Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Wall Street Journal

A Disappointing Jobs Report

The recession officially ended 17 months ago. But the economy added only a net of 39,000 jobs last month, when 100,000 jobs a month is needed just to keep pace with population growth.

Indeed, the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.8 percent from 9.6 percent in October. That, counterintuitively, is probably a good sign, the result of more people, encouraged by their prospects, now actively looking for work. The number of people who are unemployed, have settled for a part-time job, or are discouraged and not currently looking for a job remained unchanged (at a dismal 17 million).

A particularly nasty surprise was the loss of 28,000 retail jobs, which most economists, responding to fairly good news about holiday sales, etc., expected to increase. But more and more of those sales are happening online, which is a much less labor-intensive means of selling goods. Online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving were up a whopping 20 percent from last year.

This, of course, is just more evidence that the on-rolling digital revolution is causing unemployment to recover from recession much more slowly than the economy as a whole. After each of the four recessions since 1980, the number of months needed to bring unemployment back down to normal levels has been longer. Unemployment has been above 9 percent now for 19 months (all but two of them post-recession). That’s the longest period of such elevated unemployment since World War II.

I confess to being a hopeless sucker for interactive charts, and the Wall Street Journal has a cool one that tracks unemployment month by month since 1948.

The recession officially ended 17 months ago. But the economy added only a net of 39,000 jobs last month, when 100,000 jobs a month is needed just to keep pace with population growth.

Indeed, the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.8 percent from 9.6 percent in October. That, counterintuitively, is probably a good sign, the result of more people, encouraged by their prospects, now actively looking for work. The number of people who are unemployed, have settled for a part-time job, or are discouraged and not currently looking for a job remained unchanged (at a dismal 17 million).

A particularly nasty surprise was the loss of 28,000 retail jobs, which most economists, responding to fairly good news about holiday sales, etc., expected to increase. But more and more of those sales are happening online, which is a much less labor-intensive means of selling goods. Online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving were up a whopping 20 percent from last year.

This, of course, is just more evidence that the on-rolling digital revolution is causing unemployment to recover from recession much more slowly than the economy as a whole. After each of the four recessions since 1980, the number of months needed to bring unemployment back down to normal levels has been longer. Unemployment has been above 9 percent now for 19 months (all but two of them post-recession). That’s the longest period of such elevated unemployment since World War II.

I confess to being a hopeless sucker for interactive charts, and the Wall Street Journal has a cool one that tracks unemployment month by month since 1948.

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RE: A Change, Literally, in the Meaning of the Word “Life”

I certainly agree with John that this is a very significant development, but I’m not sure it is quite so epic-making. For one thing, this was life created (or rather evolved) in a Petri dish. It was the ancestors of these bacteria who came from the ghastly waters of Mono Lake and had evolved there to be arsenic-tolerant. See this report in the Wall Street Journal:

The bacteria were dredged from the briny sludge of California’s Mono Lake, where the water is richly laced with arsenic and with bacteria that can survive in it. In the lab, the researchers grew the bacteria in Petri dishes in which phosphate salt normally essential for life was gradually replaced by arsenic, until the bacteria could grow without needing phosphate.

We have been finding life in places no one thought it could exist — such as hot springs in Yellowstone that sometimes exceed the boiling point of water, the tar in Pitch lake in Trinidad, and near “black smokers” many thousands of feet beneath the sea — for decades. These last organisms are completely independent of what was long thought to be another sine qua non of life: the energy of the sun, either directly, as in plants, or indirectly, as in animals. These “extremophiles” testify to the enormous power of evolution to create organisms that can exploit almost any environment. Read More

I certainly agree with John that this is a very significant development, but I’m not sure it is quite so epic-making. For one thing, this was life created (or rather evolved) in a Petri dish. It was the ancestors of these bacteria who came from the ghastly waters of Mono Lake and had evolved there to be arsenic-tolerant. See this report in the Wall Street Journal:

The bacteria were dredged from the briny sludge of California’s Mono Lake, where the water is richly laced with arsenic and with bacteria that can survive in it. In the lab, the researchers grew the bacteria in Petri dishes in which phosphate salt normally essential for life was gradually replaced by arsenic, until the bacteria could grow without needing phosphate.

We have been finding life in places no one thought it could exist — such as hot springs in Yellowstone that sometimes exceed the boiling point of water, the tar in Pitch lake in Trinidad, and near “black smokers” many thousands of feet beneath the sea — for decades. These last organisms are completely independent of what was long thought to be another sine qua non of life: the energy of the sun, either directly, as in plants, or indirectly, as in animals. These “extremophiles” testify to the enormous power of evolution to create organisms that can exploit almost any environment.

The environmental movement has been the propaganda engine behind the ludicrous idea that life is delicate, a bunch of butterflies that can only thrive in a benign — and preferably human-free — environment. In enviro-speak, every ecosystem is a fragile one, every species threatened. In fact, of course, life is tenacious in the extreme and both can and will evolve as necessary and rebound from abuse with surprising speed.

I think the true eureka moment will come when we find an exoplanet (one that orbits a star other than the sun) that has a large percentage of molecular oxygen in its atmosphere. That moment might come soon. Before 1995, we knew of no exoplanets and could only speculate as to how many, if any, existed. Today we know of more than 500 and the number is growing rapidly. It will soon explode, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, designed specifically to find them. We are not yet able to analyze their atmospheres, but we will, at least in some cases, be able to soon.

And when we find one with lots of free oxygen, it will be headlines around the world. Why? Because oxygen is chemically very reactive, forming molecules with abandon. So it doesn’t hang around in the free state very long. Earth is the only place we know where there is lots of free oxygen (about 20 percent of the atmosphere). And the reason is that earth teems with plant life that absorbs carbon dioxide, uses sunlight to crack it, builds more plants with the carbon, and spits out the oxygen. We animals then exploit the oxygen (and the plants). Such a find won’t prove the existence of non-earth life, but it would be a powerful piece of evidence for the proposition, one that would cause a surge of scientific investigation such as we haven’t seen since the Manhattan Project.

And of course, finding Earth-like life won’t rule out in any way planets with utterly alien biologies, built on molecular structures we cannot even dream of. Since we don’t know their signatures (such as free oxygen), however, finding them will be a long time coming (assuming they don’t land in Central Park and ask — politely one hopes — to be taken to our leader).

My guess is that life, Earth-like or otherwise, exists wherever conditions allow it to. After all, it arose here on Earth almost as soon as things settled down enough to make it possible.

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Net Neutrality and Your Internet Bill

I must applaud John for making the philosophical case for opposing the “net neutrality” plan, which he accurately identifies as a yawn-inducing, eyelid-closing irritant for most of us. The philosophical case is ultimately more important than the “wow, this hits my wallet” case — but it’s the latter that is starting to be clarified in the business press. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to impose net neutrality will include an authorization for Internet providers to meter net usage and charge more to those who move more data around on the Web.

Today the average customer pays for a certain minimum level of bandwidth, regardless of how much data he interacts with. Under net neutrality, he will be charged for a capped amount of data per month, beyond which he will pay extra. Most of us probably think of this as a limit on our ability to download things: to view videos or play games online. But the entertainment-industry press reports from a different perspective – one that every content provider, including bloggers, ought to pay attention to. Among content creators in Hollywood, it is understood that a net-neutrality scheme based on data surcharges will put smaller, less-well-heeled producers at a disadvantage when it comes to uploading their content and ensuring it is available to consumers.

Big media corporations have the deep pockets to keep their content available to Web consumers even if the basis for user billing shifts to the amount of data involved, as opposed to the data rate. If net neutrality is implemented on the proposed basis, those corporations can absorb the extra costs to their customers; an obvious method would be subscription schemes that relieve customers of data surcharges. But however many permutations there are for adjusting to net neutrality, its bottom line for smaller content providers will be limiting the types of content they can offer. Live-streaming, as well as Web distribution of longer videos, will be increasingly limited to the bigger, established corporations. Data surcharges will limit others — both customers and providers — to word processing and low-resolution images. Surcharges may well limit the amount of Web research bloggers like those at CONTENTIONS can do.

Net neutrality will make the same level of service cost users more. This first-order impact is probably the most significant to the immediate political equation. It will be unpopular, particularly among online video and gaming customers, and it will affect a lot of medium-size businesses. But in the longer term, net neutrality promises to be inimical to our opportunities for free intellectual communication. Today, the Internet is a unique vehicle for initiative in that regard. There is no information medium of similar reach to which unlicensed content providers have access, with low overhead and little regulation.

It is instructive to review the history of regulation for the cable industry. Channelization, licensing, and regulation of content providers are the norm to which the FCC will revert whenever it is given the opportunity. With net neutrality, the FCC appears to be starting down that path — not by explicitly declaring an intention to, but by preparing to price many of the less-regulated providers out of the Internet content business. If the principle of regulatory authority is established, the FCC is unlikely to stop with pushing prices up. John is right: even if you can’t remember exactly what net neutrality is about, knowing that it would expand the basis for federal regulation is a good reason to be “agin’ it.”

I must applaud John for making the philosophical case for opposing the “net neutrality” plan, which he accurately identifies as a yawn-inducing, eyelid-closing irritant for most of us. The philosophical case is ultimately more important than the “wow, this hits my wallet” case — but it’s the latter that is starting to be clarified in the business press. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to impose net neutrality will include an authorization for Internet providers to meter net usage and charge more to those who move more data around on the Web.

Today the average customer pays for a certain minimum level of bandwidth, regardless of how much data he interacts with. Under net neutrality, he will be charged for a capped amount of data per month, beyond which he will pay extra. Most of us probably think of this as a limit on our ability to download things: to view videos or play games online. But the entertainment-industry press reports from a different perspective – one that every content provider, including bloggers, ought to pay attention to. Among content creators in Hollywood, it is understood that a net-neutrality scheme based on data surcharges will put smaller, less-well-heeled producers at a disadvantage when it comes to uploading their content and ensuring it is available to consumers.

Big media corporations have the deep pockets to keep their content available to Web consumers even if the basis for user billing shifts to the amount of data involved, as opposed to the data rate. If net neutrality is implemented on the proposed basis, those corporations can absorb the extra costs to their customers; an obvious method would be subscription schemes that relieve customers of data surcharges. But however many permutations there are for adjusting to net neutrality, its bottom line for smaller content providers will be limiting the types of content they can offer. Live-streaming, as well as Web distribution of longer videos, will be increasingly limited to the bigger, established corporations. Data surcharges will limit others — both customers and providers — to word processing and low-resolution images. Surcharges may well limit the amount of Web research bloggers like those at CONTENTIONS can do.

Net neutrality will make the same level of service cost users more. This first-order impact is probably the most significant to the immediate political equation. It will be unpopular, particularly among online video and gaming customers, and it will affect a lot of medium-size businesses. But in the longer term, net neutrality promises to be inimical to our opportunities for free intellectual communication. Today, the Internet is a unique vehicle for initiative in that regard. There is no information medium of similar reach to which unlicensed content providers have access, with low overhead and little regulation.

It is instructive to review the history of regulation for the cable industry. Channelization, licensing, and regulation of content providers are the norm to which the FCC will revert whenever it is given the opportunity. With net neutrality, the FCC appears to be starting down that path — not by explicitly declaring an intention to, but by preparing to price many of the less-regulated providers out of the Internet content business. If the principle of regulatory authority is established, the FCC is unlikely to stop with pushing prices up. John is right: even if you can’t remember exactly what net neutrality is about, knowing that it would expand the basis for federal regulation is a good reason to be “agin’ it.”

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Karzai’s Words, and His Actions

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

Hamid Karzai has caused considerable consternation with his weekend interview with the Washington Post. He told Post editors and reporters: “The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life…. It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly.” He also criticized “night raids”–Special Operations raids that occur at night–as he has in the past.

The Post reports that General Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” as his remarks which seem to fly in the face of NATO’s strategy. Today Karzai’s spokesman was rapidly backtracking, stressing that Karzai’s comments about the desirability of a troop pullout were “conditioned on the ability of the Afghan security forces to take responsibility.” The spokesman made clear that Karzai supports NATO’s goal to begin withdrawing in 2014.

This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq. As I noted in this 2008 Washington Post op-ed, Maliki, too, has had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals:

In May 2006, shortly after becoming prime minister, he claimed, “Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.”

In October 2006, when violence was spinning out of control, Maliki declared that it would be “only a matter of months” before his security forces could “take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some multinational forces only in a supporting role.”

President Bush wisely ignored Maliki. Instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, he sent more. The prime minister wasn’t happy. On Dec. 15, 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country, according to U.S. military officials.” When the surge went ahead anyway, Maliki gave it an endorsement described in news accounts as “lukewarm.”

I suggested in the op-ed that it was wise to judge Maliki by what he did, not what he said. For all of his public doubts about the U.S. troop presence he generally supported American actions behind-the-scenes–although often only after considerable arm-twisting from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces.

Moreover, some of his criticisms of international forces are on the mark–the U.S. and its allies have done much to fuel corruption in Afghanistan, as he complains, and their employment of local security forces has often been a contributor to instability. Yet at the end of the day Afghanistan would be far more insecure without an America troop presence, and that is something I suspect Karzai, for all his misguided public statements, actually realizes.

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RE: A Significant Letter

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

I concur with Pete and the e21 authors. The e21 group not only has the benefit of Pete’s wisdom but that of a number of other key thinkers also. Keith Hennessey, formerly Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council under President Bush; Bill Kristol; and Andrew Laperriere, a Managing Director of International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., are on its board of advisers. And its staff and contributors includes impressive, serious economic and policy gurus. We’ll be hearing more from them in the days and weeks ahead. The group that released an open letter signed by a list of economists, business leaders, and policy wonks (including Michael Boskin, Roger Hertog, Amity Shlaes, Paul Singer, and John Taylor) is certainly going to be of critical importance in the public discussion ahead.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this group is not alone in raising concerns about the Fed’s printing press. The e21 group has been discussing the issue with Republican office holders and potential 2012 candidates and has come on the heels of criticism of the plan both by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. The report explains:

“Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy,” said Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who has been privy to early discussions with the group of conservatives rallying opposition to the Fed plan. He said the signatories to the letter “represent a growing chorus of Americans who know that we should be seeking to stimulate our economy with tax relief, spending restraint and regulatory reform rather than masking our fundamental problems by artificially creating inflation.”

The Fed faces potential pressure of a different sort from the left as well. Some prominent Democratic congressmen, including the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, have endorsed the quantitative-easing move.

If nothing else, the letter and the emergence on the scene of a group like e21 will demonstrate that Republicans are serious about weighty economic issues and focused on the long-term health of the dollar and the U.S. economy. The party of no — which really was never only about no — is getting some intellectual heft. This is good for it, but even more important for the country and the public debate.

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The First Test

Elections matter. Not only in number of Republicans but also in their zest for fiscal restraint, the Senate is soon to be a very different place. As the Wall Street Journal editors note:

On earmarks, the House GOP leadership has rallied behind a ban, and 11 of 13 newly elected Republicans in the Senate—including Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul—campaigned against these special- interest spending projects that are typically dropped into bills with little debate or scrutiny. A Senate earmark moratorium is sponsored by veterans Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) and Jim DeMint (South Carolina) and newly elected Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire).

Some Senate veterans are either indifferent or actively hostile to the idea. Yes, it’s true the earmarks are chump change when it comes to entitlement spending, but then so is public funding of the NPR. The importance lies in the symbolism and the message it sends in larger budget fights:

After tolerating Democratic earmarks for two years, President Obama is also now pushing an earmark ban, and Republicans will give him a major talking point if they maintain earmarks as usual. If this means Senators have to give up some of their own spending priorities, then they have only themselves to blame for making earmarks so notorious.

If it were only about earmarks, the tussle would hardly be noteworthy. But it is, instead, a test as to how readily the Tea Party’s agenda — fiscal restraint, smaller government, Congressional accountability — can be integrated in the GOP’s agenda. If the Old Bulls of the Senate win this one, the outlook is not good for larger, more controversial undertakings. As for the House, this is the first of many instances, I suspect, in which it will lead the debate and set the example.

Elections matter. Not only in number of Republicans but also in their zest for fiscal restraint, the Senate is soon to be a very different place. As the Wall Street Journal editors note:

On earmarks, the House GOP leadership has rallied behind a ban, and 11 of 13 newly elected Republicans in the Senate—including Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul—campaigned against these special- interest spending projects that are typically dropped into bills with little debate or scrutiny. A Senate earmark moratorium is sponsored by veterans Tom Coburn (Oklahoma) and Jim DeMint (South Carolina) and newly elected Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire).

Some Senate veterans are either indifferent or actively hostile to the idea. Yes, it’s true the earmarks are chump change when it comes to entitlement spending, but then so is public funding of the NPR. The importance lies in the symbolism and the message it sends in larger budget fights:

After tolerating Democratic earmarks for two years, President Obama is also now pushing an earmark ban, and Republicans will give him a major talking point if they maintain earmarks as usual. If this means Senators have to give up some of their own spending priorities, then they have only themselves to blame for making earmarks so notorious.

If it were only about earmarks, the tussle would hardly be noteworthy. But it is, instead, a test as to how readily the Tea Party’s agenda — fiscal restraint, smaller government, Congressional accountability — can be integrated in the GOP’s agenda. If the Old Bulls of the Senate win this one, the outlook is not good for larger, more controversial undertakings. As for the House, this is the first of many instances, I suspect, in which it will lead the debate and set the example.

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The Bush Book Sells

According to the Wall Street Journal, Decision Points, the new memoir by George W. Bush, sold 170,000 copies on its first day (and 50,000 ebooks as well, including to me). And a director of merchandising for Barnes & Noble told the Journal: “It’s done incredibly well for us, and it will be our fastest-selling adult hardcover for the year.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Decision Points, the new memoir by George W. Bush, sold 170,000 copies on its first day (and 50,000 ebooks as well, including to me). And a director of merchandising for Barnes & Noble told the Journal: “It’s done incredibly well for us, and it will be our fastest-selling adult hardcover for the year.”

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RE: Debt Commission Surprises

As I observed yesterday, the debt commission came out with a preliminary report that was better than expected from the perspective of conservatives and an anathema to liberals. The Wall Street Journal editors outline some of the negative aspects of the report: adhering to ObamaCare, too much timidity on discretionary spending cuts and entitlements, and an anti-jobs hike in the payroll tax. But the editors are mildly impressed:

Everyone to the right of MoveOn.org knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker’s economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement. …

Mr. Obama conceived the deficit commission as a form of political cover for his spending blowout—and to coax Republicans into a tax increase. So it’s notable that Democrats and liberals have been more critical of the chairmen’s draft than have Republicans. Having put the U.S. in a fiscal hole, Nancy Pelosi’s minority wants to oppose all spending cuts or entitlement reform to climb out.

House Republicans should react accordingly, which means taking what they like from the commission report and making it part of their own budget proposals. If Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama want to regain any fiscal credibility, they’ll be willing to listen and talk. If not, the voters will certainly have a choice in 2012.

To a large extent, then, the report is a useful political document for the right. It helps sniff out who is serious about spending restraint and who is not, and it embraces a methodology for tax reform that conservatives can support and liberals almost certainly can’t. (Let the “rich” pay have a top marginal rate of 24 percent? Oh the horror!)

To put it bluntly, the left got rolled here. This group of Democrats, for lack of a better term, was comprised mostly of “Third Wave”/Democratic Leadership Council types. The Former Fed vice chairman Alice Rivlin is a grown-up. Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. John Spratt are about the most responsible Democrats you could  find. By contrast, the liberals who were there, as one Washington insider pointed out to me yesterday, are “unserious” people. You can’t get more of a lightweight and a un-influential Democrat than the hard left Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The left is already fingering the commission’s executive director Bruce Reed as the culprit. Reed, of course, was the CEO of the DLC and later a top domestic-policy adviser and welfare-reform bill author under Bill Clinton. He personifies what the netroots and Obama disdain — a pro-business, split-the-baby style of Democratic politics.

But the most predictable and provincial reaction came from a news outlet with skin in the game. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NPR are denouncing the recommendation of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, long an objective of many conservatives.”  I’m sure that won’t affect their news coverage of the commission. Not in the least.

So the takeaway is that there are serious Democrats, just not in the White House (the Obama people were hiding under their desks yesterday) or many in the Congress. This presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they are the adults inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Senate and House caucuses with the exception of commissioner Conrad are not.

As I observed yesterday, the debt commission came out with a preliminary report that was better than expected from the perspective of conservatives and an anathema to liberals. The Wall Street Journal editors outline some of the negative aspects of the report: adhering to ObamaCare, too much timidity on discretionary spending cuts and entitlements, and an anti-jobs hike in the payroll tax. But the editors are mildly impressed:

Everyone to the right of MoveOn.org knows that the 35% corporate tax rate is a disincentive to invest in America and has sent businesses pleading to Congress for this or that loophole. This is the second Obama-appointed outfit to recommend a cut in the corporate tax rate, following Paul Volcker’s economic advisory group this year, and it ought to be one basis for bipartisan agreement. …

Mr. Obama conceived the deficit commission as a form of political cover for his spending blowout—and to coax Republicans into a tax increase. So it’s notable that Democrats and liberals have been more critical of the chairmen’s draft than have Republicans. Having put the U.S. in a fiscal hole, Nancy Pelosi’s minority wants to oppose all spending cuts or entitlement reform to climb out.

House Republicans should react accordingly, which means taking what they like from the commission report and making it part of their own budget proposals. If Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama want to regain any fiscal credibility, they’ll be willing to listen and talk. If not, the voters will certainly have a choice in 2012.

To a large extent, then, the report is a useful political document for the right. It helps sniff out who is serious about spending restraint and who is not, and it embraces a methodology for tax reform that conservatives can support and liberals almost certainly can’t. (Let the “rich” pay have a top marginal rate of 24 percent? Oh the horror!)

To put it bluntly, the left got rolled here. This group of Democrats, for lack of a better term, was comprised mostly of “Third Wave”/Democratic Leadership Council types. The Former Fed vice chairman Alice Rivlin is a grown-up. Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. John Spratt are about the most responsible Democrats you could  find. By contrast, the liberals who were there, as one Washington insider pointed out to me yesterday, are “unserious” people. You can’t get more of a lightweight and a un-influential Democrat than the hard left Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The left is already fingering the commission’s executive director Bruce Reed as the culprit. Reed, of course, was the CEO of the DLC and later a top domestic-policy adviser and welfare-reform bill author under Bill Clinton. He personifies what the netroots and Obama disdain — a pro-business, split-the-baby style of Democratic politics.

But the most predictable and provincial reaction came from a news outlet with skin in the game. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NPR are denouncing the recommendation of the co-chairs of President Obama’s Fiscal Commission to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, long an objective of many conservatives.”  I’m sure that won’t affect their news coverage of the commission. Not in the least.

So the takeaway is that there are serious Democrats, just not in the White House (the Obama people were hiding under their desks yesterday) or many in the Congress. This presents a golden opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate they are the adults inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the Democratic Senate and House caucuses with the exception of commissioner Conrad are not.

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A Coalition Government Is Formed in Iraq

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helicopter Ben Is at It Again

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

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Man of the Left vs. America

Shelby Steele’s must-read column in the Wall Street Journal correctly notes that there is more going on in the country than a rejection of Obama’s “grandiose, thoughtless, and bullying” policymaking. It is a reaction to Obama’s pose as distinct from, and often in opposition to, fellow citizens and American values. At home, he treats fellow citizens as sociological case studies. On the international stage, he views his job as rising above provincial interests (i.e., ours and those of our closet allies). Steele explains that while there is an “otherness” about Obama, it has nothing to do with his birthplace or religion:

Barack Obama is not an “other” so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new “counterculture” American identity. And this new American identity — and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned — is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying “otherness” but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

Obama is, as many of us on the right have argued, a cookie-cutter leftist, enamored of the mindset cultivated in universities and among liberal intelligentsia, among whom he repeatedly chose to work and live. The telltale signs are all there — an aversion to projection of American power, a hyper-critical stance toward America’s record on civil rights, a disdain for Wall Street, and, most of all, a fair amount of contempt for average Americans. Or, as Steele puts it:

Among today’s liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil — I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.

And Obama, the liberal intelligentsia never tires of telling us, is as sophisticated and as hip as they come. The results of all this are inevitable:

The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America’s characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity, or ingenuity.

When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader.

And what is more, it puts the president in the position of assuming that opposition stems from ill motives, nefarious funding sources, racism, Islamaphobia, and ignorance. We don’t appreciate him because we are confused and scared. We are, in this view, recalcitrant children at best and an unhinged mob at worst.

No wonder he didn’t care what we thought about ObamaCare. What do we know? There’s just one hitch in his approach: Americans get to vote.

Shelby Steele’s must-read column in the Wall Street Journal correctly notes that there is more going on in the country than a rejection of Obama’s “grandiose, thoughtless, and bullying” policymaking. It is a reaction to Obama’s pose as distinct from, and often in opposition to, fellow citizens and American values. At home, he treats fellow citizens as sociological case studies. On the international stage, he views his job as rising above provincial interests (i.e., ours and those of our closet allies). Steele explains that while there is an “otherness” about Obama, it has nothing to do with his birthplace or religion:

Barack Obama is not an “other” so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new “counterculture” American identity. And this new American identity — and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned — is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying “otherness” but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

Obama is, as many of us on the right have argued, a cookie-cutter leftist, enamored of the mindset cultivated in universities and among liberal intelligentsia, among whom he repeatedly chose to work and live. The telltale signs are all there — an aversion to projection of American power, a hyper-critical stance toward America’s record on civil rights, a disdain for Wall Street, and, most of all, a fair amount of contempt for average Americans. Or, as Steele puts it:

Among today’s liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil — I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.

And Obama, the liberal intelligentsia never tires of telling us, is as sophisticated and as hip as they come. The results of all this are inevitable:

The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America’s characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity, or ingenuity.

When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader.

And what is more, it puts the president in the position of assuming that opposition stems from ill motives, nefarious funding sources, racism, Islamaphobia, and ignorance. We don’t appreciate him because we are confused and scared. We are, in this view, recalcitrant children at best and an unhinged mob at worst.

No wonder he didn’t care what we thought about ObamaCare. What do we know? There’s just one hitch in his approach: Americans get to vote.

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A Counter View to Fouad Ajami’s Skepticism Regarding Afghanistan

Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

Read More

Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

The problem is that in carrying out this mission we must work with wholly imperfect allies. Karzai is no angel. But then neither is Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq — a leader whom Ajami presciently championed even when others scoffed at his potential to rise above his sectarian roots. In many ways, Maliki has been an even more troubling ally than Karzai. For all his faults, Karzai is not known to be personally sympathetic to the Taliban, who killed his father. By contrast, Maliki had a lot of sympathy for Shiite sectarianism. He has been surrounded by Iranian agents and Shiite extremists, who were deeply implicated in the work of the death squads that were killing hundreds of Sunnis every night in 2006-2007. It may be discouraging to hear that Karzai accepts a couple of million dollars in cash from Iran but is there any doubt that Maliki has taken far more money from Tehran? And not just money. As this article noted, Iran actually provided Maliki with his presidential jet, complete with Iranian pilots. Say what you will about Karzai, but at least he doesn’t routinely entrust his life to an Iranian aircraft.

Moreover, Maliki has been as notorious as Karzai for showing a lack of gratitude toward American efforts to save his county. As I noted in this 2008 op-ed, Maliki has had a pattern of dismissing the American contribution to Iraqi security, saying, for instance, in May 2006, that “[Iraqi] forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.” Maliki opposed the surge, which saved his country in 2007 and even when it succeeded refused to give us credit. As I noted:

In the famous interview with Der Spiegel last weekend, he was asked why Iraq has become more peaceful. He mentioned “many factors,” including “the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve,” “the progress being made by our security forces,” “the deep sense of abhorrence with which the population has reacted to the atrocities of al-Qaida and the militias,” and “the economic recovery.” No mention of the surge.

Yet for all of Maliki’s maddening imperfections — which stand in high relief now as he ruthlessly maneuvers for another term — he showed ability to rise above his sectarian origins. He displayed real political courage in ordering his forces to attack the Sadrists in Basra and Sadr City in 2008. Now, of course, he is cutting deals with those same Sadrists. That, alas, is how the political game is played in unstable countries like Iraq — or Afghanistan. That should not cause us to despair of either country’s future.

If we could work with Maliki, we can certainly work with Karzai. The former, after all, does not speak English and spent years of exile living in Syria and Iran, two of the most anti-American states in the world. Karzai, by contrast, is a fluent English-speaker with several brothers who have lived in the U.S. for years and even hold U.S. citizenship. He is, in many ways, a more natural fit as an ally than Maliki. There is little doubt that he and his brothers are implicated in the corruption of Afghani politics, but at least, unlike Maliki, they are not cozying up to Iranian-backed death squads. To the extent that Karzai has cozied up to Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, it has been as a hedge against a precipitous American pullout. But Karzai also knows that the Iranians are double-dealing — they are supporting the Taliban too — which can give Karzai little confidence that Iran would be a reliable ally. At the end of the day, Karzai knows that his future and his country’s rests with the United States and NATO; that we are all that is keeping him from death or exile.

It would be nice if Karzai showed more political courage in working with us and refrained from denouncing us, but some of his denunciations have, alas, the ring of truth — and some of his actions are actually well intentioned. Take his attempts to close down private security companies that are terrorizing ordinary Afghanis and driving them into the arms of the Taliban. Most of these companies are, in fact, directly or indirectly, funded by American taxpayers — just as Karzai alleges. Many of them are also run by Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and by others linked to the Karzai clan. (See this report from the Institute for the Study of War for details.) So by closing down these firms, Karzai seems to be moving against his family’s economic interests. If he were simply interested in continuing to exploit this lucrative economic niche, he would leave the existing situation alone.

I don’t know what motivates Karzai but I suspect that, like most people, he is moved by a combination of noble and ignoble impulses — idealism and selfishness, self-interest and the public interest. He is no Adenaeur or De Gaulle or Ataturk or Washington — but then neither is Maliki. He is deeply imperfect, but he is the president of Afghanistan, and I do believe it is possible to work with him. Luckily, we have in Kabul the same general — David Petraeus — who skillfully worked with Maliki at a time when many Americans wrote him off as incorrigible. Already Petreaus has shown a similar ability to get useful concessions out of Karzai, for instance winning the president’s approval for setting up the Afghan Local Police, an initiative to supplement the Afghan Security Forces, which Karzai initially opposed.

Running through Ajami’s article is a deep skepticism not only about Karzai but also about Barack Obama. He criticizes Obama, rightly, for displaying irresolution. I too have been dismayed by the deadline Obama laid out for our withdrawal from Afghanistan — but I have been cheered to see, as I have noted in previous posts, that Obama is backing off that deadline. What foes for Karzai also goes for Obama: you go to war with the leaders you have — not the ones you would like to have. But I don’t believe that either Karzai or Obama is so flawed that it is impossible to prevail in Afghanistan — especially not when we have so many outstanding troops on the ground led by our greatest general.

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Business Execs vs. Professional Pols

Linda McMahon has steadily narrowed the gap between herself and state attorney general and faux Vietnam vet Richard Blumenthal. She has run a disciplined campaign and focused voters on job creation. Her message is simple: she knows how to create jobs (600 in the state of Connecticut alone) and Blumenthal never has. The Wall Street Journal editors have some fun with Blumenthal’s response:

The polls say job creation is the number one campaign issue, so the prize for proposal of the year goes to Connecticut Attorney General and Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal. Asked in a debate to justify the hundreds of lawsuits he’s filed against companies—employers—in his state, the Democrat replied: “Our lawsuits, our legal actions, actually create jobs.”

We’ve heard of those who believe we can spend our way to prosperity, and others want to inflate our way. But the shovel-ready lawsuit as an economic stimulus is a genuine novelty. …

There’s the case of toolmaker Stanley Works, which Mr. Blumenthal sued in 2002 to block it from relocating to Bermuda to save $30 million in corporate income taxes. A year later a less competitive Stanley laid off 1,000 workers. His 2003 suit against small business-owner Gina Malapanis inspired a counter-suit, and a jury awarded her $18 million from the state.

There is a theme here, of course. Obama fessed up that he didn’t realize when he spent more than $800B of the taxpayers’ money that there are no shovel-ready jobs. It seems he doesn’t understand how job creation works either.

Like Blumenthal and Obama, Democrats Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown, and Russ Feingold are professional politicians with no experience managing a business, making payroll, or creating wealth and jobs. Faced with business executives like Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, and Ron Johnson, the professional politicians are somewhat flummoxed. Run government more like a business? Lower costs of labor? Reduce corporate taxes to encourage domestic investment? Return to 2008 spending levels? Wow. The pols hardly know what to say; so instead, they run negative, ad hominem campaigns.

The voters are not thrilled with professional politicians these days, in no small part because they seem so clueless when it comes to the economy. That leaves an opening for candidates who know something about the private sector and understand that the demonization of business is among the least-helpful things the president and Democratic Congress have done.

Linda McMahon has steadily narrowed the gap between herself and state attorney general and faux Vietnam vet Richard Blumenthal. She has run a disciplined campaign and focused voters on job creation. Her message is simple: she knows how to create jobs (600 in the state of Connecticut alone) and Blumenthal never has. The Wall Street Journal editors have some fun with Blumenthal’s response:

The polls say job creation is the number one campaign issue, so the prize for proposal of the year goes to Connecticut Attorney General and Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal. Asked in a debate to justify the hundreds of lawsuits he’s filed against companies—employers—in his state, the Democrat replied: “Our lawsuits, our legal actions, actually create jobs.”

We’ve heard of those who believe we can spend our way to prosperity, and others want to inflate our way. But the shovel-ready lawsuit as an economic stimulus is a genuine novelty. …

There’s the case of toolmaker Stanley Works, which Mr. Blumenthal sued in 2002 to block it from relocating to Bermuda to save $30 million in corporate income taxes. A year later a less competitive Stanley laid off 1,000 workers. His 2003 suit against small business-owner Gina Malapanis inspired a counter-suit, and a jury awarded her $18 million from the state.

There is a theme here, of course. Obama fessed up that he didn’t realize when he spent more than $800B of the taxpayers’ money that there are no shovel-ready jobs. It seems he doesn’t understand how job creation works either.

Like Blumenthal and Obama, Democrats Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown, and Russ Feingold are professional politicians with no experience managing a business, making payroll, or creating wealth and jobs. Faced with business executives like Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, and Ron Johnson, the professional politicians are somewhat flummoxed. Run government more like a business? Lower costs of labor? Reduce corporate taxes to encourage domestic investment? Return to 2008 spending levels? Wow. The pols hardly know what to say; so instead, they run negative, ad hominem campaigns.

The voters are not thrilled with professional politicians these days, in no small part because they seem so clueless when it comes to the economy. That leaves an opening for candidates who know something about the private sector and understand that the demonization of business is among the least-helpful things the president and Democratic Congress have done.

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Nobel Prize Winners — a Teachable Moment?

A trio won the Nobel Prize for economics — Peter Diamond, Dale Mortensen, and Christopher Pissarides. Diamond’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board has been held up by Republicans; whatever you think of the Nobel committee’s standards in economics, it will be a tad difficult to maintain the position that Diamond is not “qualified.” There may be other objections; if not, I suspect he’ll be confirmed.

But what is interesting is the substance of these economists’ work. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The research by the three economists concluded high unemployment can be the result of “friction,” which keeps employers and workers apart. That friction can be tough regulatory rules on firing, or the lack of appropriate skills among the unemployed, among other things.

The research has also focused on unemployment insurance, with one conclusion being that more generous benefits give rise to higher unemployment—because workers spend more time looking. This ultimately is a benefit to the economy, however, because it leads to workers landing jobs that better use their capabilities.

Hmm. Well that’s sort of interesting. So, for example, union rules that hinder termination of workers or a tort system that aids litigation by fired employees could worsen unemployment? Good to know. The most interesting, and politically significant, part concerns unemployment benefits.

Now, one of the winners was quick to add that “in today’s difficult economic climate, he doubted that unemployment insurance was much of a factor in high unemployment now. ‘I really don’t think this is a time to worry about that all that much,’ he said.” Umm. But didn’t he win a big prize for saying that this is a potential problem?

Here’s an idea: hold confirmation hearings for Diamond and ask him about his research and whether increasing the cost of labor (e.g., ObamaCare, minimum wage hikes), making the labor market less flexible (unionization), and extending unemployment benefits for years are helping or hindering our efforts to tame unemployment. If nothing else, it would be edifying.

A trio won the Nobel Prize for economics — Peter Diamond, Dale Mortensen, and Christopher Pissarides. Diamond’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board has been held up by Republicans; whatever you think of the Nobel committee’s standards in economics, it will be a tad difficult to maintain the position that Diamond is not “qualified.” There may be other objections; if not, I suspect he’ll be confirmed.

But what is interesting is the substance of these economists’ work. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The research by the three economists concluded high unemployment can be the result of “friction,” which keeps employers and workers apart. That friction can be tough regulatory rules on firing, or the lack of appropriate skills among the unemployed, among other things.

The research has also focused on unemployment insurance, with one conclusion being that more generous benefits give rise to higher unemployment—because workers spend more time looking. This ultimately is a benefit to the economy, however, because it leads to workers landing jobs that better use their capabilities.

Hmm. Well that’s sort of interesting. So, for example, union rules that hinder termination of workers or a tort system that aids litigation by fired employees could worsen unemployment? Good to know. The most interesting, and politically significant, part concerns unemployment benefits.

Now, one of the winners was quick to add that “in today’s difficult economic climate, he doubted that unemployment insurance was much of a factor in high unemployment now. ‘I really don’t think this is a time to worry about that all that much,’ he said.” Umm. But didn’t he win a big prize for saying that this is a potential problem?

Here’s an idea: hold confirmation hearings for Diamond and ask him about his research and whether increasing the cost of labor (e.g., ObamaCare, minimum wage hikes), making the labor market less flexible (unionization), and extending unemployment benefits for years are helping or hindering our efforts to tame unemployment. If nothing else, it would be edifying.

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Not Spending Enough?!

The Obama team is crying deficit crocodile tears over the prospect of an extension of the Bush tax cuts to upper-income taxpayers, which it claims wouldn’t be fiscally prudent. (The more expensive extension for the “non-rich” is fine with the administration, however.) It’s laughable considering the utter lack of fiscal discipline by Obama and the Democratic Congress.

We learned from the CBO that “[s]pending rolled in for the year [2010] that ended September 30 at $3.45 trillion, second only to 2009’s $3.52 trillion in the record books.” Well, Obama blames the wars. Hardly. We know that “despite two wars, defense spending rose by 4.7% to $667 billion, down from an annual average increase of 8% from 2005 to 2009.”

What, then, are we spending gobs of money on?

Once again domestic accounts far and away led the increases. Medicaid rose by 8.7%, and unemployment benefits by an astonishing 34.3%—to $160 billion. The costs of jobless insurance have tripled in two years. CBO adds that if you take out the savings for deposit insurance, funding for all “other activities” of government—education, transportation, foreign aid, housing, and so on—rose by 13% in 2010.

As for the deficits, the 2010 total was $1.29 trillion, down slightly from $1.42 trillion. That’s a two-year total of $2.7 trillion, or more than the entire amount during the Reagan Administration, when deficits were supposed to be ruinous. Now liberal economists tell us that deficits are the key to restoring prosperity. But all we have to show for spending nearly 25% of GDP for two years running is a growth rate of 1.7% and 9.6% unemployment.

The Paul Krugman wing of the Democratic Party has convinced itself that we haven’t spent enough. But how much would suffice? The answer is always “more than we are now.” As the Wall Street Journal editors point out: “The 21.4% federal spending increase in two years ought to put to rest any debate about the nature of America’s fiscal problem. The Pelosi Congress has used the recession as an excuse to send spending to record heights, and its economic policies have contributed to a lousy recovery.”

It is an unconscionable record — and the reason, in large part, why its authors are going to take a drubbing in November.

The Obama team is crying deficit crocodile tears over the prospect of an extension of the Bush tax cuts to upper-income taxpayers, which it claims wouldn’t be fiscally prudent. (The more expensive extension for the “non-rich” is fine with the administration, however.) It’s laughable considering the utter lack of fiscal discipline by Obama and the Democratic Congress.

We learned from the CBO that “[s]pending rolled in for the year [2010] that ended September 30 at $3.45 trillion, second only to 2009’s $3.52 trillion in the record books.” Well, Obama blames the wars. Hardly. We know that “despite two wars, defense spending rose by 4.7% to $667 billion, down from an annual average increase of 8% from 2005 to 2009.”

What, then, are we spending gobs of money on?

Once again domestic accounts far and away led the increases. Medicaid rose by 8.7%, and unemployment benefits by an astonishing 34.3%—to $160 billion. The costs of jobless insurance have tripled in two years. CBO adds that if you take out the savings for deposit insurance, funding for all “other activities” of government—education, transportation, foreign aid, housing, and so on—rose by 13% in 2010.

As for the deficits, the 2010 total was $1.29 trillion, down slightly from $1.42 trillion. That’s a two-year total of $2.7 trillion, or more than the entire amount during the Reagan Administration, when deficits were supposed to be ruinous. Now liberal economists tell us that deficits are the key to restoring prosperity. But all we have to show for spending nearly 25% of GDP for two years running is a growth rate of 1.7% and 9.6% unemployment.

The Paul Krugman wing of the Democratic Party has convinced itself that we haven’t spent enough. But how much would suffice? The answer is always “more than we are now.” As the Wall Street Journal editors point out: “The 21.4% federal spending increase in two years ought to put to rest any debate about the nature of America’s fiscal problem. The Pelosi Congress has used the recession as an excuse to send spending to record heights, and its economic policies have contributed to a lousy recovery.”

It is an unconscionable record — and the reason, in large part, why its authors are going to take a drubbing in November.

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Media Quits Obama

An evaluation of Obama:

Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment. And it is too late for him to do anything about this predicament until after November’s elections.

With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.

George Will? The Wall Street Journal editors? No, it’s Time‘s Mark Halperin, known for his talent in parroting Democratic conventional wisdom. The mainstream media, it seems, are cutting their losses. They invested enormous time, credibility, and emotion in bolstering their chosen candidate. But he hasn’t panned out, and new power players are headed to Washington. So it’s time to scramble back to some semblance of realistic coverage and concede that all those “accomplishments” in the past two years didn’t accomplish anything — not an economic recovery, not political ascendancy for Obama, not electoral success for Democrats, and not an era of bipartisan harmony. Just the opposite.

Now, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as viable 2012 presidential contenders appear on the stage or the GOP Congress faces off with Obama, expect the press to return to blocking and tackling for the president. But the magic is gone, the spell is broken. The press has figured out two years later than many of us that Obama is simply another liberal pol — and, as it turns out, an extraordinarily unpleasant and incompetent one.

An evaluation of Obama:

Barack Obama is being politically crushed in a vise. From above, by elite opinion about his competence. From below, by mass anger and anxiety over unemployment. And it is too late for him to do anything about this predicament until after November’s elections.

With the exception of core Obama Administration loyalists, most politically engaged elites have reached the same conclusions: the White House is in over its head, isolated, insular, arrogant and clueless about how to get along with or persuade members of Congress, the media, the business community or working-class voters. This view is held by Fox News pundits, executives and anchors at the major old-media outlets, reporters who cover the White House, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and governors, many Democratic business people and lawyers who raised big money for Obama in 2008, and even some members of the Administration just beyond the inner circle.

George Will? The Wall Street Journal editors? No, it’s Time‘s Mark Halperin, known for his talent in parroting Democratic conventional wisdom. The mainstream media, it seems, are cutting their losses. They invested enormous time, credibility, and emotion in bolstering their chosen candidate. But he hasn’t panned out, and new power players are headed to Washington. So it’s time to scramble back to some semblance of realistic coverage and concede that all those “accomplishments” in the past two years didn’t accomplish anything — not an economic recovery, not political ascendancy for Obama, not electoral success for Democrats, and not an era of bipartisan harmony. Just the opposite.

Now, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as viable 2012 presidential contenders appear on the stage or the GOP Congress faces off with Obama, expect the press to return to blocking and tackling for the president. But the magic is gone, the spell is broken. The press has figured out two years later than many of us that Obama is simply another liberal pol — and, as it turns out, an extraordinarily unpleasant and incompetent one.

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If Only They Had Joined the Party of “No”

The Wall Street Journal editors observe:

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has become the first Senate Democratic candidate to call for the repeal of ObamaCare, never mind that at the time it was being voted on he said he was for it. Now amid a tight Senate race, Mr. Manchin’s campaign says that, “knowing what he knows now,” he would not have voted for the bill in its final form.

It’s a curious sort of admission: “I was duped by the president.” It isn’t the sort of confidence builder that gives voters faith that he can put the brakes on the next bad idea to come out of the White House, is it?

And the editors seem suspicious about his devotion to “repeal and reform”: “If discerning voters decide to send [Republican John] Raese to Washington and keep Mr. Manchin in his current job as Governor, perhaps Mr. Manchin can act upon his new convictions and join the 19 states that are supporting Florida’s lawsuit against ObamaCare’s constitutionality. So far West Virginia has stayed on the sidelines.” Ahh.

Unfortunately for Manchin and other Democrats from less-than-deep-Blue states, the credibility of “moderate” Democrats is low. Recall that each and every Senate Democrat was the 60th vote in reaching cloture, thereby ushering in ObamaCare. They all voted for the original stimulus plan. If voters are looking for a reliable “no” vote on Obamanomics, they may wonder why they should reward the party that rubber-stamped each item on the Obama checklist.

The Wall Street Journal editors observe:

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has become the first Senate Democratic candidate to call for the repeal of ObamaCare, never mind that at the time it was being voted on he said he was for it. Now amid a tight Senate race, Mr. Manchin’s campaign says that, “knowing what he knows now,” he would not have voted for the bill in its final form.

It’s a curious sort of admission: “I was duped by the president.” It isn’t the sort of confidence builder that gives voters faith that he can put the brakes on the next bad idea to come out of the White House, is it?

And the editors seem suspicious about his devotion to “repeal and reform”: “If discerning voters decide to send [Republican John] Raese to Washington and keep Mr. Manchin in his current job as Governor, perhaps Mr. Manchin can act upon his new convictions and join the 19 states that are supporting Florida’s lawsuit against ObamaCare’s constitutionality. So far West Virginia has stayed on the sidelines.” Ahh.

Unfortunately for Manchin and other Democrats from less-than-deep-Blue states, the credibility of “moderate” Democrats is low. Recall that each and every Senate Democrat was the 60th vote in reaching cloture, thereby ushering in ObamaCare. They all voted for the original stimulus plan. If voters are looking for a reliable “no” vote on Obamanomics, they may wonder why they should reward the party that rubber-stamped each item on the Obama checklist.

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Woodward’s Forgettable Writings

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

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Lots and Lots of People Will Lose Their Current Coverage

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

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