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BEYOND SICK - AT 6:21 P.M. ET:  From AFP:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is proposing a "truth commission" to investigate abuses of detainees, politically inspired moves at the Justice Department, and whole range of decisions made during the Bush administration.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the primary goal of the commission would be to learn the truth rather than prosecute former officials, but said the inquiry should reach far beyond misdeeds at the Justice Department under Bush to include matters of Iraq prewar intelligence and the Defense Department.

Leahy outlined his suggestion for a "truth and reconciliation" commission during a speech at Georgetown University Monday.

"I'm doing this not to humiliate people or punish people but to get the truth out," he said.

The panel he envisions would be modeled after one that investigated the apartheid regime in South Africa. It would have subpoena power but would not bring criminal charges, he said.

COMMENT:  This is just vulgar.  Comparing President Bush's administration, which protected America at home and expanded democracy abroad, to apartheid South Africa, shows just how warped the left wing of the Democratic Party has become.  You would think we were never attacked on 9-11.  But in the minds of these people, we never were.  We were simply punished for our own misdeeds.

THEY NEVER ASKED ME - AT 4:49 P.M. ET:  Real Clear Politics is now posting regular surveys on presidential job approval.  Today's post shows CNN giving Mr. Obama a 76% approval rating.


The closest is Pew Research and Gallup at 64%. CBS is at 62, Rasmussen at 61.

Given the love fest I see at CNN (note our 3:42 p.m. post, below), maybe some of the love is being felt by the pollsters.

ERIC HOLDER, WHAT DO YOU SAY? - AT 4:10 P.M. ET:  Reader Jim Meyer alerts us to this.  From The Washington Times:

An Arizona man who has waged a 10-year campaign to stop a flood of illegal immigrants from crossing his property is being sued by 16 Mexican nationals who accuse him of conspiring to violate their civil rights when he stopped them at gunpoint on his ranch on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Roger Barnett, 64, began rounding up illegal immigrants in 1998 and turning them over to the U.S. Border Patrol, he said, after they destroyed his property, killed his calves and broke into his home.

COMMENT:  Maybe someone should ask our new attorney general for his legal opinion on the case.  Don't hold your breath.


I was monitoring the TV news outlets a while ago, as I do every day, and saw a remarkable contrast.  This is what I saw: 

On CNN the anchorwoman and a reporter were doing a gaga report on the president's impending visit to Fort Meyer, Florida, breathlessly telling us how people have been sleeping in line for days just to get tickets to his town-hall meeting.  Replace Obama with the name of some rap guy and the report could have been run word for word.

I clicked over to CSPAN, and Senator John McCain, the man who should have won, was giving the most thoughtful speech on the stimulus package.  He was asking why an amendment that would have reduced spending in the package if the economy improved was voted down.  He concluded that this package will now mandate permanent spending, a catastrophe for our children and grandchildren, who will pay the bill.

Many more people saw the breathless CNN reporters than saw Senator McCain.  That's the regrettable thing here.


Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC may have to be forced into bankruptcy by the U.S. government to assure repayment of $17.4 billion in federal bailout loans, a course of action the automakers claim would destroy them.

U.S. taxpayers currently take a backseat to prior creditors, including Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., according to loan agreements posted on the U.S. Treasury’s Web site. The government has hired a law firm to help establish its place at the front of the line for repayment, two people involved in the work said last week.

COMMENT:  This is a ticking bomb.  Watch it carefully.  This is what happens when companies have to depend on the government.



Posted at 10:04 a.m. ET

I recall speaking with my mother on the day of the Challenger disaster in 1986.  It was January 28th, and President Reagan was scheduled to make his State of the Union address that evening.  Would the president deliver the speech, or cancel?  My mother said, "He knows what to do."  My mother was a lifelong FDR Democrat.  I don't think she ever voted for a Republican.  But I will always remember the confidence in her voice as she said of Reagan, "He knows what to do."

That is trust.

It is the greatest mantle a president can wear.  The American people must trust their president.  They are willing to forgive all manner of policy differences, as they did with Reagan, as long as they trust him to do the right thing in a crisis, and believe that he has the competence, character, and emotional stability to do it.

That is why I am growing so concerned about President Obama.  Do you get the sense that something is wrong?  Do you sense that it extends beyond policy and goes to the character and essence of the man?  Are you getting the feeling, in these first tests of his presidency, that he is weak and indecisive?  That he wanted to be president simply to be president?  That he cannot - and this is terribly important - stand up under pressure?  Do you sometimes fear that, underneath the cool, there's a tumultuous, angry man? 

The president's first days have not been good.  He seems to lack that style of leadership that came so naturally to Ronald Reagan and to others who filled the office of president, who defined it.  Whatever agenda Obama may have had on inauguration day seems to have been cast aside by his own party's congressional leadership, with virtually no protest from the White House.  Whatever foreign policy plans he dreamed of seem to have been dismissed already by other nations.  He has failed to seize the moment.  Multitudes who expected to be set on fire have felt nothing but a mildly warm glow.  Is this the president, or is it simply Barack Obama, the fine speaker who talked his way past the interview and got the job?

He has not yet faced his first foreign crisis.  Based on what we've seen so far, I dread the moment.

February 9, 2009.      Permalink          



Posted at 8:58 a.m. ET

One of the main arguments used by John F. Kennedy in his 1960 campaign was that there was a "missile gap" separating the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., and that we were at the wrong end of it.  It later turned out not to be true, but it certainly was effective during the campaign in placing Kennedy squarely in the hawk camp.

Not so with Barack Obama, and here again the issue is missiles.  During his campaign Obama raised questions about America's missile-defense program, and he certainly wasn't suggesting that it be strengthened.  Now he must face the issue as president, and the Wall Street Journal is not encouraged by the signs thus far:

Iran's launch last week of a satellite using a homegrown rocket is another reminder of why Europe needs a missile defense -- and needs to start building it now. Combine Iran's improving missile technology with its nuclear aspirations, and it's a lethal mix. This is especially timely given the debate inside the Obama Administration over whether to walk away from the U.S. promise to provide a defense shield for our European allies.

The term "walk away" is not meant as a compliment.  The Journal notes Iran's progress in missile and nuclear technology.

That's why the Bush Administration pushed forward with a Europe-wide missile defense system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic and built over the next six years. It's also why every NATO country has endorsed the U.S.-led effort...

...The question now is whether the Obama Administration will stand by its predecessor's promise or, as is widely anticipated, suspend the European program. On the campaign trail, Barack Obama suggested missile defense was either ineffective or too expensive, or both.

What if we suspended the program?

Suspending the program would have serious consequences. It would send a signal of American weakness to Iran, which the Obama Administration says it wishes to engage. If the mullahs watch the U.S. back down on confronting its missile threat, who could blame them for assuming it will also back down over its nuclear aspirations?

That is absolutely correct.  Enemies might not have to do much to the West if we do it to ourselves.

A suspension would also send a message of American irresolution to Russia, which opposes deploying the antimissile system in countries it considers part of its sphere of influence.


Hillary Clinton's State Department may hope to get more Russian cooperation against Iran in return for disavowing its commitment to Europe. But that's not worth the message it sends about the U.S. willingness to cave in the face of Russian intimidation. Russia may be prepared to cooperate on a modest scale on Iran -- but only if the U.S. forgoes the defense of Europe. That's no bargain.

It's not even close to a bargain.

The biggest fallout of a suspension would be among America's allies in Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic agreed at some political risk to host missile interceptors and a radar. If the U.S. reneges now, these newly free countries will have reason to doubt that they can trust any U.S. security commitments. Other NATO nations are also watching to see if the U.S. will remain a reliable partner against Russia.

There used to be a cynical saying that held that the worst thing you can be in this world is a friend of the United States...that we too often undercut our friends.  We hope that saying doesn't make a comeback.

Friend and foe alike are trying to take the measure of Mr. Obama, and to test him. Mr. Obama made the nurturing of U.S. alliances a major campaign theme, and, along with trade, the missile defense pact with Europe is the first test of whether he meant it.

We'll watch and report.

February 9, 2009.      Permalink          

QUOTE OF THE DAY, THUS FAR - AT 8:04 A.M.   From Michael Rubin, Weekly Standard, via Middle East Forum:

While the press paints George W. Bush as hostile to diplomacy and applauds the return of Bill Clinton's diplomatic team under his wife's leadership, it is ironic that the outgoing administration engaged Iran more than any U.S. presidency since Carter -- directing senior diplomats to hold more than two dozen meetings with their Iranian counterparts. Yet, after 30 years, Iran remains as intractable a problem as ever. Every new U.S. president has sought a new beginning with Iran, but whenever a president assumes the fault for our poor relationship lies with his predecessor more than with authorities in Tehran, the United States gets burned.

COMMENT:  That's another quote that Mr. Obama should have taped to his Oval Office desk.

AMERICA'S YOUNG - AT 7:43 A.M. ET:  We highly recommend an op-ed piece in today's New York Times by a Yale law graduate who went back to campus to teach.  He reports:

I recently taught a course on the obligations of citizenship at Yale, where I also spent three years as a law student. If my university holds some prejudice against military service, its students, in my experience, don’t seem to.

The student-run Yale Political Union recently approved a resolution to invite R.O.T.C. back on campus. Several pro-military organizations have sprung up, including the Semper Fi Society, which helps undergraduates become Marine Corps officers.

COMMENT:  Each generation of elders wonders how its young will do in moments of national emergency.  This is an encouraging report.  The battle is far from won on our generally leftist college campuses, but maybe we're securing a few beachheads.

HAMAS LOSING GROUND - AT 7:18 A.M. ET:  A poll taken by a Palestinian survey group shows Hamas losing support among Palestinians.  From The Jerusalem Post:

The poll, conducted by the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and published last week, also found that the popularity of Fatah among Palestinians now exceeds the popularity of Hamas, in contrast to a November 2008 poll conducted well before Israel's military operation.

Today, Hamas is supported by only 27.8% of the population in the Gaza Strip, compared to 51.5% in November, said Dr. Nabil Kukali, founder and general director of the PCPO.

Fatah's popularity in the Hamas-controlled coastal territory lies at 42.5%, compared to 31.4% in November.

COMMENT:  Well, that's a bit of good news.  Maybe some Palestinians are coming to their senses.  Please remember that Israel votes tomorrow, and will soon have a new government.  The intriguing question, though, is not Israeli or Palestinian policy, but American policy.  The president's initial steps, having his first presidential interview with an Arab broadcaster, and groveling to the Muslim world during that session, give cause for concern. 

P.R. IS NOT POLICY - AT 7:10 A.M. ET: 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will face a barrage of questions from ordinary Americans and skeptical reporters on his plans to reinvigorate the economy with a massive stimulus bill and additional billions in bailout money for the financial markets.

Two trips to cities hurting under the economic meltdown and a prime-time news conference are signs that Obama and his advisers are worried about a looming Senate vote on the stimulus bill, which failed to gather meaningful Republican support during rare weekend debate. The question-and-answer sessions will allow Obama to go directly to voters for grass-roots backing of his plans.

COMMENT:  A classic patch job.  Had the legislative work been done correctly in the first place, this magical sales tour wouldn't be necessary.  The president lost control of the stimulus package and depended on the Democratic congressional leadership, whose public image is marginally better than Al Qaeda's.  Key point:  Will the "cool" president be able to keep his cool when questioned repeatedly? 




OBAMA DOWN - AT 9:07 P.M. ET: 
Rasmussen reports continued erosion in support for President Obama:

Overall, 59% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance so far while 39% disapprove. Today’s results mark the first time that Obama’s overall rating has fallen below 60% as either President-elect or President.

COMMENT:  It seems to me that what this shows is that Americans are following the stimulus debate closely.  They are far better informed than many in "elite" circles believe.  Also, I suspect that Mr. Obama's petulant performance before Democrats on Thursday evening hurt him.  And, of course, the continued ethical problems of some of his appointees are hardly advertisements for "change we can believe in." 

OUR SCHOLARS AT WORK - AT 4:23 P.M. ET:  Reader Jim Meyer alerts us to this quote from a Politico article, showing us exactly how the system in Washington works.  Pressure and threats.  Pressure and threats.  The culprits this time are "educators": 

The 3.2-million-member National Education Association, one of the biggest union backers of Democrats, has sent a letter to Senate Democrats threatening to lower their rating with the group if they vote against the original level of school aid funding.

"We strongly urge your opposition to the Nelson-Collins amendment to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that would cut funding allocated for education. Votes associated with this issue will be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress," wrote NEA execs Diane Shust and Randall Moody.

COMMENT:  Remember, it's all for the kids, all for the kids.  Oh, and for the moms.


Iran's former reformist president declared Sunday that he will run for president again in the country's upcoming elections, posing a serious challenge to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

There had been speculation for months that Mohammed Khatami would seek the presidency in the June 12 vote. The 65-year-old popular reformist is a powerful counterpoint to Ahmadinejad, whose mixture of Western defiance and fiery nationalism sharply contrasts Khatami's tempered tones and appeals for global dialogue.

COMMENT:  Khatami is a "reformist" compared to Ahmadinejad like Goering was a conformist compared to Hitler.  These adjectives lose their meaning in a theocracy like Iran's.  Also, Khatami may not be allowed to run by the Guardian Council, which controls the elections.  If he is permitted to run, and he wins, he could be more dangerous than the heavy-handed Ahmadinejad, for Khatami can put on his "moderate" mask and still forge ahead with the country's nuclear program.



Posted at 12:25 p.m. ET

Critics of former President Bush often assure us that they regard Afghanistan as the "good war," the one we should be fighting.  President Obama said that, in effect, during his campaign, pledging to devote more resources to the Afghanistan instead of the "bad" war in Iraq.

Not so fast.

There are some signs that the administration, and certainly the left wing of the Democratic Party, might be having some revised thoughts.

First, an American traveler to the region, an Urgent Agenda reader, comments on the Russian pressure that caused the recent closing of an American air base in Kyrgyzstan, a base critical to supplying our forces in Afghanistan:

The Russian effort to close the Manas Air Base comes at a particularly interesting time:

1.  Their push to close Manas comes so soon after Obama taking power that it seems a move to test his resolve, especially since...

2. ...we are right on the cusp of a major expansion of forces in Afghanistan, a time when we will need all the points of entry we can get.

The Pentagon is airily dismissing Manas as insignificant, and of course we will figure out a way around its closing if we must, but I think our quiet acquiescence to the Russian strongarming will be noted for the future by Putin and the boys.

Based on his rhetoric so far, on what basis will Obama say "this far and no farther?"  Where do our interests lie, other than in assuring others that we
have the best of intentions?

Also, The Times of London is reporting that President Obama is balking at increasing American strength in Afghanistan:

PRESIDENT Barack Obama has demanded that American defence chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge.

There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy.

Concern?  Or a way to wriggle out of the thing?  That is the question.

The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in “the tank”, the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: “What’s the endgame?” and did not receive a convincing answer.

But the chief of Central Command is General David Petraeus.  It's inconceivable that he hasn't thought this through, and developed a strategy.  That's his strength. 

Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama’s “Vietnam quagmire."

Well, there's the old rhetoric again.  We heard that in the first days of the Iraq war as well.

This story is developing, but we're seeing signs that the Democratic left, always opposed to Iraq, may want out of Afghanistan, too.  The ball is in the president's court.

February 8, 2009.      Permalink          

MOSCOW MUM - AT 11:25 A.M. ET: 

MUNICH (AP) -- Russia sees no need for an immediate response to U.S. overtures to improve relations, the deputy prime minister said Sunday after a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.

COMMENT:  How nice of them.  And the Iranians aren't rushing to the microphones either.  So much for the new atmosphere.  Are you listening, Mr. President?

MELANIE UNMELLOWED - AT 11:01 A.M. ET - From London's Spectator:  Melanie Phillips is a passionate British writer who sees the world rather clearly, and holds nothing back.  She's written an absolute broadside against the Obama administration, which begins this way:

President Obama has had, by general consent, a torrid First Fortnight. To put it another way, it has taken precisely two weeks for the illusion that brought him to power to be exposed for the nonsense that it so obviously was. The transformational candidate who was going to sweep away pork-barrel politics, lobbyists and corruption has been up to his neck in sleaze...

She has difficulty with the man.  Her piece ends this way:

Tax cheats, pork-barrel politics, ancillary child abuse, incompetence, chaos, treachery and infantilism. America – what have you done?!

COMMENT:  Melanie has not been invited to write for the Daily Kos.  The stuff in between those two quotes is just as juicy.  If you want a little visceral entertainment, click on the link.

NOTHING FOR DEFENSE - AT 10:32 A.M. ET:  From The Washington Post:

In all the talk of economic stimulus in the White House and on Capitol Hill, one element has been conspicuously absent: defense programs. Yet including $20 billion to $25 billion per year of increased defense spending in the stimulus -- a tiny amount in a total package of hundreds of billions -- would be both smart politics and sound policy.

COMMENT:  This is an excellent piece, and touches on a mystery.  Marty Feldstein, the great conservative economist, made the same point last week:  Defense spending is one of the greatest stimulants this economy can have.  The spending is done quickly.  The assembly lines already exist.  The military knows what it wants, and most sane people agree that a great deal of worn-out equipment must be replaced.  So why is there no defense spending in the stimulus package?  That's the mystery, but probably not too deep a mystery.  Just look at the makeup of the House Democratic caucus.  It tilts heavily to the left, with some members openly hostile to American defense.  In all probability, and this is informed speculation, there's no defense spending in the package because it offends the sensibilities of the fashionable left, which controls much of the Democratic Party.

FROM BRITAIN, WATCH OUT! - AT 9:22 A.M. ET:  From the U.K.'s Telegraph:

Barack Obama has been warned by the CIA that British Islamist extremists are the greatest threat to US homeland security.

American spy chiefs have told the President that the CIA has launched a vast spying operation in the UK to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks being launched from Britain.

They believe that a British-born Pakistani extremist entering the US under the visa waiver programme is the most likely source of another terrorist spectacular on American soil.

COMMENT:  One of the first rules of intelligence work is that the plots you hear about never come off.  This story is important, but I hope we're not closing our eyes to threats from elsewhere, including Latin America, where ties between Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and the Iranian regime are growing.  Giving the porousness of our southern border, the possibility of terrorist infiltration should never be discounted.

CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN?  I'M NOT SURE - AT 9:01 A.M. ET:  From The Washington Post:

President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.

There has been a consistent trend since the start of this administration to center more power in the White House.  James L. Jones is the national security adviser.

Jones, a retired Marine general, made it clear that he will run the process and be the primary conduit of national security advice to Obama, eliminating the "back channels" that at times in the Bush administration allowed Cabinet secretaries and the vice president's office to unilaterally influence and make policy out of view of the others.

COMMENT:  Thanks, Washington Post, for the editorial within a news story.  But shouldn't the president, and not the national security adviser, decide what information he wishes to receive?  And by what logic is the vice president's office a "back channel"?  This is a very strange story with potentially large implications.  It looks to me like a bureaucratic coup by Jones, with the potential for restricting, rather than expanding, the president's choices.  The president appears to have a passive role here, an image that has disturbed us in the last two weeks.


MUNICH (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden was there along with a senior Iranian official -- and at first glance, that's about all that can be said for the first public opportunity to make good on President Barack Obama's proffered hand to Tehran.

Negative feelings at the Munich Security Conference seemed to outweigh the Obama administration's recent positive messages on when -- or if -- eye-to-eye talks with Iran could begin.

The United States, while opening the possibility of direct talks, has not relented on its demands that Tehran resolve international concerns over its nuclear program and its alleged support of terrorists.

COMMENT:  This report pretty much sums up most the reports I've read.  However, policies don't necessarily remain frozen.  We have to watch Obama's foreign policy develop day by day to see if he's consistent, or if he caves under pressure.  Apparently the Iranians object to our carrot-and-stick approach, feeling it's coarse.  But they have created that issue for themselves through their behavior, and show no signs of changing that behavior.




"What you see is news.  What you know is background.  What you feel is opinion."
    - Lester Markel, late Sunday editor
      of The New York Times.



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