"The left needs two things to survive. It needs mediocrity, and it needs dependence. It nurtures mediocrity in the public schools and the universities. It nurtures dependence through its empire of government programs. A nation that embraces mediocrity and dependence betrays itself, and can only fade away, wondering all the time what might have been."
- Urgent Agenda
CHANGE WE CAN'T BELIEVE IN - AT 7:16 P.M. ET: 'Tis a new day in Washington, with purity and goodness all around, and not a thought about profit or advantage. Oh yez, oh yez. From The Washington Times:
Democratic lawmakers who spent much of the Bush administration blasting officials for letting energy lobbyists write national policy have turned to a coalition of business and environmental groups to help draft their own sweeping climate bill.
And one little-noticed provision of the draft bill would give one of the coalition's co-founders a lucrative exemption on a coal-fired project it is building.
Such trivia, such trivia.
The exemption would save Duke Energy -- along with other firms now building new coal power plants -- from having to spend millions of dollars outfitting its Cliffside, N.C., power plant currently under construction with "clean coal" technology.
Just a little fine print, folks. Just some fine print. Nothing to see.
SHOCKED, SHOCKED, THAT THIS IS GOING ON - AT 5:23 P.M. ET: Big frauds from little acorns grow:
Nevada authorities are accusing the political advocacy group ACORN and two former employees of illegally paying canvassers to sign up new voters last year.
Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto filed charges Monday alleging the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now had a handbook and policies requiring employees in Las Vegas to sign up 20 new voters per day or be fired.
Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller and Masto say that's voter registration fraud, and it violates state law banning quotas for registering new voters.
COMMENT: Acorn gets some payments under the Democrats' stimulus package. Well, you do need money to pay defense lawyers, so I guess it's okay.
MORE ON PAKISTANI NUKES - AT 4:31 P.M. ET: We noted earlier today a New York Times report on apprehension in Washington over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Now, possibly as a response to that
Times piece, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is out with one of those "on the one hand, on the other hand" statements on the subject:
WASHINGTON — Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he was comfortable that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were secure, but that he was “gravely concerned” about the progress the Taliban had made inside both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In a news briefing at the Pentagon, Admiral Mullen offered a mixed assessment about security in the region in advance of three-way meetings this week between President Obama and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
Admiral Mullen, who was in the region last week, said that he did not think for now that the United States had to worry that militants would get hold of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. “We all recognize, obviously, the worst downside with respect to Pakistan is that those nuclear weapons come under the control of terrorists,” Admiral Mullen said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t see that in any way imminent whatsoever at this particular point in time.”
COMMENT: No problem now. No crisis imminent. No issue at this particular point in time.
JEB BUSH BACK IN ACTION - AT 9:40 A.M. ET: Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida is back in political action, lending his weight to getting the GOP back in fighting shape:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it's time for the Republican Party to give up its "nostalgia" for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election.
"You can't beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don't like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that," Mr. Bush said.
The former president's brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama's message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.
"So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it's great, but it doesn't draw people toward your cause," Mr. Bush said.
COMMENT: There's some wisdom in what Jeb is saying. Ronald Reagan always looked forward ("it's morning in America"), not back. We have to remember that Americans 20 and under were born after Reagan left office, and those under, say, 30, probably don't recall him at all.
At the same time, you can't turn off the middle-aged and older voters who are part of the GOP base. It's a careful balancing act.
As for Jeb running in 2012, I don't know. The Bush brand has been unfairly damaged by awful press reporting and the recent president's own failings in explaining himself and defending himself. I'm not sure the party wants to go back to that family again. And yet, of all the Bushes, Jeb is the most attractive. Watching him maneuver will be high political sport.
Jeb Bush is part of a listening tour, gauging public attitudes toward Republicans, and collecting suggestions. That's a good idea. There's a congressional election next year, and I firmly believe that, with clearly articulated policies and a positive message, the GOP can begin a serious comeback.
PATHETIC - AT 8:32 A.M. ET: The very liberal New York Times owns the even more liberal Boston Globe, and is trying to pressure Globe unions to make concessions to save their paper. But Howard Kurtz, in today's Washington Post, reports that things are looking grim:
The New York Times Co. said last night that it is notifying federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe, raising the possibility that New England's most storied newspaper could cease to exist within weeks.
After down-to-the-wire negotiations did not produce millions of dollars in union concessions, the Times Co. said that it will file today a required 60-day notice of the planned shutdown under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification law.
The move could amount to a negotiating ploy to extract further concessions from the Globe's unions, since the notice does not require the Times Co. to close the paper after 60 days. The deadline, however, would put the unions under fierce pressure to produce additional savings, and the Boston Newspaper Guild promptly called the step a "bullying" tactic by the company.
COMMENT: So it goes in organizations that weep loudly about the "common man."
We've said before, we'll say again, that many of the newspapers in trouble don't understand the source of their problems. Yes, the internet is a factor, as is the recession. But the fundamental flaw is that these newspapers have lost the confidence of many, many readers. They have veered too far to the left, and have allowed editorial opinions to bleed onto their news pages. They've hired "journalists" who have little interest in reporting the news, but a profound interest in "making a difference."
If you are a traditional Catholic in Boston, you'll be repelled by the Globe. If you are an un-trendy working stiff in the outer boroughs of New York, beyond Manhattan, you won't care much for what The New York Times has become. But these two newspapers, like others that have already closed, refuse to acknowledge the reasons that readers have drifted away.
One of the most important statistics in politics today is that 46 percent of Americans who went to the polls last November voted for John McCain, even in the midst of a major economic collapse that had already begun. You would never know it reading many of our "leading" newspapers. You'd think the entire nation was Obamaland. The narrowness of the liberal elites who run these papers is damaging their product, but they cannot face up to it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY - AT 8:09 A.M. ET: From Mideast expert Amir Taheri, whom I will hear tomorrow at a Hudson Institute meeting, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Tehran plays a patient game. Wherever possible, it is determined to pursue its goals through open political means, including elections. With pro-American and other democratic groups disheartened by the perceived weakness of the Obama administration, Tehran hopes its allies will win all the elections planned for this year in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
"There is this perception that the new U.S. administration is not interested in the democratization strategy," a senior Lebanese political leader told me. That perception only grows as President Obama calls for an "exit strategy" from Afghanistan and Iraq. Power abhors a vacuum, which the Islamic Republic of Iran is only too happy to fill.
COMMENT: Relate, please, to the stories below. Taheri refers to the "perceived weakness" of the Obama administration, and the view that Obama isn't interested in democratization. Tehran is responding to those perceptions. And can the Islamists who dream of taking over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons be far behind?
Some argue that Mr. Obama's outreach policy is simply a tactic to get other nations on our side and that, in the end, he will understand that tough actions may need to be taken. The problem is that a perception of weakness tends to build, and nations start to distance themselves from the United States in the belief that the weakness will continue. There may be a point where reversal becomes almost impossible. Carter never recovered from the perception (and reality) that he was weak internationally. We hope Obama is more adept than Carter, which is setting a rather low standard.
THOSE PAKISTANI NUKES - AT 7:38 A.M. ET: Readers know that we've been covering this rather closely. Pakistan has operational nuclear weapons, and the country is increasingly unstable. Last week, at his news conference, President Obama gave a bland, and, I thought, somewhat irresponsible assurance that the weapons were secure. David Sanger, in an excellent New York Times piece, says, in effect, "not so fast, Barack."
WASHINGTON — As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.
The officials emphasized that there was no reason to believe that the arsenal, most of which is south of the capital, Islamabad, faced an imminent threat. President Obama said last week that he remained confident that keeping the country’s nuclear infrastructure secure was the top priority of Pakistan’s armed forces.
But the United States does not know where all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites are located, and its concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district 60 miles from the capital. The spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe.
COMMENT: Pakistan's record of accuracy in giving assurances about the security of its nuclear program is poor, and President Obama has got to face that fact. Pakistan assured us repeatedly that the father of its nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, wasn't selling nuclear technology on the black market. That assurance turned out to be patently false.
We've said before that Pakistan could turn out to be the story of the year. Nothing in that assessment has changed.
NICE TO KNOW IT, BOB - AT 7:01 A.M. ET: Apparently, the concerns of Mideast nations over our "outreach" to Iran have finally registered with the Obama team. This should have happened much earlier, but at least there's finally a response:
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates, seeking to soothe Mideast allies worried about Tehran's reach, said Sunday that efforts to bolster U.S. relations with Iran may still ultimately face what he called ''a closed fist.''
Gates was flying to Egypt, the first stop on a Mideast tour that continues in Saudi Arabia. He said part of his mission will be to assure Saudis that any U.S. outreach to Iran aims to increase security throughout the region.
''There's probably some concerns in the region that may draw on an exaggerated sense of what's possible,'' Gates said. ''And I just think it's important to reassure our friends and allies in the region that while we're willing to reach out to the Iranians, as the president said, with an open hand, I think everybody in the administration, from the president on down, is pretty realistic and will be pretty tough-minded if we still encounter a closed fist.''
COMMENT: The problem, of course, is that we probably won't encounter a closed fist, but one slightly open - just open enough to continue negotiations and drag them out. That's the real nightmare scenario, for every day that goes by brings Iran closer to a nuclear weapon.
Recently, the administration handed Iran two gifts: Gates himself essentially took the military option off the table, a major strategic blunder, in my view. It wasn't necessary and wasn't called for. And the State Department announced that it wasn't placing any time limit on talks with Iran, something that key members of Congress had recommended that it do. Again, that was neither necessary nor called for.
So Iran now knows that the military pressure is off and that, officially at least, we're not watching the clock. If you were Tehran, what would you do? I suggest that extending the slightly open fist would be the wise strategy - talk, smile a bit, and concede nothing.
The Persians are known, historically, as superb negotiators. I suspect they're about to prove it once more, at our expense.
GET THE MEN IN THE WHITE COATS - AT 8:45 P.M. ET: Has Arlen Specter taken complete leave of his senses? Or does a convert to the Democratic Party have to prove how zany he is from day one? The senator from Pennsylvania has given us his wisdom on the subject of medical research:
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat, said part of the reason he left the Republican Party last week was disillusionment with its healthcare priorities, and suggested that had the Republicans taken a more moderate track, Jack Kemp may have won his battle with cancer.
No doubt the Kemp family will appreciate that.
Mr. Specter continued: "If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine."
Wait a minute. On the one hand, he suggests that we didn't pursue President Nixon's war on cancer. On the other hand he says, "And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine." And he gives his expert autopsy report on Jack Kemp.
There are pills available for behavior like this, Arlen. Little pills. Easy to swallow.
A NEW GUY, AND GREAT - AT 11:24 A.M. ET: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution isn't known as a great den of conservatives. But they've had conservative representation on their op-ed page. Today a new writer makes his debut - Kyle Wingfield, previously of the Wall Street Journal's European edition. It's a great beginning, as he informs readers of some of the realities of Europe. Sadly, this probably won't be read where it's needed most - in the smug precincts of the northeast, where European is always "better and finer." But we can read it:
Europeans have smaller cars, but also fewer cars. They may have “free” health care, but even middle-class families often pay more than 50 percent of their incomes in taxes. Their markets may not be caricatured as Wild West capitalism the way ours are, but to be a consumer in Europe is to know what the word “rip-off” means — in pricing, in choice, in service.
There is no such thing as the “European social model” because every nation is different. What they all have in common, though, is that they have spent the last decade or longer trying to move away from the very kind of system we Americans may be on the verge of adopting.
They are doing so because it’s simply unsustainable. Margaret Thatcher’s dictum still holds true: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
Ah, so true.
I won't pretend that America’s way is never messy. The private sector made real mistakes that helped cause the current financial crisis. But bankers could not have created so much havoc on their own. At every step, government amplified the private sector’s errors with its own policy failures — that goes for the Bush and Clinton administrations alike. (And, it seems, the nascent Obama one.)
To say that more government is the answer is to ignore government’s mistakes, in our recent past as well as in all state-heavy systems. Like Europe’s.
I won’t dwell on my European experience, even if it shapes my thinking. But know this: When I first moved to Belgium, I felt I was stepping back in time a few years. I shudder to think that I was actually looking at America’s future.
COMMENT: We'll be following Mr. Wingfield's writing. If the above is an example, we're in for some enlightenment.
FROM THE NORTH - AT 10:31 A.M. ET: We've noted here before that some of the most perceptive assessments of Barack Obama have come from foreign journalists. Here, Canadian scribe Rex Murphy proves that in a surgical strike on the Obama way of governing. From Toronto's Globe and Mail:
We know that he is the one of the most ambitious men to enter the White House...
...The scope of that ambition is there to see, even if his cool manner and casual demeanour disinclines most to register the evidence. He's a bit of a magician, a deft misdirectionist.
I'm glad someone noticed.
The financial emergency may be looked upon as the greatest sleight of hand in modern or any other politics. The crisis was real - not incidentally, still is, and hot as ever. But Mr. Obama has taken the angst and anxiety of the financial crisis, with the attendant "permission" it gave him for drastic action, and transferred that permission to the overhaul of medical care, education, the wholesale redefinition of energy policy and the imposition of a vast government presence in the operation of American business.
It is, ironically, the so-called "shock doctrine" in action, manipulating a crisis to enact an agenda. Ironically, because it's not dark Cheneyesque "neo-cons" doing the dazzling shuffle, but the great bright vessel of "social justice" and change.
Oh, say it, Rex, say it!
This is Ozymandian ambition, or the ambition of an Alexander who wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. With ambition on the Obama scale, there will be tears at the end too - either his, that nothing will remain to engage him, or from those who will bear the price of his audacious ambition should the whole great experiment tumble and fail.
COMMENT: I wish we had more commentary like that here. We do have some, Charles Krauthammer, Ed Lasky, and the Power Liners are great examples. But not enough.
Oh, the term "Ozymandian" refers to a poem by Percy Shelley. You can read it here and draw your own conclusions.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's foreign minister assured his visiting Japanese counterpart that the case of an American journalist imprisoned in Tehran for allegedly spying for the United States will get a fair review on appeal.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said 32-year-old Roxana Saberi's appeal will be "reviewed justly and humanely." He spoke at a joint news conference Saturday with Japan's Hirofumi Nakasone, who expressed concern over the case during his visit to Iran.
Saberi is a dual Iranian-American citizen was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Her father is Iranian and her mother is Japanese. She was arrested in January in Tehran and sentenced last month to eight years in prison after a one-day trial behind closed doors. Her case has raised an international outcry and her lawyer in Iran has appealed the verdict.
COMMENT: What a game is being played! This woman is simply a bargaining chip. She will be released in a grand gesture of "good will" or "humanitarianism." The grovelers in the Obama administration will "welcome" the release as a sign of what the president's new on-our-knees policy can bring. And the in-the-tank press will forget to point out that she never should have been imprisoned in the first place.
ISN'T IT ROMANTIC - AT 9:26 A.M. ET: Gag me with a spoon:
WASHINGTON – The first couple took full advantage of the cool spring night.
After a date night out on Saturday evening, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama decided to take a stroll when their motorcade arrived back at the White House.
So they began walking on the driveway of the White House South Lawn while holding hands. First they passed the West Wing, then their children's swing set. They kept walking, swinging their hands together.
There were no Secret Service agents right behind them — the agents stood off, in one of the rare moments that the Obamas had private space outside the White House walls.
COMMENT: If it was private, how come there was an AP photograph with the AP story?
All right, look, it's perfectly fine for the First Duo to take a walk in the park. But I'd like them to contemplate, the next time they do this, that they wouldn't have this serenity, this chance, this freedom, if it were not for some very brave people who've defended this country through the ages, and some very brave agents who, after 9/11, did everything in their power to keep the nation safe. Those are things worth discussing.
"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.
THE ANGEL'S CORNER
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