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TUESDAY,  MAY 26,  2009

AH, FAILURE AND ITS REWARDS - AT 9:31 P.M. ET:  The "new" GM, which looks a bit like the "old" companies of socialist Europe, is emerging, as The New York Times reports:

DETROIT — The government will hold a large share of General Motors after the company emerges from bankruptcy protection, and will provide G.M. with about $50 billion in financing so that it can reorganize, people with direct knowledge of the situation said Tuesday.

The Treasury Department will receive about 70 percent of the new G.M., while the United Automobile Workers union will hold 17.5 percent through its retiree health care fund. The fund also would receive warrants for an additional 2.5 percent of stock in the new G.M., with a price to be determined later, potentially giving it a total of 20 percent.

That is about half of the stock that the U.A.W.’s fund, called a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA, was expected to receive under plans drafted this spring.

COMMENT:  Bottom line - let's see the cars, let's drive the cars.  My fear is that the government will impose Al Gore's vision of a car on GM, and bury the company even deeper.

May 26, 2009   Permalink

NOW THEY TELL US - AT 8:35 P.M. ET:  One by-product of the Chrysler and GM collapses is the anger of their dealers.  Some dealers, who have worked to build their businesses all their adult lives, or have taken over showrooms from their parents, are being forced out of business.  And some of them are talking.  What they're saying about their parent companies is choice, and will no doubt find its way into tell-alls about Detroit:

It's no way to run a railroad, area auto dealers say - produce cars that consistently ride in the rear of Consumer Reports' annual rankings, and then blame the dealers when they don't sell.

"Some jerk in Detroit who has ruined his company is going to say I'm an underperforming dealer?" said Jack Fitzgerald, owner of 13 dealerships in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida. "I've done nothing but grow every year for 43 years."

The warmth, the love, the loyalty.  Now you know what I experienced when I worked in Hollywood.

A Chrysler dealer posts a valentine to his friends at the company:

"They don't make cars people want. As far as I'm concerned, they're five years behind everybody else in quality, styling and everything else," he said. "If people don't want it, it doesn't matter who sells it."

I'm sure it's meant to be helpful.  And here's a GM dealer on GM:

"I don't know a GM dealer in the country that has performed all that well, and it certainly has nothing to do with the dealer," he said. "The difference is the product."

And the result?  Consider rankings by Consumer Reports:

In the magazine's April issue, which includes rankings of 2009 models, Chrysler was the lowest-rated automaker. GM was second lowest.

Nothing like going out on a high, fellas.  Guess we won't be seeing the USA in our Chevrolet.

May 26, 2009   Permalink

OBAMA SLIPS IN POLL - AT 4:38 P.M. ET:  We always stress that all polls are tentative, and may reflect statistical noise or temporary flukes.  However, today's Rasmussen report cannot make for parties and balloons at the White House.  It shows a decline from recent highs for the president.  Those who approve of his performance - 55%; disapprove - 44%, a spread of 11 points, down from 17 a week ago.

It is in Rasmussen's "presidential approval index" that the real story lies.  That is the gap between those who strongly approve and those who strongly disapprove.  That number is down to one point.  Rasmussen says, "That’s the lowest positive rating yet received by the new President."

But again, that's a one-day result.  We'll check back with Ras tomorrow.

May 26, 2009   Permalink

WHITE HOUSE TALKERS - AT 4:07 P.M. ET:  Was just monitoring the daily White House briefing.  What I feared has occurred.  The Supreme Court appointment has knocked North Korea off the front page, at least for today.  There were a few questions about the Korean bomb, but most were about Judge Sotomayor.  No news was made, no revelations were forthcoming. 

Oh, wait.  There was one piece of news.  The president was scheduled to go to Europe and Egypt next week, and has now added Saudi Arabia to his itinerary.  No specific reason was given for this new sightseeing opportunity.  We would hope that, with OPEC's decisions helping to drive up our gasoline prices again, the president would have a heart-to-heart with whatever unelected royal he'll be seeing. 

May 26, 2009   Permalink 

SUPREME CHOICE - AT 11:30 A.M. ET:  President Obama has named federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the vacancy on the United States Supreme Court created by the resignation of David Souter.  If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic-American to serve on the high court. 

Clearly, this is a choice with substantial political implications.  First, it's an almost certain confirmation.  The Republican Party is not going to oppose, to any substantial degree, this "first."  It would mean political death in the Hispanic community.  Second, the choice satisfies both Hispanic and women's groups, and solidifies the Democratic Party's hold on these constituencies. 

We haven't had a chance yet to examine the judge's full record. She is a liberal, but unlikely to alter the balance on the court, as Souter generally sided with liberals during his tenure.

May 26, 2009   Permalink

OTHERS ARE ASKING - AT 7:40 A.M. ET:  (Posted in transit on Metro North, heading for New York)  When Barack Obama took office, the very conventional wisdom was that he would be adored throughout the world and bring peace on Earth and good will toward men.  Well, not so fast, friends.  The president does indeed enjoy widespread international popularity, but we've noticed that knowledgeable people in other countries aren't necessarily caught up in the worship of the new American idol.  The British government is clearly skeptical, and one wonders whether Japan and South Korea really trust The One to take the necessary steps to return North Korea to its box.  Here, a former Indian intelligence officer, writing in Forbes, asks the whispered question:  Is Obama another Carter? 

During the U.S. Presidential primaries last year, I had expressed my misgivings that Barack Obama might turn out to be another Jimmy Carter, whose confused thinking and soft image paved the way for the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Let's not forget that little tidbit.

The defiant action of North Korea in testing a long-range missile with military applications last month, and its latest act of defiance in reportedly carrying out an underground nuclear test on May 25, can be attributed--at least partly, if not fully--to its conviction that it will have nothing to fear from the Obama administration for its acts of defiance.

Ouch!  And true.

A series of actions taken by the Obama administration have created an impression in Iran, the "Af-Pak" region, China and North Korea that Obama does not have the political will to retaliate decisively to acts that are detrimental to U.S. interests, and to international peace and security.

Among such actions, one could cite: the soft policy toward Iran: the reluctance to articulate strongly U.S. determination to support the security interests of Israel; the ambivalent attitude toward Pakistan despite its continued support to anti-India terrorist groups and its ineffective action against the sanctuaries of Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Pakistani territory...

More ouch, and more truth.

Jimmy Carter took a little over three years to create the image of the U.S. as a confused and soft power. Obama is bidding fair to create that image even in his first year in office. The North Korean defiance is the first result of this perceived soft image. There will be more surprises for the U.S. and the international community to follow if Obama and his aides do not embark on corrective actions before it is too late.

COMMENT:  Expect to see more of this from foreign sources.  Despite all the yapping about George Bush's "unilateralism," other nations depend on the U.S. for their security.  They may talk peace and love, but they value a strong and determined America.  We hope that the president and those around him value it just as much.

May 26, 2009    Permalink

GATES LAYS IT ON THE LINE - AT 6:51 A.M. ET:  Adding to the president's woes is Afghanistan, which he declared during his campaign to be the good war.  It is now Obama's war, and his own secretary of defense isn't all that cheery about the way things are going:

American public support for the Afghan war will dissipate in less than a year unless the Obama administration achieves "a

SUPREperceptible shift in momentum," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview.

Mr. Gates said the momentum in Afghanistan is with the Taliban, who are inflicting heavy U.S. casualties and hold de facto control of swaths of the country.

The defense chief has been moving aggressively to salvage the war in Afghanistan, signing off on the deployments of 21,000 American military personnel and recently taking the unprecedented step of firing the four-star general who commanded all U.S. forces there. Mr. Gates, speaking in his cabin on an Air Force plane, said the administration is rapidly running out of time to turn around the war.

COMMENT:  Something else to make our day.  I have to admire Gates's straight talk on this (assuming he's accurate).  I have to add, though, that our progress in Afghanistan will be affected by how our enemies there see the new administration.  If they think we'll fade out, they'll persist, with an expectation of victory.  If they see we'll stand firm, we might see the kind of progress we saw in Iraq.  It's all very iffy, and I claim no expertise on that particular conflict. 

Crunches everywhere are coming.

May 26, 2009   Permalink

MORE ON THE PRESIDENT'S COURSE - AT 5:56 A.M. ET:  David E. Sanger, a New York Times reporter I've come to trust, has a good, if somewhat pessimistic analysis of the president's prospects with North Korea.  This isn't a "Yes We Can" piece:

Facing the first direct challenge to his administration by an emerging nuclear weapons state, President Obama declared Monday that the United States and its allies would “stand up” to North Korea, hours after that country defied international sanctions and conducted what appeared to be its second nuclear test...

...Mr. Obama’s aides said they were determined to organize a significantly stronger response than the Bush administration had managed after the North’s first nuclear test, in October 2006.

Okay, nice words.  Then come the details:

But as they had meetings every few hours — including a lengthy session in the Situation Room on Monday evening — some of Mr. Obama’s aides acknowledged that the administration’s options were limited.

Much depends, they said, on the new president’s ability to persuade Russia and China to go significantly beyond the strong condemnations that they issued Monday against North Korea, their former ally and a vestige of cold-war communism.

COMMENT:  That's if we depend on the UN, which is why Mr. Obama must, dare I say it, do a Bush.  He has to make clear our willingness to act with a few key allies, or even alone.  He also has to make clear that the reaction of other nations to the North Korean challenge will affect their relations with the United States.  Gee, does that mean they're either for us or against us?

As Gen. Lauris Norstad, onetime commander of NATO, once said, "Toughness is not a policy."  The president must decide what he now wants to be tough about, and go to it, bypassing the UN if it will not step up.  Sanger adds:

But as Japanese and South Korean officials acknowledge, they are less concerned about a direct attack from the North — which would almost certainly result in a devastating, American-led response — than about North Korea selling its twice-tested nuclear weapons technology on the black market, much as it has sold missile and reactor technology in the Middle East.

Exactly.  Iran is the logical customer.  Venezuela may be another.  This genie is out of the bottle, and forcing it back in is Mr. Obama's challenge.

He might start by acknowledging that he now understands some of George Bush's actions, unilateral and otherwise.

May 26, 2009   Permalink

THE PRESIDENTIAL DILEMMA - AT 5:46 A.M. ET:  It was some Memorial Day.  First, the North Koreans set off a large atomic device.  Then the Iranians rejected the latest Western proposal aimed at limiting their own nuclear program.  And then the president played golf. 

Well, as George  , portrayed by Ronald Reagan in "Knute Rockne, All American," said, the breaks are beatin' the boys.

The other team is piling on - in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Korea, in Iran, in Venezuela, and a host of other little places, like Somalia, where worry increases.  And all this is joined by the worst international financial crisis since the thirties.

The time for presidential rhetoric is past.  We may revere Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan for their speeches and fine phrases, but only because they were accompanied by action and results. 

The president must now make clear that North Korea will not get away with this test unscathed.  They test fired a large missile recently, the president rattled the cage, and nothing was done.  Those days are over...unless Barack Hussein Obama Jr. wants to descend into Jimmah Land.  He might look up Carter's approval ratings as the peanut farmer was hustled out of office. 

A new report out of Israel holds that Venezuela and Bolivia are selling uranium to Iran.  If the report is confirmed, what will the president do?

We've said here at Urgent Agenda that the second half of 2009 will be dramatic.  I think we (and many others) were right.  The Chinese have a curse:  "May you live in interesting times."  We will live in interesting times. 

The president, next week, will go off to Europe and Egypt.  His earlier trips were marked by an embarrassing, adolescent level of groveling and apology that was unbecoming an American president and a leader of the only nation that can keep the bad players on their side of the court.  We will watch every word Mr. Obama speaks to see if he's changing with the reality of events. 

We will then expect action.  United Nations resolutions, like the resolutions of student governments in high school, do not count.

May 26, 2009   Permalink





MONDAY,  MAY 25,  2009

AMERICANS STILL LOVE THE MILITARY, BUT THERE ARE PROBLEM AREAS - 9:35 P.M. ET:  A Rasmussen poll shows that Americans still love their military.  However, not all Americans do, and it is troubling to see how one of our parties has been compromised:

...75% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the U.S. military.
Only 11% view the military unfavorably, and 14% are undecided in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey...

...Eighty-five percent (85%) of Republicans have a favorable view of the U.S. military, compared to 68% of Democrats and 73% of adults not affiliated with either major political party.

COMMENT:  Only 68% of Dems have a favorable view of the military?  This is, or was, the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Jack Kennedy, the party that was willing to "pay any price" for freedom.  And a third of that party today does not have a favorable view of our fighting forces. 

Gee, do you think it would be hard for us to figure out which Dems these are?  Can you say Manhattan?  Can you say Ivy League?  Can you say northern California?  Or Seattle? 

I'm being unfair.  There are people in those areas who appreciate our military.  But you know what I mean.

May 25, 2009   Permalink


UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council swiftly condemned North Korea's nuclear test on Monday as "a clear violation" of a 2006 resolution banning them and said it will start work immediately on a new one that could result in stronger measures against the reclusive nation.

COMMENT:  Devil in details.  This resolution means nothing.  It's the "new one" that counts, that has the teeth, or lack of them.  The excuses and rationalizations start tomorrow.

May 25, 2009   Permalink

HANSON ON THE CRISIS - AT 7:01 P.M. ET:  Victor Davis Hanson weighs in on what President Obama faces with North Korea and Iran.  Hanson is kind, but makes clear the good will toward the president can vanish in an instant if he fails:

I have a great deal of empathy for President Obama on matters like North Korea and Iran — both lunatic players that I think represent firsts in his own experience. You see, there are no good choices, and he can't simply vote "present" this time. Any decision he makes will be evaluated not necessarily on the basis of its superior logic or the eloquence with which it is presented, but solely on whether it works or not. If it does, he will be praised; if it doesn't, he will be damned, unfairly or not.


Neither Ahmadinejad nor Kim Jong-il care a whit about Obama's landmark advance to the presidency, or his sober and judicious efforts to show rational concern for their own predicaments; instead, they calibrate only the degree to which Obama poses an obstacle to their regional ambitions, whether they be rational or not.


Worse still, the soft-power advocates and internationalists abroad who praised Obama to the skies for his restraint and postmodern campaign rhetoric will be the first to damn him as Carteresque and hesitant should these two rogue nations begin to act a little crazy and start testing the waters.

COMMENT:  Well stated.  The president might well remember the advice Douglas MacArthur's father, a civil war general, gave to his son, that councils of war breed defeatism.  Problems become overintellectualized and abstract, and the reality of the situation becomes blurred by rhetoric and self-appointed "experts." 

Crunch time coming.  Results, Mr. President.  Results.

May 25, 2009   Permalink

A NEW ROSE GARDEN, OR GOLF COURSE, STRATEGY - AT 6:22 P.M. ET:  It used to be called the "Rose Garden strategy" - the notion being that the best strategy for a sitting president seeking reelection is to be seen working in the White House and appearing in the Rose Garden.

Today we had a variation:  The president appeared in the Rose Garden to make a statement proclaiming North Korea's nuclear test a grave threat.  He then went to Arlington to lay the wreath honoring those who had faced down other threats in the past.  He then went to play golf.


MEMO TO THE PRESIDENT:  Playing golf on Memorial Day, after declaring that a grave threat to the peace has erupted, is not a good idea.  Check with those visiting graves at Arlington for a full critique.

May 25, 2009   Permalink

AND THE BEAT GOES ON - AT 10:07 A.M. ET:  Now the Iranians pile on, adding to the North Korean shock:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday rejected a Western proposal for it to "freeze" its nuclear work in return for no new sanctions and ruled out any talks with major powers on the issue.

The comments by the conservative president, who is seeking re-election in a June 12 presidential vote, are likely to further disappoint the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, which is seeking to engage Iran diplomatically.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said in April they would invite Iran to a meeting to try and find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row.

COMMENT:  Looks like we will have Mahmoud to kick around again.  He's heading for victory, and this is his policy.  It's also the policy of the bigger shots in Iran, who control what comes out of the Mahmoud mouth.

We've said before at Urgent Agenda that the second half of 2009 will be very, very interesting.  The North Koreans and Iranians have now made that look like an understatement.

Welcome to reality, Mr. President.

May 25, 2009   Permalink

THE GAP - AT 9:31 A.M. ET:  The North Korean test, Pakistan, and Iran, have placed national security front and center again, and dramatically so.  That calls attention to a growing gap in Washington - between those who've served and those who haven't.  I wrote about this at The Angel's Corner on Friday, and it got the biggest response of any piece I've done to date.  Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal gives us the sorry facts:

Certainly the number of Washington decision-makers with military experience continues to decline. In its profile of the Congress that convened at the beginning of the year, the Congressional Research Service notes that it continues a long-term slide in the number of lawmakers in Washington who have served in the military:

“In the 111th Congress there are 121 Members who have served in the military, five less than in the 110th Congress. The House has 96 veterans (including two Delegates); the Senate 25...

“The number of veterans in the 111th Congress reflects the trend of a steady decline in the number of Members who have served in the military. For example, there were 298 veterans (240 Representatives, 58 Senators) in the 96th Congress (1979-1981); and 398 veterans (329 Representatives, 69 Senators) in the 91st Congress (1969-1971).”

COMMENT:  It's not just the decline in numbers that's alarming, it's the change in tone.  In the Democratic Party there is a bloc that seems to have an open antagonism toward the military.  Many others in today's Washington appear to lack a "feel" for military affairs or strategic planning.

The threats today are as great as they've ever been.  We miss those who've actually felt the mud, the salt sea, and the sky.

May 25, 2009   Permalink

THE REALITY WE FACE - AT 9:06 A.M. ET:  While administration officials in Washington will no doubt glory in the legalisms they will throw at North Korea, The Times of London presents a stark, well-reported picture of just what we are now facing. 

Oh, by the way, we are cutting our anti-missile budget.  Thought you'd want to know:

The world’s intelligence agencies and defence experts are quietly acknowledging that North Korea has become a fully fledged nuclear power with the capacity to wipe out entire cities in Japan and South Korea...

...This puts it ahead of Iran in the race for nuclear attack capability and seriously alters the balance of power between North Korea’s large but poorly equipped military and the South Korean and US forces ranged against it...

...Now North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Il, has the potential to kill millions in Japan as well as the South, and to lay waste US bases and airfields in both countries. It will force military strategists to rethink plans for war in Korea and significantly increase the potential costs of any intervention in a future Korean war.

COMMENT:  I suspect it will be only hours, days at most, before we're told by some administration guy or a friendly journalist that this is all Bush's fault.  Believe me, it's coming, but I think it will backfire this time.

It's been clear in recent weeks that Dick Cheney's critiques of Obama have struck home.  The North Korean test will magnify that effect.  Americans will ask themselves who they'd rather have defending them right now.  If enough Americans start feeling a newfound warmth toward the Bush administration, that is major trouble for President Obama.

May 25, 2009   Permalink

THE BAMWATCH - AT 8:39 A.M. ET:  The president has reacted to the North Korean boomer with big words:

“Today, North Korea said that it has conducted a nuclear test in violation of international law,” Mr. Obama said in a statement early Monday. “It appears to also have attempted a short-range missile launch. These actions, while not a surprise given its statements and actions to date, are a matter of grave concern to all nations. North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security.

“By acting in blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, North Korea is directly and recklessly challenging the international community. North Korea’s behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia. Such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation. It will not find international acceptance unless it abandons its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery,” the statement said.

COMMENT:  We had big words to greet the recent North Korean missile test, but that's where the matter ended.  The Russians and Chinese, who have veto power at the Security Council, will not go for stronger action.  We seem to have no other policy than UN action, which is no policy at all.

May 25, 2009   Permalink

BOOM - AT 8:22 A.M. ET:  North Korea has conducted a nuclear test, not announced in advance.  Washington Post:

TOKYO, May 25 -- North Korea exploded a nuclear device Monday morning, startling the world with its second underground test in three years and vexing the Obama administration, which has said it wants to solve the nuclear impasse with North Korea.

The test, described as "successful" by the communist state's official Korean Central News Agency, escalates a pattern of provocation that this spring has included a long-range missile launch, detention of two U.S. journalists, kicking out U.N. nuclear inspectors, restarting a plutonium factory and halting six-nation nuclear negotiations.

Well, the North Koreans apparently looked at the White House and saw nothing to deter them.  Hate to be so blunt about it.

North Korea said that its second nuclear test was more powerful and better controlled than its first, which was conducted in October, 2006, and which many experts characterized as a semi-failure.

Early evidence suggests that may be true. The explosion produced a 4.7-magnitude tremor, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was measured in South Korea as a 4.5-magnitude quake. The previous nuclear test registered 3.58 on the Richter scale.

The Richter Scale is logarithmic, meaning that a 4.5 is not a third larger than a 3.58, but is dramatically larger.  This is not good news.  They have the bomb.  They know how to set it off, and now we must ask whether they will share this information with other regimes around the world. 

Suddenly, Iran looks, potentially, even more dangerous, and North Korea itself is a clear and present danger.

May 25, 2009    Permalink















"What you see is news.  What you know is background.  What you feel is opinion."
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      of The New York Times.



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