This from a friend - comments of a stock broker. (See 1 below.)
Let's hear it for the old folks! Every once in a while a little corny humor helps assuage the pain.
And this explanation from Forrest Gump was sent to me by another friend and fellow memo reader. It about sums up what Mortgage-Backed Securitization was all about and how Unlce Sam intends to solve the problem. (See 2 and 2a below.)
Obama's incoming NSA Director General Jones wants NATO's UNFIL to protect Israel? This nonsense from a Marine?
We know what Lebanon is becoming - simply another refuge and base for terrorists and terrorism. Meanwhile, all under the nose of UNFIL!
It has even reached the point where marauders from Somali can conduct piracy, hijack ships, disrupt world commerce and hold hostages for ransom because the U.N. has not spoken and international PC laws do not sanction their arrest. What has the world come to - Gulliver crippled by thuggish Liliputians!(See 3 below.)
Just revealed: terms of the land for peace deal over Jerusalem, soon to be debated by The Quartet. Palestinians know that through rejection they keep gaining advantages and more conecessions because theyt can play off Western anxiety to conclude a deal. Much like the UAW in the auto negotiations. By refusing to compromise they figured the White House would step in and give the industry more rope.
Meanwhile, meddlesome Jimmy Carter is at it again in Syria and that makes Palestinians feel hopeful that Carter's views will prevail in the incoming Obama administration since Gen. Jones apparently shares Carter's views. (See 4 and 4a below.)
More empty U.S. threats regarding Syria's nuclear intentions? (See 5 below.)
Yossi Beilin, Israel's clone of Carter, visited with senior Obama staff and Sec. Rice. Beilin was snookered by Oslo but, nevertheless, persists in his dreamy notion how peace will be achieve. It appears increasingly likely, Obama is being influenced by a group of advisors more amenable to Beilin's view.
The allusion of peace in the Middle East is a powerful force and often comes with a Nobel Prize! Carter was duped by Iran but that was long ago. Now,Carter is willing to believe the word of Syria's leader is bankable? Raising false hopes is all Carter and Beilin have left to do because they are driven by an insatiable need to repair their reputationa as abject failures!
They now see hope their thinking will prevail because Scowcroft, Jones, Kurtzer, et al are in the ascendancy as Obama takes over. (See 6 below.)
Hoffman just won't let go of Netanyahu. (See 7 below.)
As Bush prepares to leave office Strassel interviews those who offer a different perspective than most Americans have of GW's diplomatic initiatives and efforts. Again, though GW may not have accomplished his goals and made crucial mistakes in the process, history will one day prove the Bush haters also had it wrong and their own actions did not serve the interest of world peace.(See 8 below.)
Clift sees another Kennedy Senator on the horizon? (See 9 below)
Why is Joe Klein asking why are we in Afghansiatn and preparing to expand the war there? Does he have an ulterior motive or is he just being consistent in pursuing his anti-Iraq view? You decide.(See 10.)
Continetti wonders why Conservatves are cheerful? (See 11 below.)
1)I just wanted to share some thoughts on the current market and an interesting piece that talks about the jobless number last week.
First – We experienced an amazing thing this past week. The four week treasury bill was auctioned off at a 0% rate with 4 to 1 orders to buy. Trades were conducted in the three month T Bill at a negative rate. The ten year note touched 2.5% the lowest since 1954 and the twenty year bond traded to lowest yield since 1956.
Second – Barron’s reported that Vince Farrell at Soleil Securities put out statistics – Since 1950 a span of 15,000 trading days we have only had 68 times where the S&P 500 gained or lost 4% in a single day (33 down, 35 up). Of those 68 days 28 have occurred in the last 90 days. Average 1 in 220 days over 15,000 days but approximately 1 in 3 days for past three months.
Third – This morning the big three auto companies were rejected by the Senate for the bailout funding and a $50 billion hedge fund collapsed. The amazing thing is the market is currently up. Last week when we reported the worst unemployment in 30 years the market was up. It can been seen as a positive when bad news hits and it is already priced in that the markets move up.
The market had moved up 21% to its 50 day moving average and once again began to back off.
A few thoughts on bear markets, the bottom and what to expect when things turn.
1) There is no one who knows when things will bottom and people who call bottom or tops are only making educated guesses. No one remembers the book Dow 36,000 written in 1999 or the person in 2002 who said the market would continue to fall to 4000 after making the lows.
2) The bottom will look very obvious six to twelve months after with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. You will look back and say buying Citigroup at $3, Dell at $8, GE at $12.50, or name your stock with an 8% dividend was so obvious. However if you bought Citigroup at $6 on the way to $3 it was not very fun for a few weeks.
3) The media will reinforce this with bringing out the people who called the bottom and just as they parade the small number of people who were short one year ago. Most people I talk to today have read the papers and watched CNBC and now comment on how obvious it was last year that America was overleveraged and the market was too high. It is obvious in hindsight but it was not obvious to the world twelve months ago. Just like oil prices this summer at $150 a barrel verses the recent low of $40. No one is mentioning $200 oil but I am now hearing $20 oil.
4) Lately we have been in a three steps backward and two steps forward market. The media and our own psyche is teaching us like Pavlov’s dog to react to the bell ringing. The market rallies and sells off. When the market turns we are likely to see the reverse. Some big moves followed by three steps forward and two steps back. Traders on CNBC who say buying stocks for the long run is dead and trading them is the only way to make money. (this is saying that buying business is dead, trading business stocks is only way to make money) We disagree.
5) We will feel regrets knowing we should have bought more when the markets were low. I am getting them now, Some days I wish the market would just pull back one more time to let me buy something only to get nervous when it does pull back. These are natural feelings in the market and I have to remind myself the Market is Volatile and subject to big swings which allows you to buy interests in businesses. Buying stocks today should only be done with time horizons of a full business cycle of seven to ten years.
6) You would be amazed at how the average investor is reacting
a. How would you like to buy anything from someone who says I cannot take it anymore just get me out because it is going down with absolutely no regard to valuation.
b. Buy low and sell high has been thrown out
c. Dollar Cost Averaging plans work the best when the market is going down, yet many investors are saying let’s stop buying now and we will start back when it is going up.
7) A few things to remember
a. We have a baby boom generation who is fast approaching retirement age with too little saved and thanks to a lousy stock market for ten years. When the markets turn I would suspect we will have some very anxious people trying to jump back in when the markets start moving up for fear of missing the last opportunity to make money to retire on.
b. Combine this with the money on the sidelines, Investors who are getting 0% returns in Treasuries and Treasury Money Markets.
c. We have a technological revolution that is continuing to speed up with new inventions that will likely expand in medical and energy. More was invented in the last twenty years than the previous 100 and we could see that pace double again in ten years.
d. The market is a leading indicator and the unemployment numbers are lagging indicators. Markets usually move up and down three to six months before recessions start and end.
e. Conservative names will provide best support in long drawn out recession but riskier assets and weaker companies will likely have more room to bounce when the markets recover due to the substantial declines.
We do not know when the bottom will come or what it will look like but I do know the fundamentals of investing such as buy low and sell high, dollar cost average, and buy when the blood is in the street have been long term winning strategies and timing the markets, buy high and sell low and short term trading of business eventually get you into trouble. While some people may be calling an end to the fundamentals of investing we believe they are sound. We have serious problems and we will have to work through them but in crisis like these opportunities will be born and business models will change.
2) A man was telling his neighbor, 'I just bought a new hearing aid. It cost me four thousand dollars, but it's state of the art. It's perfect.'
'Really, answered the neighbor. What kind is it?'
Morris, an 82 year-old man, went to the doctor to get a physical. A few days later, the doctor saw Morris walking down the street with a gorgeous young woman on his arm.
A couple of days later, the doctor spoke to Morris and said, 'You're really doing great, aren't you?'
Morris replied, 'Just doing what you said, Doc. Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.'
'The doctor said, ' I didn't say that. I said, 'You've got a heart murmur; be careful.'
A little old man shuffled slowly into an ice cream parlor and pulled himself slowly, painfully, up onto a stool.. After catching his breath, he ordered a banana split.
The waitress asked kindly, 'Crushed nuts?' 'No, 'he replied, Arthritis.'
2a) Forrest Gump Explains Mortgage-Backed Securities
Mortgage-Backed Securities are like boxes of chocolates. Criminals on Wall Street stole a few chocolates from the boxes and replaced them with turds. Their criminal buddies at Standard & Poor rated these boxes AAA Investment Grade chocolates. These boxes were then sold all over the world to investors. Eventually somebody bites into a turd and discovers the crime. Suddenly nobody trusts American chocolates anymore worldwide.
Hank Paulson now wants the American taxpayers to buy up and hold all these boxes of turd-infested chocolates for $700 billion dollars until the market for turds returns to normal. Meanwhile, Hank's buddies, the Wall Street criminals who stole all the good chocolates are not being investigated, arrested, or indicted.
Mama always said: 'Sniff the chocolates first Forrest'.
3)Al Qaeda operatives relocated from Iraq to Lebanon. UNIFIL, northern Israel on terror alert
Early Thursday, Dec. 11, the UN peacekeeping force's South Lebanon command declared the Palestinian Ain Hilwe camp near Sidon a no-go zone for the force's convoys for fear of attacks by al Qaeda. Supply convoys using the main coastal road from Beirut to Sidon were restricted to travel by night between 3 and 5 a.m., under armored vehicle escort.
The day before the al Qaeda alert, Dell Dailey, counter-terrorist operations director at the US State Department, reported that al Qaeda had responded to heavy US military in Iraq by shifting some of its fighting strength to Lebanon, though not in large numbers. He spoke during a visit Beirut.
Military sources report that this strength has split between two Palestinian camps: Ain Hilwa and Nahr al-Barad near the northern town of Tripoli. US intelligence expects them to focus on four targets:
1. One group will attempt cross-border strikes in northern Israel. A second has managed to infiltrate the Gaza Strip after landing in Egyptian Sinai by sea.
2. United Nations peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, who have been put on terror alert.
3. US installations and premises in Lebanon as well as Sixth Fleet vessels opposite its shores.
4. Pro-Western politicians in Lebanon.
According to counter-terror sources, the al Qaeda cell in the north is keeping its head down. However, They are confident enough to strut around the camp fully armed.
Acting on a request from Washington, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas this week replaced the Fatah commanders who admitted al Qaeda to Ain Hilwe and collaborated with the newcomers. Shots were later heard from the camp.
One of the functions of the undercover US mission recently established in Beirut – is to liaise with the Lebanese army in operations against al Qaeda, as well as guarding the Lebanese government against a Syrian or Hizballah takeover. Washington does not rule out the possibility of al Qaeda building a new stronghold in the country for a broad new offensive in Lebanon and against Israel and under the nose of the UN UNFIL forces.
4) Palestinians: Israel asked to annex 6.8% of West Bank
Israel proposed to annex 6.8 percent of the West Bank and take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees, the chief Palestinian negotiator said Friday, speaking for the first time in detail about the yearlong U.S.-backed negotiations that failed to produce an agreement.
Israel never revealed its position on the future of Jerusalem, the most contentious issue in the negotiations, said negotiator Ahmed Qureia.
His comments appeared aimed, in part, at providing a record of the Israeli position ahead of leadership changes in Israel and the United States. Israel's elections are scheduled for February 10, and polls suggest Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to become Israel's next prime minister.
Netanyahu opposes large-scale territorial concessions and has said he would not continue the negotiations in their current format. He has said he would try to focus on improving the Palestinian economy instead.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also faces a leadership challenge from his Hamas rivals, who rule Gaza and say Abbas' term in office ends in January.
The office of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declined comment Friday on the specifics provided by Qureia. However, Olmert aides noted recent Olmert speeches, in which he said Israel would have to withdraw from much of the land it occupied in the 1967 Mideast War, including the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem.
Qureia told Palestinian reporters on Friday that Israel wants to keep four blocs of Jewish settlements - Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev and Efrat-Gush Etzion.
He said Israel initially asked to annex 7.3 percent of the West Bank, then reduced the demand to 6.8 percent. He said Israel presented maps for both offers.
"Israel offered to give some of its own territory as compensation for the annexed areas, but not an equal trade in size and quality," Qureia said.
The negotiator said the Palestinians did not accept the Israeli offer, arguing that some of the areas Israel wants to annex would be vital to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Qureia has said in the past the Palestinians are willing to consider an annexation of some settlements and a land swap, but on a much smaller scale.
He said the Palestinians repeatedly raised their demand for a division of
Jerusalem, but that Israel's chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, never presented an Israeli position.
Olmert has said Israel would have to give up some Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. However, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, a member of Olmert's coalition, has threatened to quit if Jerusalem is discussed in the negotiations.
Olmert will step down as prime minister after a successor is selected. He has already been replaced by Livni as head and the ruling Kadima party and its next candidate for prime minister.
Qureia said Olmert's offer of 5,000 refugees over five years was rejected, but noted that the Palestinians don't seek the return of all refugees and their descendants, a group of several million.
"To say that not a single refugee would be allowed back or that all the refugees should be allowed back is not a solution," he said. "We should reach a mutual position on this issue."
Israel has adamantly refused to accept large numbers of Palestinians, saying mass repatriation would destroy the Jewish character of the state.
The negotiations were launched a year ago, at a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
Since then, Qureia and Livni have met repeatedly, in parallel to talks between Olmert and Abbas. Qureia said he last spoke to Livni by phone a month ago.
Olmert paid a farewell visit to outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush in late November, and Abbas is to meet with Bush at the White House next week.
Qureia said he hopes Barack Obama will make solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority when he takes over as U.S. president in January. "We hope that we will not have to wait for intensive U.S. involvement," he said.
The Palestinian negotiator said it's possible Netanyahu, if elected, will seek to erase the last year of negotiations. "There is a possibility that if Netanyahu wins, he will begin things from the point of zero," Qureia said, adding that while each side kept notes during the negotiations, there is no joint written record.
Qureia noted that during a term as prime minister in the 1990s, Netanyahu signed two interim agreements with the Palestinians, despite his hard-line positions.
"Therefore, a person in the position of responsibility could change contrary to his position in the opposition," Qureia said. "At the end of the day, we'll deal with anyone who wins the election."
Quartet to discuss Mideast peace at UN headquarters Monday
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier Friday that the diplomatic group on the Middle East peace process, or quartet, will meet Monday at UN headquarters.
"It is a year which I hope will bear fruit in the Middle East," Ban said in a conference in Geneva announcing the quartet meeting in New York.
"Somewhat below the radar, Israelis and Palestinians have been engaged in direct, intensive negotiations, and have created trust and a framework where none existed only two years ago," he said.
"They are setting the stage for peace and are determined to continue," he added. "It is up to the international community to help them realize that long-elusive dream."
Ban said he has invited several Arab governments to take part in the quartet discussions along with the four principals: the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and high-ranking EU officials will attend the meeting under Ban's leadership.
The quartet has called for the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. Various security and political steps have to be carried out before the two-state solution is achieved under what is known as a road map to end the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
4a) Carter discusses Mideast peace prospects with Assad in Syria
President Bashar Assad on Saturday discussed prospects for peace in the Middle east with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Syria and Israel this year held four rounds of indirect talks mediated by
Turkey, but the talks made no significant headway.
In Syria, Carter is also expected to meet with the exiled leadership of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal. Carter's first meeting with Meshaal in April drew sharp criticism from the Bush administration which labels Hamas
as a terrorist group.
On Friday, Carter said that he would have been delighted to meet Hezbollah officials and that he regrets the meeting didn't take place during his current visit to Lebanon.
Carter spent five days talking to top Lebanese leaders and members of parliamentary blocs but didn't meet with lawmakers from the militant Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed Shiite group is on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list.
The former U.S. leader had said he was ready to meet Hezbollah but they refuse to meet current or former U.S. presidents.
Carter has offered that his Atlanta-based Carter Center monitor Lebanon's parliament elections next year. The vote will be fiercely contested between Western-backed anti-Syrian groups that hold majority seats in the current 128-member parliament and a Hezbollah-led coalition supported by Syria and Iran.
During a lecture at the American University of Beirut at the end of his visit Friday, Carter expressed disappointment that Hezbollah refused to see him.
"We came here with the hope that we can meet with all the political parties and factions in Lebanon," he said. "If the leaders of Hezbollah wanted to meet with me, I would have been delighted."
Carter also said on Friday he hoped U.S. President-elect Barack Obama would quickly engage in Middle East peace talks when he takes Office.
Carter, president from 1977 to 1981, said Obama had told him he would "begin this effort early in his term."
"The United States for the last eight years has been basically aloof from negotiations," Carter said in an address at the American University of Beirut. "My hope is we will see a new movement towards a comprehensive peace in this region."
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, Carter helped negotiate a 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Critics say President George W. Bush largely ignored Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking until belatedly launching talks in November 2007.
Carter has been a tough critic of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, angering many with his 2006 book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
He also caused controversy earlier this year by meeting leaders of the Palestinian faction Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union.
Carter said he had no doubts about Obama's "political courage." "But I know the tremendous political pressure that exists in my nation among political office holders to comply almost without exception to the policies of the Israeli government," he said.
Obama's election was cheered by many Arabs glad to see an end to what they have seen as the Bush administration's ruinous Middle East policies. But the appointment of pro-Israeli figures in the new administration has tempered initial enthusiasm.
Carter said that while Obama had picked Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and Rahm Emmanuel as White House chief of staff, there was hope in his choice of retired Marine Gen. James Jones as national security advisor.
"As far as Rahm Emmanuel is concerned, yes, he is closely affiliated with Israel... But I think that another hopeful sign is that General Jim Jones will be his national security advisor," Carter said.
Clinton had "been quite close to AIPAC's position in the past," Carter added, in reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby group.
"But I think that Jim Jones is thoroughly familiar with the situation in Palestine," Carter said. Diplomats say Jones was critical of Israel in a confidential report this year on how Israelis and Palestinians had met security commitments.
5) US demands Syria cooperate on nuke plan
By Roee Nahmias
American ambassador to UN nuclear watchdog says Damascus must decide whether it plans to follow in Iran's footsteps or cooperate on its alleged atomic program. A failure to do so, he warns, would lead to punishment measures
A warning to Syria: US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Gregory Schulte says Syria has three months – until the United Nations nuclear watchdog's next governors' meeting in March – to start cooperating on its nuclear program, or it will be punished. A failure to do so, he warns, will lead to "punishment measures".
In an interview published Saturday with the London-based Arabic-language al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, Schulte said that "the Damascus authorities must decide whether they wish to follow in Iran's footsteps or cooperate."
IAEA governors at odds over Syria bid for atom aid / Reuters
China, Russia object to 'political interference' in agency's aid program for civilian nuclear energy development, while US, France, Canada and the EU say Syria's bid for UN aid in planning nuclear power plant while it is being probed over proliferation concerns 'inappropriate'
Schulte also noted that North Korea has neither denied nor confirmed its involvement in the construction of the Syrian nuclear reactor allegedly bombed by Israel.
"I hope the Syrians reach the conclusion that they should cooperate, for the sake of their own interests," he said.
According to Schulte, if Damascus failed to cooperate "this would lead to a negative response, and serious questions would be raised".
Schulte refused to discuss the sanctions which would be imposed on Syria if it continued its policy, saying that the IAEA's goal at this time is to convince Damascus to cooperate.
"No one is talking about sanctions today. The only thing we are talking about is a probe. The international agency is giving the Syrians an opportunity to cooperate, and they have an extension until the next meeting to cooperate."
He added that this was not an official extension, but a date on which the nuclear watchdog would reexamine the Syrian nuclear issue, after the matter was discussed in the council's latest meeting two weeks ago.
Despite his reservations, Schulte added that "Syria is engaging in a tactic used by Iran in recent years – the failure to cooperate. This is not the road we want Syria to take. We hope Syria cooperates fully with the agency in regards to what happened in the Syrian desert. If they fail to cooperate, there will be consequences."
Syrian reactor before bring bombed by Israel (Archive photo: AFP)
Only two weeks ago, the IAEA decided to provide Syria with technical support as part of its efforts to develop a nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes. This decision was a serious blow to the United States and Israel, who have been working in the past year to thwart this move, claiming Damascus is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
The UN nuclear watchdog has been probing Syria since May, following American intelligence reports which stated that Damascus was close to completing the Pyongyang-supervised construction of a nuclear reactor for the production of plutonium, at the site bombed by Israel.
According to reports published last month, IAEA inspectors discovered uranium traces at the secret site attacked by Israel in September 2007. Syria denied claims that it had tried to attain nuclear energy for military purposes, violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it had signed.
6) Beilin: Mideast a top priority for Obama
By Yitzhak Benhorin
WASHINGTON – Former Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin, who retired from politics recently, met with senior officials in the office of US President-elect Barack Obama in Washington.
After his meeting Beilin stated he has reached the conclusion that in spite of the difficult problems the new American administration will have to deal with, the issue of advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Syrians will be at the top of its agenda.
Obama may make Powell Mideast envoy.
Sources in Washington suggest the appointment of Republican statesman as special envoy to Middle East is 'a serious option'. Former chief negotiator Dennis Ross, ex-Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer nominated for role as well.
Beilin also met with outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The outgoing and new administration officials were interested in hearing Beilin's opinion, as the former deputy foreign minister was the person who initiated the London and Oslo talks 15 years ago, which led to the Oslo Accords, and was the main initiator of the Geneve Accord.
Among the officials Beilin met with was Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security advisor under President George H.W. Bush and has been advising Obama on issues related to national security in general and the Middle East in particular.
Syrians or Palestinians first?
The former Meretz chairman met Friday with two close advisors of the newly-appointed secretary of state, Hillary Clinton – former President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and his National Security Advisor Samuel "Sandy" Berger.
"My impression was that in spite of the other problems, the Middle East issue is one of the new administration's top priorities. There are still dilemmas on how to handle our issue – whether to focus on the Palestinian channel or the Syrian channel first, or to go for an overall solution," Beilin told Ynet.
Outgoing US President George W. Bush is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Friday. Bush had hoped to hold a three-way meeting with Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and issue a joint statement on the agreements reached so far, but the Palestinian leader opposed the idea.
Olmert visited Washington two weeks ago for a farewell meeting with President Bush. Now it will be Abbas' turn to arrive at the White House on his own and bid farewell to the first American president who publicly announced the need to establish a democratic Palestinian state which would live in peace alongside the State of Israel.
7) Politics: Navigating Likud
By Gil Hoffman
Upon becoming prime minister in 1992, Yitzhak Rabin decided to put an end to infighting in his Labor Party and sparring over portfolios between his camp and that of his rival, Shimon Peres.
In a celebrated speech to the hostile central committee that became part of the country's lore, Rabin declared: "I will navigate."
That speech helped solidify his rule over the party and silence internal opposition.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu delivered a similar message on Thursday night in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. In words directed at Likud Knesset candidate Moshe Feiglin and his loyalists, as well as at the general public, Netanyahu said that, as prime minister, he would determine how the country would be run, and that he expected discipline from his faction.
"I am the Likud's leader, and the MKs understand that I set the policies," Netanyahu said. "All of the MKs, except for maybe one, will follow my commitment to achieving peace and security with reciprocity.
I will pursue this from a large Likud in a wide national-unity government, which is important for the challenges that lie ahead, that require the most experienced leadership which I intend to provide."
He said that the media's focus on Feiglin's placement on the list was "ballyhooed," and that what really mattered was that the Likud selected a list of proven leaders in security, economics, law, medicine and politics with varied backgrounds, and nine young people under the age of 40.
But Netanyahu's critics charged that, rather than acting to unify his party - as Rabin did when he became prime minister - by targeting Feiglin and actively working to keep him off the party's list, Netanyahu was behaving the way new prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu did in 1996.
When he built his cabinet then, Netanyahu insisted on leaving out the Likud's top hawk at the time, Ariel Sharon, whose views were demonized. Netanyahu eventually caved in and created a ministry for Sharon, but it ended up being just the first of many internal fights in his party and political camp that led to his downfall.
Thursday night's decision by the Likud's elections committee to demote Feiglin from the guaranteed 20th slot on the list to the borderline 36th was clearly a victory for Netanyahu. But Likud leaders, and even his own advisers, are divided on whether it was smart politically to waste his energy over the past week battling Feiglin and other internal rivals, rather than focusing his attention on Kadima Leader Tzipi Livni.
NETANYAHU'S POLITICAL week began when he released a list of his endorsements in Monday's primary, alienating many of his supporters who were not on it. He endorsed 10 people in a race with 144 candidates, virtually guaranteeing 134 enemies.
One of his endorsements was embattled former Sderot mayor Eli Moyal, who is facing a criminal investigation and who had no chance of winning a slot reserved for a candidate from the South. He got only 600 votes, just enough to block Silvan Shalom's cousin, former Beersheba deputy mayor Andre Uzan, from winning the slot.
Netanyahu's critics in Likud said he had nothing to gain from picking a fight with Shalom, who was surprised to see headlines Sunday about the Likud leader's allies falsely accusing him of trying to win enough seats for his loyalists to build his own mini-faction within the party.
Then Netanyahu did not take the steps necessary to ensure that there would be enough polling stations and computers available for the voting, which resulted in many voters going home, rather than waiting on long lines to vote. Likud had polling stations in half as many municipalities as Labor, despite having twice as many members. The most acute shortages were in Feiglin's strongholds of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.
Due to the long lines, Netanyahu extended the vote from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and sent late-night voice-mail messages to his supporters urging them to vote. But it was mostly hard-core Feiglin supporters who waited at polling stations past midnight.
Then Netanyahu continued his battle against Feiglin by sending his former aide, Ophir Akunis, to appeal the results and get Feiglin demoted. The appeal succeeded, but it could still be challenged by Feiglin.
IN CLOSED conversations, Likud MKs attacked Netanyahu for "inflating Feiglin" with his attacks on him both before and after the election. They said that if Netanyahu had not put Feiglin in the spotlight, he would not have won a realistic slot in the first place.
Netanyahu's advisers said it was important for him to do everything possible to deter Feiglin and distance himself from his extremist views, so no one could attribute them to him. But they denied that he initiated the lawsuit, and claimed that it was not specifically aimed at demoting Feiglin.
"It looks like [Netanyahu was targeting Feiglin], but it's not the case," a source close to Netanyahu said. "Bibi obviously has an interest in pushing back Feiglin, but he's not doing tricks here."
It was Shalom who alerted Netanyahu to what Likud sources call "a legal mishap" that led to Feiglin's mistakenly being placed higher on the list than he had earned.
One close Netanyahu adviser said he learned of the lawsuit from the media, and that he was angry that the appeal was filed, because he thought it would damage the Likud leader.
Responding to criticism about the other controversial decisions Netanyahu made, his associates said that, as the head of the party, he wanted to get the best list he could. They said Netanyahu had an obligation to help out party activists running for the Knesset who had been loyal to him for years and had no reason to aid Shalom's cousin.
"[Netanyahu] is not paranoid," a source close to the Likud leader said. "He thinks a leader has to do things he believes in, even if they are not popular, and even if he is criticized."
Regarding the problem with the computers, they said that Netanyahu had asked the officials in charge of them many times about whether the party was ready logistically for the primary. They blamed the decision not to have more polling stations on Likud activists who had nothing to do with the dispute between Netanyahu and Feiglin.
Netanyahu's associates said that Feiglin would soon be forgotten. They said the Likud has been at the top of the polls for two years, and they did not expect its Knesset slate to have any long-term impact ahead of the February 10 general election.
"The headlines about who our candidates are will only last for a few days, and then people will go back to talking about who can make the country safer, run it better and properly handle the economy," a Netanyahu associate said. "That's what will propel us to victory."
8) Bush Was No Unilateralist The president's longest-serving senior diplomat says conventional wisdom is wrong.
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
Paula Dobriansky is too much the diplomat to ever "bristle" at a question. But the word "unilateralism" elicits something close to that response. Sitting in her comfortable office, located in a drab wing of the drab State Department, I ask the undersecretary for democracy and global affairs just what she thinks of the conventional judgment that the Bush administration has practiced a "go it alone" foreign policy.
"If you look at every issue here, every issue I deal with, I can tell you our method has not been to take the U.S. experience and merely transplant it on the soil of another country," she says firmly. "Every issue here has had a rather vibrant, multilateral component to it. And you can see the results."
On the face of it, her remit -- "global affairs" -- encompasses a bewildering set of responsibilities: climate change, human trafficking, pandemic disease, women's issues, democracy, refugees, oceans, migration. The only glue that officially binds these issues together is that none can be solved with bilateral negotiations. They all require global cooperation, or as the undersecretary likes to put it, a "holistic" response.
One reason why these efforts haven't been as noticed is that most aren't the subject of "hard" foreign policy debates. When critics level their unilateralism charge against the Bush administration, they tend to focus on its tougher actions -- the invasion of Iraq, or the refusal to directly engage with rogue leaders.
Ms. Dobriansky's efforts have instead been focused on what scholars like to term "soft power." Coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye (one of Ms. Dobriansky's former professors), soft power describes the goal of engaging other countries on issues of culture and ideology. Considering President Bush's strong commitment to freedom, it should come as no surprise that -- even as he takes a tough line on terrorism or nuclear weapons -- his State Department has been busy trying to foster democratic values across the world.
This is Ms. Dobriansky's bailiwick, and she comes to her passion not just via Mr. Nye, but through her father, the late Lev Dobriansky, a scholar and relentless anti-communist who also served as a U.S. ambassador. "Coming into this job, my father had a great impact on me. He talked about the importance of the human condition and he said that freedom and human dignity are essential components of the human condition. . . . All of my areas, when you look at them, they all relate to the human condition and to those fundamental needs. . . . And all of these issues -- health, human rights, women's issues, democracy, the environment -- are interwoven into our broader national security priorities of peace and stability."
To make the point, she tells a story of Afghan women. "On one of the first visits that we made to Afghanistan, we met two young women in their 20s in Kabul. They were setting up a micro-finance bank, and they said, 'We need resources so women can set up their own businesses.' One of our members from the private sector did give resources specifically to help. . . . The next time we came to Afghanistan, we had to meet at the cafeteria at the embassy, because now there were 80 to 100 women, and they were all owners of businesses, everything from kites to a cement factory, to furniture to rugs.
"The third time we went to meet with them, we had to meet at their headquarters, and those headquarters encompassed an entire federation of Afghan women entrepreneurs. They are incredible. And it was striking to us, what a little targeted assistance could do to support this fundamental change from the time of the Taliban." The point, she explains, is that no country can be stable so long as only half of its population is free to succeed. And foreign stability makes the U.S. safer.
With a staff of 800, Ms. Dobriansky's office oversees a whirlwind of similar programs. Early on, the Bush administration created an office to combat the trafficking of persons. Today, dozens of countries are actively working on prevention, prosecutions, and the protection of victims. In 2002, the U.S. announced the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, in which some 40 governments and groups work to preserve the world's second-largest area of tropical rain forest. In 2005, President Bush announced an international partnership to combat a pandemic avian influenza outbreak. At the time, about 40 nations had preparedness plans; today, as many as 130 countries do.
And then there are the democracy initiatives. With U.S. leadership, in 2005 the United Nations created the Democracy Fund, designed to finance projects that build democratic institutions. More than 35 countries have contributed some $100 million to the fund, which has already green-lighted 85 projects. In 2002, the Bush State Department created the Middle East Partnership Initiative. It is now funding more than 350 initiatives in 15 countries, focusing on everything from press rights in Algeria to legal rights for Yemeni women. One project brings young women here from every country in the Middle East to work in Fortune 500 companies.
She is quick to note that much of this has been driven by President Bush himself. She singles out Africa, where Mr. Bush has more than quadrupled health funding. "I used to have that portfolio," she says. "But the president has devoted such personal time to issues such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria that the State Department created a whole new department, the U.S. Global Aids Coordinator."
It might also be the case that the Bush administration doesn't get credit for leadership on key issues for the reason that the results aren't always to the liking of the liberal intelligentsia. When Mr. Bush first took office in 2001, he met howls for his decision not to submit the Kyoto Protocol for ratification. That event helped create the storyline of Bush unilateralism.
Less noticed is that in the intervening years, the global community, pushed by Ms. Dobriansky, has taken a dramatically different view of how to approach global warming. "Today, there isn't just a focus on the short term, but on the medium and long term. There is a belief that there needs to be a revolution in technologies. There is an understanding that the world is much different than in 1990, that you now have these major emerging economies, and that they can contribute significantly to the challenges of climate change." None of this sits well with environmentalists, who still believe the only course of action is carbon restrictions that punish developed countries. But especially with the recent economic crisis, governments are taking a more rational view.
Nor is the Bush administration's "multilateralism" restricted to governments. Civil society is obviously comprised of all sorts of groups and, like prior administrations, the Bush team has made these outside forces integral to their efforts.
One of Ms. Dobriansky's favorite examples is the administration's ongoing effort to completely eradicate polio. Spearheading that effort are, in fact, two nongovernmental organizations -- the U.N. Foundation (Ted Turner's group) and Rotary. "We all sat together to come up with a strategy. And while we reached out to the diplomatic corps in key countries, those groups were on the ground, putting out the resources, doing the work. It is great cooperation," she explains.
The administration has also tried to integrate the business community. In 2006 the State Department established the Global Internet Freedom Task Force, a coalition of human-rights organizations and business players to come up with ways technology can combat censorship and repressive regimes. As a result of that group, the State Department's annual human-rights report now includes an evaluation of a country's Internet freedoms.
And then there is Hollywood. Yes, Ms. Dobriansky moves with the stars. "America's best advocates for positive change are its best-known faces," she confirms. She's stood beside Angelina Jolie to talk about refugees. (She admits to some worry that nobody would ask her any questions.) She's worked with Bo Derek on animal trafficking. She recounts singer Ricky Martin's request to help deter trafficking of individuals. "He does wonderful work in and throughout Latin America, and has been able to reach communities that I don't know we would have otherwise been effective in reaching -- younger people in particular," she says.
"She is a dynamo. She was creative collaborator on so many issues," says actor Richard Gere, who has worked with Ms. Dobriansky on Tibet and HIV/AIDS. Mr. Gere admits he's no fan of many Bush actions, but on those two areas he offers praise. He talks about Ms. Dobriansky's efforts to obtain the Congressional Medal of Honor for the Dalai Lama, an award that both honored His Holiness, but also sent a signal to China of America's support for Tibet. "This is a deeply interconnected world. And there is no good for us unless there is an overall good. That's her approach," he says.
As Ms. Dobriansky prepares to leave State, she holds one unusual distinction. Appointed to her job in the first days of the Bush administration (she had been president of the Council on Foreign Relations), she is now the longest serving person in her post. The next closest would have been FDR's undersecretary of state, Sumner Welles, who had similar responsibilities.
That long service means Ms. Dobriansky has worked under both Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and I ask her to describe the difference. "Well, Secretary Powell came with a military background, and Secretary Rice comes with an academic background. I think that has maybe had a little bit of influence. With him, he was very efficient on how to organize. In her case, she really enjoys bringing different experts together to brainstorm on this or that issue."
The time has also given Ms. Dobriansky a chance to contemplate some of those big foreign-policy divides, for instance the famous split between "realists" and "idealists." Her own view is that the split is greatly exaggerated. "This office brings together idealism and realism. It is the nexus. You pursue goals that are idealistic, but in the end all of these issues are absolutely integral to our greater national security strategy. These issues can be used to advance relationships with other countries, and in the process affect the lives of real people."
Spoken, some might say, like a true multilateralist.
9) Another Kennedy in the Senate? Caroline's chances of being tapped to succeed Hillary Clinton.
By Eleanor Clift
It's hard to imagine the very private and shy Caroline Kennedy running for public office like any other ambitious politician if she is the designated candidate to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat in New York. Then again, it's equally hard to imagine anyone running against her. She's such an icon of Camelot, the little girl with the pony named Macaroni, now 51 years old and ready to claim her father's legacy. Politics being the contact sport it is, it didn't take long for Rep. Peter King, a pugnacious and popular Republican with a regular-guy presence on cable TV's political shows, to announce his intention to run for Hillary's Senate seat in two years even if—and maybe especially if—Kennedy is the interim senator.
Sitting in the MSNBC green room when the news of Caroline's interest in going political first made the rounds, a young, dot.com journalist floated the idea that she would be a good vice president for Barack Obama in his second term. "He'll have to get rid of Biden; he'll be a septuagenarian by then," he opined. His fellow pundits were skeptical, but it makes a certain amount of sense. Positioning a successor is what a president is supposed to do in his second term. Still, President Kennedy in 2016? We're getting ahead of ourselves. Joe Biden hasn't even been sworn in. Let's not rush history.
At the risk of sounding crass given the uproar over the auctioning of the vacant Obama Senate seat in Illinois, the key to Hillary's replacement is who best serves New York Governor David Paterson. He will be running in 2010 and because he is a fill-in himself; having assumed the office earlier this year after Eliot Spitzer resigned in the wake of revelations about his involvement with a prostitute, his prospects are uncertain. Before Caroline surfaced as a possible candidate, the buzz was that Paterson, who is African-American, needed a white ethnic to balance the ticket and attract votes in the more conservative suburbs and upstate New York.
Besides being a Kennedy and all that implies, Caroline fits the bill as an Irish-Catholic. Her chief competition within the Democratic Party is another white ethnic with a famous last name: Andrew Cuomo, currently New York's Attorney General. A Marist poll finds each has the support of 25 percent of registered voters, with 26 percent of voters saying they aren't sure who should get the job. Each also enjoys high approval ratings, over 60 percent, and low negatives (18 percent for Cuomo; 9 percent for Kennedy).
Paterson brought the house down at a supposedly off-the-record Gridiron dinner with journalists last weekend when he brought out his cell phone to reveal a series of messages relating to the Senate seat. There was Chuck Schumer, New York's senior senator, known for his oversized ego, saying he'd like a devout evangelical because "that way there would be no competition for Sunday press conferences." New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called to ask if it's true there are no term-limits in the Senate. Hillary herself (this was no impersonation) passed along a message from Schumer wondering why New York needs two senators anyway. "I know it's a stretch, but I promised him I'd ask you," she says. A call from Caroline cuts off with a loud beep just as she's about to recommend the one candidate with the perfect intelligence, integrity and passion. Then finally a voice chides, "This is David, appoint yourself," as Paterson plays the message he left for himself. "What could be a cushier job than sitting around and listening to speeches all day and voting on stuff. I can't believe you're not thinking about this. I know I am."
Joking aside, if Caroline wants Hillary's seat, it's probably hers. She is a serious person who's been inching out into the wider world, working on school reform in New York City, and coauthoring worthy books—the latest entitled "The Right to Privacy," a subject she knows intimately—and overseeing Obama's vice-presidential search, along with Eric Holder, now the president-elect's pick for attorney general. Her endorsement of Obama, in conjunction with her Uncle Ted, came at a critical moment in the campaign, legitimizing the Democratic Party's shift away from Clinton toward Obama. She shed her lifelong resistance to campaign for anybody outside of immediate family. "She worked rope lines and spoke at campaign stops for Obama and was not turned off by that," says a family friend. "In fact, she enjoyed herself."
There's been a Kennedy in the U.S. Senate since 1952; when John F. Kennedy won the presidency, a placeholder named Ben Smith held the seat until Ted Kennedy could run to replace his brother. Seeing Caroline take over the seat and continue the tradition of progressive policy making the Kennedy family embodies is understandably one of Kennedy's wishes as he battles terminal brain cancer. Her biggest hurdle, according to the family friend, would be giving up the private life she cherishes. However, she might be ready for it. It would allow her the "fullest use of her abilities along the lines of excellence in an area affording them scope," which was the Greeks' definition of happiness cited by her father when he was president.
10) The Aimless War: Why Are We in Afghanistan?
By Joe Klein
"Things have gotten a bit hairy," admitted British Lieut. Colonel Graeme Armour as we sat in a dusty, bunkered NATO fortress just outside the city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, a deadly piece of turf along Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan. A day earlier, two Danish soldiers had been killed and two Brits seriously wounded by roadside bombs. The casualties were coming almost daily now.
And then there were the daily frustrations of Armour's job: training Afghan police officers. Almost all the recruits were illiterate. "They've had no experience at learning," Armour said. "You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh." A week earlier, five Afghan police officers trained by Armour were murdered in their beds while defending a nearby checkpoint — possibly by other police officers. Their weapons and ammunition were stolen. "We're not sure of the motivation," Armour said. "They may have gone to join the Taliban or sold the guns in the market."
The war in Afghanistan — the war that President-elect Barack Obama pledged to fight and win — has become an aimless absurdity. It began with a specific target. Afghanistan was where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda lived, harbored by the Islamic extremist Taliban government. But the enemy escaped into Pakistan, and for the past seven years, Afghanistan has been a slow bleed against an array of mostly indigenous narco-jihadi-tribal guerrilla forces that we continue to call the "Taliban." These ragtag bands are funded by opium profits and led by assorted religious extremists and druglords, many of whom have safe havens in Pakistan.
In some ways, Helmand province — which I visited with the German general Egon Ramms, commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command — is a perfect metaphor for the broader war. The soldiers from NATO's International Security Assistance Force are doing what they can against difficult odds. The language and tactics of counter-insurgency warfare are universal here: secure the population, help them build their communities. There are occasional victories: the Taliban leader of Musa Qala, in northern Helmand, switched sides and has become an effective local governor. But the incremental successes are reversible — schools are burned by the Taliban, police officers are murdered — because of a monstrous structural problem that defines the current struggle in Afghanistan.
The British troops in Helmand are fighting with both hands tied behind their backs. They cannot go after the leadership of the Taliban — still led by the reclusive Mullah Omar — which operates openly in the Pakistani city of Quetta, just across the border. They also can't go after the drug trade that funds the insurgency, in part because some of the proceeds are also skimmed by the friends, officials and perhaps family members of the stupendously corrupt government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Helmand province is mostly desert, but it produces half the world's opium supply along a narrow strip of irrigated land that straddles the Helmand River. The drug trade — Afghanistan provides more than 90% of the world's opium — permeates everything. A former governor, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, was caught with nine tons of opium, enough to force him out of office, but not enough to put him in jail, since he enjoys — according to U.S. military sources — a close relationship with the Karzai government. Indeed, Akhundzada and Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali — who operates in Kandahar, the next province over — are considered the shadow rulers of the region (along with Mullah Omar). "You should understand," a British commander said, "the fight here isn't really about religion. It's about money."
Another thing you should understand: thousands of U.S. troops are expected to be deployed to Helmand and Kandahar provinces next spring. They will be fighting under the same limitations as the British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch forces currently holding the fort, which means they will be spinning their wheels. And that raises a long-term question crucial to the success of the Obama Administration: What are we doing in Afghanistan? What is the mission?
We know what the mission used to be — to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and destroy his al-Qaeda command. But once bin Laden slipped away, the mission morphed into a vast, messy nation — building effort to support the allegedly democratic Karzai government. There was a certain logic to that. The Taliban and al-Qaeda can't base themselves in Afghanistan if something resembling a stable, secure nation-state exists there. But the mission was also historically implausible: Afghanistan has never had a strong central government. It has been governed for thousands of years by local and regional tribal coalitions. The tribes have often been at one another's throats — a good part of the current "Taliban" uprising is nothing more than standard tribal rivalries juiced by Western arms and opium profits — except when foreigners have invaded the area, in which case the Afghans have united and slowly humiliated conquerors from Alexander the Great to the Soviets.
The current Western presence is the most benign intrusion in Afghan history, and the rationale of building stability remains a logical one — but this war has become something of a sideshow in South Asia. The far more serious problem is Pakistan, a flimsy state with illogical borders, nuclear weapons and a mortal religious enmity toward India, its neighbor to the south. Pakistan is where bin Laden now lives, if he lives. The Bush Administration chose to coddle Pakistan's military leadership, which promised to help in the fight against al-Qaeda — but it hasn't helped much, although there are signs that the fragile new government of President Asif Ali Zardari may be more cooperative. Still, the Pakistani intelligence service helped create the Taliban and other Islamic extremist groups — including the terrorists who attacked Mumbai — as a way of keeping India at bay, and Pakistan continues to protect the Afghan Taliban in Quetta. In his initial statements, Obama has seemed more sophisticated about Afghanistan than Bush. In an interview with me in late October, Obama said Afghanistan should be seen as part of a regional problem, and he suggested that he might dispatch a special envoy, perhaps Bill Clinton, to work on the Indo-Afghan-Pakistani dilemma. Clinton seems a less likely prospect since his wife was named Secretary of State. The current speculation is that Richard Holbrooke may be selected for the job, which would be a very good idea. (See pictures of Barack Obama's campaign behind the scenes.)
Holbrooke is a great negotiator, but he's also a great intimidator, and the first step toward resolving the war in Afghanistan is to lay down the law in both Islamabad and Kabul. The message should be the same in both cases: The unsupervised splurge of American aid is over. The Pakistanis will have to stop giving tacit support and protection to terrorists, especially the Afghan Taliban. The Karzai government will have to end its corruption and close down the drug trade. There are plenty of other reforms necessary — the international humanitarian effort is a shabby, self-righteous mess; some of our NATO allies aren't carrying their share of the military burden — but the war will remain a bloody stalemate at best as long as jihadis come across the border from Pakistan and the drug trade flourishes.
I flew by helicopter from Helmand to the enormous NATO base outside Kandahar to learn that three Canadian soldiers had been killed that morning in an ambush. I stood in a small, bare concrete plaza as the Canadian flag was raised, then lowered to half-staff. Next the Danish flag and finally the NATO flag were raised and left to rest at half-staff. A small group of soldiers from assorted countries stood at attention and saluted as the flags rose and fell. There were no American flags this day, but there soon will be.
Before he sends another U.S. soldier off to die or be maimed in Afghanistan, President-elect Obama needs to deliver the blunt message to the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan that we will no longer tolerate their complicity in the deaths of Americans and our allies, a slaughter that began on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and continues to this day. Obama will soon own this aimless war if he does not somehow change that dynamic.
11) Why Conservatives Shouldn't Be Cheery
By Matthew Continetti
NPR.org, December 11, 2008 · My conservative friends have been filled with glee during this holiday season, savoring recent GOP victories and reveling in Democratic scandals. But it is far too early for them to break out the eggnog. The GOP remains in serious trouble.
The first good news for Republicans was U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss' victory in a Dec. 2 runoff election. Chambliss beat his Democratic opponent, Jim Martin, by a whopping 15 points. He increased his share of the vote from 48.9 percent on Nov. 4 to 57 percent in the runoff. His victory guaranteed that the Democrats would not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. And many conservatives were cheered when they saw Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin draw huge crowds at Chambliss' campaign events.
Then came Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao's victory in a special election in Louisiana on Dec. 6. Cao's opponent was the indicted Democratic Congressman William "Cold Cash" Jefferson — the guy who allegedly hid $90,000 in his freezer. Cao won in a majority-minority district where John McCain got less than a quarter of the vote. And Cao will become the first Vietnamese-American congressman, helping to diversify the GOP.
Meanwhile, Sen. Norm Coleman may yet triumph in the recount between him and Democrat Al Franken. You open the paper and read about the arrest of Democratic Illinios Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the news, if you are a Republican, just keeps getting better. The GOP's dismal electoral fortunes may turn around sooner than people think.
Except that they won't. Consider the circumstances surrounding the recent Republican victories. Both Chambliss and Cao won in the South, where the Republicans have been strong for decades. And while Cao's district may not seem like friendly territory for a Republican, one has to remember that Jefferson was becoming an embarrassment to his constituents. People might not like Republicans these days, but they like corruption even less. As for Coleman, the Senate contest in Minnesota was pretty much a tie. No big victory there.
The GOP's overall situation remains poor. Barack Obama won an impressive victory in November, and the Republicans are unlikely to take back Congress anytime soon. What's more, the share of voters who identified as Republicans on Election Day was the lowest it has been in more than 20 years. And Obama won lopsided victories among groups that will only play a larger role in our politics as time goes on — young people, for example, whom Obama won by a 2-1 margin. And Latinos, whom Obama won by a similar margin. The only age group that went for McCain was 65 and older. That's not what you would call a good sign for the Republicans' long-term future.
Obama is popular, and his agenda is, too. A recent poll found that 60 percent of respondents support Obama's plans for massive infrastructure spending. Voters may be split on whether or not to bail out the Big Three auto companies. But they will not like Republicans anymore — trust me on this — if the GOP drives those companies into bankruptcy and is indirectly responsible for massive layoffs.
The GOP's problem is that it obstinately refuses to address the problems facing those Americans who do not listen to conservative talk radio. Also, the party is tied to the legacy of the most unpopular president since the advent of polling. Democrats were able to invoke Herbert Hoover's legacy for decades. How long will they be able to invoke George W. Bush's?
See my latest memo posting at http://dick-meom.blogspot.com/. Updated daily.