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FRIDAY, JANUARY 30, 2009
ANOTHER HONEST MISTAKE - AT 8:40 P.M. ET: From The Washington Post:
Former senator Thomas A. Daschle, nominated to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, paid more than $100,000 in back taxes and interest this month for the use of a car and driver over the past three years, the White House said tonight.
Daschle spokeswoman Jenny Backus said that Daschle "naively" believed the car service was a "generous offer from a friend," and he discovered only last summer that it is considered reportable income.
COMMENT: I wonder if his tax adviser was Timothy Geithner. Is there one Obama appointee who isn't tainted?
DISTURBING - AT 7:28 P.M. ET: From AP:
US President Barack Obama's top intelligence adviser is denying that he used a crude term to describe Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that China claims as its own...
...But Blair, confirmed Wednesday to lead 16 US intelligence agencies, said he did use the "too-colorful phrase 'tossing a turd in the punchbowl"' during a closed meeting in 2000 to describe "a single, specific action by the Taiwanese government, certainly not Taiwan itself."
COMMENT: Once again we get a hint from an "Obama adviser" that it will be more dangerous to be a friend of the U.S. than an enemy, a throwback to an earlier, darker era. Okay, we have an adviser who insulted Taiwan, there are reports that we'll betray our East European friends by delaying their missile-defense system, and the president didn't use the word "democracy" once in his interview on Arab TV, an insult to the new, democratically elected government of Iraq. Who's next?
WHAT A FRAUD - AT 6:37 P.M. ET: From The L.A. Times:
Reporting from Tehran -- A powerful Iranian cleric warned President Obama today to stay away from the harsh rhetoric of the Bush administration in dealing with the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president now serving as the head of two important religious councils, told thousands gathered for a weekly pre-prayer political sermon in Tehran that Iran was listening closely for signs of change from Washington.
COMMENT: Another wonderful response, this time from a character often described as a "moderate" in the Western press, even though he isn't. The Iranian position can be correctly described as follows: You Americans make all the concessions, and we'll decide whether to accept them. And don't mention our nuclear program. It offends us. Your move, Mr. Obama.
YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THIS - AT 5:24 P.M. ET: Please go here.
It is a website selling inspirational Obama T-shirts. And whose website is it? CNN. Nah, there's no bias in TV news. Nothing to see here, nothing to see.
BULLETIN AT 4:10 P.M. ET: Michael Steele, the African-American former lieutenant governor of Maryland, has been elected Republican national chairman.
COMMENT: That's good news. The party now has an articulate spokesman who can appeal to voters across the board, yet maintains conservative principles.
DOW CLOSE - AT 4:04 P.M. ET: Based on preliminary figures, the Dow closed down 148, at 8001. There was some last-minute action to try to keep the index from closing below 8000 at the end of the week, which is the way "investing" is done on Wall Street today. Final figures in about an hour.
DEMS BAILING ON BAILOUT? - AT 4:01 P.M. ET: From Fox News:
An influential Senate Democrat said Friday that it's unclear whether President Obama's $819 economic stimulus bill will win enough support to pass in the Senate.
"I don't even know how many Democrats will vote for it, as it stands today," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told FOX News.
Nelson, a moderate Democrat, is famous for gathering lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in a so-called "Gang of 14" to avert a shutdown of the Senate over judicial nominations. He is seeking a similar bipartisan effort to improve the stimulus bill.
COMMENT: As we've said here before, there are moderate Democrats who want to keep their seats. Many of them will not be stampeded by the leftist wing, which wants to resurrect the 1960s.
THIS REVELATION JUST IN - AT 2:32 P.M. ET: From Reuters:
U.S. envoy Mitchell: Mideast peace process faces substantial hurdles
Just wanted to keep you up to date.
DOW DOWN - AT 1:47 P.M. ET: The Dow is down 133 to 8016.
OUTREACH OR GROVELING?
Posted at 9:28 a.m. ET:
There have been some extraordinary critiques of the budding Obama foreign policy in the last few days. We examined one by Fouad Ajami yesterday. Now our friend, Iranian activist Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, alerts us to an excellent piece by Amir Taheri, slamming the outreach approach of the new administration:
IN his "first message to the Muslim world" Tuesday, President Obama on Al-Arabiya TV invited the Islamic Republic in Iran to "unclench its fist" and accept his offer of "un conditional talks."
A few hours later...Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd of militants that no talks are possible unless the United States met a set of conditions.
He demanded a formal apology for unspecified US "crimes" against Iran and the Islamic world. The crucial condition, however, was that America should withdraw its troops from other countries, "taking them back to their own territory."
Such warmth. Such a kind response.
The contrast couldn't have been greater. Obama tried to be as conciliatory as possible - asking only for an "unclenching" of the Iranian fist - a change of style. Ahmadinejad asked for concrete US moves, notably a global military retreat that would leave the Middle East at Tehran's mercy.
When will we learn that this won't change?
Obama looked to the past rather than the future to give such platitudes a tinge of political vision. He said he wanted a return "to the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago."
But you have to know the history:
What was happening during what Obama seems to regard as the "golden age" of Carter's leadership? US diplomats were held hostage in Tehran and daily humiliated with mock executions. Soviet troops were annexing Afghanistan to the Evil Empire. Saddam Hussein was preparing to invade Iran, starting an eight-year war that claimed a million lives. Mecca was under siege by the ideological antecedents of Osama bin Laden. Syrian troops were preparing to march into Lebanon.
Other features of this "golden age": the seizure of power by mullahs in Tehran, the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the coming to power of communists in the Horn of Africa, the military coup in Turkey, the first Islamist terror attacks in Algeria, unprecedented waves of repression in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the imposition of military rule in Pakistan.
During the same period, and its immediate aftermath, dozens of Americans from many walks of life were seized as hostages and sometimes brutally murdered in several Muslim countries. The US ambassador in Sudan was murdered; the CIA station chief in Beirut abducted, taken to Tehran and killed under torture.
You know, it really was a fun time.
Then George W. Bush came.
Thanks to the transformation of America from a power guaranteeing the deadly status quo into one that supports reform and change, the region has started to experience new currents of democratization...
...For the first time, the question of democracy is top of the political agenda in virtually every Muslim state.
Bush suddenly looks awfully good.
Obama should remember that he is the president of the United States - not an impartial broker. It was unfortunate that he described himself as a bridge. For a bridge has no personality of its own and cares little about who might cross it and in which direction.
IF this was meant as the first direct contact between Obama and the Muslim world, the Al-Arabiya interview must be rated as a missed opportunity.
Obama's remarks about the Israel-Palestine issue were so trite as to merit no analysis. He said he was sending former Sen. George Mitchell to listen to all sides - as if the world has not been hearing their stories for more than six decades.
The president appeared apologetic, offering no hope for democratization and economic development. He made no mention of the economic meltdown that is creating unprecedented mass unemployment in many countries of the region.
Nor did he offer any support to democratic forces facing crucial elections in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Algeria this year.
He had nothing to say about the thousands of Iranian workers who have been thrown into prison solely because they created independent trade unions. Nor did he mention Iranian women's courageous "a million signatures campaign" or the series of student revolts that have been crushed by the mullahs with exceptional violence.
Casting himself in the role of a "bridge" and dreaming of a return to an illusionary past, Obama appeared unsure of his own identity and confused about the role that America should play in global politics. And that is bad news for those who believe that the United States should use its moral, economic and political clout in support of democratic forces throughout the world.
Well stated. Apparently, Mr. Obama is listening to the Brent Scowcroft school of "realism." It never worked before. It won't work now. We have to give the new president a chance, and hope that his policy evolves into something better, but there some discouraging signs.
January 30, 2009. Permalink
LAUGH NOW - AT 8:29 A.M. ET: A reader sent this in:
Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
A. It is money that the federal government
will send to taxpayers.
Q. Where will the government get this money?
A. From taxpayers.
Q. So the government is giving me back my own
A. No, they are borrowing it from China. Your children are expected to repay the Chinese.
Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.
Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy
A. Shut up.
COMMENT: But it's so multicultural, darlings. How can we object?
IRAN REALITY - AT 8:16 A.M. ET: The any-problem-can-be-solved-by-talking crowd is all excited about our negotiating directly with Iran. But a quote from a Wall Street Journal article on the subject should produce at least some sobriety:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said European Union nations had for years attempted to negotiate with Iran, offering trade, technology and other benefits. "We were talking and talking, but got nowhere," he said.
COMMENT: That's not only the quote of the day, it may turn into the quote of the year. The Iranian nuclear program continues, with the probability that Iran will have enough material to build a bomb this year. Negotiations? To what end? And for how long? And what constitutes success?
ET TU, GREGG? - AT 8:10 A.M. ET: From The Politico:
Senate sources say that President Barack Obama is considering New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg for the still-open Commerce secretary slot — a possibility that could give Democrats the 60-vote margin in the Senate that they weren’t able to win at the polls in November.
It’s unclear how seriously Gregg is being considered for the job...
...Still, even the hint of the possibility sparked concerns from Republican leaders, who assume that New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, would appoint a Democrat to replace Gregg. Assuming Al Franken defeats Norm Coleman in Minnesota, a new Democratic senator from New Hampshire would give Democrats a 60-seat majority –enough to overcome Republican filibusters.
COMMENT: It's inconceivable to me that any Republican would knife his party to take an often obscure Cabinet job in a Dem administration. Quick: What's the latest thing a secretary of commerce did? We hope this doesn't pan out.
THE BLOOMBERG IS OFF THE ROSE - AT 7:57 A.M. ET: From the New York Daily News:
Mayor Bloomberg's bare-bones budget for next year will slash the city work force by 23,000 and drastically increase its sales tax, officials revealed Thursday.
The plan hinges on the shaky prospect of help from the federal and state governments and from stubborn unions.
The mayor will introduce his executive budget today; it also calls for cuts in big-ticket construction projects and for city employees to cough up cash for health care, according to those briefed on the plan.
COMMENT: This has serious national implications. New York has been an enormous economic engine. It is failing. These changes make the city less attractive as a place to do business. Don't assume other American cities may benefit. It may well be foreign cities that become more attractive, creating an economic drain for this country. The Great Depression began largely in New York. Are we repeating?
THE JACKSON JIVE - AT 7:23 A.M. ET: From The Hill:
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) spent $100,000 on legal expenses one week after it became clear that he was listed in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) arrest documents as “Senate Candidate No. 5,” according to Federal Election Commission documents.
Jackson paid Chicago attorney James Montgomery $100,000 from his campaign account in one lump-sum payment on Dec. 18. The payment represents a very large amount — nearly one-tenth of what Jackson raised last cycle.
COMMENT: Why do I suspect we don't know anywhere near the whole story of the Blago affair?
FROM THE BELOVED LEADER - AT 7:09 A.M. ET: From news agencies:
Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Thursday threw his first punch at President Barack Obama after several weeks of praise for the new leader, criticizing the U.S. defense of Israel and demanding the return Guantanamo Bay military base to Cuba.
COMMENT: Some Obamans have the illusion that some kind words and a smile will change the policies of dictators. Lotsa luck.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 29, 2009
POWER PLAY - AT 10:27 P.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Samantha Power, the Harvard University professor who earned notoriety for calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a "monster" while working to elect Barack Obama president, will take a senior foreign policy job at the White House, The Associated Press has learned.
Officials familiar with the decision say Obama has tapped Power to be senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, a job that will require close contact and potential travel with Clinton, who is now secretary of state. NSC staffers often accompany the secretary of state on foreign trips.
COMMENT: Absolutely unacceptable. Power is a flake, and her relationship to national security is nonexistent. She's also an Israel hater of the first rank. We hope this will be a payoff job with no influence, but I'd be happier if this individual had no connection with the administration. The fact that Obama is putting her in the White House gives legitimate cause for worry, a lot of worry.
NO CAIR - AT 9:43 P.M. ET: From the Investigative Project on Terrorism:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has cut off contacts with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) amid mounting concern about the Muslim advocacy group's roots in a Hamas-support network, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has learned.
The decision to end contacts with CAIR was made quietly last summer as federal prosecutors prepared for a second trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), an Islamic charity accused of providing money and political support to the terrorist group Hamas, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
COMMENT: It's about time.
UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE DAY - AT 8:02 P.M. ET: From AP:
Blagojevich Says He's Saddened by Ouster
NOTE FROM A READER - AT 7:28 P.M. ET: Reader Katharine Winterer makes the following point about the Wall Street bonuses:
All in the eyes of the beholder. I defy the Democrats to show how their giving themselves a bonus in the PORKULUS bill is any different from Wall Street.
Because each won - the former the election, the latter the bailout - he thinks he deserves to have whatever he wants. In this time of recession, neither should be driving his company or country bankrupt!
COMMENT: Well put, I think.
HITTING THE STREET - AT 6:26 P.M. ET: From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — President Obama fired a warning shot at Wall Street on Thursday, branding bankers “shameful” for giving themselves $18.4 billion in bonuses as the economy was spinning out of control and the government was spending billions to bail out many of the nation’s most prominent financial firms.
COMMENT: On this the president is absolutely right. There's an old saying that there's room on Wall Street for bulls and bears, but not for pigs. These are pigs. They've looted their own companies, and thought the corrupt party would go on forever. They have nothing to do with free enterprise or real markets. Now, because of their behavior, the government may become the heaviest player in the economy, and that's a crying shame.
DOW DOWN - AT 6:21 P.M. ET: The Dow closed down 226, to 8149.
THE END - AT 6:16 P.M. ET: From Fox News:
Illinois senators stripped Rod Blagojevich of power Thursday in the final act of a political drama filled with twists and turns that will likely end Blagojevich's political career and hand the reins of state government over to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn.
Senators voted unanimously to convict Blagojevich, 59-0. The outcome was never in doubt. In fact, Quinn went to the state Capitol earlier in the day in preparation of being sworn in immediately after the vote.
COMMENT: Now we await the Blagojevich book deal, the Blagojevich talk show, and the Blagovevich movie of the week. Don't laugh. There are people thinking about that. And in Washington there sits Roland Burris, in the United States Senate, appointed by this disgraced governor to fill the seat left vacant by the president of the United States. What a commentary on Illinois politics.
MASTERS OF THE GAME - AT 5:34 P.M. ET:
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Families of two Saudi detainees who committed suicide in June 2006 while being held at Guantanamo Bay have sued the Pentagon, alleging Thursday that torture and brutal conditions at the offshore prison led the men to their deaths.
The New-York based Center for Constitutional Rights said the parents of Yassar Talal al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami are seeking unspecified damages for the ''illegal detention, torture, inhumane conditions, and ultimate deaths'' of their sons.
COMMENT: The Center for Constitutional Rights is an America-hating, red front operation, showing once more the collusion between the extreme left and Islamo-fascism. They are united by one thing - hatred for the United States. While there are descriptions of a number of people and institutions in the story, there is none for the Center, fairly typical for mainstream journalism.
MOST RIDICULOUS COMMENT OF THE DAY - AT 3:17 P.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the economy won't improve without the billions of dollars for schools in President Barack Obama's recovery plan.
COMMENT: Oh please.
GRIM - AT 3:03 P.M. ET:
Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Prospects for an economic recovery this year dimmed after reports today showed new-home sales collapsed, durable-goods orders slumped and a record number of Americans collected unemployment benefits.
“There really isn’t any hiding place in this economy,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.
COMMENT: Speed is important here because confidence must be restored quickly. One problem with the Obama stimulus package is that too much of it takes too long to take effect. See Marty Feldstein's advice in our 7:58 a.m. entry.
DOW DOWNER - AT 1:40 P.M. ET: The Dow is down 206.
DOW DOWN - AT 9:56 A.M. ET: The Dow is down 120.
EVEN OBAMA WASTES SOME TIME - AT 9:40 A.M. ET: From a Ben Smith posting at The Politico:
Carter also said he "spent a long time with President Obama" the evening before the five living presidents met at the White House January 7.
As Rosalynn Carter and David Axelrod took notes, they talked policy, he said.
"I would say he was most interested in the Middle East because I had been to that region twice in the previous year and had met with some people that others usually don’t meet with as you probably know," Carter said.
COMMENT: I love it, I love it, I love it. Rosalynn was taking notes. Why?
TAKE AWAY THEIR WORD PROCESSORS - AT 9:01 A.M. ET:
LONDON (Reuters) - Officials in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration are drafting a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing relations and opening the way for direct talks, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday.
The U.S. State Department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected last November, the report said. It was a response to a letter of congratulations sent by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after Obama's poll victory.
The letter gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Iranian administration, but instead seeks changes in its behavior, the paper said.
COMMENT: This wouldn't surprise me. The left-wing Guardian is a conduit for the more leftist members of the Obama club. The letter would, of course, shatter the morale of Iranian dissidents and freedom fighters. But that doesn't seem to be much of a concern. Welcome to "realism," the kind of realism that always blows up in our face.
OUR HEART BREAKS - AT 8:25 A.M. ET: From The Times of London:
Opec members need an oil price above $50 a barrel to make exports worthwhile, the head of the cartel said today, adding that more production cuts were possible later this year.
“We are not happy with $40 even $50 a barrel,” Abdalla Salem El-Badri, Opec Secretary General, told a panel discussing energy security at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
COMMENT: If they don't export the oil, what are they going to do with it? It doesn't make a good hot-fudge sundae.
NO LEARNIN' GOIN' ON - AT 8:12 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- States are not doing what it takes to keep good teachers and remove bad ones, a national study found.
Only Iowa and New Mexico require any evidence that public school teachers are effective before granting them tenure, according to the review released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
COMMENT: Does the term "teachers' unions" ring a bell?
SOME REAL EXPERTISE
Posted at 7:58 a.m. ET:
Conservative Harvard economist Martin Feldstein (a contradiction in terms) launches a direct frontal assault on the stimulus plan. It's always nice to read someone who actually understands the situation. Feldstein, who was chief economic adviser to Ronald Reagan, hits one bulls-eye after another in demanding that the huge package be radically altered:
In its current form, it does too little to raise national spending and employment. It would be better for the Senate to delay legislation for a month, or even two, if that's what it takes to produce a much better bill. We cannot afford an $800 billion mistake.
...the tax changes should focus on providing incentives to households and businesses to increase current spending. Why not a temporary refundable tax credit to households that purchase cars or other major consumer durables, analogous to the investment tax credit for businesses? Or a temporary tax credit for home improvements? In that way, the same total tax reduction could produce much more spending and employment.
Computerizing the medical records of every American over the next five years is desirable, but it is not a cost-effective way to create jobs. Has anyone gone through the (long) list of proposed appropriations and asked how many jobs each would create per dollar of increased national debt?
The largest proposed outlays amount to just writing unrestricted checks to state governments...
...The plan to finance health insurance premiums for the unemployed would actually increase unemployment by giving employers an incentive to lay off workers rather than pay health premiums during a time of weak demand.
Do you get the feeling the Republicans were right to reject this package?
If rapid spending on things that need to be done is a criterion of choice, the plan should include higher defense outlays, including replacing and repairing supplies and equipment, needed after five years of fighting. The military can increase its level of procurement very rapidly. Yet the proposed spending plan includes less than $5 billion for defense, only about one-half of 1 percent of the total package.
It's World War II that got us out of the Depression. No one wants war, but defense spending is a great economic stimulant. However, when the left writes a stimulus package, defense is at the end of the list. Not too popular in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.
In addition, a temporary increase in military recruiting and training would reduce unemployment directly, create a more skilled civilian workforce and expand the military reserves.
Can you imagine the reaction of the Daily Kos and the Huffington Post?
The problem with the current stimulus plan is not that it is too big but that it delivers too little extra employment and income for such a large fiscal deficit. It is worth taking the time to get it right.
Wisdom, wisdom. But will the pork-crazed Democratic congress listen? Bets anyone?
January 29, 2009. Permalink
GOP COURAGE - AT 7:34 A.M. ET: From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — Without a single Republican vote, President Obama won House approval on Wednesday for an $819 billion economic recovery plan as Congressional Democrats sought to temper their own differences over the enormous package of tax cuts and spending.
As a piece of legislation, the two-year package is among the biggest in history, reflecting a broad view in Congress that urgent fiscal help is needed for an economy in crisis, at a time when the Federal Reserve has already cut interest rates almost to zero.
COMMENT: Republicans are showing enormous courage and discipline in opposing this pork-laden plan. Polls show that the American people back the plan, but the numbers aren't strong. Only 52 percent are in favor, one week after a new president took office. If the plan works, or the in-the-tank media claims it works, the GOP can look foolish. If it doesn't work, Republicans are geniuses.
TROUBLE ALREADY - AT 7:19 A.M. ET: From The Jerusalem Post:
In a sign that the international community's position on Hamas is weakening, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would not say unequivocally Wednesday during an interview with The Jerusalem Post that the EU should stick with the three preconditions it set for talking with the Islamist group.
Solana's comments came as US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel on what Israeli officials described as a "stock-taking" mission.
COMMENT: Are you getting worried? There are signals coming out of Washington, and they don't add up to the word "firmness." Jimmah Carter has been all over TV, happier than a clam. What does he know? What has he been told by the Obama people. We make no definitive judgments, but uneasiness is growing.
MORE GENIUSES AT WORK - AT 7:08 A.M. ET: From The New York Times:
By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street — except, that is, when the bonuses arrived.
Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.
COMMENT: Every story like this is a nail in the coffin of free enterprise. What's wrong with these people? How much is enough? This isn't free enterprise. It's legal thievery. Those of us who believe in the market system should be the first to the barricades in exposing the greed and corruption that is eating at the greatest economic engine in history.