The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, June 29, 2009

174 miles per hour

Many of us who had reservations about a Democratic President governing with an overwhelming Democratic majority in Congress were worried about runaway deficit spending and its long term impact on the economy, on the markets, on interest rates, and most important, on our children who will ultimately be asked to pay the debt down.

It seems that the media is far more interested in praising the Obama administration than it is in questioning whether rampant deficit spending is appropriate or wise. When asked, Left-leaning talking heads always conjure an image of their nemesis, George W. Bush, and argue that Bush spent money like a drunken sailor. How that justifies even more spending by President Obama and the Congress is a bit difficult to understand, but so be it.

The real question, however, is how much more is Obama spending?

I know, I know … the argument is that any discussion of federal spending, unless it is anecdotal (e.g., a bridge to nowhere), makes viewer’s eyes glaze over, and that’s why the networks avoid the subject. It’s all numbers, and it’s complicated, they’ll tell you privately. No one will watch.

There’s a wonderful YouTube Video that explains our spending problems in 2 minutes and 46 seconds. It uses a simple metaphor and very low budget animation that even MSNBC could afford. Take a look and ask yourself, “Should we really be going 174 miles an hour?”

Then ask yourself -- why isn't the MSM covering this issue more fully?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Three Lessons

There are three lessons that can be learned by examining the current unrest in Iran.

First, new technologies (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) have made it difficult for repressive, dictatorial regimes to control information flow. But the key question is: Do these regimes really care enough to modify their behavior? In the short term, it appears that the Iranian regime does care, but it has recruited the fanatic, Islamist, Basij militia to do their dirty work for them.

Second, those have who suggested that past warnings about Iran were nothing more than “fear mongering” have suddenly realized that the Mullahs are not nice people. Little more than a month ago, Left-leaning media and politicians argued that Iran’s threat was overblown, that there is little proof that the country has any intention of developing nuclear weapons, and that Iran's purported support for terrorist organizations through the Middle East and around the world is nothing more than neocon propaganda. Now, the Mullahs crack the heads of young protesters and everything changes. It's sort of like a small child who refuses to believe that the cook top is hot, until she puts her finger on it.

Third, those who praised President Obama’s planned effort at negotiation with Mahmoud Amadinejad and the Iranian theocracy have now become uncharacteristically quiet. As events and violence unfold inside Iran, it appears that Obama’s strategy is in shambles. It will be politically difficult, not to mention morally repugnant, to engage the Islamists who currently run Iran. Barack Obama needs a “Plan B,” and it does not appear that he has one.

Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of The Belmont Club sums up the situation with his typical clarity:
People who reflect on this debacle may want to ask themselves, ‘why did this engagement with Ahmadinejad go so wrong’. The answer, from first principles, is that stable agreements can only be made with stable partners. You can sign a treaty with Japan, Britain, Canada or France for example, and be reasonably sure the deal will stick. Successor governments will honor the deals of their predecessors. But making a deal with Hamas, Hezbollah and Khamenei, for example, is much more iffy because you never know whether they’ll still be in the saddle the next time you look. ‘Engagement’ with Iran was always going to be subjected to contingent events.

This is why all those negotiations with Yasser Arafat and Hamas and whoever else that Jimmy Carter is so fond of talking to, had the tendency to go nowhere. It wasn’t because, as they were so fond of thinking, that we haven’t bribed them enough or the Israelis were too stingy with concessions. It was simply that their cast of characters kept changing. Their internal politics kept churning like a cement mixer on overdrive. You bought one enemy off only to see another come online. Ultimately, it became like trying to eat soup with a fork.

This doesn’t mean you can’t make deals with shady characters, but it does mean that such deals have an inherent amount of instability inherent in them. The idea that Obama was going to build his Middle East Peace on this foundation of shifting sand seems kind of funny in retrospect. I wonder whether Hillary has drawn the necessary conclusions. But maybe she was playing a different game.

All of us who have opposed negotiations with rouge regimes intuitively understand that “stable agreements can only be made with stable partners.” Unfortunately, there are many on the Left who, ironically, take an ethnocentric and anti-historical view of geopolitical negotiations.

They believe, I think, that everyone acts like a Western democracy, where agreements and promises matter. They create an anti-factual history (e.g., The canard that there was a sovereign state of Palestine prior to the existence of Israel, and it was stolen from it’s citizens—the “Palestinians”). Then, demonstrating an ethnocentrism that they roundly criticize in others and a misreading of history, they build their position. Sad.

The current lessons of Iran matter. I only hope that our President learns from all three of them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


As events in Iran continue unfold, little is certain. But ideological attitudes in the West have begun to change – at least for now. Michael Goldfarb comments:
There’s an amazing thing happening in the blogs over the last few days that one assumes is a fair reflection of a broader shift in attitudes towards Iran. Six months ago, few Americans would have disputed that Ahmadinejad was a thug and a tyrant, but there were many on the left who supported Obama’s push for direct engagement with the Iranian president anyway. America deals with all kinds of thugs and authoritarian leaders, and Obama and his supporters made the case that we should deal with this one, too. But the left, I think a little to their own surprise, became deeply invested in the Mousavi campaign. Perhaps you could see it most clearly on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, but much of the media liked the simple narrative of Mousavi the Obama-like reformer against Ahmadinejad the Bush-like ideologue. And after the Lebanese elections, the media was primed for a story on the “Obama Effect” in the Middle East.

When things went the other way, something changed. The left, which may have reviled Ahmadinejad but was willing to do business with him anyway, seems to have become deeply hostile to any kind of diplomacy that could be seen as legitimizing this election result. The administration hasn’t quite caught up to this reality, offering weak statements about “irregularities” in the voting but no real sign that it will stand up and support the Iranian kids who are pleading for help as they’re beaten in the streets. I suspect it will soon. If Roger Cohen [a very Left columnist for the NYT] can’t stomach seeing Obama reach out to this regime after what has happened and what is happening, then who can?

But a desire to engage with a demonstrably Islamofascist dictatorship was only the Left’s first mistake. Now, they’ve put a halo around the head of Ahmadinejad’s challenger, Hossein Moussavi.

Wretchard of the Belmont Club suggests that a halo may not be in order.
Mousavi is no more a “moderate” than Ahmadinejad according to a former Indian diplomat, M K Bhadrakumar. “Most likely, he had a hand in the creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Ali Akbar Mohtashami, Hezbollah’s patron saint, served as his interior minister.” That’s Mousavi, who Michael Ledeen called one the architects of the some of the most repressive features of the current Iranian regime. So why, with the elections fundamentally rigged by the state and in fact a disguised process of appointment between two members of the Iranian establishment, did the clerics choose Ahmadinejad over the man who so artfully depicted himself as a reformer and who captured the protest vote of the Iranian youth and intelligensia?

The probable answer is one word: money. Within Iranian ruling circles, Mousavi represented the economic enemies of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad according to Bhadrakumar. While Mousavi could package himself as a ‘reformer’ and to some extent genuinely capture the enthusiasm of the dissidents, the choice of between him and Ahmadinejad was really over who would get to control the economy. It was a battle between two factions of the ruling elite for the chairmanship of the board.

So … it’s not about “freedom” or “moderation” or “reform” in the sense that many in the West and some in Iran believe it is. It’s about money and power.

Would Mousavi be a better option than Ahmadinejad? I suppose. After all, the current Iranian president is a true thug.

But do not delude yourself into believing that Mousavi is a creation of Barack Obama’s outreach—a man who would sue for better relations with the west, more moderate politics within Iran, a rejection of nuclear weapons, and true freedoms for Iranians. Don’t make this second mistake, even if you made the first.


The Obama administration is set to release a proposed set of regulations that are intended to provide better controls across the financial industry. Although the details have not yet been released, I can say, without equivocation, that their intentions are pure.

Major financial institutions, insurance companies, hedge funds, and Wall Street in general exhibited such breathtaking irresponsibility that they deserve a restrictive regulatory environment. If conservatives argue that strict regulation will slow the economy a bit, my response is that the irresponsibility of the financial community slowed the economy a lot. Worse, it wiped out the savings of those who invested wisely in a risk averse manner over many years. Unlike big banks and insurance companies, those people will never get a bailout.

President Obama commented on this recently:
"On a whole host of these issues, we want to do the minimum possible to assure that every stakeholder in the marketplace -- consumers, workers, investors, entrepreneurs -- have a clear set of rules of the road, they know what they're getting themselves into, they're making decisions based on the pursuit of profits," he said. "But we are not setting up so few rules that you have the kind of situation that we saw last year where we really were on the verge of a financial meltdown."

Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal comments on the regulations in broad terms:
Of course, it's hard to know what the right amount of rule-making really is, which is why the plan the president puts out Wednesday will draw fire from both his right and left.

The Federal Reserve will get more powers to oversee big financial institutions, large firms will have to raise more capital and meet higher liquidity standards, hedge funds will face higher scrutiny, and a new agency will be set up to protect consumers and small investors.

As soon as his plan is out, though, the president will have the Goldilocks problem. Some will think his proposals too hot, some too cold. Only some will think them just right.

The right rules, he [Obama] said, will allow a recovery that isn't built on speculative bubbles -- and that don't stifle financial marketplace innovations that have helped lots of small guys in recent years.

The White house is doing the right thing. Unlike some of their other ill-conceived and overly ambitious programs, this regulation is needed and should be instituted without delay.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The recent Iranian Presidential election results and the Iranian power structure’s response to inevitable protests have introduced a dose of reality for those who believed that: (1) Iran was more moderate than it was, (2) the moderates would oust the hardliners, or (3) our President’s words would somehow cause a change within an otherwise Islamofascist regime.

The Washington Times is certainly no friend of Barack Obama. However, Wesley Pruden of the Right-leaning Times, makes a few cogent, if harsh, comments that are well worth considering:
If Iranian voters had thrown Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the street, the American president would have assumed that he was the One who did it, and the American press would have led the hosannas for the messiah from the south side of Chicago. Just a few more speeches, a few more respectful bows toward Mecca, and all the rough places would be made smooth and plain. But now even Mr. Obama must wake up and smell the tear gas.

As I mentioned in a recent post, Amadinejad’s tenure is meaningless because he has no real power. It’s a small group of Mullahs who run the Iranian theocracy, wielding dictatorial power to accomplish their own ends.

It is true that reports out of Iran indicate that some Mullahs outside the inner circle are becoming upset with current events, and that change might be in the wind. But that’s a hope, not a strategy.

Fred Kaplan of left-leaning Slate writes:
Unless the violence widens the fissures in Iranian society to an unprecedented—almost unimaginable—degree, the agitation could simply peter out in the coming days and weeks as more and more protesters are beaten, detained, and even killed, with no effect on the regime's survival. In this case, it may well be, as a story in today's New York Times predicted, that the hardliners wind up more firmly in control than ever.

Yet reports have circulated in recent months suggesting that some Iranian clerics, even a few in high places, are displeased with Ahmadinejad's harsh rhetoric and his mishandling of the economy. Some evidence of electoral fraud has reportedly been leaked from dissidents from within Iran's interior ministry. The supreme leader has ordered the Guardian Council to investigate allegations of fraud—this after publicly ratifying the election's results (without, suspiciously, observing the three-day waiting period that Iranian law requires)—though it may be that this order is mere subterfuge and that the investigation will be just as fraudulent.

In other words, it is possible (how likely it might be, no one can say) that the popular revolts might sharpen the fissures within the circles of Iran's ruling elite. Of course, those circles are so opaque that few outsiders can tell whether there are fissures, much less what their boundaries are. Does the CIA or the National Security Agency know? I hope so, but I don't know.

Barack Obama has finally released a tepid critique of the current situation in Iran. Fine, at least he’s on the record. But even a supporter like Fred Kaplan, writing in a friendly media outlet states:
Given the near-certainty that Iran's election was fixed and the documented fact that protesters are being brutalized, there is no way that Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could go to Tehran and shake hands with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, much less to expect that any talks would be worthwhile.

The issue here is not one of realpolitik vs. democratic idealism. Rather, it's a question about what course of action is simply realistic (in the conversational, as opposed to ideological, sense of the word).

And yet, many in the West continue to believe that if we say the right things we can bring Iran around: As Wesley Pruden correctly observes:
Some people in the West - particularly in Washington - are tempted to dismiss the Iranian president as a clown and a fool, given to writing checks ("Israel must be wiped off the map") he could never cash. But these skeptics are the fools. President Obama must now rise to the occasion to deal with Iran as it is, and not as he wishes it to be. This is the job he said he wanted.

If realpolitik does hold sway, it’s very important for our President and his Secretary of State to recognize that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the true face of the Iranian leadership. The Iranian people may be different—they may be more moderate and may truly want to live peacefully—but it's the leadership who might someday do awful things.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Silent Breeze

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about the “Winds of Change” that he sees growing throughout the Middle East. In a surprising hat tip to an administration he reviled, Friedman writes:
… for real politics to happen you need space. There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”

So Bush—a man who was roundly criticized as a simpleton by the MSM and every Left-leaning writer around the world—stuck with a simple vision and now we see “winds of change.”

Of course, Friedman goes on to credit Barack Obama’s soft power approach. Undoubtedly, Bush was hated by Arab fascist dictators, and Obama is much more, well, much more non-confrontational. As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, his morally equivalent approach to Arab-Western conflict is not so much soft power as it is soft lies. But, if it works, maybe there’s some small benefit – a whisper of a breeze that he can credit as his own.

It is troubling, however, that the President remains strangely silent about the election results in Iran. If you can believe the reporting, millions of Iranians feel dispossessed by a fraudulent election “won” by Obama’s erstwhile negotiating partner, Mahmoud Amadinejad, an anti-Semitic, holocaust denying, Islamofascist who is the face of the dictatorship in Iran.

If we are to believe his supporters in the media, President Obama is now deeply respected throughout the Moslem world. Wouldn’t some explicit support for the Iranian “moderates” who were, it appears, robbed of an election victory, be in order? Wouldn’t that support urge the Iranian opposition to continue its “resistance?" Isn’t that in the best interests of the United States and the Iranian people?

Why the long silence? Why won’t our president take a strong position on this important Iranian election?

Update (6/15/09, 4:45pm EDT):

Michael Totten reports on the Iranian situation and provides three important pieces of information:
A reader comments at niacINsight:
“I am in Tehran. Its 3:40 in the morning. I’ve connected with you [by hacking past the government filter]. It’s a big mess here. People are yelling from their houses – ‘death to the dictator.’ They are setting up a military government. No one dares to go out. No one has seen Mousavi today. Rumor has it that they have arrested him. I don’t have an email but I will contact you again. Help us.

This isn’t encouraging:

According to our private phone conversations with people in Tehran, hundreds of parents have gathered by a police station in Yousef Abad, now known as Seyyed Jamal Aldin Asad Abadi, with their hands raised to the sky saying “Obama, please help us, they are killing our young children.”

The United States will not help. Senator Joe Lieberman, though, at least thinks we should say something.
[T]hrough intimidation, violence, manipulation, and outright fraud, the Iranian regime has once again made a mockery of democracy, and confirmed its repressive and dictatorial character.

We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.

For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.

Indeed. As always, Joe Lieberman, appears to be the conscience of the senate. I have to wonder whether Barack Obama will heed his advice.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Null Vote

As of this moment in the late evening of June 12th, it looks like the Presidential election in Iran is too close to call. Current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a rabid anti-Semite, holocaust denier, and Islamist (sorry for the redundancy) and challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, a somewhat more moderate (remember, this is Iran and moderation is defined on a very relative scale) politician, are in a very close election with each side declaring victory.

I'm hopeful that Ahmadinejad will be ousted, but I worry that the MSM and many Left-leaning politicians will read more into his defeat than they should. If Mousavi does win, it will be a hopeful sign that Iran is changing, but only a sign, and only a very little change.

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal online comments:
The danger is that the West, following Obama's lead, would take far more encouragement from a favorable election result than is warranted.

… The tendency to read too much into an Ahmadinejad defeat is compounded by an eagerness to see Obama's feel-good foreign-policy approach succeed. Thus an article in the Christian Science Monitor touts what the paper calls the "Obama Effect." The headline reads "Wildcard in Iran Election: Obama," but when you get deep into the story you learn that this is based on nothing but speculation:
Any "Obama factor" in Iran's presidential contest will be difficult to gauge, Iran experts say, because the overriding issue in the campaign is the economy and what is widely perceived domestically as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's poor stewardship of it.
But even in that context, Iranians who see Obama's promise of closer international ties (as opposed to the threat of deeper economic sanctions) as one avenue to economic recovery may reject Mr. Ahmadinejad's confrontational style as better suited to the era of President Bush.

Still, even some regional analysts who found strong elements in Obama's speech say they are dubious of any short-term impact as concrete as influencing an election.

But if Mousavi wins, you can bet you'll hear more about Obama's effect than about those doubts.

What difference does it all make anyway? [Roger Cohen of the New York Times] concludes his column by declaring that "the margin for the foolishness of anti-Iran hawks" has "just narrowed." (Presumably he means it will have narrowed if Ahmadinejad loses.) But Cohen is blasé about nuclear proliferation, so much so that he doesn't even mention the subject in his column about the Iran election.
If the "anti-Iran hawks" are right and Cohen is the foolish one, then a more appealing Iranian figurehead makes Tehran's nuclear threat more dangerous. Yaakov Katz in the Jerusalem Post explains why:
Due to his radical character and extremist remarks, Ahmadinejad helps garner world support for stopping the nuclear program. Due to his reformist and moderate image, Mousavi--who when he was prime minister from 1981 to 1989 helped lay the foundations of the country's atomic program--may succeed in "laundering" the program in a dialogue with the United States, the officials fear.

A Mousavi victory's likely effect would be to make it easier for the West to trust the Iranian regime without making the regime more worthy of trust.

Regardless of the outcome, the Mullahs run Iran, and that is unlikely to change any time soon. It may be that they’d enjoy a more “moderate” spokesman (that’s all the Iranian president really is) but at the same time continue supporting terror world wide, building nuclear weapons, and oppressing the true Iranian moderates who did vote for Mousavi.
We’ll know the outcome in a day or two, but beware of reading too much into it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Better Prescription

Those of us in the center who dare to question President Obama’s rush to institute a comprehensive reform of the nation’s health care system are met with incredulity by our progressive friends. “How can you say our health care system is broken when 47 million people are uninsured? It’s a travesty, an embarrassment!” They exclaim. “After all, look at Canada or the UK, they’ve had national health care system for years and they work well …”

But if we suggest that there is a need for thoughtful, more controlled modification of our healthcare system, some on the Right suggest that we’re in favor of creeping socialism. “Do you really want some bureaucrat coming between you and your doctor?” they ask, brow furrowed with concern.

In this case, both the Left and the Right are wrong.

There is little debate that our medical insurance system is wasteful, overly expensive, and rife with fraud (particularly in those parts of the system that are currently administered by the government). But it’s also true that the system is enormously complex, very, very difficult to change, and predominantly effective in serving the medical needs of almost 90 percent of the American public.

I recently spent a week with colleagues from the UK. Over dinner one night we discussed our respective medical systems. True, their medical insurance is bundled into their taxes (it is not free), but care is rationed to the extent that it’s not unusual to wait for months to get an MRI (a test that is available next day in the USA), more months to see a medical specialist, and years for elective surgery. In effect, the government-run program in the UK tries to control costs by rationing care.

More interesting is that there is a growing trend in the UK back to private medicine. The same is true in Canada. So, here we have universal health care programs in Canada and the UK that recognize the shortcoming of a one-payer system and are slowly transforming themselves back to the US model, while we have an administration in the USA who is trying to transform to US model into the Canadian or British systems that really aren’t working very well.

Even more troubling is the speed with which the Obama administration wants to accomplish the job. The President has declared that he wants effective, all encompassing health care legislation on his desk by October. That’s like saying that you’d like your 4 year old to graduate from college no later than 2011.

Speaking as a systems guy, health care is a really, really, complex problem. It is in need of change, but the change should be done in stages, should focus on targeted areas of opportunity, should establish clear, non-political metrics to assess the efficacy of what small changes are made so that (1) they can be discontinued if they are ineffective or (2) tweaked if they’re close but not fully effective. Lastly, a comprehensive risk analysis should be performed before even the smallest change is to be made, so that the impact of unintended consequences can be ascertained before billions are spent and people’s live are put on the line.

Obama supporters keep telling me he’s a really, really smart guy. That may be true, but he’s certainly not a systems guy. In fact, nothing in his background or experience or current actions indicates that he truly understands the complexity of the changes he’s trying to rush through. In fact, it appears as if he’s being just a bit impetuous in his demand that full legislation be developed in 4 months.

Does our health care system needs to change to meet the demands of 21st century medical care? It does. Does it need radical change implemented with little thought and even less consideration of the consequences of that change on the 90 percent of the public. No, it does not.

For once, let’s take our time and do it right.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Misdemeanors and Felonies

As a follow-up to my last post, I’ve been giving some thought to President Obama’s efforts at Israeli-Palestinian moral equivalence in the Middle East and have come to the conclusion that his approach is common in international diplomacy. “You did this, we did that, we’re equally aggrieved, let’s turn the page and move on.”

The problem with this approach is two fold. First, both parties must want to turn the page and move on. Clearly, the Palestinians (and their keepers in other Arab capitals) have been given dozens of opportunities over multiple decades and have explicitly chosen not to move on. Second, “you did this and we did that” only works if there is factual and historical equality. There is neither in the case of the Israelis and Palestinians, or for that matter, in the broader region.

Victor Davis Hansen comments:
Conflating Western misdemeanors with Middle Eastern felonies is classical conflict-resolution theory, and laudably magnanimous. But privately the world knows that Muslims are treated better in the West than Christians are in Muslim countries. That Muslims migrate to the lands of Westerners, and not vice versa. That disputes over a border between Palestinians and Israelis do not explain the unhappiness of the Arab masses, suffering from state-caused poverty and wretchedness. That American military assistance to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia, direct aid to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians, and moral condemnation of Chinese, Russian, and Balkan treatment of Muslims, coupled with a generous U.S. immigration policy, are not really cause for apology or atonement.

In short, few Arab leaders wish to give a “speech to the West.” They would have to take responsibility, directly or indirectly, for either fostering or appeasing radical Islam, while denying their culpability for its decades of mass murdering. They would also have to lament the global economic havoc caused in part by oil cartels and energy price-fixing.

President Obama’s intent is noble, but therapeutic efforts to disguise the truth never really work. We will see how the short-term good created by his therapeutic speechmaking compares to the long-term harm caused by telling the Muslim world, once again, that its problems were largely created by us — and, therefore, that we are largely responsible for providing the remedies.

Neither is true.

Can a foundation of falsehoods be used to build “peace” or “détente” or whatever you want to call it? In the fevered-minds of post-modern thinkers, where truth and history are bent to satisfy ideological needs, the answer is a resounding “yes.” But in the real world, where historical fact intrudes and irreconcilable hatreds exist, the answer may be quite different.


Update (6/6/09):

For those who want to gain additional insight into President Obama’s speech and its intent, I’d recommend commentary by Caroline Glick. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

True Believer

I tend not to listen to the President’s speeches when he delivers them, but rather read them—word for word—as soon as is practical after the event. I do this so that President Obama’s well recognized eloquence and charm won’t mask the meaning of his words.

I read Obama’s vaunted middle-east speech this morning. All in all, it was a good speech, but like most others that the President has delivered, he makes two major errors: (1) it appears that he tries to be all things to all people, something that is typical of a political candidate but not a welcome attribute in a true leader, and (2) he often relies on moral equivalence, a verbal trick that is particularly common among those on the Left. The intent is to justify unacceptable behavior using a postmodern context. That is, right and wrong are subjective and we should not condemn barbaric behavior of others (particularly “others” that are on the list of the “oppressed”) because they have their grievances.

Jonathan Tobin comments:
President Obama spoke with his usual charm, polish and eloquence in Cairo this morning. These virtues are formidable and, no doubt will win him, if not our country, some friends. But this speech was, like so many of his utterances since taking office, tarnished by a desire to be all things to all people. To be Barack Obama is to be, as he says, a person who can see all issues from all sides and defend American interests while at the same time being everyone’s best friend. He sees himself as someone who can achieve Olympian detachment. Speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he says: “If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth.”

But there is more than one type of blindness. The search for the truth is not merely an exercise in which all grievances are considered the same. To assert the truth of the Holocaust is appropriate — if unfortunately necessary when addressing an Arab audience — as is calling on the Palestinians to “abandon violence” and to cease “shooting rockets at sleeping children” or blowing up old women on buses.

But the problem with this conflict is not that both sides won’t listen to each other or give peace a chance. That might have been a good point to make prior to the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 when Israel recognized the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations and began the process of handing over large portions of the area reserved by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish National Home for the creation of a Palestinian equivalent. But Israel offered these same Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza as well as part of Jerusalem in 2000 and again in negotiations conducted by the government of Ehud Olmert just last year. So, the problem is not that the Israelis don’t want the two state solution that Obama endorsed in Cairo. Rather, it is, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in Washington only a week ago, that the Palestinians aren’t interested in negotiating with Israel.

Even more obnoxious than this refusal to see that the truth about the conflict isn’t to be found through an even-handed “plague on both your houses” approach is his comparison of the Palestinians’ plight to that of African-Americans in the United States before the civil rights era. Israelis have not enslaved Palestinians. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians rests on the latter’s unwillingness to come to terms with the former’s existence. The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is terrible but it is a direct result of their own decision to choose war over peace, not a lack of understanding on the part of the Jews. Going to the Middle East while ostentatiously avoiding Israel and picking a fight with its leadership sends a message that will resonate throughout the Arab world. His signal that America is now an impartial broker rather than Israel’s ally can only encourage a Palestinian people that continue to reject peace.

There’s an old saying the comes from the street—not the Arab street, but the American street. You’ll hear it stated (in many different forms) in hardscrabble industrial towns, in the farm country of the flyover states, and throughout the urban landscape. Parenthetically, you’ll rarely hear it stated by the so-called intelligencia or in academe.

It’s crude (and I apologize for the crudeness in advance), but it needs to be stated as it is often spoken. It goes like this:
“When you truly begin to believe your own bullshit, you’re in deep trouble. And if those who listen to you begin believing it, they’re in trouble too.”

With all due respect to our new President, after reading the portion of his speech that focuses on the Arab-Israeli conflict—noting the historical omissions and the subtle moral equivalences—I worry that Barack Obama is beginning to truly believe …

Update (6/12/09)

Charles Krauthammer concludes an particularly critical commentary on the President’s use of moral equivalence in his Middle East speech with this comment:
Obama undoubtedly thinks he is demonstrating historical magnanimity with all these moral equivalencies and self-flagellating apologetics. On the contrary. He's showing cheap condescension, an unseemly hunger for applause and a willingness to distort history for political effect.

Distorting history is not truth-telling, but the telling of soft lies. Creating false equivalencies is not moral leadership, but moral abdication. And hovering above it all, above country and history, is a sign not of transcendence but of a disturbing ambivalence toward one's own country.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Joys of Ownership

Like most Americans, I’m now a reluctant owner of a once powerful automobile company. My investment has been made for me (and it will likely continue to mabe made in the years ahead), but profits are about as likely as UAW members voting Republican.

I’ve written previously about GM’s decline—a decline that began when hubris took the place of good management decisions and when an deeply entrenched corporate culture refused to adapt to a changing market and competitive landscape. In actuality, it's a very sad story, but that doesn’t relieve the company and its unions from suffering the consequences. It looks like they won’t, and that’s a really big problem.

Writing in the NYT, David Brooks identifies the core problem precisely—a company culture that is incapable of change:
Bureaucratic restructuring won’t fix the company. Clever financing schemes won’t fix the company. G.M.’s core problem is its corporate and workplace culture — the unquantifiable but essential attitudes, mind-sets and relationship patterns that are passed down, year after year.

Over the last five decades, this company has progressively lost touch with car buyers, especially the educated car buyers who flock to European and Japanese brands. Over five decades, this company has tolerated labor practices that seem insane to outsiders. Over these decades, it has tolerated bureaucratic structures that repel top talent. It has evaded the relentless quality focus that has helped companies like Toyota prosper.

As a result, G.M. has steadily lost U.S. market share, from 54 to 19 percent. Consumer Reports now recommends 70 percent of Ford’s vehicles, but only 19 percent of G.M.’s.

For all of the fanfare, President Obama’s rescue plan for GM is DOA. Brook’s writes:
[T]he elemental facts about the Obama restructuring plan are these: Bureaucratically, the plan is smart. Financially, it is tough-minded. But when it comes to the corporate culture that is at the core of G.M.’s woes, the Obama approach is strangely oblivious. The Obama plan won’t revolutionize G.M.’s corporate culture. It could make things worse.

First, the Obama plan will reduce the influence of commercial outsiders. The best place for fresh thinking could come from outside private investors. But the Obama plan rides roughshod over the current private investors and so discourages future investors. G.M. is now a pariah on Wall Street. Say farewell to a potentially powerful source of external commercial pressure.

Second, the Obama plan entrenches the ancien régime. The old C.E.O. is gone, but he’s been replaced by a veteran insider and similar executive coterie. Meanwhile, the U.A.W. has been given a bigger leadership role. This is the union that fought for job banks, where employees get paid for doing nothing. This is the organization that championed retirement with full benefits at around age 50 …

Third, the Obama approach reduces the fear that impels change. The U.S. government will own most of G.M. It would be politically suicidal for the Democrats, or whoever is in power, to pull the plug on the company — now or ever. Therefore, the current managers can rest assured that they never need to fear liquidation again …

Fourth, the Obama plan dilutes the company’s focus. Instead of thinking obsessively about profitability and quality, G.M. will also have to meet the administration’s environmental goals. There is no evidence G.M. is good at building the sort of small cars the administration demands …

Fifth, G.M.’s executives and unions now have an incentive to see Washington as a prime revenue center. Already, the union has successfully lobbied to move production centers back from overseas. Already, the company has successfully sought to restrict the import of cars that might compete with G.M. brands …

Sixth, the new plan will create an ever-thickening set of relationships between G.M.’s new owners — in government, management and unions. These thickening bonds between public and private bureaucrats will fundamentally alter the corporate culture, and not for the better …

But not to worry, my fellow Americans and I now own a once viable company, and it looks like we’ll be an owners for the rest of our days. Return on investment—yeah … right.

Monday, June 01, 2009


There is a fawning, almost worshipful, attitude that pervades media coverage of President Obama. And it’s not something that’s being imagined by those of us who want our new president to succeed, but at the same time, have reservations about parts of his domestic agenda and significant concerns about his foreign policy. It's real.

Robert Samuelson of Newsweek (certainly no enemy of Barack Obama) reports:
The Obama infatuation is a great unreported story of our time. Has any recent president basked in so much favorable media coverage? Well, maybe John Kennedy for a moment; but no president since. On the whole, this is not healthy for America.

Our political system works best when a president faces checks on his power. But the main checks on Obama are modest. They come from congressional Democrats, who largely share his goals if not always his means. The leaderless and confused Republicans don't provide effective opposition. And the press -- on domestic, if not foreign, policy -- has so far largely abdicated its role as skeptical observer.

Obama’s enthusiastic, almost religious, supporters might argue that coverage is so good because the President is so good. But that’s simply not the case. No doubt his form has been excellent, but the substance of his actions is open to debate.

The President has had, even in his first 100 days, a number of significant missteps, more than a few rookie year mistakes, and has already reneged on a number of campaign promises. Nothing new there, but certainly reportable events. And yet, the MSM, continues it’s fawning coverage. Samuelson reports:
[The nonpartisan Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism] examined 1,261 stores by The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC, CBS and NBC, Newsweek magazine and the "NewsHour" on PBS. Favorable stories (42 percent) were double the unfavorable (20 percent) , while the rest were "neutral" or "mixed." Obama's treatment contrasts sharply with coverage in the first two months of the presidencies of Bush (22 percent of stories favorable) and Clinton (27 percent).

Why is that? Is it because the media worked so hard to get the new President elected that they feel compelled to validate their efforts? Is it because Obama’s left-leaning politics is to their liking? Is it a continuation of Bush Derangement Syndrome? Hard to say.

But one thing for sure. It isn’t a good thing for the country.

To steal a phrase from left-wing ideologues—the media’s role is to speak truth to power. There is no one more powerful than the President of the United States.

Even when MSM criticism is offered, it’s always tempered by references to “inherited” situations that aren’t Obama’s fault, or obstructionist Republicans or Democrats who haven’t yet seen the light. Worse, there is little attempt to project the consequences of Obama’s policies into the future. What will the real costs be? How much “change” will result and will it be for the better? How will his profligate spending affect the next generation of workers and the current generation of soon to be retired baby boomers?

It’s the media’s job to ask questions and to allow the public to draw conclusions based on the facts they report. So far, their job performance is far worse than the President's.