving pretty good: “Can his career survive? Well, three of the last five members who were censured — Gerry Studds, Thomas Blanton, and Charlie Wilson (yes, that Charlie Wilson) — were re-elected for years.”

I’m sure Rangel will be fine. Even though facing an ethics trial, he swept to easy victory in New York in November, winning his district with 81 percent of the vote.

The text of the resolution to censure can be found here.

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Now THIS Is a Motion

A genuinely delightful moment at the bar, courtesy of a lawyer named Bennett Epstein and Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York (hat tip: Jennifer Courtian Troy):

November 17,2010

Hon. Kimba M. Wood
Re: United States v. Lacey, et aI.

Dear Judge Wood:

I represent Mark Barnett in the above matter, which is scheduled for trial beginning November 29th. Please consider this letter as an application in limine for a brief recess in the  middle of the trial on the grounds known (perhaps not now, but hereafter) as a “writ of possible simcha.”*

The facts are as follows: My beautiful daughter, Eva, married and with a doctorate no less, and her husband, Ira Greenberg (we like him, too) live in Philadelphia and are expecting their first child on December 3rd, tfu tfu tfu.** They do not know whether it will be a boy or a girl, although from the oval shape of Eva’s tummy, many of the friends and family are betting male (which I think is a mere bubbameiseh*** but secretly hope is true).

Should the child be a girl. not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” healthy baby”. My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah****! Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration mandated by the halacha***** to take place during daylight hours on the eighth day, known as the bris******. The eighth day after December 3rd could be right in the middle of the trial. My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.

So please consider this an application for maybe, tfu tfu tfu, a day off during the trial, if the foregoing occurs on a weekday. I will let the Court (and the rest of the world) know as soon as I do, and promise to bring pictures.

Very truly yours,

* Yiddish (and Hebrew) for “celebration of a happy event.”

**Another Yiddishisrn, found in other cultures as well. that requires we spit to ward off the “evil eye” when discussing an upcoming simcha.

***As you may have already guessed, Yiddish for “old wives tale”. A “mere bubbameiseh” is somewhat less reliable.

**** Yiddish for “a big fuss”.

*****Jewish law (citation omitted).

******Hebrew for “covenant”, for the Covenant of Abraham, i.e, ritual circumcision, joyous to everyone except, apparently, the baby.

Wood’s handwritten response:

Wood

A genuinely delightful moment at the bar, courtesy of a lawyer named Bennett Epstein and Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York (hat tip: Jennifer Courtian Troy):

November 17,2010

Hon. Kimba M. Wood
Re: United States v. Lacey, et aI.

Dear Judge Wood:

I represent Mark Barnett in the above matter, which is scheduled for trial beginning November 29th. Please consider this letter as an application in limine for a brief recess in the  middle of the trial on the grounds known (perhaps not now, but hereafter) as a “writ of possible simcha.”*

The facts are as follows: My beautiful daughter, Eva, married and with a doctorate no less, and her husband, Ira Greenberg (we like him, too) live in Philadelphia and are expecting their first child on December 3rd, tfu tfu tfu.** They do not know whether it will be a boy or a girl, although from the oval shape of Eva’s tummy, many of the friends and family are betting male (which I think is a mere bubbameiseh*** but secretly hope is true).

Should the child be a girl. not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” healthy baby”. My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah****! Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration mandated by the halacha***** to take place during daylight hours on the eighth day, known as the bris******. The eighth day after December 3rd could be right in the middle of the trial. My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.

So please consider this an application for maybe, tfu tfu tfu, a day off during the trial, if the foregoing occurs on a weekday. I will let the Court (and the rest of the world) know as soon as I do, and promise to bring pictures.

Very truly yours,

* Yiddish (and Hebrew) for “celebration of a happy event.”

**Another Yiddishisrn, found in other cultures as well. that requires we spit to ward off the “evil eye” when discussing an upcoming simcha.

***As you may have already guessed, Yiddish for “old wives tale”. A “mere bubbameiseh” is somewhat less reliable.

**** Yiddish for “a big fuss”.

*****Jewish law (citation omitted).

******Hebrew for “covenant”, for the Covenant of Abraham, i.e, ritual circumcision, joyous to everyone except, apparently, the baby.

Wood’s handwritten response:

Wood

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

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Staging a Human Rights Atrocity

It has become a familiar pattern: violent provocateurs create a confrontation with lightly armed anti-riot squads. The state officials defend themselves. The instigators claim there has been an atrocity. The flotilla incident? Why, yes. But also a recent confrontation between Morocco and the violent Polisario Front, which refuses to accept a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara and keeps refugees warehoused in dismal camps in Algeria.

As the Israeli government did in the flotilla incident, the government of Morocco has put out a video of a recent incident in Laayoune. This video, which is exceptionally graphic but should be reviewed in full to appreciate the extent of the Polisario Front’s propaganda campaign, shows peaceful demonstrators in a tent city (who came to protest overcrowding, totally unrelated to the dispute in the Western Sahara) dispersed without incident by Moroccan police, loaded onto government-provided buses, and exiting the area. Then onto the scene come the Polisario Front, with knives, rock-throwers, incendiary devices, and much brutality. What unfolds — vicious attacks on the police, the ambush of an ambulance, buildings burning in the city center, a near beheading of a policeman, etc. — is evidence that the Polisario Front is the aggressor in this incident.

And yet the Polisario Front, with a willing media, played the incident up as a human rights violation — by the government of Morocco. This report duly regurgitates the Polisario Front’s claim that the Moroccan government was guilty “of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Laayoune and warned the international community that if it did not intervene to find a peaceful solution, ‘the Sahrawi people will resort to all measures, including war.’” This AP report tells us: “Moroccan forces raided a protest camp in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Monday and unrest spread to a nearby city, with buildings ablaze and rioters roaming the streets. Five Moroccan security officials and one demonstrator were killed, reports said.” One would think that the government’s forces instigated the violence with the peaceful protesters there, and it would be hard to glean — as the video shows — that the protest camp had been dismantled before the Polisario Front forces attacked the police.

So what is going on here? Well, it seems that the incident came just as there was to begin the “re-opening of informal U.N.-sponsored talks Monday in Manhasset, New York, between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which long waged a guerrilla war on Morocco in a bid to gain independence for the desert region and its native Saharawi people.” Hmm. Sort of like the killing of Jews that inevitably breaks out when “peace” talks begin between Israel and the PA.

Whether the group is the PA or the Polisario Front, the modus operandi is the same — stage violence, claim victimhood, label the incident as a human rights atrocity, and thereby delay or disrupt peace negotiations that might resolve the conflict and leave the terrorists without a cause. You would think the media would be on to it. Unless, of course, they really don’t care about getting the story straight.

It has become a familiar pattern: violent provocateurs create a confrontation with lightly armed anti-riot squads. The state officials defend themselves. The instigators claim there has been an atrocity. The flotilla incident? Why, yes. But also a recent confrontation between Morocco and the violent Polisario Front, which refuses to accept a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara and keeps refugees warehoused in dismal camps in Algeria.

As the Israeli government did in the flotilla incident, the government of Morocco has put out a video of a recent incident in Laayoune. This video, which is exceptionally graphic but should be reviewed in full to appreciate the extent of the Polisario Front’s propaganda campaign, shows peaceful demonstrators in a tent city (who came to protest overcrowding, totally unrelated to the dispute in the Western Sahara) dispersed without incident by Moroccan police, loaded onto government-provided buses, and exiting the area. Then onto the scene come the Polisario Front, with knives, rock-throwers, incendiary devices, and much brutality. What unfolds — vicious attacks on the police, the ambush of an ambulance, buildings burning in the city center, a near beheading of a policeman, etc. — is evidence that the Polisario Front is the aggressor in this incident.

And yet the Polisario Front, with a willing media, played the incident up as a human rights violation — by the government of Morocco. This report duly regurgitates the Polisario Front’s claim that the Moroccan government was guilty “of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Laayoune and warned the international community that if it did not intervene to find a peaceful solution, ‘the Sahrawi people will resort to all measures, including war.’” This AP report tells us: “Moroccan forces raided a protest camp in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Monday and unrest spread to a nearby city, with buildings ablaze and rioters roaming the streets. Five Moroccan security officials and one demonstrator were killed, reports said.” One would think that the government’s forces instigated the violence with the peaceful protesters there, and it would be hard to glean — as the video shows — that the protest camp had been dismantled before the Polisario Front forces attacked the police.

So what is going on here? Well, it seems that the incident came just as there was to begin the “re-opening of informal U.N.-sponsored talks Monday in Manhasset, New York, between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which long waged a guerrilla war on Morocco in a bid to gain independence for the desert region and its native Saharawi people.” Hmm. Sort of like the killing of Jews that inevitably breaks out when “peace” talks begin between Israel and the PA.

Whether the group is the PA or the Polisario Front, the modus operandi is the same — stage violence, claim victimhood, label the incident as a human rights atrocity, and thereby delay or disrupt peace negotiations that might resolve the conflict and leave the terrorists without a cause. You would think the media would be on to it. Unless, of course, they really don’t care about getting the story straight.

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Where Are the Smart Liberals?

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine. Read More

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine.

This brings me to another point. What’s happened to liberal intellectuals these days? It seems they’ve fallen down on the job and ceased to be serious people. I mean, comparing Obama to Job is downright embarrassing. Does the Gray Lady have no standards?

Another case in point: there apparently is a new film out about Fran Lebowitz directed by Martin Scorsese. The problem is that while liberal New Yorkers imagine her to be the quintessential left-leaning intellectual (actually, they don’t need the modifier since, by definition, are intellectuals share their worldview), she hasn’t written anything of note for years, and the sum total of her “contribution” to the intellectual and cultural life of the nation’s greatest city is a string of one-liners. Even this reviewer is somewhat put off:

Except for a children’s book and a series of wise Vanity Fair articles in the 1990s (which were really just well-edited conversations between Lebowitz and an editor on broad subjects such as race and money), Lebowitz hasn’t produced much. Instead, she’s a study in brilliant coasting, which can’t be as fun as it seems. For all its many laughs, “Public Speaking” carries a necessary undercurrent of the morose.

“No one has wasted time the way I have,” Lebowitz tells Scorsese’s camera in her usual rat-a-tat delivery, a voice coarsened by years of smoking. “[I am] the outstanding waster of time of my generation. It was 1979, I looked up, it was 2007.”

Instead of writing, Lebowitz spends her time talking about American society and culture — either through paid appearances on the lecture circuit or from her usual booth at the Waverly Inn, a dimly-lit, exclusively small West Village restaurant co-owned by her friend Graydon Carter, who edits Vanity Fair.

Talking, she says, is all she ever wanted to do.

You really can’t make this stuff up. And one wonders, is this thin gruel of cultural poses and condescension all the left has to offer anymore?

There’s much more: New York is too expensive to be interesting anymore. Tourists are “herds of hillbillies.” Gay men, who so dazzled Lebowitz with their highbrow tastes in the 1970s, have let her down by working so diligently to get married and join the army. And revenge is a wonderful thing: “I absolutely believe in revenge. People always say revenge is a dish best served cold. No. It’s good any time you can get it.”

She is asked: Is there such a thing as being born lucky? Yes, she replies: “Any white, gentile, straight man who is not president of the United States, failed. That’s what a big piece of luck that is, okay?”

Not exactly John Kenneth Galbraith. Or even Dorothy Parker.

The trouble liberals face in maintaining their intellectual chops is that they operate in a world of knowing glances, incomplete sentences, and shared cultural references. Conformity is seen as a sign of intellectual prowess. And you need not write anything intelligible, let alone intellectually compelling, to qualify as a liberal public intellectual.

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Christie-mania

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie. Read More

In a lengthy piece on Chris Christie filled with winks and nods to the left and more than a few unsubstantiated jibes (Christie, we are told, was previously a “political hack,” and it’s just the “sane” wing of the GOP that likes him), Jason Zengerie of New York magazine nevertheless provides an interesting peek inside Christie’s political operation and just a sliver of hope to his fans that he might still be persuaded to make a 2012 presidential run.

Why the excitement?

These are strange days for Republicans. After their historic midterm victories, they are seemingly ascendant, with George Will hailing 2010 as “conservatism’s best year in 30 years—since the election of Ronald Reagan.” And yet there is no Reagan-like figure to lead them. In Congress, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are Establishmentarians ill-suited to the fervor of the times. The Republicans who are currently angling to run for the White House in 2012—Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, John Thune, to name a few—inspire little enthusiasm. Sarah Palin, the one potential presidential candidate who does get Republican pulses racing, is such a polarizing figure that the party Establishment is terrified she’ll run. At the very moment that the GOP appears poised to return from its short sojourn in the political wilderness, the party is desperately searching for a leader. Which explains conservatives’ serious—and sudden—infatuation with Chris Christie.

That explains the search for someone, but why him?

He has set the tone, in part, by being “a strong governor who has opinions and is willing to express them,” he said. When I asked him about New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg’s criticism of his decision to cancel the tunnel, Christie shot back, “All he knows how to do is blow hot air … so I don’t really care what Frank Lautenberg has to say about much of anything.” Anything? “I’m always willing to read something in the paper that he said, and if he makes sense, I’m happy to work with him on it. I haven’t found one yet.” Christie believes his aggressive approach sends a signal to everyone else in the state. “The tone I’m trying to set for New Jersey is: action. Less talk, more action. And I think that’s what I’m doing as governor, and I think we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done already because of that, because I’m pushing and pushing and pushing.” …

Christie’s combativeness has made him a popular figure with the tea party in a way that someone like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels—who’s fought some of the same fiscal battles in his state but with the mien of an accountant—can only dream of. More than anything, Christie fills the longing, currently felt in all corners of the GOP (and beyond), for a stern taskmaster. “People just want to be treated like adults,” Christie says. “They just want to be told the truth. They know we’re in tough times, and they’re willing to sacrifice. But they want shared sacrifice.”

Less well known is his ability to co-opt and work with key Democrats in the deep Blue State. (He’s “cultivated strong relationships with the three most prominent Democratic power brokers currently not in jail.”)

The good news for Christie fans is that there are a few scraps suggesting that he hasn’t entirely closed the door on a 2012 run.  (“Christie’s actions aren’t those of someone who has ruled out a presidential bid.”) His staff’s YouTube videos, the trip to Iowa, and some whispers from his political confidantes are encouraging those in the GOP who are searching for Mr. Right.

But the premise underlying the piece is a bit off. The reason Christie has become a “star” is not because he’s captured the imagination of the “sane” wing of the party but because he transcends the divide (which is part real and part media-driven hype) between Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans. He combines serious governance with political theater. He’s got undeniable stage presence, but he’s also a serious budget wonk. He has no patience with political insiders, yet he’s learned to handle his opponents. And he’s become a master at disarming the liberal media without personal acrimony or a sense of victimhood.

But your reading glasses would have to be exceptionally rosy to see real evidence of a 2012 stealth campaign. The most his supporters can hope for is that the field of current contenders will prove underwhelming and that a serious movement to draft Christie will develop. But if the governor resists the entreaties of his fans, Republicans should remember that he became an overnight success thanks to a bunch of irresistible YouTube moments. Who’s to say that someone else couldn’t do the same?

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Good News on Durban III?

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

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It’s Getting Painful to Watch

Those who were supportive of Obama’s latest stunt to keep the “peace process” going argued that at least Israel would get some very expensive fighter aircraft for a mere 90-day extension. Well, not so fast, according to this report:

On Wednesday, Ynet reported of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the F-35 fighter jets which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed will be included in the freeze deal. Sources familiar with the matter said Thursday that progress has been made on the issue and stated that the aircraft will arrive in Israel in 2015. Nevertheless, it appears there still is a misunderstanding regarding the payment for the jets.

In his meetings with the seven ministers Saturday night and the Likud ministers, Netanyahu stressed that the 20 fighter jets will be given as a gift from the US and that Israel will not have to pay for them using funds from the security aid budget.

The parties are still working out the details of the matter, as it appears the US had a different take on the understandings reached between Clinton and Netanyahu in New York. It also appears there were misunderstandings regarding the time in which the aircraft will be provided, as Israel expected to receive them in the coming years while the US planned on supplying them after a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

Got that? The planes aren’t free and are conditioned on a peace deal that is unlikely to be made by 2015 — or 2025, for that matter. Now this seems like a pretty fundamental point, and yet the parties aren’t clear on the contours of the deal? Yes, the more we learn, the more discombobulated the Obama team seems.

Oh, and the promise not to include East Jerusalem in the deal is also sort of up in the air: “The paper is slated to include a US pledge not to demand an additional moratorium at the end of the second freeze. The issue of Jerusalem is not mentioned, however, sources close to the negotiations noted that the document suggests that Jerusalem is not included in the freeze.” So East Jerusalem is simply ignored? “Suggests” suggests that this, too, is fuzzy.

I’m sure professional negotiators must be appalled by all this. Every aspect of the undertaking — the investment of so much presidential prestige in a long-shot proposition, the notion that the PA can make a deal, the obsession with settlements, the frantic last-minute bribe, the lack of clarity, the preposterous assumption that we’ll get a deal in 90 days — reveals a lack of sophistication and understanding of the region. It has taken on the feel of an international-relations exam: how many errors can you find in this undertaking?

And by the way, the parties broke off whatever minimal talks they were having nearly two months ago. At some point, as the U.S.’s haggling with Bibi’s government continues (Well, when we said “give” we didn’t mean for free!), perhaps they will declare a “recess” and all go home to work out the details at the staff level. And then this entire, shabby episode can be left for the history books — and the graduate students — we hope never to be repeated.

Those who were supportive of Obama’s latest stunt to keep the “peace process” going argued that at least Israel would get some very expensive fighter aircraft for a mere 90-day extension. Well, not so fast, according to this report:

On Wednesday, Ynet reported of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the F-35 fighter jets which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed will be included in the freeze deal. Sources familiar with the matter said Thursday that progress has been made on the issue and stated that the aircraft will arrive in Israel in 2015. Nevertheless, it appears there still is a misunderstanding regarding the payment for the jets.

In his meetings with the seven ministers Saturday night and the Likud ministers, Netanyahu stressed that the 20 fighter jets will be given as a gift from the US and that Israel will not have to pay for them using funds from the security aid budget.

The parties are still working out the details of the matter, as it appears the US had a different take on the understandings reached between Clinton and Netanyahu in New York. It also appears there were misunderstandings regarding the time in which the aircraft will be provided, as Israel expected to receive them in the coming years while the US planned on supplying them after a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

Got that? The planes aren’t free and are conditioned on a peace deal that is unlikely to be made by 2015 — or 2025, for that matter. Now this seems like a pretty fundamental point, and yet the parties aren’t clear on the contours of the deal? Yes, the more we learn, the more discombobulated the Obama team seems.

Oh, and the promise not to include East Jerusalem in the deal is also sort of up in the air: “The paper is slated to include a US pledge not to demand an additional moratorium at the end of the second freeze. The issue of Jerusalem is not mentioned, however, sources close to the negotiations noted that the document suggests that Jerusalem is not included in the freeze.” So East Jerusalem is simply ignored? “Suggests” suggests that this, too, is fuzzy.

I’m sure professional negotiators must be appalled by all this. Every aspect of the undertaking — the investment of so much presidential prestige in a long-shot proposition, the notion that the PA can make a deal, the obsession with settlements, the frantic last-minute bribe, the lack of clarity, the preposterous assumption that we’ll get a deal in 90 days — reveals a lack of sophistication and understanding of the region. It has taken on the feel of an international-relations exam: how many errors can you find in this undertaking?

And by the way, the parties broke off whatever minimal talks they were having nearly two months ago. At some point, as the U.S.’s haggling with Bibi’s government continues (Well, when we said “give” we didn’t mean for free!), perhaps they will declare a “recess” and all go home to work out the details at the staff level. And then this entire, shabby episode can be left for the history books — and the graduate students — we hope never to be repeated.

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Despite Hype, Does Bloomberg Candidacy Have a Rationale?

The Washington Post pitches in today to join those hyping the notion that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a viable third-party candidate for president in 2012. The Bloomberg boomlet, such as it is, is mostly the result of the nonstop efforts of the mayor’s staff and the billionaire’s various publication and public relations businesses, such as the Bloomberg Government website. But there have always been enough non-Bloomberg employees attracted by the mayor’s supposed centrism and independence to keep the idea alive.

So what’s the scenario for a Bloomberg candidacy? Of course, it starts and ends with money: Bloomberg has enough money to fund a first-class 50-state presidential run. And as his three mayoral victories demonstrate, he will spend as much money as is necessary.

Another integral element of the scenario is the ideological slot into which Bloomberg can fit. The former member of both the Democratic and Republican parties and his paid flacks have carefully crafted an image of a pragmatist middle-of-the-road technocrat who eschews labels and ideological rigidity. With American politics becoming increasingly polarized and the nation basically split between Red Staters who watch FOX News and Blue Staters who listen to NPR, Bloomberg is supposedly the perfect man to appeal to independents and partisans who are sick of gridlock.

The putative Bloomberg candidacy is helped by the current state of both major parties. The Democrats, led by an unpopular hyper-liberal Barack Obama, have lost the center. At the same time, the Bloomberg boosters are whispering that the Republicans, though on the rebound from their 2008 disaster, have swung too far to the right to appease their conservative base and the Tea Party insurgents to capture the centrists they’ll need to recapture the White House in 2012. And if Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee, they claim the GOP will be doomed. With the nation split between a leftist Obama and a right-wing Palin, a centrist Bloomberg will slip neatly between them and, lubricated by a campaign war chest that could dwarf even the impressive amounts raised in the last cycle by Obama, the mayor will cakewalk to victory, becoming the first ever third-party president.

It’s a neat plan, and if Palin is the GOP standard-bearer and if the economy is still in the doldrums in the summer and fall of 2012, thereby sinking Obama’s hopes, it’s just possible the wealthy mayor could win. Read More

The Washington Post pitches in today to join those hyping the notion that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a viable third-party candidate for president in 2012. The Bloomberg boomlet, such as it is, is mostly the result of the nonstop efforts of the mayor’s staff and the billionaire’s various publication and public relations businesses, such as the Bloomberg Government website. But there have always been enough non-Bloomberg employees attracted by the mayor’s supposed centrism and independence to keep the idea alive.

So what’s the scenario for a Bloomberg candidacy? Of course, it starts and ends with money: Bloomberg has enough money to fund a first-class 50-state presidential run. And as his three mayoral victories demonstrate, he will spend as much money as is necessary.

Another integral element of the scenario is the ideological slot into which Bloomberg can fit. The former member of both the Democratic and Republican parties and his paid flacks have carefully crafted an image of a pragmatist middle-of-the-road technocrat who eschews labels and ideological rigidity. With American politics becoming increasingly polarized and the nation basically split between Red Staters who watch FOX News and Blue Staters who listen to NPR, Bloomberg is supposedly the perfect man to appeal to independents and partisans who are sick of gridlock.

The putative Bloomberg candidacy is helped by the current state of both major parties. The Democrats, led by an unpopular hyper-liberal Barack Obama, have lost the center. At the same time, the Bloomberg boosters are whispering that the Republicans, though on the rebound from their 2008 disaster, have swung too far to the right to appease their conservative base and the Tea Party insurgents to capture the centrists they’ll need to recapture the White House in 2012. And if Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee, they claim the GOP will be doomed. With the nation split between a leftist Obama and a right-wing Palin, a centrist Bloomberg will slip neatly between them and, lubricated by a campaign war chest that could dwarf even the impressive amounts raised in the last cycle by Obama, the mayor will cakewalk to victory, becoming the first ever third-party president.

It’s a neat plan, and if Palin is the GOP standard-bearer and if the economy is still in the doldrums in the summer and fall of 2012, thereby sinking Obama’s hopes, it’s just possible the wealthy mayor could win.

But there is one thing missing from the Bloomberg formula that any candidate, let alone one who expects to win the presidency without the help of a political party, must supply: a rationale for his candidacy. If we look at the history of major independent presidential candidates in the past century — Theodore Roosevelt, Robert LaFollette, Henry Wallace, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, John Anderson, and Ross Perot — it is clear that the one thing they all had was an issue or set of issues that motivated their followers and voters to buck party loyalties.

The best precedent for Bloomberg might be Ross Perot. In 1992 and 1996, Perot made credible independent runs for the presidency and could have actually won in 1992 had the unstable candidate not imploded under the pressure of the campaign. But Perot’s success was not based solely on the fact that he had the money to pay for his ads. He had an issue: the push for a balanced budget.

But what’s Bloomberg’s issue? There are lots of things he says he is for. As the Post details, he wants a carbon tax, immigration reform, and his attitude toward health care for the elderly seems to be along the lines of those death panels that liberals say are a figment of Sarah Palin’s imagination. But none of those are winners, let alone the sort of thing that will fuel a candidacy. Can he run as a successful businessman who will fix the economy? Maybe. But that alludes to his resume. It is not a cause. Nor can he run on his record in New York, since that will mean explaining the sort of nanny-state intrusions into the lives of citizens — like bans on smoking and trans-fats — that are bound to sink him.

All this leads me to believe that the Bloomberg candidacy is more ego-driven smoke-blowing than anything else. The only rationale for a President Bloomberg is that the billionaire mayor thinks the presidency is the natural next step for a man who conquered the business world and then became the unchallenged king of New York politics. That’s an impressive record, but it is not a reason why Americans will abandon their party loyalties and make him president.

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City Journal at 20

City Journal, perhaps the country’s best and most interesting public-policy quarterly, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Today in the New York Post, I examine its role in the most heartening development in American governance of our time, the rebirth of New York City:

Changing New York’s trajectory required a new way of thinking about how to manage, govern and live in a gigantic, complex, aging city. That new way of thinking had to look back to the past — to what a functional New York was like and how to recapture that. It also had to look to the future, to ways in which the city could be more hospitable to new kinds of employers.

More than any other enterprise in New York, City Journal was the vehicle for this new way of thinking…What made City Journal revolutionary was the deep understanding informing every beautifully laid-out page of every quarterly issue (now edited by the estimable Brian Anderson) that the key problem was not political, not economic, but spiritual.

Happy birthday, City Journal.

City Journal, perhaps the country’s best and most interesting public-policy quarterly, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Today in the New York Post, I examine its role in the most heartening development in American governance of our time, the rebirth of New York City:

Changing New York’s trajectory required a new way of thinking about how to manage, govern and live in a gigantic, complex, aging city. That new way of thinking had to look back to the past — to what a functional New York was like and how to recapture that. It also had to look to the future, to ways in which the city could be more hospitable to new kinds of employers.

More than any other enterprise in New York, City Journal was the vehicle for this new way of thinking…What made City Journal revolutionary was the deep understanding informing every beautifully laid-out page of every quarterly issue (now edited by the estimable Brian Anderson) that the key problem was not political, not economic, but spiritual.

Happy birthday, City Journal.

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Fake Photos and Foreign Media

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

Finally we get “not only the authoritative takedown of ‘Fair Game,’ Douglas Liman’s meretricious cinematic hagiography of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, but also the essential case, laid out with amazing meticulousness, for a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby.”

No final tally yet for Republicans in the House. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required): “Overall, Republicans have captured 238 seats, Democrats have won 189 seats, and eight still hang in the balance. We expect each party to win three of these seats, while the two New York races (NY-01 and NY-25) are genuinely too close to call. Depending on the final outcome of these contests, Republicans are likely to have scored a net gain of between 62 and 64 seats in the House, the most in a midterm since 1938.”

The final act for Michael Steele? “As he contemplates running for a second term, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the verge of losing his coalition of supporters. Even some of those closest to the controversial chairman have begun urging him to step aside. … Meanwhile, a group of prominent Republicans led by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are searching for a consensus candidate capable of defeating Steele. Though they have not settled on a challenger, and in fact are unlikely to find a consensus choice, strategists who both support and oppose Steele say coalitions are forming now to deny Steele a second term.” Excuse me, but why not Ed Gillespie himself?

The final Senate race is nearly decided. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process. Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.”

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick finally puts to rest the notion that “reset” has paid dividends for us. “The initial appeal of Russia’s assistance — that the country has knowledge of Afghanistan thanks to its own, decade-long engagement — is belied by its brutal record. … Moreover, the actual Russian commitment is small. … More important than any of these factors, however, is the cynical way in which Moscow will use its paltry assistance to the [International Security Assistance Force] as leverage with the West in negotiations over other matters, from NATO expansion to human rights to missile defense.” Read the whole thing, which should be entitled “How Putin Took Obama to the Cleaners.”

Christine O’Donnell may finally be seeking a job for which she is well-suited. It seems there is a reality-show opportunity. Perrrrrfect.

Was Obama’s tinkering with the gulf-oil-spill report the final straw for the principled left? “The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico’s reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration’s reputation for relying on science to guide policy. Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.”

The final figures for another failed government subsidy are in. Not good: “Any possible housing market recovery hit a snag during the three months ended September 30, as a government tax credit for homebuyers wound down. Home prices fell only slightly during the quarter, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), but the number of homes sold plummeted more than 25%, compared with the previous quarter.”

This will not be the final foreign-policy rebuff. “For President Obama, the last-minute failure to seal a trade deal with South Korea that would expand American exports of automobiles and beef is an embarrassing setback that deprives him of a foreign policy trophy and demonstrates how the midterm elections may have weakened his position abroad.”

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Do They Really Need All That Money?

More evidence emerges each day that money isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in elections. This report observes that Sharron Angle wound up spending the equivalent of $97 per voter, while Harry Reid plunked down only $69. The extra cash, much of it from out of state, didn’t “buy” Angle the seat. Nor did Meg Whitman prevail despite $140M in spending. Linda McMahon’s personal fortune didn’t talk Connecticut voters out of electing the truth-challenged Richard Blumenthal. In fact, out of the top 10 congressional cash-per-vote spenders, only three won.

So why do the media and politicians obsess so over cash? Well, there is a kernel of truth that you need some money to run a respectable campaign. And in states with expensive media (e.g., New Jersey, New York, California), that is going to be a big figure. But to a large extent, we’ve been bamboozled into thinking that money is more critical than it is. Reporters love to write about it — there are concrete figures and a horse-race quality to the money race. Pols — even the president this time around — love to grouse that the other guys have more, even when they don’t. It beats admitting that your own candidates are less than stellar and that your agenda is toxic. And of course there is an army of consultants, new- and old-media experts, pollsters, ad men, social-network gurus, debate preparers, clothing mavens, and speech coaches to convince their clients and us that all their very expensive services are essential to victory.

But in the end, much of that money is wasted. John McCain won the GOP presidential nomination on a shoestring budget. This year, many small spenders won. (“In upstate New York, Rep. Scott Murphy (D) and his supporters spent $66 for each of the 99,000 votes he received, or about $6.5 million. But he was defeated by retired Army Col. Chris Gibson, who spent $4 million, or $33 per vote.”) So when hysterics scream that our democracy is being “hijacked” by corporate money or that a billionaire is “buying” an election, take it with a grain of salt. Interest groups — from Big Labor to the Chamber of Commerce — don’t mind the illusion that their largesse is essential to a candidate’s victory; indeed, they perpetuate it in order to sustain their clout. But perhaps the “problem” of money in politics is largely in our heads — and in the wallets of those whose livelihoods depend on exaggerating the importance of campaign cash.

More evidence emerges each day that money isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in elections. This report observes that Sharron Angle wound up spending the equivalent of $97 per voter, while Harry Reid plunked down only $69. The extra cash, much of it from out of state, didn’t “buy” Angle the seat. Nor did Meg Whitman prevail despite $140M in spending. Linda McMahon’s personal fortune didn’t talk Connecticut voters out of electing the truth-challenged Richard Blumenthal. In fact, out of the top 10 congressional cash-per-vote spenders, only three won.

So why do the media and politicians obsess so over cash? Well, there is a kernel of truth that you need some money to run a respectable campaign. And in states with expensive media (e.g., New Jersey, New York, California), that is going to be a big figure. But to a large extent, we’ve been bamboozled into thinking that money is more critical than it is. Reporters love to write about it — there are concrete figures and a horse-race quality to the money race. Pols — even the president this time around — love to grouse that the other guys have more, even when they don’t. It beats admitting that your own candidates are less than stellar and that your agenda is toxic. And of course there is an army of consultants, new- and old-media experts, pollsters, ad men, social-network gurus, debate preparers, clothing mavens, and speech coaches to convince their clients and us that all their very expensive services are essential to victory.

But in the end, much of that money is wasted. John McCain won the GOP presidential nomination on a shoestring budget. This year, many small spenders won. (“In upstate New York, Rep. Scott Murphy (D) and his supporters spent $66 for each of the 99,000 votes he received, or about $6.5 million. But he was defeated by retired Army Col. Chris Gibson, who spent $4 million, or $33 per vote.”) So when hysterics scream that our democracy is being “hijacked” by corporate money or that a billionaire is “buying” an election, take it with a grain of salt. Interest groups — from Big Labor to the Chamber of Commerce — don’t mind the illusion that their largesse is essential to a candidate’s victory; indeed, they perpetuate it in order to sustain their clout. But perhaps the “problem” of money in politics is largely in our heads — and in the wallets of those whose livelihoods depend on exaggerating the importance of campaign cash.

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How Afghans View Their Country Now

Is Afghanistan a lost cause? Many Americans think so. In fact, on Wednesday night in New York, I’ll be debating the motion “Resolved: Afghanistan is a lost cause” as part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series. (Tickets still available — see the website.) Obviously, I’ll have more to say on this subject then, but for now it’s worth noting that the Asia Foundation has just released a survey of 6,467 Afghans — and they don’t view their country as a lost cause.

Here is the survey’s major finding: “In 2010, 47% of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction. This figure has been increasing since 2008 (38%) and 2009 (42%).” By contrast, only 27% think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Insecurity remains the biggest source of concern for Afghans — cited by 44% of those who think their country is going in the wrong direction. But Afghans are happy with improvements in their economic situation: “More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in all domains, particularly in terms of the financial wellbeing of their household.”

Another major source of satisfaction for those who think Afghanistan is moving in the right direction is the performance of their government:

Satisfaction with the performance of the national government has risen steadily over the last three years (from 67% in 2008 to 71% in 2009 and 73% in 2010). The 2010 survey records the highest levels of positive assessments of national government performance since 2007 in almost all regions.

That may seem illogical to Americans who are used to focusing on the shortcomings of Hamid Karzai, but obviously Afghans — with experience of decades of war and oppression — have a different metric by which they measure governmental performance. In the West, we are concerned over the problems with Afghan elections. But Afghans are happy just to be holding elections: “Around three quarters (74%) of respondents say they think elections have improved the country.”

That doesn’t mean Afghans are blind to the flaws of their government — “Fifty-five percent say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives.” But they also see improvements that we tend to ignore. For instance, there has been much reporting on the deficiencies of the Afghan Security Forces. But more than 90% of respondents said that the Afghan National Army is “honest and fair with the Afghan people.” However, that doesn’t mean Afghans think their security forces can go it alone. Some 70% think the ANA still needs the support of foreign troops.

That is a level of nuance and realism that, alas, is all too often lacking in Western assessments of the situation.

Is Afghanistan a lost cause? Many Americans think so. In fact, on Wednesday night in New York, I’ll be debating the motion “Resolved: Afghanistan is a lost cause” as part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series. (Tickets still available — see the website.) Obviously, I’ll have more to say on this subject then, but for now it’s worth noting that the Asia Foundation has just released a survey of 6,467 Afghans — and they don’t view their country as a lost cause.

Here is the survey’s major finding: “In 2010, 47% of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction. This figure has been increasing since 2008 (38%) and 2009 (42%).” By contrast, only 27% think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Insecurity remains the biggest source of concern for Afghans — cited by 44% of those who think their country is going in the wrong direction. But Afghans are happy with improvements in their economic situation: “More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in all domains, particularly in terms of the financial wellbeing of their household.”

Another major source of satisfaction for those who think Afghanistan is moving in the right direction is the performance of their government:

Satisfaction with the performance of the national government has risen steadily over the last three years (from 67% in 2008 to 71% in 2009 and 73% in 2010). The 2010 survey records the highest levels of positive assessments of national government performance since 2007 in almost all regions.

That may seem illogical to Americans who are used to focusing on the shortcomings of Hamid Karzai, but obviously Afghans — with experience of decades of war and oppression — have a different metric by which they measure governmental performance. In the West, we are concerned over the problems with Afghan elections. But Afghans are happy just to be holding elections: “Around three quarters (74%) of respondents say they think elections have improved the country.”

That doesn’t mean Afghans are blind to the flaws of their government — “Fifty-five percent say corruption is a major problem in their daily lives.” But they also see improvements that we tend to ignore. For instance, there has been much reporting on the deficiencies of the Afghan Security Forces. But more than 90% of respondents said that the Afghan National Army is “honest and fair with the Afghan people.” However, that doesn’t mean Afghans think their security forces can go it alone. Some 70% think the ANA still needs the support of foreign troops.

That is a level of nuance and realism that, alas, is all too often lacking in Western assessments of the situation.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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