Commentary Magazine


Topic: vice chairman

Another Good Entitlement-Reform Plan

James Capretta explains why the entitlement-reform proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan and former Fed vice-chairman Alice Rivlin is so important:

In Medicare, the Ryan-Rivlin proposal would be transformative. It picks up on a key feature of Rep. Ryan’s “Roadmap” budget plan, which is that new enrollees in Medicare after 2020 would receive their entitlement in the form of a fixed contribution from the federal government rather than today’s defined benefit program structure. …

For Medicaid, Ryan and Rivlin propose moving toward a fixed block grant payment from the federal government to the states. The block grant payments would be indexed to grow with the size of the Medicaid population as well as per capita GDP growth plus one percentage point. …

Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, the plan would also impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in medical liability cases as well as repeal the ill-advised long-term care program (called the “CLASS Act”) that was created in the recently passed health care law.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already issued a preliminary assessment of the budgetary implications of Ryan-Rivlin, and the results are impressive. Over the next decade, Ryan-Rivlin would cut federal deficit spending by $280 billion, and by 2030, federal spending on the major health entitlement programs would be about 1.75 percent of GDP below a reasonable baseline projection.

But Capretta is right that the importance of the plan is more political — the emergence of a responsible Democratic voice willing to work with the GOP’s guru on entitlements (Ryan) in a productive way. This will diffuse to a degree the alarmist rhetoric coming from the Dem side of the aisle. Moreover, it recognizes that we need to pursue “an across-the-board move toward more fixed federal financial support for coverage.”

In conversations I have had over the past week, Republicans on the Hill seem to recognize that there are important elements in both the debt commission plan and the Ryan-Rivlin plan. Neither is perfect, but parts of both represent some key concessions by the Democrats involved in formulating each. A flatter tax code, a lower corporate tax rate, and market-based entitlement reforms? Some would sign on the dotted line, warts and all. The Democrats? Well, by launching an assault on the debt commission, they risk appearing unserious about deficit control and real fiscal reform.

At the very least, the Ryan-Rivlin and debt commission plans will jump-start a key debate. If Republicans want to prove they are sober and mature lawmakers, they will start crafting proposals that extract the best from both plans.

James Capretta explains why the entitlement-reform proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan and former Fed vice-chairman Alice Rivlin is so important:

In Medicare, the Ryan-Rivlin proposal would be transformative. It picks up on a key feature of Rep. Ryan’s “Roadmap” budget plan, which is that new enrollees in Medicare after 2020 would receive their entitlement in the form of a fixed contribution from the federal government rather than today’s defined benefit program structure. …

For Medicaid, Ryan and Rivlin propose moving toward a fixed block grant payment from the federal government to the states. The block grant payments would be indexed to grow with the size of the Medicaid population as well as per capita GDP growth plus one percentage point. …

Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, the plan would also impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in medical liability cases as well as repeal the ill-advised long-term care program (called the “CLASS Act”) that was created in the recently passed health care law.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already issued a preliminary assessment of the budgetary implications of Ryan-Rivlin, and the results are impressive. Over the next decade, Ryan-Rivlin would cut federal deficit spending by $280 billion, and by 2030, federal spending on the major health entitlement programs would be about 1.75 percent of GDP below a reasonable baseline projection.

But Capretta is right that the importance of the plan is more political — the emergence of a responsible Democratic voice willing to work with the GOP’s guru on entitlements (Ryan) in a productive way. This will diffuse to a degree the alarmist rhetoric coming from the Dem side of the aisle. Moreover, it recognizes that we need to pursue “an across-the-board move toward more fixed federal financial support for coverage.”

In conversations I have had over the past week, Republicans on the Hill seem to recognize that there are important elements in both the debt commission plan and the Ryan-Rivlin plan. Neither is perfect, but parts of both represent some key concessions by the Democrats involved in formulating each. A flatter tax code, a lower corporate tax rate, and market-based entitlement reforms? Some would sign on the dotted line, warts and all. The Democrats? Well, by launching an assault on the debt commission, they risk appearing unserious about deficit control and real fiscal reform.

At the very least, the Ryan-Rivlin and debt commission plans will jump-start a key debate. If Republicans want to prove they are sober and mature lawmakers, they will start crafting proposals that extract the best from both plans.

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RE: Debt Commission Surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

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Articulate No More

During the campaign, many conservatives, including me, were mystified by the media’s assertion that Obama was the most eloquent man of his era. He was charismatic and inspiring, we were lectured. But conservatives could barely figure out what he was saying (“We are the change we have been waiting for”) or contain their guffaws when he spouted hackneyed phrases (“This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet”) and college-freshmen (apologies to the many bright students) rhetoric (“America, this is our moment.” And, let’s not forget, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”) It seemed gibberish to many of us. But at least it was all of the same piece, all recycled leftist sloganeering.

Now, after 18 months, it seems as though even former advisors and much of the liberal media (OK, there is some overlap there) have given up on Obama and are pronouncing him “incoherent.” CNN (yeah, CNN) reports in the wake of the Ground Zero mosque debacle:

“The danger here is an incoherent presidency,” said David Morey, vice chairman of the Core Strategy Group, who provided communications advice to Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about. So I think that’s the job they have to do more effectively as they have in the past [in the campaign].” … New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in a recent column that Obama’s clarity and successful messaging during the campaign are gone. In place is a “incoherent president,” who’s “with the banks, he’s against the banks. He’s leaving Afghanistan, he’s staying in Afghanistan. He strains at being a populist, but his head is in the clouds.”

And just to twist the knife, CNN acknowledges that George W. Bush was a more effective communicator:

While many poked fun at former President George W. Bush for mispronouncing words and stumbling through sentences, observers note that he rarely had to backtrack on his answers because he employed a simple and direct messaging approach.

Yowser!

So Obama has gone from inspirational to exasperating for his followers and cheerleaders. Maybe he just ran out of left-wing bumper-sticker phrases. Perhaps, you know, there’s not a brilliant mind at work but a panicked liberal pol who can’t seem to slide through sticky situations with gauzy phrases. It is a revelation to the left and a vindication to the right. Unfortunately, we have over two more years of him, and it’s generally not a good idea to have a president who has become the object of widespread derision. It tends to embolden our foes and demoralize our friends, in this case even more than they already are.

During the campaign, many conservatives, including me, were mystified by the media’s assertion that Obama was the most eloquent man of his era. He was charismatic and inspiring, we were lectured. But conservatives could barely figure out what he was saying (“We are the change we have been waiting for”) or contain their guffaws when he spouted hackneyed phrases (“This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet”) and college-freshmen (apologies to the many bright students) rhetoric (“America, this is our moment.” And, let’s not forget, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”) It seemed gibberish to many of us. But at least it was all of the same piece, all recycled leftist sloganeering.

Now, after 18 months, it seems as though even former advisors and much of the liberal media (OK, there is some overlap there) have given up on Obama and are pronouncing him “incoherent.” CNN (yeah, CNN) reports in the wake of the Ground Zero mosque debacle:

“The danger here is an incoherent presidency,” said David Morey, vice chairman of the Core Strategy Group, who provided communications advice to Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about. So I think that’s the job they have to do more effectively as they have in the past [in the campaign].” … New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in a recent column that Obama’s clarity and successful messaging during the campaign are gone. In place is a “incoherent president,” who’s “with the banks, he’s against the banks. He’s leaving Afghanistan, he’s staying in Afghanistan. He strains at being a populist, but his head is in the clouds.”

And just to twist the knife, CNN acknowledges that George W. Bush was a more effective communicator:

While many poked fun at former President George W. Bush for mispronouncing words and stumbling through sentences, observers note that he rarely had to backtrack on his answers because he employed a simple and direct messaging approach.

Yowser!

So Obama has gone from inspirational to exasperating for his followers and cheerleaders. Maybe he just ran out of left-wing bumper-sticker phrases. Perhaps, you know, there’s not a brilliant mind at work but a panicked liberal pol who can’t seem to slide through sticky situations with gauzy phrases. It is a revelation to the left and a vindication to the right. Unfortunately, we have over two more years of him, and it’s generally not a good idea to have a president who has become the object of widespread derision. It tends to embolden our foes and demoralize our friends, in this case even more than they already are.

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New York: The Carpetbagger State Welcomes Harold Ford

You would think that out of the nearly 20 million people who live in the Empire State, the two major parties would be able to find at least two distinguished citizens fit to represent New York in the United States Senate. But the state has a sorry recent tradition of outsourcing Senate seats as carpetbagger politicians parachute in to serve in the nation’s highest deliberative body on its behalf. In 1964, though he had not lived in New York for decades, Bobby Kennedy exploited his brother’s martyrdom and his own charisma to win a Senate seat that he would briefly warm (until his own tragic assassination) while plotting to recapture the White House for his family. Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton, a native of suburban Chicago and former first lady of Arkansas, arrived here to establish residency and “listen” to New Yorkers, who obediently elected her to the Senate just as her husband was vacating the executive mansion in Washington.

The latest immigrant to New York to consider himself qualified to represent it in the Senate is Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who was defeated by the citizens of his native state when he ran for a Senate seat in 2006. Since then, the young and handsome Ford moved to Manhattan, where he took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and appeared as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. The New York Times reports today that some New York Democrats want Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate senator who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat Clinton vacated when she left for the State Department a year ago.

Like Gillibrand, Ford will have to “adjust” his positions on a number of issues if he wants to be the standard-bearer for New York’s ultraliberal Democratic Party. In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of illegal immigration and a supporter of the right to bear arms. Since coming to the Senate and accepting the role of female Sancho Panza to senior Senator Chuck Schumer, Gillibrand has flipped on immigration and gun control. Similarly, Ford will have to ditch his opposition to gay marriage to please liberal Dems. But though Ford is a relative newcomer to the Big Apple, he appears to have always been in an “Empire State of Mind” when it came to fundraising. According to the Times, a third of the $15 million he raised for his 2006 Senate run came from New York.

Ford’s challenge is an indication of Gillibrand’s weakness. Her lackluster performance in the Senate could give the Republicans a chance to knock off an incumbent, but with Rudy Giuliani opting out of the race, Long Island Rep. Peter King appears to be the only Republican with enough stature for a chance at winning the seat. Though any Democrat, even Gillibrand, ought to be favored to win in New York, the rumblings of support for Ford, who might become the only African-American in the Senate next year (with Roland Burris’s lease of the Illinois seat left by Barack Obama about to expire), show that the possibility of a GOP tide drowning weak liberal incumbents in 2010 is being taken seriously.

Schumer, who has been traveling the state twisting arms to ensure that his protégé goes unchallenged, has a lot to lose if a Ford victory ditches the notion that he is the kingmaker of New York politics. But however it turns out, let’s hope we are spared the spectacle of this son of Tennessee claiming to be a lifelong New York Yankees fan as Hillary did in 2000. But no matter which team he says he roots for, Ford has little to worry about when it comes to sincerity on such matters. Clinton’s victory illustrated that although New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to spot a phony from out of town from a mile away, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for one.

You would think that out of the nearly 20 million people who live in the Empire State, the two major parties would be able to find at least two distinguished citizens fit to represent New York in the United States Senate. But the state has a sorry recent tradition of outsourcing Senate seats as carpetbagger politicians parachute in to serve in the nation’s highest deliberative body on its behalf. In 1964, though he had not lived in New York for decades, Bobby Kennedy exploited his brother’s martyrdom and his own charisma to win a Senate seat that he would briefly warm (until his own tragic assassination) while plotting to recapture the White House for his family. Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton, a native of suburban Chicago and former first lady of Arkansas, arrived here to establish residency and “listen” to New Yorkers, who obediently elected her to the Senate just as her husband was vacating the executive mansion in Washington.

The latest immigrant to New York to consider himself qualified to represent it in the Senate is Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who was defeated by the citizens of his native state when he ran for a Senate seat in 2006. Since then, the young and handsome Ford moved to Manhattan, where he took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and appeared as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. The New York Times reports today that some New York Democrats want Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate senator who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat Clinton vacated when she left for the State Department a year ago.

Like Gillibrand, Ford will have to “adjust” his positions on a number of issues if he wants to be the standard-bearer for New York’s ultraliberal Democratic Party. In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of illegal immigration and a supporter of the right to bear arms. Since coming to the Senate and accepting the role of female Sancho Panza to senior Senator Chuck Schumer, Gillibrand has flipped on immigration and gun control. Similarly, Ford will have to ditch his opposition to gay marriage to please liberal Dems. But though Ford is a relative newcomer to the Big Apple, he appears to have always been in an “Empire State of Mind” when it came to fundraising. According to the Times, a third of the $15 million he raised for his 2006 Senate run came from New York.

Ford’s challenge is an indication of Gillibrand’s weakness. Her lackluster performance in the Senate could give the Republicans a chance to knock off an incumbent, but with Rudy Giuliani opting out of the race, Long Island Rep. Peter King appears to be the only Republican with enough stature for a chance at winning the seat. Though any Democrat, even Gillibrand, ought to be favored to win in New York, the rumblings of support for Ford, who might become the only African-American in the Senate next year (with Roland Burris’s lease of the Illinois seat left by Barack Obama about to expire), show that the possibility of a GOP tide drowning weak liberal incumbents in 2010 is being taken seriously.

Schumer, who has been traveling the state twisting arms to ensure that his protégé goes unchallenged, has a lot to lose if a Ford victory ditches the notion that he is the kingmaker of New York politics. But however it turns out, let’s hope we are spared the spectacle of this son of Tennessee claiming to be a lifelong New York Yankees fan as Hillary did in 2000. But no matter which team he says he roots for, Ford has little to worry about when it comes to sincerity on such matters. Clinton’s victory illustrated that although New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to spot a phony from out of town from a mile away, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for one.

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The CIA’s Grand Champion

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

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The Price of UN Membership

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

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Off With Libby’s Head?

When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

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When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

Now Fitzgerald has been back in court, arguing that when Libby is sentenced on Tuesday, the judge should throw the book at him precisely on the grounds that he committed the underlying crime-that-was-not-a-crime. Fitzgerald approvingly cites Judge David S. Tatel’s ruling in the Judith Miller case that “because the charges contemplated here relate to false denials of responsibility for Plame’s exposure, prosecuting perjury or false statements would be tantamount to punishing the leak.”

But this a vicious circle. Convicted on the basis of something that was never proved or even formally alleged, is Libby now to be punished on the same basis? With Fitzgerald continuing to overreach, the case for a presidential pardon is growing stronger by the day. If Libby is imprisoned, will Bush do the right thing?

Meanwhile, in closely related news, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wants Valerie Plame to be re-interviewed. Back in March, in a dispatch entitled Lying Liars and Their Lies, I asked whether Plame was under oath when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger. “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

Plame was under oath, and Senator Bond has pointed out that she has put out three separate versions of the circumstances under which her husband was sent to Niger. According to USA Today‘s summary, they are:

*She told the CIA’s inspector general in 2003 or 2004 that she had suggested Wilson.

*Plame told Senate Intelligence Committee staffers in 2004 that she couldn’t remember whether she had suggested Wilson.

*She told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March that an unidentified person in Vice President Cheney’s office asked a CIA colleague about the African uranium report in February 2002. A third officer, overhearing Plame and the colleague discussing this, suggested, “Well, why don’t we send Joe?” Plame told the committee.

Which of these is the real story? Is Plame telling three versions of the truth, or is she a lying liar, or even worse, a perjuring perjurer? Bond would like to find out.

But the Intelligence Committee is now under the control of the Democrats who have no interest in calling attention to the antics of the Plame-Wilson provocateurs. Stay tuned, in other words, for the cover-up of the cover-up.  

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