Last Build Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2009 00:30:00 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2009
Fri, 13 Mar 2009 00:30:00 -0600
"Sure, he doesn't seem to fill his suit, and he talks too quickly, and he swallows the ends of his sentences, and he gives the impression of a grad student taking an oral exam," Mr. Calabresi said. "But he'll be a hero of the western world world if his plan to subsidize the sale of toxic assets leads banks back from the brink."
Mr. Geithner didn't talk much about that plan -- whatever it is -- at that hearing. But he did assure the committee chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), that he'll crack down on individuals and companies that try to avoid paying taxes.
Gee, where might he start? Perhaps with himself. Mr. Geithner was confirmed despite having failed to pay his payroll taxes for four years.
Or perhaps with Rep. Rangel, who failed to pay taxes on income from the rental of his vacation home in the Dominican Republic.
Or maybe with former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who didn't think it necessary to pay nearly $10,000 in back taxes until President Obama chose him to be the U.S. Trade Representative.
Or how about Adolfo Carrion, Mr. Obama's choice for "urban czar?" As the borough president in the Bronx he "often received contributions just before and after he sponsored money for projects or improved important zoning changes," the New York Daily News reported.
When he wasn't assuring his fellow tax cheat that he would crack down on tax cheats, Mr. Geithner was defending President Obama's plans to nationalize the health care system, and to impose a carbon tax. Neither would help us out of our current economic troubles. Both would impose additional burdens on our staggering economy.
The Obama administration's focus on just about everything except the financial crisis has unnerved billionaire Obama supporters Warren Buffett and Andrew Grove.
"You can't expect people to unite behind you if you are trying to jam a whole bunch of things down their throat," the "sage of Omaha" said in a CNBC interview Monday (March 9.) "The hopeful enthusiasm that welcomed the Obama administration has given way to growing worry and frustration," Mr. Grove said in an op-ed in the Washington Post Wednesday (March 11).
Considering what people on Wall Street think of him now, it's important to remember the stock market rose nearly 500 points Nov. 22 when word leaked out Mr. Geithner, then the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was Mr. Obama's choice for Treasury. He was thought by Republicans as well as Democrats to be the indispensable man.
Mr. Geithner is an illustration of the slender reeds on which Washington reputations are based. He was thought to be a hot shot because he was a protege of Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and co-architect of the Bush bank bailout plan nobody on Capitol Hill seems very happy with these days. And he had been a protege of Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, whose guidance is chiefly responsible for the ruin of CitiGroup.
In a sense Mr. Geithner is the indispensable man, because other than Bush holdover Stuart Levey, none of the top jobs in Treasury have been filled. Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, an Obama adviser, has called the situation "shameful." Sir Gus O'Donnell, a planner for the G20 economic summit meeting in London next month, said Wednesday nobody at Treasury was answering his telephone calls.
Perhaps staffing the Treasury department should have been a higher priority than establishing a White House Council on Women and Girls.
Tue, 10 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Most puzzling has been the back of the hand treatment the president has given to our closest ally.
Most in Britain were ecstatic when Mr. Obama was elected. None more so than Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who hoped proximity to The One would boost his own flagging standing in the polls back home.
It didn't work out that way.
"The murmurs began when President Obama returned to the British embassy the Winston Churchill bust that had been displayed in the Oval Office," wrote Dana Milbank of the Washington Post.
"The fears intensified when press secretary Robert Gibbs...demoted the Churchillian phrase 'special relationship' to a mere 'special partnership' across the Atlantic.
"And the alarm bells really went off when Brown's entourage landed at Andrews Air Force Base," Mr. Milbank said. "Obama, breaking with precedent, wouldn't grant the prime minister the customary honor of standing beside him in front of the two nation's flags for the TV cameras."
It got worse. The White House initially cancelled a joint press conference with the prime minister on account of snow. This explanation was unconvincing to Toby Harnden of the London Telegraph, who noted "there are 132 rooms in the White House at least some of which, presumably, are free of snow."
When Mr. Obama did hold a truncated press availability from which most of the British press were excluded, he went right to questions, skipping the usual words of welcome for his guest. The hapless Mr. Brown didn't even get invited to lunch.
The president's "exceptionally rude treatment" of the prime minister will have consequences, predicted British journalist Iain Martin. "We get the point, sunshine. We're just one of many allies and you want fancy new friends. Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, the Japanese, or best of all the Germans."
We may need the help the Brits no longer will be so eager to provide sooner rather than later, because Mr. Obama's overtures to our enemies have been rebuffed.
There will be no thaw in relations with the U.S., and no concessions on its nuclear weapons program, Iran's intelligence minister made clear Feb. 1.
In a "secret letter," President Obama told the Russians he would abandon U.S. plans to put anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic if the Russians would "help" with Iran. On March 3, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev flatly and publicly rejected the deal.
Earlier, the Russians pressured Kyrgyzstan to deny us the use of an airbase vital to supplying our troops in Afghanistan, though Kyrgyzstan's president has indicated recently he'd be willing to reconsider if his palm is crossed with enough silver.
Since the Brits and the Canadians are the only others besides us doing any heavy lifting in Afghanistan, the slap to the British seems particularly ill timed.
It may have been deliberate. In the first of his autobiographies, Mr. Obama said his grandfather was tortured by the British during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. Winston Churchill was prime minister at the time.
If the snub was deliberate, this is remarkably churlish behavior. If it wasn't, it is evidence Mr. Obama is not ready for prime time.
He's not alone. "Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows on her first visit to Europe as secretary of state when she mispronounced her EU counterparts' names and claimed U.S. democracy was older than Europe's," the Reuters news service reported Friday.
Tue, 17 Feb 2009 00:30:03 -0600
Mr. Obama is fond of the appearance of bipartisanship. He nominated three Republicans to his Cabinet. He's dined with conservative columnists, and invited several GOP lawmakers to watch the Super Bowl with him.
But Mr. Obama is like a young man who expects a girl to put out if he buys her a hamburger and a beer. If he were more concerned about the substance of bipartisanship, he'd have insisted upon a stimulus package more Republicans could support, and he wouldn't now be looking for his third nominee for Secretary of Commerce.
Sen. Gregg withdrew, citing "irreconcilable differences" over the stimulus package. The more important reason was because the president had made it clear Sen. Gregg was just to be window dressing. The Commerce secretary has only one important job, to oversee the decennial census. If illegal aliens are counted as citizens, several House seats could be shifted from the Republicans to the Democrats after the next reapportionment. Cheating is the Chicago Way, but Sen. Gregg is both honest and a Republican. He couldn't be counted on to cheat. So the president announced oversight of the census would be shifted to the White House. This is probably illegal, and it made Sen. Gregg look like a chump. So he did the only thing an honorable man could do.
With so many of the president's nominees having to withdraw because of ethical problems, it was refreshing to have one withdraw because he had ethics. But several of the president's courtiers in the news media described Sen. Gregg's resignation, and the paucity of GOP votes for the porkalooza, as evidence of a Republican "war" against Mr. Obama.
"Their clear intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration," wrote Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic. Mr. Sullivan and others of his ilk see nothing partisan in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's exclusion of Republicans from the drafting of the stimulus bill; in the president's refusal to make meaningful compromises, or in the transfer of census oversight to the White House.
President Obama is very big on symbolism. He is signing the bill in Denver, the city where he was nominated for president, on Tuesday (in violation of his pledge to have at least five days elapse between passage of a law and his signing of it to allow time for public comment), because Tuesday is four weeks precisely since his inauguration.
Symbolism is important. But presidents ultimately are judged on substance.
Thu, 22 Jan 2009 00:30:00 -0600
Only two other of our 43 presidents (Grover Cleveland is counted twice) took office under more controversial circumstances than Mr. Bush did after the prolonged recount in Florida in 2000. John Quincy Adams was elected by the House of Representatives in 1825, though Andrew Jackson had led in both the popular and electoral votes in the four way race the year before. In 1876, Rutherford Hayes became the only president besides Mr. Bush to win in the electoral college despite losing the popular vote in a two way race.
Bitterness surrounding how he won deprived Mr. Bush of the traditional "honeymoon," and poisoned the atmosphere surrounding his presidency from the start.
Only three other presidents -- Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and James Madison, who fled the White House hours before the British burned it in 1814 -- faced more difficult challenges than Mr. Bush has during their terms of office. Less than nine months into his presidency, America suffered on 9/11 the most devastating attack ever on her soil by a foreign enemy. There followed the war in Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in American history. The Bush presidency ended with the subprime mortage meltdown, already our most devastating economic setback since the Great Depression.
What didn't happen, and what just has illustrate why the passage of time is required before a presidency can fairly be judged.
After 9/11, there were no further successful terrorist attacks on American soil on Mr. Bush's watch. How important history will regard this accomplishment depends mostly on whether there is another during Mr. Obama's presidency. If so, then Mr. Bush's accomplishment will loom larger.
It's too early to tell how bad the economy is going to get. To what extent did Bush administration policies fuel the subprime mortgage bubble? Was there something he could have done, but didn't do, that would have kept the bubble from bursting? Did the steps the Bush administration took after the bubble burst prevent a larger catastrophe?
Or did they just add fuel to the fire? We don't yet know.
Time separates trivial controversies from more substantive ones. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was hotly criticized for its conduct.
But now he is remembered for its ultimate success, not for the early Union mistakes. Mr. Bush was criticized as hotly for his conduct of the Iraq war, but in the end he won, and he won by pursuing a strategy scorned by most of his critics. It remains to be seen how valuable victory in Iraq will be. But surely a friendly, democratic Iraq is more beneficial to the United States than one ruled by Saddam Hussein, pursuing nuclear weapons.
And time will tell to what extent his successor follows policies established by Mr. Bush. Despite rhetorical differences in the campaign, it appears that President Obama's foreign policy will be little different in substance. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Conservatives, for the most part, have been disappointed by Mr. Bush.
During his presidency Republicans lost all fiscal discipline. Many of his appointments were alarmingly mediocre. Even when he was doing the right thing, he did a poor job of communicating why. Still, we will miss his basic goodness, and his steadfastness.
But I suspect that in six months or so, it will be the liberals who miss Mr. Bush most. For eight years they've been blaming all the nation's ills -- including adverse weather -- on Mr. Bush. Now that their favorite whipping boy has departed the scene, I expect many to develop a strange new respect for policies once glibly scorned.
My own view is that Mr. Bush was wrong on lots of little things, but right on the big things. History tends to remember only the big things.
Sat, 17 Jan 2009 00:50:45 -0600
But as a matter of both policy and politics, the dinner was exactly the right thing for both Mr. Obama and his frequent critics to do.
Mr. Obama spoke often in the campaign of his intent to listen to all sides in the American conversation. This is apparently one campaign promise he intends to keep.
The likelihood the dinner conversation changed anyone's mind about big issues is exceedingly small. But what almost certainly will happen is that the pundits will be quicker to praise Mr. Obama when they think he is right, more gentle in their criticism when they think he is wrong. That's certainly worth the investment of an evening's time.
And it's worth the investment of an evening to try to change the tone in Washington. I blame the poisonous atmosphere in the capital more on his critics than on President Bush, but Mr. Obama's efforts to change that atmosphere are welcome. America has real enemies. But Democrats and Republicans are not among them. Extreme partisans on both sides could profit from the example of civility and outreach set by the president-elect and the conservative pundits.
Yes, it's all symbolism. But symbolism is important. I think the greatest failure of the Bush administration was his failure to communicate effectively what he was doing, and why. He spent little time talking to his friends, much less to his critics. It would be an exaggeration to say Barack Obama already has spent more effort in outreach to conservative opinion leaders than Dubya did in his eight years in office, but it wouldn't be much of an exaggeration.
And Mr. Obama displays an exquisite subtlety in his symbolism. The day after the dinner at the Will home, he met with liberal pundits, which is wholly appropriate. But the meeting with the liberals didn't last as long, and no refreshments were served. Both evangelical Pastor Rick Warren and gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson will pray at the Inaugural, but Pastor Warren has the more prominent role.
Beneath the symbolism there is the slim possibility of substantive cooperation from time to time. The Obama administration appears likely to occupy ground between the Democratic leadership in Congress and Republicans. So on some issues -- like, for instance, on the size and nature of tax cuts in the stimulus package -- it might be the president and the GOP against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The dinner at the Will home may have been part of Mr. Obama's effort to obtain GOP support for his stimulus plan, from which he has much more to gain than Republicans do. If it works, Mr. Obama will get all the credit. If it doesn't, GOP participation will make it harder for Republicans to criticize him at election time.
The most juvenile assumption partisans make is that the people who disagree with them are stupid. Republicans will be in big trouble if they fail to recognize that Mr. Obama is a formidable political talent. Republicans should accept the hand he extends to them, because it is far, far more important that the economy recover than that Democrats be blamed for its failure to do so. But Republicans should count carefully their fingers afterward.
Sat, 10 Jan 2009 06:30:00 -0600
Moonbats in Europe and America are agitated, but protests against Israel in Sunni Muslim countries have been muted. In the West Bank, there's barely been a peep of protest.
This is because Sunni Muslim leaders view the terror group Hamas as a proxy for Iran. And though Sunni Muslim rulers don't like Jews any more today than they did before, they don't fear Israel. But they do fear Shia Iran.
It isn't only the Sunnis who have reacted cautiously. Iran's chief proxy is the terror group Hezbollah, the de facto government in southern Lebanon. When Israeli forces entered Gaza, many expected Hezbollah to fire rockets into northern Israel to open a second front. But all Hezbollah has offered its beleaguered ally so far is lip service.
Five rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel early Thursday, slightly injuring two people in a retirement home in Nahariya. But this appeared to be an effort by Palestinians to trigger an Israeli attack on Hezbollah. A Hezbollah spokesman denied any knowledge of the attack, noted the rockets used (Katyushas) were an obsolescent type no longer used by Hezbollah, and said that if Hezbollah were going to attack Israel, it would fire off dozens of rockets, not just five.
It isn't only Iranian proxies who are showing reticence. Some 70,000 Iranians purportedly have volunteered to become suicide bombers against Israel. But Iran's supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has forbidden them to leave the country. The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps said the appropriate response to the Israeli attack is a "mental jihad." Mohammad Ali Jafari didn't explain what a "mental jihad" is, but it's unlikely to be as dangerous to Israelis as suicide bombers or Hezbollah rockets.
Left wingers in Europe and America have criticized Barack Obama for not speaking out against Israeli "aggression." The president-elect has explained his reticence by pointing out the United States has only one president at a time. This may be a convenient dodge, but it's also the truth. And perhaps Mr. Obama realizes Israel, Egypt and the Bush administration are about to do him an enormous favor.
I expect the fighting in Gaza to end soon, perhaps even between the time this column is written and it is published. Egypt's intelligence minister has offered Hamas a proposal for a cease fire which would be a barely disguised surrender, but Hamas may have no choice but to accept it if Hezbollah doesn't widen the war, because the Bush administration is blocking a UN proposal for a ceasefire more favorable to the terror group.
A cease fire will prevent Israel from destroying Hamas root and branch, but that was never a realistic goal. What has driven the de facto alliance between Israel and Egypt, and makes a satisfactory outcome possible is Fatah, the older, secular Palestinian party from which Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007.
Hamas was able to seize power because Palestinians were fed up with Fatah's corruption and incompetence. Hamas, they reasoned, couldn't be worse. But worse Hamas has proven to be, and the pendulum of public opinion has swung away from them. Much of Israel's military success has been due to intelligence provided by Palestinians.
Israel cannot destroy Hamas. But Israel may already have weakened Hamas sufficiently for Fatah to reassert control of Gaza, or for neither faction to be strong enough to take complete charge.
And President Bush could give his successor no greater gift than to convert the contest in the Middle East from one between Muslims and Jews to one between Palestinian factions.
Thu, 08 Jan 2009 00:30:48 -0600
Mr. Obama originally had planned to tap John Brennan, who was head of the National Counterterrorism Center at the time of his retirement in 2005. But the rumored appointment ignited a storm of protest from left wingers who opposed the coercive interrogation techniques the CIA used on some high level al Qaida prisoners.
"The fact that I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored," Mr. Brennan said in a Nov. 26 letter withdrawing his name.
By yielding to Mr. Brennan's critics, Mr. Obama made it all but impossible to pick anyone who held a senior position in the intelligence community during the Bush administration, which may be why Mr. Kappes was passed over.
If you think it dangerous, at a time when we are engaged in two wars, to have a novice at the CIA, then you're likely appalled by the Panetta nomination.
But if you think of the CIA as a rogue, dysfunctional agency that needs to be reined in, you may think Mr. Obama's choice is inspired.
Many of those worried about Mr. Panetta have an outdated view of the importance of the CIA. After 9/11 a huge new layer of bureaucracy was imposed on the intelligence community. This was mostly stupid, because there was too much bureaucracy already. But it made the CIA much less important.
Most of the intelligence we gather is collected by the National Security Agency, through its electronic eavesdropping, and by the satellite photos taken by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
The CIA essentially got out of the HUMINT (human intelligence) business when the Clinton administration slashed its budget in the early 1990s. Most of such little intelligence as the CIA now gathers comes from interrogation of prisoners. But most prisoner interrogations are done by the military.
The CIA does still have its analysis branch, which has missed most of the major developments of the last 20 years. And analysis work has been migrating to the various multi-agency intelligence centers established after 9/11.
The real head cheese is the Director of National Intelligence. For DNI, Mr. Obama has selected retired Admiral Dennis Blair. He's a former commander of Pacific Command and a former associate director of the CIA, a Rhodes scholar who once water-skied behind the destroyer he was commanding. Admiral Blair doesn't need Mr. Panetta's advice on intelligence matters.
But as a skilled bureaucratic infighter whose loyalty will be to the president and not to the CIA, Mr. Panetta may be, thinks Michael Ledeen, just the right guy "to watch Obama's back at a place that's full of stilettos and a track record for attempted presidential assassination second to none."
Because I think the CIA requires wholesale reform, I think better of the Panetta nomination than most other commentators do. But I have two huge concerns.
It was Mr. Panetta, as President Clinton's budget director, who gutted our HUMINT capability. And Mr. Panetta's eagerness to define anything that makes terrorists uncomfortable as "torture" means we'll be getting precious little information from future interrogations.
Mr. Obama is taking a big chance. If there is a successful terrorist attack on the U.S. during his watch, this is the appointment that will doom his presidency.
Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600
Her Ivy League education and her experiences as a mother of three children qualify her for the job, her many admirers said.
"I'd vote for her in a second," gushed Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan Dec. 16. "She, as a beloved historic celebrity, could bring needed media attention to issues routinely ignored."
Shortly after Ms. Kennedy indicated she would like to be appointed to the senate seat Hillary Clinton is vacating to become secretary of state, she visited Democratic politicians in upstate New York to discuss her ambition.
Ms. Kennedy received a polite, but tepid, reception from the mayors of Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.
Reporters covering her "listening tour," however, were unhappy with her apparent unwillingness to talk with them.
"So far, her first foray into politics has been one of private meetings, brief appearances, and unanswered questions about what she would do, say and think if chosen as New York's next senator," wrote AP reporters Ben Dobbin and Devlin Barrett from Rochester Dec. 20. "Kennedy stumbled in her first public appearance Wednesday in Syracuse. She met privately for an hour with local politicians, then spoke to reporters for all of 30 seconds before being hustled away by an aide."
Apparently stung by this criticism, Ms. Kennedy granted lengthy interviews to the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the cable news channel New York 1.
She shouldn't have.
Ms. Kennedy said little of substance in those interviews. But what made them noteworthy was her inability to express herself coherently. She said "you know" more than 200 times in her interview with the Daily News, 130 times in her interview with the Times, and 80 times in her interview with New York 1. Her remarks were also generously punctuated with "ums" and "ahs."
"She's turned out to be a no-pulse flat-liner with the vim, vigor, enthusiasm and passion of, um, you know, a wet noodle," a chagrined and apologetic Ms. Eagan wrote Jan. 1. "Who'd have dreamt (Jackie Kennedy's) daughter -- raised in the White House, in Greece and on Park Avenue, a graduate of hoity-toity Concord Academy and hoiter-toitier Radcliffe, for God's sake -- sounds, you know, like, um, whatever, as if some Valley Girl."
Some liberals have likened Ms. Kennedy to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, which is unfair to Ms. Palin, who -- in addition to having voted in every election since she was 18, has actually held public office, and performed well in it. Ms. Palin has mothered more children than has Ms. Kennedy, and done so without full time hired help. And she can give a speech without inserting "um" and "you know" in every sentence.
Despite her recent stumbles, Ms. Kennedy still has many fans.
"I think (New York Gov.) David Paterson would be dumb not to appoint Kennedy," wrote Alan Chartock, president of Northeast Public Radio, in the Berkshire Eagle Jan. 3rd. "She is fabulously wealthy. Some guesstimates have her in the $500 million range. She owns a considerable chunk of Martha's Vineyard beach front, and she is one of the most popular New Yorkers.
There are lighter weights already serving in Congress, Mr. Chartock asserts. And "do you really think she wouldn't hire the best staff that money can buy?"
I find Mr. Chartock's reasoning hilarious. But Gov. Paterson may find it persuasive. He's said to be leaning toward choosing Ms. Kennedy, chiefly because of the assistance she could provide him in raising money for his governor's race next year.
I hope Gov. Paterson does appoint Ms. Kennedy. I am, um, you know, looking forward to her speeches and press conferences.
Wed, 31 Dec 2008 00:30:00 -0600
The deaths of Ms. Sheetrit and Mr. al-Mahdi passed largely unnoticed outside of Israel, as had the deaths of dozens of others in preceding months. Outside of Israel, the news media are concerned only that the Israeli response to the attacks might be "disproportionate."
Some 6,000 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel from Gaza since 2001, most of them since Israel unilaterally withdrew from there in 2005.
Last Saturday, Israel responded to the latest rocket attacks from Gaza with air strikes on 100 targets. About 300 Hamas terrorists were killed in the strikes. But the attention of the news media was focused on the 50 civilians Hamas claims also were killed.
Since Hamas deliberately locates its military facilities in heavily populated areas (and usually exaggerates the number of civilian casualties) that number is remarkably low. As retired Army LtCol. Ralph Peters noted, these were the most accurate airstrikes in history.
But Israel gets little credit for either its military skill or its remarkable forbearance. Nothing better illustrates the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of so many Western journalists than the ritual condemnation of Israel for the accidental deaths of a few Palestinian civilians, and the near total absence of condemnation of Hamas for its repeated deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians.
"Those who scream 'disproportionate' think -- grotesquely -- that not enough Israelis have been killed," wrote Melanie Phillips in the British magazine The Spectator. "If anything has been 'disproportionate,' it's been Israel's refusal to take action during the years when its southern citizens have been terrorized by rockets and other missiles raining down on them from Gaza. No other country in the world would have sat on its hands for so long in such circumstances."
"I condemn Israel's disproportionate attack on Hamas because, so far, it has only lasted four days and I would like to see a proportionate response that terrifies Hamas for seven years, the years that have filled Sderot and neighboring towns with nightmares, death, amputations and trauma coming from the rockets and mortars fired from Gaza," wrote New York Jewish Week editor Jonathan Mark.
Liberal journalists fret the Israeli response to the most recent rocket attacks from Gaza will diminish the prospects for a negotiated peace. But Hamas is not interested in talking with Jews. Hamas is interested in killing Jews, which is why Hamas keeps firing rockets into Israel.
The Israelis constantly are advised to trade land for peace. But when they do trade land for peace -- as when they gave up their defensive positions in southern Lebanon in 1978, and when they returned control of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005 -- the result has been more attacks on Israeli civilians. For terrorists like Hamas, there will be no peace until they have all the land.
The moral myopia of those who paint the victims of Hamas terrorism as aggressors puts Israel in a no-win situation. There can be no diplomatic solution, because Hamas will not negotiate in good faith. And there can be no military solution, because Western leaders react so harshly when Israel retaliates.
"Fighting breaks out as Hamas ends truce," read the headline in a British newspaper Dec. 19. If you google "Hamas breaks truce," you'll also find stories from June 26, and from June 12 and April 25 of 2007.
There is a groundhog day repetitiveness to this. Hamas agrees to a ceasefire when its supply of rockets grows low. Once the rockets have been replenished, Hamas breaks the ceasefire. Only Western liberals can fail to discern a pattern.
Mon, 22 Dec 2008 13:30:06 -0600
An example of moral and intellectual bankruptcy is the $1 trillion "stimulus" package Congress is contemplating to encourage us to continue the behaviors that got us into this mess in the first place.
We've been living beyond our means on money borrowed mostly from the Chinese. Like Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, this had to end at some point, and could only end badly.
The stock market crash has sobered many of us up. We're saving as much as we can to guard against the rainy days that appear likely in our future.
But tens of thousands of Americans make their living selling us things we don't need and can't afford. If we live within our means, their jobs are in jeopardy, and the recession could deepen.
The theory behind the stimulus package is that we can spend our way out of the recession. As former Sen. Fred Thompson put it, this is like telling a fat guy the way to lose weight is to eat more.
The stimulus package Congress passed last Spring didn't work, and this one probably won't, either. But it will delay necessary reforms, and could make the inevitable crash more painful.
We're like alcoholics who've been on a 30-year bender. We can't quit cold turkey without a painful period of adjustment. But if we don't go through that period of adjustment, we can't ever get well. America can't in the long run be prosperous unless we make things other people want to buy, and finance most of our investments through our own savings.
Democrats will run things for the next four years, so the recession should last at least that long. That's because the economic philosophy of the Democratic Party is to subsidize failure and punish success. Bailing out auto companies that couldn't make money in good times, and raising taxes on those job creators who are still making money may be good for gathering votes, but not for growing an economy.
I used to infuriate my English teacher in high school by declaring that all anyone needed to know about life could be found in the works of Rudyard Kipling. (She was not a fan of the bard of the barrack-room.) But the more I see of the world, the more sure I am that this is so. My favorite Kipling poem is "The Gods of the Copybook Headings":
"We were living in trees when they met us. They showed each of us in turn, that water would certainly wet us, as fire would certainly burn. But we found them lacking in Vision, Uplift, and Breadth of Mind, so we left them to teach the gorillas, while we followed the March of Mankind...
"With the hopes that our world was built on, they were utterly out of touch. They denied that the moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch; they denied that wishes were horses, they denied that a pig had wings; so we worshipped the gods of the Market, who promised these beautiful things....
"In the Carboniferous Epoch, we were promised abundance for all, by robbing selected Peter, to pay for collective Paul. But though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy, and the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: 'If you don't work, you die.'
"...And after this is accomplished, and the Brave New World begins, When all men are paid for existing, and no man must pay for his sins, as surely as water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn, the Gods of the Copybook Headings, with terror and slaughter return."
Tue, 16 Dec 2008 09:15:00 -0600
I doubt Mr. Obama would have fired Mr. Fitzgerald in any event. He said he would keep him on during a meeting with the Chicago Tribune's editorial board back in March. But he doesn't dare fire him now.
And I doubt job security was a consideration in the timing of the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich and his chief of staff. The criminal complaint makes it clear Mr. Fitzgerald acted to forestall "Hot Rod" from making a tainted appointment to the senate.
"With wiretap evidence piling up that showed that Mr. Blagojevich was intent on selling the Obama seat for a substantial personal benefit...Mr. Fitzgerald was forced to make the arrest," wrote novelist Scott Turow, a former prosecutor himself, in the New York Times. "He decided that he could not even wait for the grand jury investigating Mr. Blagojevich to meet on Thursday and indict him."
Usually months elapse between an arrest and a trial. But bypassing the grand jury puts the case on the fast track, which will keep it in the news.
"Mr. Fitzgerald will now have only 20 days to either give the governor a preliminary hearing -- which would amount to free discovery for his defense lawyer -- or return an indictment," Mr. Turow said.
The next few weeks should be wonderful theater. Democrats want Gov. Blagojevich to resign, so that the Senate vacancy could be filled by the current lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn. But if he resigned, Hot Rod would be throwing away what little leverage he has remaining, and Gov. Blagojevich isn't the sort of fellow who puts the interests of the party ahead of his own.
If Hot Rod doesn't resign, the legislature would have to impeach him, or pass a bill to fill the senate vacancy with a special election. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) is against this because the seat would be vacant until sometime in April, and a Republican might win it. Another problem with a special election is that it would remind voters of the scandal that made it necessary. But with the world watching now, it's hard to see what Democrats can offer Gov. Blagojevich -- or threaten him with -- that would induce him to resign.
Patrick Fitzgerald is the pit bull of U.S. attorneys, and the only one with a national following. He nailed Hot Rod's GOP predecessor, George Ryan in 2006, and, a year later, convicted Vice President Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for lying about what he told reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Mr. Fitzgerald, who grew up in Brooklyn, got his job because GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (no relation) wanted somebody tough and honest as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and there weren't many locals that fit that bill. He asked FBI Director Louis Freeh who the best assistant U.S. attorney in the country was. "Patrick Fitzgerald in the Southern District of New York," Mr. Freeh told him.
Patrick Fitzgerald has already put an end to several political careers, but he may jump start one.
Most of those few Americans who know who Tom Dewey was remember him as the "man on the wedding cake" who lost the 1948 presidential election to Harry Truman.
Dewey made his bones as a fearless prosecutor of the Mob in New York City. This led to two terms as governor, and the GOP nods for president in 1944 and 1948.
The Blagojevich affair may represent a tipping point in Illinois politics, when voters in the Land of Lincoln get sick of the corruption they've tolerated for so long. The next time voters choose a governor will be in 2010. By then, Patrick Fitzgerald may be ready for a new job.
Tue, 09 Dec 2008 05:15:00 -0600
The colonial mistakes in Africa and the Middle East were driven by arrogance and greed. But the most dangerous mistake was caused by an excess of political correctness.
Pakistan was created in 1947 when Britain granted independence to the crown jewel of its colonies, India. British India consisted of what are now the countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Muslims had ruled India for roughly 800 years before the arrival of the British, and did so brutally.
"The Mohammedan conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history," wrote the historian Will Durant. "It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within."
Muslims feared the Hindu majority would treat them as badly as they'd treated the Hindus before the British came, so they insisted on a country of their own. The result was Pakistan, a collection of disparate groups who have nothing in common except their religion.
A clue to how big a mistake Pakistan is is its name. "Stan" is a suffix, which means "land of." Thus, Kazakhstan is the land of the Kazakhs, Uzbekistan is land of the Uzbeks, Turkmenistan is land of the Turkmen, and so on.
So who are the Paks? PAK is an acronym for Punjab, Afghan and Kashmir. The Punjabis are the largest ethnic group in Pakistan (45 percent). But the Afghans are in another country, and much of Kashmir is in India.
The divorce between India and Pakistan was acrimonious. Millions of Hindus fled from their homes in the Punjab and Bengal, while millions of Muslims fled from India. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed.
Since partition, Pakistan has started, and lost, two wars with India over Kashmir and in 1970, one over Bengal, then known as East Pakistan, now the independent country of Bangladesh.
Pakistan's politicians have put the acquisition of personal wealth ahead of any other consideration, making theirs the most corrupt democracy in the world.
"No matter their political allegiance, Pakistan's party bosses stole everything in sight, reducing the country to stinging poverty and stunning violence," wrote retired Army LtCol. Ralph Peters, who has traveled frequently in Pakistan.
The Muslims who insisted upon partition were wrong. India has been a parliamentary democracy since independence, and has treated its 160 million strong Muslim minority pretty well. India has become one of the world's great powers, while Pakistan has been sinking into a sea of corruption.
"If India had stayed in one piece with Hindus and Moslems democratically competing in political parties, it would be a superpower today, larger and stronger than China," said Jack Wheeler, a frequent visitor to both India and Pakistan, who publishes a popular newsletter on world affairs.
"But in place of an Asian superpower, we have two militaries at each other's throats, both armed with nuclear weapons, and presenting the world's best chance for nuclear war."
Tue, 02 Dec 2008 07:30:00 -0600
The second is $7.6 trillion. That, according to the Bloomberg News Service, is the current amount for which taxpayers could be on the hook for the bailouts to date of financial institutions. It's more than half the value of the gross domestic product.
The third is $4.6 trillion. That, according to Jim Bianco of Bianco Research, is the inflation-adjusted cost of World War II. The potential liabilities our policymakers have imposed upon the taxpayers in the last two months are nearly twice as much as what we spent in nearly four years fighting the Germans and the Japanese.
Compared to what we've already shelled out to wealthy Wall Street bankers whose greed and stupidity are chiefly responsible for the mess we're in, the $25-$50 billion the auto makers are seeking now seems a mere pittance. It might even be a bargain, argued former Michigan senator Spencer Abraham in the New York Times.
"Nearly three million jobs would be lost in the first year if all three companies closed and their suppliers absorbed the shock, according to the Center for Automotive Research," Mr. Abraham said. "That would mean tens of billions of dollars in pension liabilities would be transferred to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the federal insurance fund that protects the pensions of nearly 44 million American workers but already has a $10.7 billion deficit."
So if we're going to bail out Wall Street, why shouldn't we bail out Detroit? There are two reasons, the lesser of which is that at some point the taxpayer cow is going to run out of milk.
The more important reason is because a bailout will only postpone bankruptcy, and raise its ultimate cost. We say we "can't allow" the auto companies to fail. But that's hubris. The truth is, we can't prevent it.
Soaring gasoline prices in the summer and the stock market crash in the fall have made their illness acute, but the "Big Three" have been losing money for years. The chief reason for this is their higher labor costs make their cars about $2,000 more expensive than comparable foreign models.
General Motors (19 percent) and Toyota (18 percent) have about the same share of the U.S. car market. But Toyota has enormous efficiency advantages. GM has eight product lines, Toyota three. GM has 7,000 dealers, Toyota, 1,500. Toyota pays its workers in the U.S. an average of $48 an hour. GM, Ford and Chrysler pay their employees an average of $73 an hour. For GM to have a chance to become competitive, it must cut its product line by at least 50 percent, its dealer network by at least 50 percent, and its labor costs by at least 30 percent.
But any bailout that's acceptable to the United Auto Workers -- and thus to the Democrats in Congress -- will be designed to avoid the pain such cutbacks would inflict.
The current environment for auto sales is toxic, and is likely to remain so for at least a year. This means that ever more and ever larger subsidies will be required to keep the doors of the Big Three open. Eventually taxpayers will run out of patience, or milk. To avoid discomfort now, we court catastrophe a short distance down the road.
If the Big Three sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection now, one strong company could emerge from the wreckage. Surely the United States would be better served by having one healthy car company instead of three terminally ill ones. But good sense, alas, rarely makes political sense.
Tue, 25 Nov 2008 08:30:00 -0600Mr. Obama told the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle in January his energy plan likely would bankrupt the coal industry and send electricity rates skyrocketing. Reporters Carla Marinucci and Joe Garafoli considered these remarks so unremarkable they didn't mention them in the story they wrote on Mr. Obama's meeting with the editorial board. But the 350,000 people who work in the coal industry, and the 57 percent of us who get our electricity chiefly from coal-fired plants might have a different view. There probably isn't any good time to throw thousands of people out of work and roughly double what people must pay for electricity, but to make these gratuitous moves in the midst of a recession seems especially unwise. Mr. Obama plans draconian steps because of his concern for anthroprogenic (man-made) global warming. The president-elect reiterated his concerns in a taped speech to a climate change conference in California last week: "Few challenges facing America -- and the world -- are more urgent than combating climate change," he said. "The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising, coasts are shrinking. We've seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season." The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates sea levels will rise about three feet over the next 100 years. But sea levels have been rising for the last 10,000 years (ever since the last Ice Age), and everything else Sen. Obama said is untrue. Drought and famine typically are associated with colder rather than warmer periods, and nothing the world has experienced recently approaches what happened in the 1930s. The science of global warming is beyond dispute for Democratic politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and most journalists. But there is less agreement than ever among climate scientists, who are having increasing difficulty reconciling the theory with what is actually happening with the world's climate. According to the theory, carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal and gasoline are chiefly responsible for warming. There is no dispute that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. But the highest global temperatures ever recorded were in 1998 -- ten years ago. Global temperatures have been declining since 2002. In the last year the decline was nearly great enough to offset all the warming that has occurred since 1980. With the evidence turning against them, proponents of global warming theory are trying to manufacture their own. Dr. James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) -- one of four bodies which monitor global temperatures -- declared this past October to have been the warmest ever. This was startling to those who knew that on Oct. 29, 115 communities in the U.S. set or tied records for low temperature; that the day before it snowed in London in October for the first time since 1922, and Tibet experienced its worst snowstorm ever. It turns out that Mr. Hansen -- who set off the global warming scare with his testimony before a committee headed by then Sen. Al Gore in 1988 --had carried over temperature readings from monitoring stations in Russia from September, an error so glaring it calls into question the reliability of all GISS data. "Whether, on the basis of such evidence, it is wise for the world's governments to embark on some of the most costly economic measures ever proposed, to remedy a problem which may actually not exist, is a question which should give us all pause for thought," wrote Christopher Booker in the London Telegraph.[...]
Tue, 18 Nov 2008 05:30:00 -0600
Marty Peretz, editor in chief of the influential liberal magazine The New Republic, thinks it would be a bad idea:
"Hillary is not a person of principle. She is a person of shifting position. The best you can say of her, then, is that she is flexible, endlessly flexible." Mr. Peretz said.
The ideological flexibility Mr. Peretz deplores is really an asset, argued New York Times columnist Gail Collins.
"I know, my little Obama hyper-partisans," she wrote Saturday. "You spent a year of your lives trying to keep Hillary out of the White House because she voted to let the Bush administration invade Iraq. And now, your man is talking about letting her be the point person on foreign policy. What happened to transformative change?
"We've been all through this before. Candidates who promise to bring everyone together are talking about meeting in the middle. The only people who think Barack Obama is a radical are you and Joe the Plumber," she wrote.
Perhaps because I share Joe the Plumber's concerns about the president-elect, Ms. Collins' reasoning appeals to me. Since Mr. Obama is most unlikely to pick the candidate I prefer -- former UN Ambassador John Bolton -- my attitude is, why not Hillary?
This isn't because I think Sen. Clinton would perform particularly well as Secretary of State. I don't. But Sen. Clinton and her qualifications cannot be judged in isolation. They have to be judged in comparison with those of the likely alternatives. Besides hers, the names most frequently bruited about have been Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
One of the criticisms Mr. Peretz makes of her -- "She is not a committed leftist at all" -- is one of the reasons why I prefer Hillary to these two. Hillary Clinton will say anything, promise anything, do anything to get what she wants, but she is, as Mr. Peretz notes, "a committed situationalist." She is more likely than an ideologue to let reality intrude in her decisionmaking. And she is smart enough to recognize reality when it sticks its ugly snout under the tent. Sen. Kerry, I fear, really believes the left-wing drivel he spouts.
Ms. Collins, who also tends to believe that left wing drivel, sees another problem:
"Although Kerry has many excellent qualities and his children appear to be very fond of him, if there is a contest for Senator You Would Least Want to Have a Cup of Coffee With, he would be a good bet for top 10," Ms. Collins wrote. "Politicians often brag that they never forget a name, but Kerry is one of those guys who can't even remember a face."
Bill Richardson has as a fine a resume as one could ask for in a candidate for Secretary of State: a long time member of Congress who served as UN Ambassador and Energy Secretary before being elected governor.
But, as Joe Biden painfully reminds us, it is, alas, possible to hold a lot of important jobs in politics without performing any of them well, and Gov. Richardson has a tendency to say nutty things. Mr. Peretz described him as "very much a light-weight," a description I am inclined to agree with. Whatever criticisms one might make of Hillary Clinton, a light-weight she isn't.
It could be politically useful for Mr. Obama, a gesture of party unity, to pick Sen. Clinton. He may in the end decide she brings too much baggage (Hil comes with Bill). But the mere fact he's considering her shows Sen. Obama has learned from the flap over his failure to vet Sen. Clinton to be his running mate.