William Katz:  Urgent Agenda








He stole words!

Okay, he shouldn't have done it, but the Clinton campaign's charge that Barack Obama committed plagiarism may not shock the political universe.  He did, apparently, borrow some phrasing from the governor of Massachusetts.  Compared to Bill Clinton's midnight pardons and Hillary's fundraising practices, this is small stuff.

The greatest danger to Obama in this episode, though, isn't Hillary Clinton.  It's the late-night talk-show hosts.  They may grab onto this flap every time Obama makes an inspiring speech.  Whose words were they?  Strange, but that could have an effect on Obama's image as a great speaker.  Having worked for Johnny Carson, it never ceased to amaze me that what he said into a microphone 15 feet from where I stood each night would affect the culture of America, and its conversations, the next day.

Don't underestimate the power of a Leno.

Stunning poll results

Delegates at a US-Islamic forum, meeting in Qatar, have expressed an overwhelming preference for Barack Obama.  Do I faint in surprise now or later?  If I faint now, I can't finish the blog, so I'll put it off.

Another stunner - violence in Pakistan!

The New York Times reports, and you will be shocked, that violence is marring today's election in Pakistan, and that the results are in doubt.  This election is critical to Americans, although it isn't getting anywhere near the attention it deserves.

By the way, link to the article and gaze at the photo of a Pakistani polling place.  And count your blessings.

Wisconsin matters, surprisingly

Dan Balz of The Washington Post gives an example of superb political reporting in his analysis of tomorrow's Wisconsin primary.  Suddenly, conditions are changing, according to Balz:

Five days ago the question was, would Barack Obama walk away with Wisconsin? On Saturday it was, why is Hillary Clinton walking away from Wisconsin? By Monday morning, it was, could Clinton win Wisconsin?

David Plouffe, the manager of Obama's campaign, was lowering expectations in his conference call with reporters on Monday morning. "They're contesting it ferociously," he said of the Clinton campaign. "I believe they think they can win it and that's what they're trying to do."

Yeah, that would seem like the logical thing to do.  If Clinton had given the state some earlier attention, it would probably be hers.  But we count the votes tomorrow night, so stand by.  If she wins the state, not likely according to the latest polls, she could claim with some justice that Obama's momentum has been stopped, or at least slowed.

You mean, these people have value?

Well, I'm glad someone finally said it, and the someone is Al Hunt of Bloomberg News, who puts in a good word for super delegates or superdelegates, or however you wish to spell it.  I don't think Webster's has considered the issue.  Hunt nails it:

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The specter of Democratic bosses, the so-called superdelegates, trying to thwart the will of the American voters is an alluring narrative being spun by some of Barack Obama's supporters. It's a canard.

Superdelegates are Democratic office-holders and party officials who have an interest in backing the strongest general-election candidate.

This is peer review. It's how a corporate chief executive officer or a basketball coach or the head of surgery at a hospital are chosen. Those with expertise and experience play a role in the selection.

It is no less important in politics.

And Hunt offers a reasonable prediction:

If Obama stumbles, the more than half of the 796 superdelegates who are still uncommitted will flock to the banner of Clinton, 60, a New York senator.

Should Obama win Ohio or Texas or Pennsylvania, the superdelegates will follow the voters and he'll win the nomination. If he doesn't, and the race isn't settled as the convention approaches in August, the superdelegates might control the outcome.

That, however, isn't thwarting any popular will; instead, it would be figuring out the most politically advantageous way to resolve a deadlock.

In the end, Obama or Clinton will owe a small debt, not to special interests seeking favors or to well-heeled fat cats, but to top politicians with whom they will have to deal if elected president. That's a good thing.

One reason America is so stable is that we don't turn everything over to "the people."  We set up sensible protections against mob rule, even the mob rule of the ballot box.  As the political philosopher Martha Stewart says, "It's a good thing."

Even fatter cats

It would be easy to call this next item a story outside politics, but it has everything to do with politics.  With all the wild talk about the "Israel lobby," I find it remarkable that there's so little comment about the Saudi lobby, which spends tens of millions of dollars in this country each year to buy influence.  Last year one Saudi prince, in one week, gave forty million dollars to two universities - Harvard and Georgetown, and he wasn't buying fine scholarship.  That figure, by the way, is about equal to the annual budget of the so-called Israel lobby. 

The Saudi prince involved, and his "generosity," have now come into question, and it's about time.  A U.S. congressman is asking Georgetown to be a bit more specific as to how the money is spent:

A Virginia congressman has asked Georgetown University to explain how it used a $20 million donation from a Saudi prince for its academic center on Muslim and Christian relations.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) sent a letter yesterday to university President John J. DeGioia expressing concern about the donation and asking whether the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has ever produced any reports critical of Saudi Arabia.

Wolf has been critical of Saudi Arabia and what he calls its influence on U.S. affairs for some time. His letter to Georgetown states that the Saudi government has financed activities that is suspected of supporting Islamic militants and extremists. He asks for assurances that the center "maintains the impartiality and integrity of scholarship" befitting a great university.

"It is also important to know if the center has examined Saudi links to extremism and terrorism, including the relationship between Saudi public education and the Kingdom-supported clerical establishment, on the one hand, and the rise of anti-American attitudes, extremism and violence in the Muslim world, on the other," the letter says.

Good for the congressman.  But don't look forward to any quick or noble results.  In fact, I think we can expect, rather, the usual language from Georgetown: 1) It's a matter of academic freedom; 2) it's a matter of academic freedom; 3) it's a matter of academic freedom;  and 4) who are you, a mere congressman, to question "scholars"?  Wanna bet that's what the congressman gets? 

Someone should occasionally remind our houses of higher education that they receive millions in federal aid each year.  It's entirely appropriate for the people's representatives to assess these institutions.  If they don't like the questions, they can refuse the aid.  Or, they can ask Saudi Arabia for more cash.  I doubt if the Saudis ask too many questions.

And in the UK - same problem

We may be getting off easy at the hands of our Saudi brethren, allies and partners in the war on terror.  (Stop choking.)  In the UK, the game is a bit rougher.  This is pretty unbelievable stuff, since the guy at the center is none other than old, warm, trusted Bush friend, Prince Bandar, former Saudi ambassador to Washington, and a cool guy on the party circuit:

Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.

He was accused in yesterday's high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family.

Nice, huh?  Maybe Bandar will get an honorary degree from one of the universities his pal has gifted.  You know, doctor of murder.

Be back tomorrow.

Posted on February 18, 2008.