We have a new audio clip up: "Obama's First Month." You can hear it here.
NOTE TO READERS
We are rebuilding our readership after a decline - common to almost all political websites - after the election. It's a struggle, but things are firming up. It would be very helpful for our loyal readers to tell others about Urgent Agenda. Our readership is built one by one by one. So please, e-mail people, talk to people, tell them why you like us. We want to make the site very stable, and keep it growing and developing. Thanks.
MONDAY, MARCH 2, 2009
REPEAT - AT 8:25 P.M. ET: From The Politico:
AFP reports the WH is standing by Ron Kirk: "The White House predicted Monday that Ronald Kirk, President Barack Obama's nominee to be US Trade Representative would win Senate approval, despite some past errors on his tax returns..."
COMMENT: You know that button on your CD player that says REPEAT? This administration has installed the same button in its personnel office. It's the same tax-dodge story over and over and over.
CONFIRMATION - AT 8:18 P.M. ET:
March 2 (Bloomberg) -- Eastern European governments that ran political risks to support former President George W. Bush’s security policies are now concerned that his successor, Barack Obama, will backtrack on those regional commitments.
Leaders in the Czech Republic, Poland and other former communist nations face a backlash at home over their support of Bush-era initiatives, including the proposed U.S. missile- defense system and troop participation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, concern is growing in eastern Europe that it will be put on “the back burner” as the Obama administration talks about working with Russia and western Europe on issues such as Iran, says Annette Heuser, executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation, a policy group in Washington.
COMMENT: See story right below, titled "Oh no." We've been writing about this for weeks. Betraying allies is not a good thing. Of course, it depends on how The One defines an ally.
OH NO, AT 5:24 P.M. ET: From Fox News:
President Obama offered to consider scrapping plans for a missile defense shield in Europe if Russia helps rein in Iran's nuclear program, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported.
The article said Obama wrote to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to tell him Russia's aid in resolving the threat from Iran would make the missile shield plans unnecessary, according to an account from Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
A senior administration official told FOX News that Obama sent a letter to Medvedev but "we won't comment on the specifics."
COMMENT: We stress that this report is unconfirmed. If true, it's absolutely awful. That we would abandon our friends in Eastern Europe, who took the risk of siding with us against Russia on missile defense, in exchange for some vague notion of "help," is rank amateurism...or worse. We'll watch this closely.
AGAIN, AGAIN, AGAIN - AT 5:12 P.M. ET: Reader Adrian J. Murray alerts us to this, from AP:
WASHINGTON – Ron Kirk, nominated as U.S. Trade Representative in the Obama administration, owes an estimated $10,000 in back taxes from earlier in the decade and has agreed to make his payments, the Senate Finance Committee said Monday.
COMMENT: What is it with this crowd? I've never seen such poor vetting of nominees, and such inadequate nominees.
LITERARY BULLETIN AT 5:05 P.M. ET:
CHICAGO (AP) -- A publicist for Rod Blagojevich (blah-GOY'-uh-vich) says the former Illinois governor plans to write a book ''exposing the dark side of politics.''
Glenn Selig says Blagojevich signed a six-figure deal Monday.
COMMENT: The style. The language. The poetry. I can't wait. Can the Pulitzer Prize be far behind?
WEATHER REPORT - AT 4:57 P.M. ET:
(CNSNews.com) – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had to cancel an appearance Monday at a global warming rally in Washington, D.C., that was hit by a snowstorm because her flight was delayed, her office told CNSNews.com...
...A blizzard Sunday night and early Monday morning blanketed the nation’s capital with snow, causing events to be cancelled and delayed across the city.
COMMENT: Nothing to see here, nothing to see. Snowstorms are proof of global warming. Don't you know that? All the guests at the parties I go to know that.
DOW DESTRUCTION - AT 4:08 P.M. ET: Preliminary figures - the Dow closed down 300 points, to 6763. The Dow closed under 6800 for the first time since 1997.
NOT NEEDED - AT 2:26 P.M. ET: From The Politico:
On the same night he was offering the keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rush Limbaugh drew criticism from an unlikely source: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
In a little-noticed interview Saturday night, Steele dismissed Limbaugh as an “entertainer” whose show is “incendiary” and “ugly.”
COMMENT: Poor move by Steele. We don't need this mini civil war. Rush does some things well, other things not so well. While there have been over-the-top moments that have made me uneasy as well, I don't think calling him an entertainer, or using words like "incendiary" and "ugly" is at all helpful. He's not an entertainer. He comes prepared, and knows his material. Steele is trying to reach out to new constituencies, which is admirable. But he's been a bit ham-handed about it.
NOW WE FIND OUT - AT 2:15 P.M. ET: From AP:
Muslims in America have a much more positive outlook on life than their counterparts in most predominantly Muslim countries and some other Western societies, according to a poll released Monday.
COMMENT: Yes, and they can thank George Bush for that. After 9-11 he could have easily demagogued Islam, but refused to. He sure got a lot of credit for his restraint, didn't he? And the Muslims can thank the American people as well, the most fair-minded people in the world.
DOW DUMPING - AT 2:08 P.M. ET: The Dow is down 211, to 6852.
CLINTON ON IRAN - AT 10:41 A.M. ET: From AP:
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed doubt Monday that Iran would respond to the Obama administration's expressions of interest in engaging Teheran on nuclear and other issues, a senior State Department official said.
COMMENT: Utterly fascinating. Is Hillary distancing herself from the Obamans, or is common sense starting to take hold? See "Bolton on Iran," below.
DOW OUCH - AT 10:24 A.M. ET: The Dow is down 159, to 6904.
BOLTON ON IRAN
Posted at 10:21 a.m. ET
The great John Bolton, who refuses to go along with political correctness, tears into The One's policy toward Iran, which seems to be going nowhere fast:
The State Department recently named Dennis Ross, a seasoned Middle East negotiator, as a "special adviser" to the Gulf region -- a bureaucratic but important prerequisite for direct talks with Iran. Unfortunately, a new envoy and a new diplomatic tone cannot disguise the ongoing substantive collapse of U.S. policy and resolve in the teeth of the Islamic Republic's growing challenge.
Say it, John! Say it!
Tehran welcomes direct negotiations with Washington. Why not, given the enormous benefits its nuclear programs have accrued during five and a half years of negotiations with Europe? Why not, with America at the table, buy even more time to marry its impending nuclear weapons with its satellite-launching ballistic missile capability?
And we seem to be giving them that time.
We have yet to see any evidence that Barack Obama (any more than George W. Bush) knows how to stop Iran. Consider these four blunt threats to our interests that direct talks may only facilitate, not reduce.
The mainstream media generally tilts things to suggest that talks always improve prospects for progress. Not so. Bolton is right.
First, diplomacy has not and will not reduce Iran's nuclear program. Ironically, European leaders are belatedly feeling hollow in the pits of their diplomatic stomachs, now that their failed diplomacy has left us with almost no alternatives to a nuclear Iran...
...Second, dealing with Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria as though they are unrelated to Iran's broader threat is exactly backwards. Mr. Obama is again following Europe's mistaken view that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict will help to resolve other regional problems...
...Third, Iran opposes a freer, more stable Iraq, and U.S. diplomacy will not change that...
...Lastly, Iran has no incentive to "help" in Afghanistan, especially on narcotics, despite a domestic narcotics problem. Tehran's approach to Afghanistan is more subtle and complex. Whatever the desire to reduce its own drug problem, why should Iran not welcome increased sales to the decadent West and a weaker Kabul government?
The One's administration could use this kind of clear-headed thinking. Is it getting it? I doubt it.
Hordes of U.S. officials with vague and overlapping mandates -- special envoys, ambassadors, cabinet officials, and, of course, the vice president -- are racing to be in the first photo-op with Iran. But what should focus our attention is the substantive risk that Tehran will use its opportunity to employ diplomacy to undermine U.S. interests.
Iran has already made clear how it will proceed. By recently withholding visas for the U.S. women's badminton team, Iran symbolically dashed administration hopes to update "ping pong" diplomacy. Perhaps in Iran they still play badminton with a clenched fist rather than an open hand.
At some point these chickens will come home to roost, right in the Oval Office.
March 2, 2009. Permalink
BULLETIN AT 9:53 A.M. ET: THE DOW HAS JUST DROPPED BELOW 7000, DOWN 97 TO 6965.
AFGHAN UPDATE - AT 9:01 A.M. ET: Urgent Agenda has some excellent sources around the world. One is an American traveler to Afghanistan who has expert knowledge of the country. Our source makes the following points in an e-mail to us:
In retrospect, Iraq was relatively easy...there was a foundation of education, government, military competence, and nationhood, though much tainted by Saddam. Nevertheless, it simply had to be picked up and dusted off (I know I oversimplify). Afghanistan, on the other hand, has no similar background. All those things have to be built from the ground up.
Heard the results of an interesting poll. Most Afghans do not have electricity, but those who do not are NOT dissatisfied with that reality. They are happy with life as they know it. Some believe that the effort to push electricity into these communities and the resulting changes: bureaucracy, potential for abuse, intermittent service after initial installation, expectations that the service will be free (like all other govt services in Afghanistan) will cause great problems. File this under the law of unintended consequences and the fact that no good deed goes unpunished.
COMMENT: Afghanistan will be difficult. It's now Obama's war. He's declared it the good war, the one worthy of being won. So give us a strategy.
DEM DISSENT - AT 8:52 A.M. ET: Not everything is happy in the land of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, as The Washington Times notes:
Senate Democrats are breaking with President Obama over his plan for sweeping new climate-change laws that he says will rake in billions of dollars to help offset massive budget deficits.
The dissenters, mostly Democrats from Rust Belt states likely to be hit hardest by the proposed environmental rules, question the economic impact of the program that would cap carbon-dioxide emissions and then sell to businesses the right to emit that carbon dioxide.
COMMENT: What? You mean not all Democrats come from Manhattan and Beverly Hills? You mean they don't all have private jets? They don't go to meetings in Aspen?
What kind of people are these? Do we have to listen to them?
WALL STREET FORECAST - AT 8:16 A.M. ET: From The New York Times:
PARIS — Financial shares led stocks lower in Europe and Asia Monday, and Wall Street appeared headed for a decline amid concern for the precarious health of American International Group and Citigroup.
COMMENT: The Dow is hovering just above 7000. If it goes into the 6000's, another psychological barrier will have been broken. Psychology is a substantial part of the economic story. What people feel will determine what they'll do, and what they'll spend.
THE FREEMAN CASE - AT 7:37 A.M. ET: The media disgrace continues. There is virtually no reporting on the appointment of Charles Freeman Jr. to head the National Intelligence Council, which supervises the preparation of the National Intelligence Estimates. Urgent Agenda readers know that Freeman is a puppet of the Saudi regime, a man who lavishes praise on Arab dictators, and someone who expressed open, written approval of the Tiananmen Square massacre. It is a sickening appointment, and yet there is no press interest. The insensitivity of the mainstream media to the very concept of democracy is revolting.
Fortunately, two Republican congressmen, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and GOP whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, are demanding that the inspector general of the Office of the Director for National Intelligence investigate Freeman's associations. American Thinker asks this question:
Another question might be: how could the President think that assigning a key intelligence post to someone whose prejudices are so extreme that they have convoluted history, who excuses enemies of the U.S., and who condemns its friends would be able to provide the unvarnished, unbiased information that the nation needs for its security?
COMMENT: Remember when so-called "liberals" asked questions like that? No more.
YOU MEAN WE HAVE TO DO STUFF? - AT 7:16 A.M. ET: Shocked, shocked are the Obamans that governing is different from running for office. Even the technology is different, as the Washington Post reports:
The team that ran the most technologically advanced presidential campaign in modern history is finding it difficult to adapt that model to government. WhiteHouse.gov, envisioned as the primary vehicle for President Obama to communicate with the online masses, has been overwhelmed by challenges that staffers did not foresee and technological problems they have yet to solve...
...Beyond the technological upgrades needed to enable text broadcasts, there are security and privacy rules to sort out involving the collection of cellphone numbers, according to Obama aides, who acknowledge being caught off guard by the strictures of government bureaucracy.
COMMENT: The strictures of government bureaucracy? This is what they're complaining about? They're part of the biggest expansion of government bureaucracy in modern history, and they're whining already? Welcome to reality, guys. You're not in the Ivy League anymore.
OBAMA'S NUMBERS - AT 6:50 A.M. ET: It's clearly time to pay more attention to the president's poll numbers. We don't believe here that presidents should act according to polls, but the surveys do give us the trends in public opinion.
Obama's numbers are down, according to Rasmussen's report yesterday. "Overall, 58% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance so far while 40% disapprove." While those are thoroughly respectable numbers, they are less than great, and the downward trend won't amuse the White House. By comparison, the numbers the day after inauguration were 65% and 30.
COMMENT: The public isn't giving Obama much of a honeymoon. You can't use the word "crisis" as often as the president does, and expect the electorate to sit back and relax.
SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2009
AGAIN - AT 4:14 P.M. ET: From the New York Daily News:
The man who is President Obama's newly minted urban czar pocketed thousands of dollars in campaign cash from city developers whose projects he approved or funded with taxpayers' money, a Daily News probe found.
Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion often received contributions just before or after he sponsored money for projects or approved important zoning changes, records show.
Most donations were organized and well-timed.
COMMENT: Have you ever seen an administration where the vetting was so poor? Now, what will happen to this appointment? Chances are, it will go through with no problem, and that is the shame. This is hardly change we can believe in, or any change at all.
Posted at 11:22 a.m. ET
One of our favorite writers here is Michael Barone, who probably knows more about American politics than anyone else, and has an ability to cut through the college-boy haze that gets thrown up by the mainstream media. Barone writes of something that has bothered many of us - this new administration's indifference to human rights, something that has increasingly characterized "liberal" movements since the 1960s.
On the last day of her trip to East Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke briefly of the place of human rights in American policy toward China. "Our pressing on those issues" -- issues she didn't identify any more fully -- "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis."
Cries of dismay quickly came forth from Amnesty International USA, New Students for a Free Tibet and Freedom House. Has the United States given up on championing human rights and democracy altogether?
Not good, not good.
...for anyone with knowledge of American foreign policy over the last four decades, Clinton's remarks were jarring. It is one thing not to press a tyranny very hard on human rights; it is another thing to come out and say you're not going to raise the issue at all. It is a kind of unilateral moral disarmament.
Who is at fault?
She is not the only one. On this as on other matters, she is following the lead of the man who beat her for the Democratic nomination. In his inaugural speech, Barack Obama made only the most passing mention of human rights. In his Feb. 26 speech to Congress, he devoted just 7 percent of his words to foreign and defense policy, and made just one mention of freedom.
That one mention is more than his usual number. And...
He is reportedly poised to name as head of the National Intelligence Council a man who has endorsed China's 1989 suppression of pro-democracy students at Tiananmen Square. He has noted with cold indifference the success of the provincial elections in Iraq.
That naming - the man is Charles Freeman Jr. - has already occurred.
All of which brings to mind the report of a conservative blogger who watched George W. Bush's 2005 inaugural speech with a group of liberals. Every time Bush called for spreading freedom and democracy around the world, the crowd guffawed and groaned and jeered.
I'm afraid that's what we're seeing.
Beneath this stated contempt is, I think, something in the nature of secret guilt. Or rather, anger at the notion that Bush had stolen the issues of human rights and democracy from the liberals.
Excellent point. I'm glad someone made it.
The desire to oppose the Iraq war root and branch, to denounce every aspect of it, imposed a duty to dismiss as laughable Bush's stated objective -- set out eloquently before the decision to take military action as well as after it -- of advancing democracy in the Middle East.
It's quite a turnaround. It was liberals who complained that the United States sided with too many tyrannies in the Cold War and who (in the person of Henry Jackson) insisted on holding up Soviet trade deals to aid those persecuted by the Soviet Union.
Those days are long gone.
Perhaps someone should suggest that a stony indifference to the freedom of others is not a very liberal -- not a very generous, not a very attractive -- thing.
Wonderfully stated. Bush Derangement Syndrome is still alive and well in the liberal establishment. Ironically, it was 47 years ago when a liberal president, John F. Kennedy, committed this country to pay any price in defense of freedom. Today, Kennedy would be denounced as a militaristic neocon, and couldn't come close to getting his party's nomination.
March 1, 2009. Permalink
IT'S WAKE-UP TIME - AT 10:17 A.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States believes Iran has obtained enough nuclear material to make a bomb, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said on Sunday.
"We think they do, quite frankly," Mullen said on CNN's "State of the Union" program when asked whether Iran has enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
COMMENT: Just great, isn't it? Nothing that any nation or group of nations has done thus far has slowed the Iranians a bit. Yet, we're now set to embark on "new" negotiations. About what? What is our strategy? It's all been kept so vague, as the Iranians move forward.
PROGRESS? WE HOPE SO - AT 9:59 A.M. ET: From comments by Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, regarding Hillary Clinton's meeting this Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov:
Fried said that although the administration is interested in improving relations with Russia, Lavrov will be reminded that the U.S. does not accept the Russian argument that it has a sphere of influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe that gives Moscow special say on issues like missile defense.
The administration's interest in engaging Russia is tempered by ''cautionary notes,'' Fried said. That includes a concern that Moscow has gone too far in flexing its muscles in places such as the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where Russian troops fought a brief war last summer, and in opposing the NATO membership aspirations of countries including Ukraine, a a former Soviet republic on Russia's border.
COMMENT: So far, so good, although that will outrage the Daily Kos crowd and the fringe groups that helped put Obama in power. Question: What about missile defense? Do we cave, or do we stand with the nations of Eastern Europe who joined with us in that project?
MR. NEW WAY COMES TO TOWN - AT 9:07 A.M. ET: From the Politico:
President Barack Obama is beginning the salesmanship of his far-reaching $3.6 trillion budget with a populist blast at powerful interests he says will fight it – all but challenging his opponents to bring it on.
“I know these steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they’re gearing up for a fight as we speak,” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday.
“My message to them is this: So am I.”
COMMENT: Yeah, we saw in the stimulus package just how opposed to "powerful interests" this president is. Powerful interests wrote that bill, in an almost classic, textbook example of the old way of doing business. Okay, Mr. Obama, put your money where your mouth is: Show is your "new" way of doing business and how it will actually serve this country.
Oh, as an example of the "new" way, we had, just a few days ago, the appointment of a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, a man who also praised the slaughter of Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square, as head of the National Intelligence Council. More on that tomorrow. Bring back the old way.
ETHICS ON PARADE - AT 8:50 A.M. ET: From The Washington Times:
Under President Obama's pledge to exclude registered lobbyists from the government payroll, two top contenders for an important food-safety post at the Agriculture Department will need waivers to win the job since both are lobbyists who sought to influence USDA officials.
Barbara J. Masters, a longtime USDA employee and now a senior policy adviser at a Washington law firm, and Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are the leading candidates to head the department's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), whose mission is to ensure that the nation's supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe.
COMMENT: Pay no attention. Pay absolutely no attention. You see, these are special people. We cannot do without them. That lobbyist rule - it really applied to evil people, the kind who worked for BUSH (!!). No ethics problems here.
HOW CHIC - AT 8:21 A.M. ET: From The New York Times:
Until recently, the idea that the world’s most powerful nations might come together to tackle global warming seemed an environmentalist’s pipe dream...
...But within weeks of taking office, President Obama has radically shifted the global equation, placing the United States at the forefront of the international climate effort and raising hopes that an effective international accord might be possible.
COMMENT: But, of course, no questions will be permitted about the "science" underlying the global-warming panic. Princeton physics professor William Happer smashed that "science" in recent testimony before the U.S. Senate:
"The climate is warming and CO2 is increasing. Doesn't this prove that CO2 is causing global warming through the greenhouse effect? No, the current warming period began about 1800 at the end of the little ice age, long before there was an appreciable increase of CO2. There have been similar and even larger warmings several times in the 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age. These earlier warmings clearly had nothing to do with the combustion of fossil fuels. The current warming also seems to be due mostly to natural causes, not to increasing levels of carbon dioxide. Over the past ten years there has been no global warming, and in fact a slight cooling. This is not at all what was predicted by the IPCC models."
We wonder what will happen to Happer now. Is there a modern equivalent to being burned at the stake? The man must not be permitted to speak again.