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JERUSALEM (AP) -- The United States will likely donate more than $900 million for the reconstruction of Gaza, a U.S. official said Monday, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepared to attend a donors conference for the war-ravaged territory next week.

COMMENT:  Why?  What about the wealthy Arab states donating that money?  All we're doing is rewarding Hamas for the behavior that led to the Israeli retaliation.  Well, at least the Obamans are consistent.  They're rewarding bad behavior in the economy here at home.  We practice what we preach.

MORE, MORE, MORE - AT 11:09 A.M. ET:  From The New York Times:

The government faced mounting pressure on Monday to put billions more in some of the nation’s biggest banks, two of the biggest automakers and the biggest insurance company, despite the billions it has already committed to rescuing them.

The government’s boldest rescue to date, its $150 billion commitment for the insurance giant American International Group, is foundering. A.I.G. indicated on Monday it was now negotiating for tens of billions of dollars in additional assistance as losses have mounted.

COMMENT:  The rescue is foundering?  Why?  Nothing has worked so far, and yet these industries want more, more, more.  Are we simply throwing good money after bad?  Isn't it time for the media to start asking some tough, probing questions about where all this money is going?  And to whom?

NEW POLLS - AT 7:58 P.M. ET:  New poll results present a mixed picture.  A New York Times/CBS poll shows solid support for Obama and strong disapproval of the Republicans in Congress.  It shows, in fact, an almost giddy affection for the president, which makes me wonder if the poll is on the level.  We don't know how it was weighted.  The survey shows overall approval of the president's job performance at 63 percent.

By contrast, a new Rasmussen poll shows presidential approval at 58 percent, with 38 percent strongly approving and 27 percent strongly disapproving.  The Rasmussen poll, which has an excellent record of accuracy, is more sophisticated than the Times/CBS poll, and shows a more guarded picture for Mr. Obama. 

CANTOR BANTER - AT 5:30 P.M. ET:  A TIME profile on GOP House whip Eric Cantor contains this observation:

Cantor says he knows he can't block everything coming through — otherwise the GOP risks being labeled the party of obstruction. (Just look at the Republicans' four-decade stint in Siberia after they tried to block much of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.)

COMMENT:  Siberia?  Well, let's see:  From 1938 onward, Congress was controlled by a coalition of southern Democrats and northern Republicans.  Liberal legislation was often blocked by members from both parties.  And, as for the presidency, during the 40-year period starting with the dawn of the New Deal in 1933, through 1973, two GOP presidents, Eisenhower and Nixon, were elected for two terms each.  Not great, but not a shutout.  TIME needed a more complete view of history here.

DOW OW! - AT 4:28 P.M. ET:  Another bad day for the Dow.  The index closed down 251 points, to 7115.  It wasn't too many days ago when we wondered whether the Dow would slip below 8000.  Now we wonder about 7000.  The lack of confidence of the markets in the president's economic plan is telling.  Huge amounts of American wealth are wiped out ever time the market suffers this kind of decline.



Posted at 11:22 a.m. ET

Our main political concern at Urgent Agenda is always with foreign and defense policy.  As the saying goes, you can survive four years of a bad domestic policy, but four years of a bad foreign policy can be fatal.  President Bush, with all his failings, kept us safe, and he put the United States first.

But President Obama?

The first signals are troubling.  There seems to be a new concession every day, and a kind of college-level naiveté about the world.  First-class reporter Benny Avni, who is based at the UN, examines the Obama attitude toward Russia, and finds it wanting: 

QUIETLY, the Obama administration is offering Russia a tacit bargain: We'll concede to your hegemony in your immediate neighborhood - if you cooperate with the West in increasing the pressure on Iran.

I'm sure our East European allies are loving it.  You can almost hear them chanting, "Bring back Bush!"

President George W. Bush publicly criticized Moscow after it swallowed parts of pro-Western Georgia, as well as other incursions in a region that Russia calls its "near abroad." Even more significant, Bush angered Moscow by signing agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to deploy a missile-shield system near Russia's borders.

And a proud moment it was.

The Bush administration argued that such a shield is designed to protect everyone in the region...but the Russians still saw the missile-shield deployment as a threat to them.

So the Obama administration (many of whose top figures consider a missile shield a sci-fi fantasy anyway) is signaling that the program may be dropped.

It isn't a fantasy.  One of our informed readers, Will Stroock, has written an authoritative summary of our progress in missile defense for Strategy and Tactics magazine.  It's a workable system. 

The Poles, a loyal US ally, can't be happy. They fear a return to the bad old days when Moscow dominated their region. Nor could the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, have been pleased when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised similar thoughts when they met him in Washington recently.

But, hey, who are they compared to our good friends, the Russians? 

A Western diplomat stationed in central Europe told me last week that many of his colleagues are receiving new instructions to avoid confrontation with Russia over such issues as its grab last year of Georgian provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Those instructions are inspired by a new American policy, he said.

But the diplomat was skeptical that such overtures would work to turn Moscow's policies on Iran around...

..."The Russians will probably pocket whatever concession you give them and then continue to block any sanctions against Iran," the diplomat predicted.

Incredible, but diplomats of other nations are tougher on Russia than is our own government, now that it's in the hands of The One.  And we must begin to recall Mr. Obama's associations with left-wing radicals through most of his life.

The new line certainly hasn't paid off so far. Moscow has welcomed Obama's reevaluation of relations, but then turned around and maneuvered Kyrgyzstan into kicking the US military out of bases crucial to operations in Afghanistan. And, yes, Russia welcomes any rethinking of missile shield, but "our stance on the Iranian nuclear program has no elements which could be interpreted as toughening of approach," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last week.

And so a very clever bargain floated by Washington's so-called foreign policy "realists" (and adopted by an Obama administration intent on erasing Bush's idealistic "neo-con" policies) is facing a huge test. Will reality undermine the realists?

Even if it does, the in-the-tank media may spin the story in Obama's direction.  And the American people, concerned about the dwindling economy, may not care.  During the great Depression, foreign policy was the furthest thing from their minds.

February 23, 2009.      Permalink          



Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Republican governors attacked President Barack Obama’s economic policies, warning that the $787 billion stimulus package will saddle states with obligations they can’t afford.

Obama’s “short-term” thinking and deficit spending are “digging yet another hole for ourselves,” said South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican, on “Fox News Sunday.” He said he may not accept all of the $8 billion in stimulus money designated for his state. Democrats criticized that approach as insensitive.

COMMENT:  The GOP may take some short-term losses for its opposition, but in the long term, in my view, it benefits.  The stimulus plan is ridiculous, and Americans (we hope) will eventually see that.  Of course, Obama might do what his crowd does best - and try to buy off the American people with a few quick dollars.  Sadly, that might work.  It's worked before.

CORRECTION!!! - AT 9:03 A.M. ET - In our first entry this morning, on the Oscars, I reported a disturbing interview given by Kate Winslet, and slammed her.  I've now learned, through reader Fred Hill, that the interview was a satire.  I should have been more alert to that.  I regret the error and have cut the offending section out of the article. 

Urgent Agenda strives for accuracy.  We are always happy to make corrections.  Never hesitate to send them.  Our sincere apologies to Kate Winslet.

CITI IN TROUBLE - AT 8:51 A.M. ET:  From The Wall Street Journal:

Citigroup Inc. is in talks with federal officials that could result in the U.S. government substantially expanding its ownership of the struggling bank, according to people familiar with the situation.

While the discussions could fall apart, the government could wind up holding as much as 40% of Citigroup's common stock. Bank executives hope the stake will be closer to 25%, these people said.

Any such move would give federal officials far greater influence over one of the world's largest financial institutions. Citigroup has proposed the plan to its regulators. The Obama administration hasn't indicated if it supports the plan, according to people with knowledge of the talks.

COMMENT:  Citigroup used to have a slogan, "The Citi never sleeps."  No, but apparently it dies.  Citi is where I have my checking account.  Does this mean that my checks from now on will have a picture of Barack Obama?

NO STIMULUS - AT 8:03 P.M. ET:  Economist Robert Samuelson lays it on the line about Obama's stimulus package, at Real Clear Politics:

WASHINGTON -- Judged by his own standards, President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program is deeply disappointing. For weeks, Obama has described the economy in grim terms. "This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession," he said at his Feb. 9 news conference. It's "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." Given these dire warnings, you'd expect the stimulus package to focus almost exclusively on reviving the economy. It doesn't, and for that, Obama bears much of the blame.

COMMENT:  What?  You mean that "The One" isn't perfect?  The magic wand didn't work?  Who is this Samuelson?  Do we allow him to live?

PHILLY FAILURE - AT 7:40 A.M. ET:  From The New York Times:

The owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News filed for bankruptcy late Sunday night after talks aimed at restructuring their heavy debt load broke down, executives said.

The papers will continue to operate and will remain under local control, said Brian Tierney, publisher of The Inquirer and the leader of a group of local investors who bought the papers in 2006, one of several newspaper deals from that era that have gone bad as the industry’s revenues have plunged.

COMMENT:  Although we're critical of the mainstream media here, it's never fun to report the bankruptcy of a newspaper.  However, the industry needs more than a better balance sheet to survive these times.  It must, finally, examine why so many readers have left, why so many have lost confidence in the product.  Only then will newspapers be able to nurse themselves back to good health.

OSCAR - AT 7:31 A.M. ET:  I did watch the Oscars last night, with some reluctance.  I hadn't seen most of the nominated films, and the advance word on the telecast was guarded.  However, I must say that the program itself was surprisingly good.  Hugh Jackman was a disarming host, and most of the winners and presenters behaved themselves.

There were, of course, a smattering of politically profound statements.  We were informed that American suburbs of thirty years ago were prisons.  (For whom?)  And Sean Penn, winner for best actor for "Milk," told us of his joy that America had elected an "elegant" president.  Kind of rules out Lincoln and Truman, doesn't it?

The show had a foreign feel, and I'm afraid we'll have to get used to it.  Hollywood is no longer the American film industry.  It's internationalized.  It would be nice to see a movie that celebrates the greatness of America.  It would be nice to see one that celebrates the turning of Iraq from nightmare into democracy.  Old Hollywood would have done it.  New Hollywood will not.





Posted at 11:58 a.m. ET

This is really fascinating stuff - a family fight within Al Qaida.  Consider:

One of Al-Qaida's founders, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, has waged a harsh verbal attack on the terrorist organization's leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri...

...Sharif, who is serving a life sentence in a Cairo prison, recently wrote a book in which he said, "every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers."

The Al-Qaida figurehead also said called the September 11 terror attacks immoral and counterproductive.

Not bad, not bad.  A little prison time can change a man.  Sharif goes on:

"What good is it if you destroy one of your enemy's buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours? That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11."

Notice the lack of talk of "root causes" or "American policies."  Maybe some of the "scholars" we hear from regularly could get a little face time with Sharif.  He could teach them much.

Sharif also criticizes Muslims who move to the West only to perpetrate terror attacks in their adopted countries. "If they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum" wrote Sharif, then it is "not honorable" to "betray them, through killing and destruction."

I hope this gets a lot of publicity.  But what will the hard left say?

According to Reuven Paz, an expert on Islamist movements, Sharif is considered one of the leading ideologues within the Egyptian group that cultivated Jihad starting in the 1970s...

...Sharif's writings have enraged Zawahiri's followers, who claim Sharif is working for Egyptian intelligence.

Let them fight among themselves.  Sharif seems a fascinating guy.

February 22, 2009.       Permalink          


COMMON SENSE ON MISSILE DEFENSE - AT 11:12 A.M. ET:  An excellent statement on missile defense by James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation.  From The Politico:

All the talk about North Korea missile tests has folks wondering why administration officials sound so ambivalent lately about missile defense. Couple that with news of an Iranian satellite launch and reports that Iran has enough nuclear material for a "breakout" capability, leaves you really scratching your head as to why the White House is sending slow-go signals on missile defense. No one takes official statements about "technical" concerns seriously-not after all the successful test intercepts-plus the obvious; why would Russia be ranting about a system that wouldn't work? The cost concern argument makes no sense either, since the whole missile defense budget is single digits of the Pentagon budget. It's just the wrong time to sound weak on missile defense.

COMMENT:  It's the wrong time to sound weak on anything, but that's the way this administration is starting to sound. 

HILLARY OVER THE TOP - AT 10:26 A.M. ET:  From an AP story about Hillary Clinton's current travels in Asia:

In unusual public comments, she likened much of diplomacy to a high-stakes stare-down and dropped in a healthy dose of criticism for President George W. Bush and his foreign policy team. She accused them of needlessly alienating much of the world with arrogance and ignorance.

COMMENT:  Oh, that's just great, Hillary.  How about shutting up?  We have a tradition in the United States - perhaps our own secretary of state hasn't heard of it - that we don't criticize America or its government overseas.  This administration's constant attacks on President Bush are unseemly.  Criticizing him abroad is tasteless.  Maybe the secretary doesn't realize it, but Mr. Bush had an excellent relationship with Japan and South Korea.  And he did more to bring India to our side than any other president.  Further, I don't recall our having any particular image problems in Asia.

WHOOPS - AT 9:49 A.M. ET: 

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- A glitch in satellite sensors caused scientists to underestimate the extent of Arctic sea ice by 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), a California- size area, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said.

The error, due to a problem called “sensor drift,” began in early January and caused a slowly growing underestimation of sea ice extent until mid-February. That’s when “puzzled readers” alerted the NSIDC about data showing ice-covered areas as stretches of open ocean, the Boulder, Colorado-based group said on its Web site.

COMMENT:  Fellas, can we get this right?  We have a new administration that has joined the Church of the Global Warming, and yet there is story after story about errors, thoughtful dissent, and worries that the science doesn't hold up.  We're told by Church leaders that we must write large checks to save the planet.  Maybe we should nail down the facts first.

FROM SOMEONE WHO KNOWS - AT 9:45 A.M. ET:  You may know the name Debra Burlingame.  Her brother was the captain of the jetliner that struck the Pentagon on 9-11.  She has since become an advocate for victims of terror and for firmness against terrorism.  She's written a fine piece for The Washington Post, expressing concern over President Obama's approach to terrorism and terror detainees.  It begins this way:

Two weeks ago, I was among a small group of USS Cole and 9/11 victims' families who met with President Obama at the White House. Despite President Obama's assurances that the safety and security of the American people is his number one priority, I left the meeting with little confidence that the President appreciates the grave consequences of shutting down Guantanamo or the complex problems associated with adjudicating detainee cases in the federal court system.

COMMENT:  We worry here about this administration's commitment to the war on terror, a phrase, by the way, that I think is perfectly fine.  Debra Burlingame makes very sound points.  Recommended reading.

GET OUT THE CALCULATOR - AT 9:16 A.M. ET:  From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — After a string of costly bailout and stimulus measures, President Obama will set a goal this week to cut the annual deficit at least in half by the end of his term, administration officials said. The reduction would come in large part through Iraq troop withdrawals and higher taxes on the wealthy.

COMMENT:  I haven't done all the math, but, at first glance, I worry that the real issue here will be cutting the defense budget to unacceptable levels.  That's what Jimmah Carter did, and the weakness it showed helped defeat him in 1980.  We need to replace many planes and ships, and a great deal of the equipment used in Iraq.  That must be done before the nation is placed at risk.

I'D LIKE TO THANK MY MOTHER, MY FATHER, THE GOD WHO ISN'T BUSH'S GOD, MY WONDERFUL AGENT -- AT 8:56 A.M. ET:  It's Oscar night tonight.  The electric companies in California will feed all their juice to Los Angeles to power the hair dryers.  We will watch keenly as we're shown, one by one, the wonders of modern plastic surgery, none of it covered by Medicare. 

Hollywood is worried.  A lot observers are predicting the most boring Oscar ceremony ever, as the industry hands out awards to movies most people have never seen.  The TV folks are sweating because ratings may take a dive.  However, I wouldn't be shocked if ratings are respectable.  We're in the midst of a recession, and people stay home rather than go out.  TV always does well in recessions.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE - AT 8:50 A.M. ET:  It's Washington's birthday.  Do you remember Washington's birthday?  It was the thing they had, along with Lincoln's birthday, before President's day.  All of us knew that February 22nd was Washington's birthday.  We also knew who Washington was.  And his first name wasn't Denzel.  Better quiz your kids today.








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