Commentary Magazine


Topic: Treasury Secretary

That Debt Ceiling Again

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

Read Less

The Administration’s Incoherence on Iran

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

Read Less

The German Example

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) — was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) — was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

Read Less

Does the Administration Mean What It Now Says About Human Rights?

Obama and his secretary of state are making some effort to step up — or start, some would say — support for human rights. Obama spoke on the topic at the UN. Albeit too little and too late, the administration is taking action against Iranian human rights abuses:

Citing “mounting evidence” of repression of the Iranian opposition, the Obama administration added more sanctions against Iranian government officials, members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and others accused by the United States of being responsible for human rights abuses.

The sanctions, announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, block the assets of, and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in any business with, those on the list, which includes the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s prosecutor general, and the ministers of welfare and intelligence.

There’s less here than meets the eye, however. As the Washington Post editors note, ” The high-profile announcement could give important encouragement to Iran’s opposition. But it’s worth noting that the sanctions themselves were recently mandated by Congress.” Oh. And why haven’t we committed ourselves to full support for the Green movement?

The real proof of the Obama administration’s devotion to democracy promotion will come with clear and decisive action. When do we adopt regime change as our official policy? When do we call it quits and pull the financial plug on the UNHRC? These would demonstrate actual, rather than rhetorical, support for human rights.

The Post editors observe that there’s another opportunity to prove the administration’s bona fides on human rights. Why not take action against the repressive Mubarak government, which is in the process of rigging another election?

[A] resolution authored by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) has won broad and bipartisan support. The resolution urges Mr. Mubarak’s regime “to take all steps necessary to ensure that upcoming elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, including granting independent international and domestic electoral observers unrestricted access.” …

After the president’s last meeting with Mr. Mubarak this month, a White House summary said Mr. Obama had referred to the need for “credible and transparent elections in Egypt.” The question is whether the administration is willing to take action in support of its words. So far, it has offered no indication that Mr. Mubarak’s failure to accept election observers will result in any consequence for a country that receives $1.5 billion annually in American aid. Nor has the White House offered support for the Senate resolution, in public or in private. It could, at least, do that.

Let’s see what the Obama administration does. Frankly, the president’s words don’t carry all that much credibility these days.

Obama and his secretary of state are making some effort to step up — or start, some would say — support for human rights. Obama spoke on the topic at the UN. Albeit too little and too late, the administration is taking action against Iranian human rights abuses:

Citing “mounting evidence” of repression of the Iranian opposition, the Obama administration added more sanctions against Iranian government officials, members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and others accused by the United States of being responsible for human rights abuses.

The sanctions, announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, block the assets of, and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in any business with, those on the list, which includes the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s prosecutor general, and the ministers of welfare and intelligence.

There’s less here than meets the eye, however. As the Washington Post editors note, ” The high-profile announcement could give important encouragement to Iran’s opposition. But it’s worth noting that the sanctions themselves were recently mandated by Congress.” Oh. And why haven’t we committed ourselves to full support for the Green movement?

The real proof of the Obama administration’s devotion to democracy promotion will come with clear and decisive action. When do we adopt regime change as our official policy? When do we call it quits and pull the financial plug on the UNHRC? These would demonstrate actual, rather than rhetorical, support for human rights.

The Post editors observe that there’s another opportunity to prove the administration’s bona fides on human rights. Why not take action against the repressive Mubarak government, which is in the process of rigging another election?

[A] resolution authored by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) has won broad and bipartisan support. The resolution urges Mr. Mubarak’s regime “to take all steps necessary to ensure that upcoming elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, including granting independent international and domestic electoral observers unrestricted access.” …

After the president’s last meeting with Mr. Mubarak this month, a White House summary said Mr. Obama had referred to the need for “credible and transparent elections in Egypt.” The question is whether the administration is willing to take action in support of its words. So far, it has offered no indication that Mr. Mubarak’s failure to accept election observers will result in any consequence for a country that receives $1.5 billion annually in American aid. Nor has the White House offered support for the Senate resolution, in public or in private. It could, at least, do that.

Let’s see what the Obama administration does. Frankly, the president’s words don’t carry all that much credibility these days.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

Read Less

It’s the Taxes

On Fox News Sunday and on This Week, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts was much discussed. Under the incredulous questioning of Jake Tapper, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner claimed the economy wouldn’t be hurt by an enormous hike in tax rates, which will hit small businesses as well as “the rich” (who are also the investors, the employers, and the consumers needed to jump-start the economy). When Geithner says that growth has been “pretty good” and that employers are going to start hiring soon, you wonder if the Obami are delusional. But when Geithner says — after a spending spree to end all spending sprees — that the tax hike is needed to “make sure we can show the world that they’re willing as a country now to start to make some progress bringing down our long — our long-term deficits,” you see that the Obami really are rather deeply cynical. (The contrast with the show’s other guest, Chris Christie, who talked about cutting spending and taxes, could not have been more stark.)

On Fox, Brit Hume tried, without much success, to explain to Juan Williams why hiking taxes is a bad idea:

WILLIAMS: Let me finish this point. President Obama has already cut taxes…

HUME: When’s the last…

WILLIAMS: … as he points out for 95 percent of working people by cutting payroll taxes.

HUME: Well, that — just let me ask you this question. When’s the last time one of these poor people offered you a job?

The people who are the job creators, the people who have money to invest, capital to put at risk, to build enterprises and, they hope, make more money are people that have some money to begin with.

WILLIAMS: And God bless them. They’re important.

HUME: And if you — if you…

WILLIAMS: But don’t you have to have consumers?

HUME: … if you diminish, A, the amount of money they have on hand by taxing it away and the incentive they have to make more because they know a larger portion of it’s going to be taxed away, you are — you are dampening the impulse to grow the economy which is…

WALLACE: Mr. Williams, you get the final 20 seconds.

HUME: … in the hearts of business men across — and women…

WALLACE: Go.

HUME: … across the country.

WILLIAMS: I appreciate it. Consumers are the heart and soul of this economy. You’ve got to have people who are willing to go in…

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: … and spend money in order that small business will be in a position, then, to do the hiring. But you can’t have banks and small business saying…

WALLACE: OK.

WILLIAMS: … “You know what? We’re sitting on…”

WALLACE: All right.

WILLIAMS: “… our money because we’re worried about risk.” That’s ridiculous when they have the money.

So the way to get banks to loan more money is to raise taxes? It is hopeless, it seems, to explain it to the left, which simply cannot countenance letting investors, consumers, and employers keep more of their money.

One thing is certain: the voters will have a clear choice between tax cutters and tax hikers. There isn’t any way to fudge the answer for those on the ballot. For or against a big tax increase? If Americans at this point think that the economy is sagging and that tax hikes will hardly help matters, the Democrats are going to face some hostile audiences on the campaign trail.

On Fox News Sunday and on This Week, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts was much discussed. Under the incredulous questioning of Jake Tapper, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner claimed the economy wouldn’t be hurt by an enormous hike in tax rates, which will hit small businesses as well as “the rich” (who are also the investors, the employers, and the consumers needed to jump-start the economy). When Geithner says that growth has been “pretty good” and that employers are going to start hiring soon, you wonder if the Obami are delusional. But when Geithner says — after a spending spree to end all spending sprees — that the tax hike is needed to “make sure we can show the world that they’re willing as a country now to start to make some progress bringing down our long — our long-term deficits,” you see that the Obami really are rather deeply cynical. (The contrast with the show’s other guest, Chris Christie, who talked about cutting spending and taxes, could not have been more stark.)

On Fox, Brit Hume tried, without much success, to explain to Juan Williams why hiking taxes is a bad idea:

WILLIAMS: Let me finish this point. President Obama has already cut taxes…

HUME: When’s the last…

WILLIAMS: … as he points out for 95 percent of working people by cutting payroll taxes.

HUME: Well, that — just let me ask you this question. When’s the last time one of these poor people offered you a job?

The people who are the job creators, the people who have money to invest, capital to put at risk, to build enterprises and, they hope, make more money are people that have some money to begin with.

WILLIAMS: And God bless them. They’re important.

HUME: And if you — if you…

WILLIAMS: But don’t you have to have consumers?

HUME: … if you diminish, A, the amount of money they have on hand by taxing it away and the incentive they have to make more because they know a larger portion of it’s going to be taxed away, you are — you are dampening the impulse to grow the economy which is…

WALLACE: Mr. Williams, you get the final 20 seconds.

HUME: … in the hearts of business men across — and women…

WALLACE: Go.

HUME: … across the country.

WILLIAMS: I appreciate it. Consumers are the heart and soul of this economy. You’ve got to have people who are willing to go in…

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: … and spend money in order that small business will be in a position, then, to do the hiring. But you can’t have banks and small business saying…

WALLACE: OK.

WILLIAMS: … “You know what? We’re sitting on…”

WALLACE: All right.

WILLIAMS: “… our money because we’re worried about risk.” That’s ridiculous when they have the money.

So the way to get banks to loan more money is to raise taxes? It is hopeless, it seems, to explain it to the left, which simply cannot countenance letting investors, consumers, and employers keep more of their money.

One thing is certain: the voters will have a clear choice between tax cutters and tax hikers. There isn’t any way to fudge the answer for those on the ballot. For or against a big tax increase? If Americans at this point think that the economy is sagging and that tax hikes will hardly help matters, the Democrats are going to face some hostile audiences on the campaign trail.

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Mitch Daniels Makes the Rounds

Mitch Daniels is clearly raising his profile and leaving the door open to a 2012 presidential run. COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Ferguson’s story is as comprehensive a piece on his views and persona as we have seen. Daniels is in Washington this week doing interviews and meeting with groups like the Business Roundtable. This morning, he met with a group of mostly conservative new-media and print journalists. He proved both impressive and problematic for conservatives seeking a favorite in the 2012 race.

On the positive side, he is plainly not Obama. He is precise, self-effacing, down to earth, and rooted in conservative philosophy. The first question was about education, and, out of the box, he acknowledged that education was “one of the shortcomings of our administration,” and although he has made limited progress, he wants to step up his efforts in the remainder of his term. He then went on to discuss the substantial reforms he has made with the help of a new superintendent (ending social promotion, insulating teachers from lawsuits if they enforce discipline, opening up credentials so people who have had other careers can get into the classrooms, etc.). What he conveyed was both candor and a big-picture view (“Public education has evolved into a situation . . . where it is set up as much for the benefit of the adults as for the kids.”)

He also explained his effort to tame public-employees’ unions, pointing out that teachers in his state are paid 22 percent more than the average worker and that he needed to bring the union to heel if “we were going to overhaul government.” By executive order, he ended mandatory union dues, and 90 percent of the employee chose not to pay. (“They gave themselves a 2 percent pay increase.”) But he is not anti-union by any means. He explained that the playing field should be level, and workers should have the choice to unionize. He said the right to join a union is “fundamental” and has “led to freedom in a lot of countries.”

He was at his best when discussing political theory and domestic policy. Asked what conservatives he looks to for guidance, he listed Hayek, Friedman, and Charles Murray. All of them, he explained, “are realistic and therefore modest in what government is capable of doing.” He continued that they evince “skepticism of bigness — in all its forms.” When I asked him what the principle errors of Obama and Congress had been, he began by pointing out that most of them “have not spent a day in a profit-making enterprise.” He explained that the choice between political parties is the clearest we’ve ever had. Conservatives believe, he said, that public service is a temporary job and that their duty is “to promote free enterprise, family, and other intermediary institutions.” Democrats believe the opposite, he said — that society will work better “if the ‘enlightened'” make the decisions.

He explained: “I’m concerned. I’m alarmed about the direction of the country.” Even apart from the theoretical argument, he observed that looking at entitlements and the debt, “Can we all agree the arithmetic doesn’t work?” But he said he is interested in the bigger philosophical questions: “What kind of people do we want to be?” Are we still capable of preserving liberty and independence?

About entitlements and the debt, he said he has faith that we can have a “grown-up” conversation. He then proceeded to have one. “Americans,” he asserted, “have a renewed sense of the menace of too much debt.” In their personal lives, with credit-card and mortgage debt, he notes that “they had a searing personal experience.” What to do about entitlements? “Paul Ryan is right — we need to bifurcate these programs.” He said that Democrats would have been best suited to do the hard work, given the negative rhetoric hurled at Republicans when they undertake entitlements control, but he said that is a “lost opportunity. Someone’s got to try.” He continued: “Why should we pay for Warren Buffet’s health care? Why should be pay Bill Gates a pension?” Like businesses that have phased out defined-benefit plans, he recommended that we have “a new plan and an old plan.” And he wasn’t shy about criticizing Republicans for grandstanding on Medicare cuts during the health-care debate.

He explained: “None of this will work if we don’t have a sustained period of growth.” Unfortunately, he said, “Everything they are doing as far as I can see leans against economic growth.” And he pointed to his own job-creation record. Indiana has 2 percent of the population and 7 percent of the new jobs. He has made sure “the next job comes to Indiana and not someplace else.”

He also showed a knack for political message. He questioned “what the hell” did “change you can believe in.” He suggested that the conservatives’ motto should be “Change that believes in you,” stressing that Americans are “fully capable” of running their own lives, buying their own health-care insurance, etc.

If Daniels makes a run in 2012 — although he said we should now focus on the “what” and figure out the “who” later — he may have trouble with both social conservatives and those favoring a vigorous foreign policy that projects American power and promotes our values. On social policy, John McCormack followed up on a point Daniels had made in the Weekly Standard story. Daniels had said we should declare a truce on social issues. McCormack asked whether that meant Daniels would stand down on opposing taxpayer-funded abortions and reversing the Mexico City policy on funding international institutions that provide abortion services. It was an easy moment to clarify and assert that you can’t simply concede the playing field to the opposition. Instead, Daniels reiterated his view that we should “set aside” these issues for a while to focus on our fiscal emergency. So do the pro-abortion forces win these issues? Not clear.

I asked him the sole question on foreign policy — in what fundamental ways Obama had erred? He did not address any of the basic concerns conservatives have been discussing (e.g., engagement with despots, indifference on human rights, animus toward Israel). Instead, he gave a platitude, “Peace through strength has totally been vindicated.” And then he immediately asserted that we have to “ask questions about the extent of our commitments.” He said, “If we go broke, no one will follow a pauper.” At least temporarily, he said, we can’t maintain all our commitments. But if our foes don’t take a break, what do we do? Should we pull up stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan and hack away at the defense budget? It’s not clear whether he has thought these issues through, or whether he views foreign policy as anything more than a cost-control issue.

Daniels is an impressive figure. If he wants to run for another office, however, he will have to stretch beyond his comfort zone and address the full gamut of issues that concern Republican primary voters. If he doesn’t want to or can’t do that, he’d make a heck of a Treasury Secretary.

Mitch Daniels is clearly raising his profile and leaving the door open to a 2012 presidential run. COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Ferguson’s story is as comprehensive a piece on his views and persona as we have seen. Daniels is in Washington this week doing interviews and meeting with groups like the Business Roundtable. This morning, he met with a group of mostly conservative new-media and print journalists. He proved both impressive and problematic for conservatives seeking a favorite in the 2012 race.

On the positive side, he is plainly not Obama. He is precise, self-effacing, down to earth, and rooted in conservative philosophy. The first question was about education, and, out of the box, he acknowledged that education was “one of the shortcomings of our administration,” and although he has made limited progress, he wants to step up his efforts in the remainder of his term. He then went on to discuss the substantial reforms he has made with the help of a new superintendent (ending social promotion, insulating teachers from lawsuits if they enforce discipline, opening up credentials so people who have had other careers can get into the classrooms, etc.). What he conveyed was both candor and a big-picture view (“Public education has evolved into a situation . . . where it is set up as much for the benefit of the adults as for the kids.”)

He also explained his effort to tame public-employees’ unions, pointing out that teachers in his state are paid 22 percent more than the average worker and that he needed to bring the union to heel if “we were going to overhaul government.” By executive order, he ended mandatory union dues, and 90 percent of the employee chose not to pay. (“They gave themselves a 2 percent pay increase.”) But he is not anti-union by any means. He explained that the playing field should be level, and workers should have the choice to unionize. He said the right to join a union is “fundamental” and has “led to freedom in a lot of countries.”

He was at his best when discussing political theory and domestic policy. Asked what conservatives he looks to for guidance, he listed Hayek, Friedman, and Charles Murray. All of them, he explained, “are realistic and therefore modest in what government is capable of doing.” He continued that they evince “skepticism of bigness — in all its forms.” When I asked him what the principle errors of Obama and Congress had been, he began by pointing out that most of them “have not spent a day in a profit-making enterprise.” He explained that the choice between political parties is the clearest we’ve ever had. Conservatives believe, he said, that public service is a temporary job and that their duty is “to promote free enterprise, family, and other intermediary institutions.” Democrats believe the opposite, he said — that society will work better “if the ‘enlightened'” make the decisions.

He explained: “I’m concerned. I’m alarmed about the direction of the country.” Even apart from the theoretical argument, he observed that looking at entitlements and the debt, “Can we all agree the arithmetic doesn’t work?” But he said he is interested in the bigger philosophical questions: “What kind of people do we want to be?” Are we still capable of preserving liberty and independence?

About entitlements and the debt, he said he has faith that we can have a “grown-up” conversation. He then proceeded to have one. “Americans,” he asserted, “have a renewed sense of the menace of too much debt.” In their personal lives, with credit-card and mortgage debt, he notes that “they had a searing personal experience.” What to do about entitlements? “Paul Ryan is right — we need to bifurcate these programs.” He said that Democrats would have been best suited to do the hard work, given the negative rhetoric hurled at Republicans when they undertake entitlements control, but he said that is a “lost opportunity. Someone’s got to try.” He continued: “Why should we pay for Warren Buffet’s health care? Why should be pay Bill Gates a pension?” Like businesses that have phased out defined-benefit plans, he recommended that we have “a new plan and an old plan.” And he wasn’t shy about criticizing Republicans for grandstanding on Medicare cuts during the health-care debate.

He explained: “None of this will work if we don’t have a sustained period of growth.” Unfortunately, he said, “Everything they are doing as far as I can see leans against economic growth.” And he pointed to his own job-creation record. Indiana has 2 percent of the population and 7 percent of the new jobs. He has made sure “the next job comes to Indiana and not someplace else.”

He also showed a knack for political message. He questioned “what the hell” did “change you can believe in.” He suggested that the conservatives’ motto should be “Change that believes in you,” stressing that Americans are “fully capable” of running their own lives, buying their own health-care insurance, etc.

If Daniels makes a run in 2012 — although he said we should now focus on the “what” and figure out the “who” later — he may have trouble with both social conservatives and those favoring a vigorous foreign policy that projects American power and promotes our values. On social policy, John McCormack followed up on a point Daniels had made in the Weekly Standard story. Daniels had said we should declare a truce on social issues. McCormack asked whether that meant Daniels would stand down on opposing taxpayer-funded abortions and reversing the Mexico City policy on funding international institutions that provide abortion services. It was an easy moment to clarify and assert that you can’t simply concede the playing field to the opposition. Instead, Daniels reiterated his view that we should “set aside” these issues for a while to focus on our fiscal emergency. So do the pro-abortion forces win these issues? Not clear.

I asked him the sole question on foreign policy — in what fundamental ways Obama had erred? He did not address any of the basic concerns conservatives have been discussing (e.g., engagement with despots, indifference on human rights, animus toward Israel). Instead, he gave a platitude, “Peace through strength has totally been vindicated.” And then he immediately asserted that we have to “ask questions about the extent of our commitments.” He said, “If we go broke, no one will follow a pauper.” At least temporarily, he said, we can’t maintain all our commitments. But if our foes don’t take a break, what do we do? Should we pull up stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan and hack away at the defense budget? It’s not clear whether he has thought these issues through, or whether he views foreign policy as anything more than a cost-control issue.

Daniels is an impressive figure. If he wants to run for another office, however, he will have to stretch beyond his comfort zone and address the full gamut of issues that concern Republican primary voters. If he doesn’t want to or can’t do that, he’d make a heck of a Treasury Secretary.

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The Left Tips Its Hand on Supreme Court Selections

The New York Times provides a forum for various legal gurus to expound on the Supreme Court selection. It is instructive about how liberals have come to view the courts. First up is Lani Guinier, who considers it the Supreme Court’s job “to place their imprimatur on perceptions of what is right and wrong.” That’s what we need — the high priests of right and wrong imparting wisdom on the rabble of democracy. Good to know.

Another job for the Court: running corporate America. This brain storm comes from Jamal Greene of Columbia Law School:

I would love to see President Obama nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court. Ms. Warren is the whipsaw-smart Harvard Law professor and bankruptcy expert chairing the Congressional committee charged with oversight of the bank bailout, which she has strongly criticized. …

It would be difficult, moreover, for Republicans to put up much of a fight against a Supreme Court nominee who was willing to publicly dress down the president’s own Treasury secretary over financial regulation. It might be too much to ask for a confirmation hearing dominated by straight talk about the crisis facing middle- and working-class Americans rather than by baseball analogies, but Elizabeth Warren is our best hope.

Alas, this is how liberals have come to view the Court — as a racial- and gender-preference bonanza, a set of philosopher kings, and an uber-legislature. That the Court has a specific, limited task in our Constitutional system is lost on them. In voicing its views of the Court, the left also reveals its fundamental contempt for the idea of impartial judging and for our democratic system — that is, self-rule by elected leaders. For the left, it’s all about getting judges of the right gender or race who can override the “errors” of the democratic system.

The New York Times provides a forum for various legal gurus to expound on the Supreme Court selection. It is instructive about how liberals have come to view the courts. First up is Lani Guinier, who considers it the Supreme Court’s job “to place their imprimatur on perceptions of what is right and wrong.” That’s what we need — the high priests of right and wrong imparting wisdom on the rabble of democracy. Good to know.

Another job for the Court: running corporate America. This brain storm comes from Jamal Greene of Columbia Law School:

I would love to see President Obama nominate Elizabeth Warren to the Supreme Court. Ms. Warren is the whipsaw-smart Harvard Law professor and bankruptcy expert chairing the Congressional committee charged with oversight of the bank bailout, which she has strongly criticized. …

It would be difficult, moreover, for Republicans to put up much of a fight against a Supreme Court nominee who was willing to publicly dress down the president’s own Treasury secretary over financial regulation. It might be too much to ask for a confirmation hearing dominated by straight talk about the crisis facing middle- and working-class Americans rather than by baseball analogies, but Elizabeth Warren is our best hope.

Alas, this is how liberals have come to view the Court — as a racial- and gender-preference bonanza, a set of philosopher kings, and an uber-legislature. That the Court has a specific, limited task in our Constitutional system is lost on them. In voicing its views of the Court, the left also reveals its fundamental contempt for the idea of impartial judging and for our democratic system — that is, self-rule by elected leaders. For the left, it’s all about getting judges of the right gender or race who can override the “errors” of the democratic system.

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Obama Economic Team Tied up in Spin

The Obama administration is lowering expectations and getting tangled up in its own spin. On one hand, the Obama economic team needs to prepare the public for a period of high unemployment:

The economy is growing again, but at a pace unlikely to quickly replace the 8.4 million jobs erased in the recession that began in late 2007. More than 11 million people are drawing unemployment insurance benefits.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council. “We’ve inherited a terrible situation, the most pressing economic problems since the Great Depression in our country.” [In case you thought the Obama team was ever going to stop blaming George W. Bush, think again.]

Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said consumers still face “a lot of head winds” from the financial crisis. For example, debt and credit difficulties are hampering stronger job growth.

They were echoing the words of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said last week the administration was “very worried” about returning to a more normal jobless rate of around 5 percent.

Summers said Obama was preoccupied with creating jobs. “The trend has turned, but to get back to the surface, we’ve got a long way to go,” Summers said.

Preoccupied? Well, that can certainly be said of health-care reform, but what, precisely, has Obama been doing to promote job growth? Certainly raising billions and billions in new taxes in the guise of health-care “reform” and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire aren’t helping job creation. Nor will cap-and-trade, if the Obama team has its way.

And the job picture is likely to get worse, not better, as more workers return to the job market, as this report explains:

Some economists assert that the unemployment rate, which held steady at 9.7 percent in March, is likely to be driven higher as many more such people are lured into looking for work by hopeful signs of recovery.

The number of people looking for jobs rose by more than 200,000 in March compared with February, according to the Economic Policy Institute — and that’s a good sign, economists say. It means that Americans are seeing more jobs being created, and that they’re optimistic about their prospects.

But the supply of new jobs — 162,000 in March, the biggest monthly increase in three years — will accommodate only a fraction of the unemployed. Some economists say the jobless rate will not recede to pre-recession levels near 5 percent for four more years.

Meanwhile, the buckle-your-seat-belts-it’s-going-to-be-a-bumpy-ride warning runs headlong into the Obama team’s persistent defense of the original stimulus bill, which was supposed to keep unemployment at 8 percent. Christina Romer proclaimed, “I think it has done exactly what we would say it would do.” Uh… not really. Needless to say, Republicans are pouncing on the insistence that everything is going exactly according to plan. “Romer’s comments are likely to raise the ire of Republicans in Congress. On Friday, the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a memo showing that the stimulus has failed to keep unemployment under 8 percent as the administration said it would do.”

In sum, job growth is anemic, and the Obama administration cannot identify  a single effective policy it has advanced to promote job creation. Instead, it has run up a mound of debt and pursued policies that are likely to hamper rather than to facilitate job growth. The administration’s spinners can’t quite decide — brag about their expertly designed stimulus or lower expectations for any relief in the near term from sky-high unemployment? Frankly, the Obama team can spin all it likes; the voters can see for themselves that Obama administration and Democratic Congress have failed in their own stated goal to keep unemployment below 8 percent and promote robust private-sector job growth.

The Obama administration is lowering expectations and getting tangled up in its own spin. On one hand, the Obama economic team needs to prepare the public for a period of high unemployment:

The economy is growing again, but at a pace unlikely to quickly replace the 8.4 million jobs erased in the recession that began in late 2007. More than 11 million people are drawing unemployment insurance benefits.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council. “We’ve inherited a terrible situation, the most pressing economic problems since the Great Depression in our country.” [In case you thought the Obama team was ever going to stop blaming George W. Bush, think again.]

Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said consumers still face “a lot of head winds” from the financial crisis. For example, debt and credit difficulties are hampering stronger job growth.

They were echoing the words of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who said last week the administration was “very worried” about returning to a more normal jobless rate of around 5 percent.

Summers said Obama was preoccupied with creating jobs. “The trend has turned, but to get back to the surface, we’ve got a long way to go,” Summers said.

Preoccupied? Well, that can certainly be said of health-care reform, but what, precisely, has Obama been doing to promote job growth? Certainly raising billions and billions in new taxes in the guise of health-care “reform” and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire aren’t helping job creation. Nor will cap-and-trade, if the Obama team has its way.

And the job picture is likely to get worse, not better, as more workers return to the job market, as this report explains:

Some economists assert that the unemployment rate, which held steady at 9.7 percent in March, is likely to be driven higher as many more such people are lured into looking for work by hopeful signs of recovery.

The number of people looking for jobs rose by more than 200,000 in March compared with February, according to the Economic Policy Institute — and that’s a good sign, economists say. It means that Americans are seeing more jobs being created, and that they’re optimistic about their prospects.

But the supply of new jobs — 162,000 in March, the biggest monthly increase in three years — will accommodate only a fraction of the unemployed. Some economists say the jobless rate will not recede to pre-recession levels near 5 percent for four more years.

Meanwhile, the buckle-your-seat-belts-it’s-going-to-be-a-bumpy-ride warning runs headlong into the Obama team’s persistent defense of the original stimulus bill, which was supposed to keep unemployment at 8 percent. Christina Romer proclaimed, “I think it has done exactly what we would say it would do.” Uh… not really. Needless to say, Republicans are pouncing on the insistence that everything is going exactly according to plan. “Romer’s comments are likely to raise the ire of Republicans in Congress. On Friday, the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a memo showing that the stimulus has failed to keep unemployment under 8 percent as the administration said it would do.”

In sum, job growth is anemic, and the Obama administration cannot identify  a single effective policy it has advanced to promote job creation. Instead, it has run up a mound of debt and pursued policies that are likely to hamper rather than to facilitate job growth. The administration’s spinners can’t quite decide — brag about their expertly designed stimulus or lower expectations for any relief in the near term from sky-high unemployment? Frankly, the Obama team can spin all it likes; the voters can see for themselves that Obama administration and Democratic Congress have failed in their own stated goal to keep unemployment below 8 percent and promote robust private-sector job growth.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sometimes you get the sense that it won’t be the Democrats’ year: “Broadway Bank, the troubled Chicago lender owned by the family of Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management.”

There’s no one to blame when you control both branches of government: “Twenty-nine percent (29%) of U.S. voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This is the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course so far this year – and ties the findings for two weeks in December.”

I suspect he’ll be the first major adviser to go: “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came under fierce bipartisan criticism on Wednesday, with some House Republicans calling on him to resign. Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled Geithner about his role in the bailout of American International Group (AIG) and whether he was involved in decisions about the lack of public disclosure about complicated derivatives payments. Geithner faced repeated criticisms about his role in the government paying out $62 billion to AIG’s financial counterparties that represented the full value they were owed.” Remember, we had to have the tax cheat as treasury secretary because he was such a genius.

But in the list of awful appointees, Eric Holder is certainly near the top. “Top Senate Republicans want answers from the man they believe decided the FBI should read the suspected Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights: Attorney General Eric Holder. ‘It appears that the decision not to thoroughly interrogate Abdulmutallab was made by you or other senior officials in the Department of Justice,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a letter to Holder Wednesday. ‘We remain deeply troubled that this paramount requirement of national security was ignored — or worse yet, not recognized — due to the administration’s preoccupation with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights.'” Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee; Susan Collins of  Maine, the ranking member on Homeland Security; Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, also signed.

Jeffrey Goldberg rips the Beagle Blogger for praising the “bravery” of Daniel Larison’s Israel-bashing. Says Goldberg: “How brave it is to stand athwart the Jews and yell ‘Stop!’ We are a dangerous group of people. Just look at what has happened to other critics who have gone where angels fear to tread and criticized Israel. Take, for example, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of ‘The Israel Lobby.’  Walt, as many of you know, is in hiding in Holland, under round-the-clock protection of the Dutch police, after the chief rabbi of Wellesley, Mass., issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. Mearsheimer, of course, lost his job at the University of Chicago and was physically assaulted by a group of Hadassah ladies in what became known as the ‘Grapefruit Spoon Attack of 2009.'” Read the whole thing.

PETA wants an animatronic Punxsutawney Phil for Groundhog’s Day. The response from the Punxsutawney club president: “I mean, come on, this is just crazy. … Phil is probably treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania. … He’s got air conditioning in the summer, his pen is heated in winter. … He has everything but a TV in there. What more do you want?” Maybe the TV.

Mayor Bloomberg wakes up and finally opposes the KSM trial in New York. Robert Gibbs is noncommittal. Is this the beginning of a walk-back potentially more dramatic than not closing Guantanamo? Let’s hope.

Seems they’re now in the business of trying to win elections: “Members of a committee of state party chairmen voted unanimously today to oppose a so-called ‘purity test’ for GOP candidates, according to a source in the closed-press meeting.”

Chris Matthews is hooted down by the Left after putting his foot in his mouth once again. (“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”) Well, if the MSNBC gig doesn’t work out, he can write speeches for Harry Reid.

Sometimes you get the sense that it won’t be the Democrats’ year: “Broadway Bank, the troubled Chicago lender owned by the family of Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management.”

There’s no one to blame when you control both branches of government: “Twenty-nine percent (29%) of U.S. voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. This is the lowest level of voter confidence in the nation’s current course so far this year – and ties the findings for two weeks in December.”

I suspect he’ll be the first major adviser to go: “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came under fierce bipartisan criticism on Wednesday, with some House Republicans calling on him to resign. Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled Geithner about his role in the bailout of American International Group (AIG) and whether he was involved in decisions about the lack of public disclosure about complicated derivatives payments. Geithner faced repeated criticisms about his role in the government paying out $62 billion to AIG’s financial counterparties that represented the full value they were owed.” Remember, we had to have the tax cheat as treasury secretary because he was such a genius.

But in the list of awful appointees, Eric Holder is certainly near the top. “Top Senate Republicans want answers from the man they believe decided the FBI should read the suspected Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights: Attorney General Eric Holder. ‘It appears that the decision not to thoroughly interrogate Abdulmutallab was made by you or other senior officials in the Department of Justice,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) wrote in a letter to Holder Wednesday. ‘We remain deeply troubled that this paramount requirement of national security was ignored — or worse yet, not recognized — due to the administration’s preoccupation with reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights.'” Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee; Susan Collins of  Maine, the ranking member on Homeland Security; Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, also signed.

Jeffrey Goldberg rips the Beagle Blogger for praising the “bravery” of Daniel Larison’s Israel-bashing. Says Goldberg: “How brave it is to stand athwart the Jews and yell ‘Stop!’ We are a dangerous group of people. Just look at what has happened to other critics who have gone where angels fear to tread and criticized Israel. Take, for example, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of ‘The Israel Lobby.’  Walt, as many of you know, is in hiding in Holland, under round-the-clock protection of the Dutch police, after the chief rabbi of Wellesley, Mass., issued a fatwa calling for his assassination. Mearsheimer, of course, lost his job at the University of Chicago and was physically assaulted by a group of Hadassah ladies in what became known as the ‘Grapefruit Spoon Attack of 2009.'” Read the whole thing.

PETA wants an animatronic Punxsutawney Phil for Groundhog’s Day. The response from the Punxsutawney club president: “I mean, come on, this is just crazy. … Phil is probably treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania. … He’s got air conditioning in the summer, his pen is heated in winter. … He has everything but a TV in there. What more do you want?” Maybe the TV.

Mayor Bloomberg wakes up and finally opposes the KSM trial in New York. Robert Gibbs is noncommittal. Is this the beginning of a walk-back potentially more dramatic than not closing Guantanamo? Let’s hope.

Seems they’re now in the business of trying to win elections: “Members of a committee of state party chairmen voted unanimously today to oppose a so-called ‘purity test’ for GOP candidates, according to a source in the closed-press meeting.”

Chris Matthews is hooted down by the Left after putting his foot in his mouth once again. (“I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”) Well, if the MSNBC gig doesn’t work out, he can write speeches for Harry Reid.

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Making the Wish List

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

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Wilkins Micawber for Treasury Secretary?

If you would like a graphic example of the fiscal disconnect  characterizing the liberal establishment currently running the country, the front page of today’s New York Times provides it.

The lead story has a two-column head, “Federal Government Faces Balloon in Debt Payments.” The subhead alludes to the very real possibility that interest on the debt in ten years might exceed $700 billion, up from $202 billion this year. The article, well worth reading, makes no bones about the size of the problem we face.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

Right beneath the article, however, is a “reefer,” pointing readers to an article elsewhere in the paper, headlined, “Democrats Courting Health Care Votes.” Votes are courted on Capitol Hill by increased spending. Senator Mary Landrieu voted to take up the health-care bill for debate only after Harry Reid inserted an extra $100 million in Medicaid payments for her state, an action promptly dubbed “the Louisiana Purchase.”

Although carefully crafted accounting mendacity allows Obamacare to be characterized “budget neutral,” I doubt there’s a single person on Capitol Hill — or in the Times newsroom — who actually believes that the label fits. It would, after all, be the first new federal entitlement in history not to cost more than predicted (except for the drug benefit enacted a few years ago, which utilizes the power of the free market to bring down prices — not exactly a characteristic of Obamacare).

This is like a couple worrying about their ever-rising credit-card and mortgage payments while heading downtown to a showroom to buy a new car — on credit.

Perhaps if Timothy Geithner leaves as Treasury Secretary, Obama can persuade Wilkins Micawber to come on board. He was never daunted by such contradictions, at least judging by the words that Charles Dickens put in his mouth: “Welcome poverty! . . . Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!”

If you would like a graphic example of the fiscal disconnect  characterizing the liberal establishment currently running the country, the front page of today’s New York Times provides it.

The lead story has a two-column head, “Federal Government Faces Balloon in Debt Payments.” The subhead alludes to the very real possibility that interest on the debt in ten years might exceed $700 billion, up from $202 billion this year. The article, well worth reading, makes no bones about the size of the problem we face.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

Right beneath the article, however, is a “reefer,” pointing readers to an article elsewhere in the paper, headlined, “Democrats Courting Health Care Votes.” Votes are courted on Capitol Hill by increased spending. Senator Mary Landrieu voted to take up the health-care bill for debate only after Harry Reid inserted an extra $100 million in Medicaid payments for her state, an action promptly dubbed “the Louisiana Purchase.”

Although carefully crafted accounting mendacity allows Obamacare to be characterized “budget neutral,” I doubt there’s a single person on Capitol Hill — or in the Times newsroom — who actually believes that the label fits. It would, after all, be the first new federal entitlement in history not to cost more than predicted (except for the drug benefit enacted a few years ago, which utilizes the power of the free market to bring down prices — not exactly a characteristic of Obamacare).

This is like a couple worrying about their ever-rising credit-card and mortgage payments while heading downtown to a showroom to buy a new car — on credit.

Perhaps if Timothy Geithner leaves as Treasury Secretary, Obama can persuade Wilkins Micawber to come on board. He was never daunted by such contradictions, at least judging by the words that Charles Dickens put in his mouth: “Welcome poverty! . . . Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!”

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Huffy, Aren’t They?

Congress is getting mad: “Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration.” The outrage is bipartisan — the Black Caucus, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and lots of Republicans. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the target du jour:

“Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.). “For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?” Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) took a different tack. “I don’t think that you should be fired,” he told Geithner. “I thought you should have never been hired.” Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a friend of the administration, suggested that Geithner had been inconsistent in addressing China’s practice of keeping its currency low against the dollar.

Why now? Maybe the poll numbers have spooked those in Congress. Maybe the unemployment numbers have frightened them. But they sense that the White House has no real game plan for economic recovery, the stimulus has been a bust, and the real possibility exists for either a double-dip recession or a long slog with low growth.

Part of this is the doing of the very same lawmakers who are now grousing. No one forced them to spend time on two job-killer bills — cap-and-trade and ObamaCare. Well, other than their own leadership. And they aren’t about to recognize the connection between anemic hiring and the raft of tax hikes, mandates, and fines they have in mind as part of health care.

But the outbursts are noteworthy for one reason: they suggest that those in the Congress know that their own fate is tied to the economy and that the sagging popularity of the president means he’ll be of little help (and maybe great harm) in 2010.

Congress is getting mad: “Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration.” The outrage is bipartisan — the Black Caucus, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and lots of Republicans. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the target du jour:

“Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.). “For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?” Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) took a different tack. “I don’t think that you should be fired,” he told Geithner. “I thought you should have never been hired.” Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a friend of the administration, suggested that Geithner had been inconsistent in addressing China’s practice of keeping its currency low against the dollar.

Why now? Maybe the poll numbers have spooked those in Congress. Maybe the unemployment numbers have frightened them. But they sense that the White House has no real game plan for economic recovery, the stimulus has been a bust, and the real possibility exists for either a double-dip recession or a long slog with low growth.

Part of this is the doing of the very same lawmakers who are now grousing. No one forced them to spend time on two job-killer bills — cap-and-trade and ObamaCare. Well, other than their own leadership. And they aren’t about to recognize the connection between anemic hiring and the raft of tax hikes, mandates, and fines they have in mind as part of health care.

But the outbursts are noteworthy for one reason: they suggest that those in the Congress know that their own fate is tied to the economy and that the sagging popularity of the president means he’ll be of little help (and maybe great harm) in 2010.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Marco Rubio is closing in on Charlie Crist in the Republican Florida Senate primary.

Two Republican congressmen have a theory as to why the recovery is tepid: “The source appears to be a growing fear that the federal government is retreating from the free-market economic principles of the last half-century, and in particular the strong growth policies that began under Ronald Reagan.” One big factor, they say, is tax policy: “Marginal income tax rates, capital gains rates, dividend rates and death-tax rates will increase — significantly. Hardest hit by these increases will be small businesses that file under the individual income tax code as sub-chapter S corporations, partnerships and proprietorships. Yet these are the very people whose investment and hiring decisions either drive or starve recoveries.”

Michael Goldfarb closes in on NIAC’s lobbying and efforts to silence journalists: “Keep in mind, this is an organization that claims on its tax forms that it DOES NOT engage in lobbying. Moreover, all of the group’s efforts seems focused on preventing additional sanctions, eliminating U.S. democracy funding initiatives, and destroying the Voice of America’s Radio Farda service. The regime couldn’t come up with a better set of priorities for NIAC, which may explain why so many people are wondering on behalf of whom NIAC is working.”

More bad polling for Obama in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll: 46 percent approve and an equal percentage disapprove of his performance. Independents disapprove by a stunning 51 to 34 percent margin. By a 42 to 39 percent margin, respondents want to vote Republican in congressional races “to provide a check on Obama’s power.”

And from Quinnipiac: “Three-quarters of American voters — 74 percent — like President Barack Obama as a person, but only 47 percent like most of his policies, and voters disapprove 51-35 percent of the health care overhaul passed by the House of Representatives which he has endorsed, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Voters disapprove 53-41 percent of President Obama’s handling of health care. Obama’s endorsement of the House of Representatives–passed health care plan makes no difference to 44 percent of American voters, while 24 percent say it makes them view him more favorably; 30 percent less favorably.”

Meanwhile, the status quo has never looked so good: “As Congress debates a possible major expansion of health insurance in the United States, Gallup finds 38% of Americans rating healthcare coverage in this country as excellent or good, the highest (by eight percentage points) in the nine-year history of this question, and 12 points above last year’s level.”

Another weekend rush: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the first key test vote on his $848 billion health care bill will be taken Saturday, but he declined to say whether he has 60 senators lined up to vote yes. ‘We will find out when the votes are taken,’ he told reporters at a midday event. Reid also said he would not use a procedural maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill — a shift from previous statements when he would say all options are on the table.” And that’s 8 p.m. on Saturday for the vote. Get the sense they don’t want too much attention?

Meanwhile: “Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Thursday that he would prevent health reform from moving to final passage if restrictions on federal funding for abortion weren’t tightened during the amendment process. But, he added, ‘there are a lot of other things that could keep me from supporting it in the end as well.'”

Governors speak up: “Republican governors, meeting outside of Austin, sharply criticized the bill and a companion measure that has passed the House, claiming Thursday that they do nothing to contain rising medical costs and would shift significant costs to already fiscally strapped states.”

Wait, we were told to forget the tax problems because he was a genius: “Snowballing frustration about the economy burst into a political fracas Thursday, with several lawmakers calling on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to resign over angst about unemployment and Wall Street bailouts. The criticism came largely from House Republicans, who have long been critics of the Treasury secretary. Mr. Geithner’s job status doesn’t appear to be in serious jeopardy and several Democrats at a congressional hearing leapt to his defense. But joining the anti-Geithner chorus in increasing numbers are more liberal Democrats who say the White House’s economic policies haven’t done enough to boost job growth.”

Marco Rubio is closing in on Charlie Crist in the Republican Florida Senate primary.

Two Republican congressmen have a theory as to why the recovery is tepid: “The source appears to be a growing fear that the federal government is retreating from the free-market economic principles of the last half-century, and in particular the strong growth policies that began under Ronald Reagan.” One big factor, they say, is tax policy: “Marginal income tax rates, capital gains rates, dividend rates and death-tax rates will increase — significantly. Hardest hit by these increases will be small businesses that file under the individual income tax code as sub-chapter S corporations, partnerships and proprietorships. Yet these are the very people whose investment and hiring decisions either drive or starve recoveries.”

Michael Goldfarb closes in on NIAC’s lobbying and efforts to silence journalists: “Keep in mind, this is an organization that claims on its tax forms that it DOES NOT engage in lobbying. Moreover, all of the group’s efforts seems focused on preventing additional sanctions, eliminating U.S. democracy funding initiatives, and destroying the Voice of America’s Radio Farda service. The regime couldn’t come up with a better set of priorities for NIAC, which may explain why so many people are wondering on behalf of whom NIAC is working.”

More bad polling for Obama in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll: 46 percent approve and an equal percentage disapprove of his performance. Independents disapprove by a stunning 51 to 34 percent margin. By a 42 to 39 percent margin, respondents want to vote Republican in congressional races “to provide a check on Obama’s power.”

And from Quinnipiac: “Three-quarters of American voters — 74 percent — like President Barack Obama as a person, but only 47 percent like most of his policies, and voters disapprove 51-35 percent of the health care overhaul passed by the House of Representatives which he has endorsed, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. Voters disapprove 53-41 percent of President Obama’s handling of health care. Obama’s endorsement of the House of Representatives–passed health care plan makes no difference to 44 percent of American voters, while 24 percent say it makes them view him more favorably; 30 percent less favorably.”

Meanwhile, the status quo has never looked so good: “As Congress debates a possible major expansion of health insurance in the United States, Gallup finds 38% of Americans rating healthcare coverage in this country as excellent or good, the highest (by eight percentage points) in the nine-year history of this question, and 12 points above last year’s level.”

Another weekend rush: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the first key test vote on his $848 billion health care bill will be taken Saturday, but he declined to say whether he has 60 senators lined up to vote yes. ‘We will find out when the votes are taken,’ he told reporters at a midday event. Reid also said he would not use a procedural maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill — a shift from previous statements when he would say all options are on the table.” And that’s 8 p.m. on Saturday for the vote. Get the sense they don’t want too much attention?

Meanwhile: “Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said Thursday that he would prevent health reform from moving to final passage if restrictions on federal funding for abortion weren’t tightened during the amendment process. But, he added, ‘there are a lot of other things that could keep me from supporting it in the end as well.'”

Governors speak up: “Republican governors, meeting outside of Austin, sharply criticized the bill and a companion measure that has passed the House, claiming Thursday that they do nothing to contain rising medical costs and would shift significant costs to already fiscally strapped states.”

Wait, we were told to forget the tax problems because he was a genius: “Snowballing frustration about the economy burst into a political fracas Thursday, with several lawmakers calling on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to resign over angst about unemployment and Wall Street bailouts. The criticism came largely from House Republicans, who have long been critics of the Treasury secretary. Mr. Geithner’s job status doesn’t appear to be in serious jeopardy and several Democrats at a congressional hearing leapt to his defense. But joining the anti-Geithner chorus in increasing numbers are more liberal Democrats who say the White House’s economic policies haven’t done enough to boost job growth.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

Andy McCarthy writes: “A panel of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of my old adversary, Lynne Stewart, for providing material support to terrorism — i.e., helping the Blind Sheikh run his Egyptian terrorist organization from U.S. prison, where he is serving a life-sentence.” You mean terrorists run plots out of U.S. prisons? Oh yes, indeed. Another reason to keep the Guantanamo detainees where they are.

Democrats realize the problem with the phony stimulus numbers. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.): “The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. … Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”  Indeed.

Tim Geithner is in trouble again. Fred Barnes explains: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in trouble again, and this time he may not be able to save his job. You’ll recall that his confirmation was threatened by revelations of cheating on his income taxes. Now he’s accused of paying billions too much for the bailout of AIG and allowing the insurance firm’s Wall Street creditors — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia — to be paid in full for their derivative contracts with $27.1 billion in taxpayers’ money.”

The dean of Harvard Medical School finds that “the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care’s dysfunctional delivery system. … Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by over-regulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.” Maybe the status quo is not so bad after all.

PelosiCare is so awful that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to “shield” his caucus from ever having to vote on it. Hmm. One wonders how all the Democrats forced to walk the plank in the House feel about that. Sort of like cap-and-trade, huh?

This, from Public Opinion Strategies poll, may explain why: “Opposition to President Obama’s health care plan is higher after the House vote than our previous tracks (29% favor/40% oppose). Voters’ net opposition to the plan has increased from -6% in September (31% favor/37% oppose) to -11% today.”

Ben Smith on the teleprompter jibes: “It’s a bad storyline for the president, and thoroughly in the bloodstream.”

James Pinkerton: “Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.”

Republicans are finding it easier to recruit top-tier challengers for House races. The same thing happened in 1994 and for Democrats in 2006. When solid candidates think they can win, they are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

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Bush: AWOL on Human Rights?

With three European leaders–Angela Merkel of Germany, Donald Tusk of Poland, and Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic–having now announced that they will not attend the Beijing Olympic games to protest China’s treatment of Tibet, Washington’s near total silence is increasingly troubling.

Where, in particular is President Bush? He came out swinging In November of last year, when police shot peacefully protesting monks in Burma, Speaking before the United Nations, he condemned that country’s “19-year reign of fear” while calling for economic sanctions and announcing “an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members.”

The George Bush who briefly broke his silence about Tibet last Friday at a joint White House press conference was by contrast feeble. According to the New York Times it was his guest, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who laid out the case squarely, calling human rights abuses in Tibet “clear-cut,” adding “We need to be upfront and absolutely straight about what is going on.” Bush said only “[T]hat it [was] in his country’s interest that he sit down, again with representatives of the Dalai Lama–not him, but his representatives.”

Those last five words should be noted. Even as Lhasa burns and reports of atrocities continue to find their way out, the administration still is not urging direct talks with the Dalai Lama himself (as the Europeans and others have done), but rather only with “his representatives.” This careful official evasion manifests a United States unwillingness to contradict directly Beijing’s insistent denunciation of the Tibetan leader. (Most recently official Chinese media reported, contrary to fact, that it was the Dalai Lama who was blocking talks.)

This week Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will be heading for Beijing, to talk economics. But be reassured: he will mention Tibet: “All senior U.S. officials do raise our concerns with respect to Tibet and this trip will be no different,” he said. Paulson’s understatement, and the President’s avoidance of the issue, are products of the administration’s initial assumption that, after a quick and decisive Chinese crackdown, the March unrest in Tibet would prove no more than a bump on the road to the triumphant Beijing Olympics in August. American interest was therefore to stick with China’s government, even if doing so involved some substantial trimming of American values.

That approach is untenable now, as unrest spreads and world indignation grows. How to respond to Chinese oppression of Tibet has become a defining issue. Angela Merkel and her counterparts have firmly taken the lead in doing the right thing. The new question is, when and how will the putative “leader of the free world” follow?

With three European leaders–Angela Merkel of Germany, Donald Tusk of Poland, and Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic–having now announced that they will not attend the Beijing Olympic games to protest China’s treatment of Tibet, Washington’s near total silence is increasingly troubling.

Where, in particular is President Bush? He came out swinging In November of last year, when police shot peacefully protesting monks in Burma, Speaking before the United Nations, he condemned that country’s “19-year reign of fear” while calling for economic sanctions and announcing “an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members.”

The George Bush who briefly broke his silence about Tibet last Friday at a joint White House press conference was by contrast feeble. According to the New York Times it was his guest, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who laid out the case squarely, calling human rights abuses in Tibet “clear-cut,” adding “We need to be upfront and absolutely straight about what is going on.” Bush said only “[T]hat it [was] in his country’s interest that he sit down, again with representatives of the Dalai Lama–not him, but his representatives.”

Those last five words should be noted. Even as Lhasa burns and reports of atrocities continue to find their way out, the administration still is not urging direct talks with the Dalai Lama himself (as the Europeans and others have done), but rather only with “his representatives.” This careful official evasion manifests a United States unwillingness to contradict directly Beijing’s insistent denunciation of the Tibetan leader. (Most recently official Chinese media reported, contrary to fact, that it was the Dalai Lama who was blocking talks.)

This week Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will be heading for Beijing, to talk economics. But be reassured: he will mention Tibet: “All senior U.S. officials do raise our concerns with respect to Tibet and this trip will be no different,” he said. Paulson’s understatement, and the President’s avoidance of the issue, are products of the administration’s initial assumption that, after a quick and decisive Chinese crackdown, the March unrest in Tibet would prove no more than a bump on the road to the triumphant Beijing Olympics in August. American interest was therefore to stick with China’s government, even if doing so involved some substantial trimming of American values.

That approach is untenable now, as unrest spreads and world indignation grows. How to respond to Chinese oppression of Tibet has become a defining issue. Angela Merkel and her counterparts have firmly taken the lead in doing the right thing. The new question is, when and how will the putative “leader of the free world” follow?

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McCain Has The “Mo”

McCain builds momentum as we head into the weekend. He gains former Rudy backer and ex-Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci (and decides to make Romney sweat in his home state) and also nabs former Rudy advisor Steve Forbes. (Fiscal conservatives can argue whether Forbes or McCain advisor Phil Gramm would make a better Treasury Secretary.) Finally, the McCain team advises the media that in the excruciatingly complicated Louisiana caucuses (in which an uncommitted pro-life slate initially won), the delegates have now selected McCain. He nabs 41 of 47 of the state’s delegates.

Little by little the pieces fall into place. Looking at the latest polling I see Mitt Romney leading only in Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah. In many Red states he runs third to MIke Huckabee. It is quite possible Huckabee will gain more delegates than Romney on Tuesday.

McCain builds momentum as we head into the weekend. He gains former Rudy backer and ex-Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci (and decides to make Romney sweat in his home state) and also nabs former Rudy advisor Steve Forbes. (Fiscal conservatives can argue whether Forbes or McCain advisor Phil Gramm would make a better Treasury Secretary.) Finally, the McCain team advises the media that in the excruciatingly complicated Louisiana caucuses (in which an uncommitted pro-life slate initially won), the delegates have now selected McCain. He nabs 41 of 47 of the state’s delegates.

Little by little the pieces fall into place. Looking at the latest polling I see Mitt Romney leading only in Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah. In many Red states he runs third to MIke Huckabee. It is quite possible Huckabee will gain more delegates than Romney on Tuesday.

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A Big Job for Romney?

If McCain wants to really undermine Romney, he should announce tomorrow that the former Governor of Massachusetts is on a “very short list to be my Treasury Secretary.”  In a single stroke he would show his capacity to extend an olive branch to Romney’s conservative cheerleaders and remind people that Romney is not yet ready for the top job. It wouldn’t be an entirely cynical move.  For years, presidents have turned to grey-haired (or bald) Wall Street sages to “reassure the markets.”  But in today’s economy, more dependent on global trade and private pools of wealth, Romney at Treasury makes a lot more sense. It would also be the first step to start to unite the party, despite what  anti-McCain fanatics think.

If McCain wants to really undermine Romney, he should announce tomorrow that the former Governor of Massachusetts is on a “very short list to be my Treasury Secretary.”  In a single stroke he would show his capacity to extend an olive branch to Romney’s conservative cheerleaders and remind people that Romney is not yet ready for the top job. It wouldn’t be an entirely cynical move.  For years, presidents have turned to grey-haired (or bald) Wall Street sages to “reassure the markets.”  But in today’s economy, more dependent on global trade and private pools of wealth, Romney at Treasury makes a lot more sense. It would also be the first step to start to unite the party, despite what  anti-McCain fanatics think.

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Re: A Democratic Theme Emerges

Daniel, here’s what I don’t get: For decades, following FDR’s lead, Democrats mostly focused their anti-business fire on banks. Evil banks. Terrible banks. Here we are in 2008, there is a financial crisis, and the crisis is largely due to the behavior of banks. So why aren’t Democrats attacking banks? One theory about Mrs. Clinton: Hillary can’t because Citigroup is the home of her chief economic adviser, Robert Rubin, who was her husband’s Treasury Secretary.

Daniel, here’s what I don’t get: For decades, following FDR’s lead, Democrats mostly focused their anti-business fire on banks. Evil banks. Terrible banks. Here we are in 2008, there is a financial crisis, and the crisis is largely due to the behavior of banks. So why aren’t Democrats attacking banks? One theory about Mrs. Clinton: Hillary can’t because Citigroup is the home of her chief economic adviser, Robert Rubin, who was her husband’s Treasury Secretary.

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“United Like a Single Fist”

Yesterday, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez met with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran after both of them had attended the OPEC summit in Riyadh over the weekend. In the Iranian capital they continued their attack on the dollar that they had started a few days earlier.

In Saudi Arabia, the Iranian president, backed by Chavez, had wanted the thirteen-member cartel to price oil in a currency other than the American unit—such as the euro—or at least with reference to a basket of currencies. Saudi King Abdullah blocked that idea, but only for the present. The summit’s final declaration contains vague language about “financial cooperation” among the group’s members, and Iran’s oil minister later said that the words meant a reconsideration of acceptance of the dollar.

For now, America’s allies inside OPEC can hold off Ahmadinejad and Chavez because the price of oil has skyrocketed as the greenback has fallen. Yet continued erosion of the dollar will strengthen their case that our currency is “worthless paper”—as Ahmadinejad said in Riyadh—and should they prevail, they will have gone a long way toward dethroning it as the world’s reserve currency. The menacing pair—“united like a single fist” in Chavez’s words—knows what’s at stake. “God willing, with the fall of the dollar, the deviant U.S. imperialism will fall as soon as possible too,” the Venezuelan leader said after his meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran.

There have been bouts of dollar selling in the past, but our currency has nonetheless retained its central role in the financial markets. Yet at some point, people will stop accepting the buck as its value decreases. Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen made headlines at the beginning of this month when her sister-manager revealed that she demanded to be paid in almost any currency other than the dollar—even when working for a U.S. company. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has repeatedly reaffirmed America’s strong-dollar policy, but it’s clear the Bush administration does not intend to do anything to stop what looks like a free fall.

The President’s apparent lack of concern is a mistake of enormous proportions: all his international problems will become immeasurably harder when no one wants our currency and American financial sanctions become meaningless. Ahmadinejad and Chavez are normally full of bluster, but they have now found a tactic that can injure the United States. That’s because irresponsible economic policies over the course of past administrations have essentially handed our adversaries in Iran and Venezuela a weapon.

Yesterday, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez met with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran after both of them had attended the OPEC summit in Riyadh over the weekend. In the Iranian capital they continued their attack on the dollar that they had started a few days earlier.

In Saudi Arabia, the Iranian president, backed by Chavez, had wanted the thirteen-member cartel to price oil in a currency other than the American unit—such as the euro—or at least with reference to a basket of currencies. Saudi King Abdullah blocked that idea, but only for the present. The summit’s final declaration contains vague language about “financial cooperation” among the group’s members, and Iran’s oil minister later said that the words meant a reconsideration of acceptance of the dollar.

For now, America’s allies inside OPEC can hold off Ahmadinejad and Chavez because the price of oil has skyrocketed as the greenback has fallen. Yet continued erosion of the dollar will strengthen their case that our currency is “worthless paper”—as Ahmadinejad said in Riyadh—and should they prevail, they will have gone a long way toward dethroning it as the world’s reserve currency. The menacing pair—“united like a single fist” in Chavez’s words—knows what’s at stake. “God willing, with the fall of the dollar, the deviant U.S. imperialism will fall as soon as possible too,” the Venezuelan leader said after his meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran.

There have been bouts of dollar selling in the past, but our currency has nonetheless retained its central role in the financial markets. Yet at some point, people will stop accepting the buck as its value decreases. Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen made headlines at the beginning of this month when her sister-manager revealed that she demanded to be paid in almost any currency other than the dollar—even when working for a U.S. company. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has repeatedly reaffirmed America’s strong-dollar policy, but it’s clear the Bush administration does not intend to do anything to stop what looks like a free fall.

The President’s apparent lack of concern is a mistake of enormous proportions: all his international problems will become immeasurably harder when no one wants our currency and American financial sanctions become meaningless. Ahmadinejad and Chavez are normally full of bluster, but they have now found a tactic that can injure the United States. That’s because irresponsible economic policies over the course of past administrations have essentially handed our adversaries in Iran and Venezuela a weapon.

Read Less




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