Soon it will be Valentine. I just received a card from a smiling Pelosi surrounded by "bleeding" hearts with a trillion dollar stamp.
To all my female memo readers I wish you the happiest of Valentine's.
To my male memo readers I suggest you order a dozen Macaroons from Sweet-Tammys.com and give them to your favorite(s).
An interesting article by Charles Kesler regarding Obama and his liberal roots. Kelser writes that Liberalism has passed through three distinct stages and Obama is trying to adapt a little of all three and meld them into a perpetual state of Democrat sustainability.
There is little doubt Obama is a pragmatist liberal whose views favor government. A very insightful article and a must read. (See 1 below.)
But, then there is Krauthammer's more fatalistic view. (See 1a below.)
I was plugged in to a conference call pertaining to an analysis of the Israeli election. This is a praecis of what I heard from representatives of both Netanyahu and Kadima and a major publisher.
a) This was not a head to head election. Had it been, Netanyahu would have done better. This was a Party vote for Knesset Members.
b) Who will become Israel's Prime Minister will be determined by President Peres and the thinking/betting is Netanyahu will be selected because Livni tried earlier to form a government and was unsuccessful.
c) Kadima ran a clever campaign which split the vote.
d) Kadima is not likely to form a coalition with Likud. No major party got 25%, so difficult to form a coalition. Netanyahu is more likely to able to put a natural coalition together, something Livni probably cannot. On other hand, Netanyahu must not allow himself to be backed into a corner and tied into such hawkish knots so Kadmia, if they were to be invited, could not join.
e)Election results connotes a definite shift to the right, however, still could be some slight re-balancing after all votes are counted.
Move to center-right reflects reality and Israeli efforts which have resulted in Gaza etc. However, Netanyahu understands a broad unity government is important because he realizes support for Israel, world wide, demands this. Furthermore, Netanyahu does not believe Iran will cave re its nuclear position and thus a unity government could prove more critical should push come to shove.
f) A lot of talk about electoral reform but even with confusion caused by this election reform is unlikely.
g) Victor Lieberman is not as radical as he has been portrayed. More a matter of how he says what he says than what he says. Lieberman's views are supported by probably 70% or more of Israelis.
More Israeli election analysis. (See 2 Below.)
Are we there yet? Sent to me by two fellow memo readers friends. (See 3 and 3a below.)
Burton celebrates anniversary of Mugniyah's death. (See 4 below.)
Empty pragmatism does not cut it. (See 5 below.)
Obama evokes a lot of emotions. (See 6 below.)
I met a trillion dollar baby at the five and ten cent store. (See 7 below.)
1) How will Obama's liberalism shape America?
The answer lies in understanding the three waves of liberalism in America's past.
By Charles R. Kesler
Despite all his efforts to transcend partisanship, President Barack Obama is demonstrably a liberal. But what kind of liberal is he? And what does his brand of liberalism augur for America?
Even in the Democratic primaries, he shunned the "liberal" label. (Hillary Clinton did, too, preferring to be called a progressive.) Mr. Obama's favorite tack was to assail the whole argument between left and right as cynical and outdated. In its place he offered a pragmatic, hopeful, allegedly nonideological way forward.
On Election Day, his "working majority for change" turned out for him and the Democratic Party. Since then, Obama has tried to live up to his inaugural pledge to put an end to "the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for too long have strangled our politics." He has emphasized national unity and invoked the Founding Fathers. He met with congressional Republicans, and dined with conservative commentators at George Will's home.
Yet how nonideological can a politician be who was recognized by the National Journal as the most liberal-voting senator in 2007? Almost his first act as president was to issue executive orders repealing the policies of his Republican predecessor. Obama's healthcare and foreign-policy ideas are standard liberal issue.
His stimulus bill, meanwhile, did not get a single Republican vote in the House, and won't get many in the Senate. The problem is that the bill stimulates Democratic constituency groups – government employees, unions, community organizers – more obviously than it does the economy.
Obama's "new politics for a new time" looks increasingly familiar – "pork still, with but a little change of sauce," to quote Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention. But that doesn't mean that this president's liberalism will not be interesting. Indeed, he has endeavored to do no less than complete and perfect the grand liberal project begun a century ago.
Three waves of liberalism
Modern liberalism came to America in three waves, and it's useful to think of Obama in this light.
The progressives of the early 20th century were the original liberals, developing the essential tenets of liberalism as a political doctrine. Woodrow Wilson and others argued that the Constitution was an 18th-century document, based on 18th-century notions of rights. While suited to its day, they said, it was now painfully inadequate unless interpreted in a vital new spirit.
This spirit was Darwinian and evolutionary, turning Hamilton's "limited Constitution" into a "living Constitution" that must be able to adapt its structure and function to meet the latest social and economic challenges. To guide this evolution, to organize society's march into the future, presidents had to cease being merely constitutional officers and become dynamic leaders of popular opinion.
Obama accepts all the major elements of this evolutionary approach to the Constitution and American government. As he wrote in "The Audacity of Hope," the Constitution "is not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world."
Likewise, in his inaugural address he declared, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works…."
This emphasis on what "works" is his nod to pragmatism, which he implies is almost the opposite of ideological liberalism. In fact, however, such pragmatism is part of liberalism.
What "works," after all, depends on what you think government's purpose is supposed to be. Pragmatism tries to distract us from those ultimate questions, while assuming liberal answers to them. Thus Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal promised "bold, persistent experimentation." Obama's domestic agenda betrays the same eagerness.
Liberalism's second stage was economic. In the New Deal, the Great Society, and its sequels, liberals turned to the wholesale minting of new kinds of rights. Citizens were thus entitled to socioeconomic benefits through programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Besides these entitlements, the federal government also extended its regulatory authority to areas previously private or under state and local jurisdiction.
But this wave crested unexpectedly, and for a while, contemporary liberals seemingly lost their enthusiasm for such top-down regulation and the work of transforming privileges into rights.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of socialist economies around the globe, liberals such as Bill Clinton took a second look at the free market. He populated his Treasury department with highfliers from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms. In left-leaning think tanks and even in the academy, capitalism commanded strange new respect. This rehabilitation of the market, though never more than partial, was the greatest change in American liberalism in the past 40 years. Obama absorbed it, as did many members of his new administration.
But the financial crisis and market meltdown have changed things.
It looks like 1932 again, a time for reinvigorated government activism. "Without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control," Obama said in his inaugural. But does the market merely need watching – or some weightier form of "control"?
The final wave of liberalism crashed over America in the 1960s and '70s. Cultural liberalism erupted in the universities but the counterculture quickly went mainstream, bringing sex, drugs, and rock 'n 'roll, not to mention women's liberation, gay liberation, and abortion, to the masses.
So far, the most innovative aspect of Obama's liberalism is how he has tried to transcend its cultural excesses.
Whereas Bill Clinton sometimes embodied the immaturity and self-indulgence of the
'60s, Obama's demeanor and family life – even his suits – bespeak a mature, serious liberalism that sees self-control and adulthood as cool.
Still, Obama's political dealings with cultural liberalism are bound to be complicated. He tries to defuse issues such as abortion and gay marriage by not talking about them, except in front of the relevant audience. But as president, his remarks anywhere will be noticed. Though he claims to believe that gun ownership is an individual right protected by the Second Amendment, his support for sweeping gun-control measures suggests a different perspective.
His landmark speech on race managed to divorce him from the worst of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's fulminations, without quite repudiating the most pernicious of Mr. Wright's assumptions, namely, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were, at least originally, racist documents.
Obama's religious rhetoric
On such issues Obama's best defense is a good offense, and he will doubtless continue therefore to celebrate the importance of religion in his life and in the country's, and to praise America's founders and heroes.
On Jan. 20, from the Capitol's west steps he proclaimed, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers." But he also invoked God five times and Scripture once. The multicultural reflex cannot be banished, but Obama clearly intends to speak in the name of religion. He does not want to leave a naked public square into which only conservative faiths and believers may stroll.
This determination will make for awkward moments: Are all those faiths equally constitutive of American mores? Whose scripture is being consulted here? (His inaugural cited First Corinthians 13:11.) Nonetheless, he is keen for liberalism to become a firm ally of American religiosity, especially insofar as churches are willing to preach a new social gospel devoted to improving the lives of people in this world and around the globe.
The patriotic theme, so prominent in his inaugural, is Obama's reply to the anti-Americanism of the cultural and academic left, those last redoubts of the radical '60s. If he is persuasive, over time he may well heal the worst of the Democratic Party's self-inflicted wounds and prepare it to be the defender of "our better history," as he put it.
A lasting Democratic majority
His ambitions are clear: The speech was a pastiche of themes adapted from FDR and Ronald Reagan, the last two presidents to pull off major electoral realignments (less enduring in Reagan's case). What Obama hopes for is a similar breakthrough for the forces of liberalism in this generation.
An enduring Democratic majority is not out of the question. The wild scramble to stop the economic and financial downturn may well leave America with a politically controlled economy that would corrupt the relationship between citizens and the federal government – sapping entrepreneurship and encouraging new forms of dependence on the state, as in much of Europe. That would be consistent with the more socialized democracy that liberalism has been striving for ever since the Progressive Era.
Obama likes to emphasize that America is more like the world than we realize, and must become still more like it if the US is to remain the world's leader. Despite his summoning oratory, his sense of American exceptionalism thus is far less lofty, far more constrained, than Reagan's or FDR's. The greatest stumbling block to Obama's ambition is likely to be the inability of this exceptional president to persuade Americans to follow him into so unexceptional a future.
1a) Age of Obama
By Charles Krauthammer
"A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe." - President Obama, Feb. 4.
Catastrophe, mind you. So much for the president who in his inaugural address two weeks earlier declared "we have chosen hope over fear." Until, that is, you need fear to pass a bill.
And so much for the promise to banish the money changers and influence peddlers from the temple. An ostentatious executive order banning lobbyists was immediately followed by the nomination of at least a dozen current or former lobbyists to high position. Followed by a Treasury secretary who allegedly couldn't understand the payroll tax provisions in his 1040.
Followed by Tom Daschle, who had to fall on his sword according to the new Washington rule that no Cabinet can have more than one tax delinquent.
The Daschle affair was more serious because his offense involved more than taxes. As Michael Kinsley once observed, in Washington the real scandal isn't what's illegal, but what's legal. Not paying taxes is one thing. But what made this case intolerable was the perfectly legal dealings that amassed Daschle $5.2 million in just two years.
He'd been getting $1 million per year from a law firm. But he's not a lawyer, nor a registered lobbyist. You don't get paid this kind of money to instruct partners on the Senate markup process. You get it for picking up the phone and peddling influence.
At least Tim Geithner, the tax-challenged Treasury secretary, had been working for years as a humble international civil servant earning non-stratospheric wages. Daschle, who had made another cool million a year (plus chauffeur and Caddy) for unspecified services to a pal's private equity firm, represented everything Obama said he'd come to Washington to upend.
AND YET more damaging to Obama's image than all the hypocrisies in the appointment process is his signature bill: the stimulus package. He inexplicably delegated the writing to Nancy Pelosi and the barons of the House. The product, which inevitably carries Obama's name, was not just bad, not just flawed, but a legislative abomination.
It's not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It's not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.
It's the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus - and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress' own budget office says won't be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said.
Not just to abolish but to create something new - a new politics where the moneyed pork-barreling and corrupt logrolling of the past would give way to a bottom-up, grass-roots participatory democracy. That is what made Obama so dazzling and new. Turns out the "fierce urgency of now" includes $150 million for livestock insurance.
The Age of Obama begins with perhaps the greatest frenzy of old-politics influence peddling ever seen in Washington. By the time the stimulus bill reached the Senate, reports The Wall Street Journal, pharmaceutical and high-tech companies were lobbying furiously for a new plan to repatriate overseas profits that would yield major tax savings. California wine growers and Florida citrus producers were fighting to change a single phrase in one provision. Substituting "planted" for "ready to market" would mean a windfall garnered from a new "bonus depreciation" incentive.
After Obama's miraculous 2008 presidential campaign, it was clear that at some point the magical mystery tour would have to end. The nation would rub its eyes and begin to emerge from its reverie. The hallucinatory Obama would give way to the mere mortal. The great ethical transformations promised would be seen as a fairy tale that all presidents tell - and that this president told better than anyone.
I thought the awakening would take six months. It took two and a half weeks.
2) Analysis: The coalition calculus of saying 'no' to America
By Herb Keinon
It was the spring of 2002, Palestinian terrorism was at its peak, and Israel was on the verge of embarking on Operation Defensive Shield.
As Ra'anan Gissin, prime minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman at the time, remembers the story, Sharon came under all kinds of pressure from Washington to hold back on the military operation and give Yasser Arafat another chance to curb the terrorism.
The pressure, Gissin said, was coming from then-secretary of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's national security adviser.
But despite the pressure, Sharon said "no" to America, and that Israel would not tolerate any further delay.
"On this issue, Mr. President, I'm with my back to the wall with my people," Sharon told Bush.
He brought the issue down from the strategic heights to the political trenches - a place which Bush, who fought often in similar trenches, could understand.
Sharon then gave the go-ahead for the operation. Gissin said one of the reasons Sharon was able to say no to the US at that point was because he had a wide and strong government behind him.
Indeed, Sharon, who clobbered Ehud Barak in the 2001 prime ministerial elections, put together a coalition that included Labor-Meimad, the Likud, Shas, the Center Party, United Torah Judaism, the National Religious Party, Yisrael B'aliya and the National Union-Israel Beiteinu - all told, a coalition of 95 MKs.
With that wide support the government was able to carry out two key actions that were extremely controversial abroad: the military operation - Defensive Shield - that emerged as the turning point in the fight against the suicide bombers of the second intifada, and the beginning of the construction of the West Bank security barrier.
Both moves evoked significant opposition abroad, but in both cases one of the arguments Israel used was that the moves reflected the will of the people - and with Sharon's grand coalition, that was indeed the case.
Gissin's anecdote should be on the minds of both Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima chairman Tzipi Livni as they make their decisions on what kind of coalition to build, and whether they should instead form a unity government.
With a new administration in the US already pursuing a new Middle East agenda, there is bound to be a degree of friction between the US and Israel.
The two countries do not see eye to eye on all issues, and it is likely - even natural - that Israel will not feel able to do everything that the Obama Administration may ask of it.
These disagreements could emerge on everything from a complete freeze on settlement construction to making compromises on Jerusalem. Israel under either Livni or, what looks much more likely, under Netanyahu, may - like Sharon - feel the need to say no to the US.
But, going on the assumption that Netanyahu will form the next government, it will be easier to politely turn down the Americans if the coalition is not a narrow, right-wing one with a shaky five-seat majority, but rather a wide government of 93 MKs (Likud, Kadima, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, the National Union and Habayit Hayehudi).
For instance, a message coming from Israel that it will not be willing to cede any part of Jerusalem to a foreign government would pack a more convincing punch were it to come from the head of a government of 93, than were it to come from the head of a wobbly government of 65.
A smaller, weaker government, obviously, would also be more susceptible to pressure. There are enough people in Washington who know the Israeli political situation inside-out, and who could use the weakness of an Israeli government, and the knowledge that it could easily fall, as leverage in promoting US policies; policies that might not be identical with how Israel views its own interests.
There is a paradox in this as well. For just as a wider government would put Israel in a stronger position vis-à-vis the US, it would also obviously - at least at this time - be America's preference.
While the Obama Administration was careful to stay completely out of the recent Israeli election campaign, thereby not repeating Bill Clinton's mistake in 1996 of not too subtly and unsuccessfully working for a Shimon Peres victory over Netanyahu, The Washington Post reported Wednesday that "It is no secret that US officials would prefer to deal with Livni."
Considering the coalition math, the only way it seems the US will be able to deal with Livni in any capacity is if she joins a Netanyahu government.
And by joining Netanyahu, she could be helping put together a government that could be less susceptible to US pressure, less pliable, than if she were to opt for the opposition.
3) Very interesting....IT DOES MAKES YOU THINK!!
>>>> Professor Joseph Olson of Hemline University School of Law,
>>>> St. Paul , Minnesota , points out some interesting facts
>>>> concerning the Presidential election:
>>>> Number of States won by:
>>>> Democrats: 19
>>>> Republicans: 29
>>>> Square miles of land won by:
>>>> Democrats: 580,000
>>>> Republicans: 2,427,000
>>>> Population of counties won by:
>>>> Democrats: 127 million
>>>> Republicans: 143 million
>>>> Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won by:
>>>> Democrats: 13.2
>>>> Republicans: 2.1
>>>> Professor Olson adds: "In aggregate, the map of the
>>>> territory Republican won by Republicans was mostly the land
>>>> owned by the taxpaying citizens of the country.
>>>> Democrat territory mostly encompassed those citizens
>>>> living in government-owned tenements and living off various
>>>> forms of government welfare.
>>>> Olson believes the United States is now somewhere between
>>>> the"complacency and apathy" phase of Professor Tyler's
>>>> definition of democracy, with some forty percent of the
>>>> nation's population already having reached the "governmental
>>>> dependency" phase.
3a)"Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and mechanical products, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism."
Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1867
4) Retribution for Mughniyah: A Dish Served Cold?
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
Feb. 12 will mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah’s top military commanders. The anniversary certainly will be met with rejoicing in Tel Aviv and Washington — in addition to all the Israelis he killed, Mughniyah also had a significant amount of American blood on his hands. But the date will be met with anger and renewed cries for revenge from Hezbollah’s militants, many of whom were recruited, trained or inspired by Mughniyah.
Because of Hezbollah’s history of conducting retaliatory attacks after the assassination of its leaders, and the frequent and very vocal calls for retribution for the Mughniyah assassination, many observers (including Stratfor) have been waiting for Hezbollah to exact its revenge. While the attack has not yet happened, threats continue. For example, in a Jan. 29 news conference, Hezbollah General Secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah left no doubt about the group’s intention. “The Israelis live in fear of our revenge,” he said. “The decision to respond to the killing is still on. We decide the time and the place.”
Initially, given the force of the anger and outcry over the assassination, we anticipated that the strike would come soon after the 30-day mourning period for Mughniyah had passed. Clearly, that did not happen. Now a year has passed since the killing, but the anger and outcry have not died down. Indeed, as reflected by Nasrallah’s recent statement, the leadership of Hezbollah remains under a considerable amount of internal pressure to retaliate. Because any retaliation would likely be tempered by concerns over provoking a full-on Israeli attack against Hezbollah infrastructure (similar to the attack in the summer of 2006), any Hezbollah strike would be conducted in a manner that could provide some degree of plausible deniability.
It is important to remember that Hezbollah retains a considerable capacity to conduct terrorist attacks abroad should it choose to do so. In fact, we believe that, due to its high degree of training, vast experience and close ties to the Iranian government, Hezbollah retains a more proficient and dangerous terrorism capability than al Qaeda.
Repeated calls for revenge and Hezbollah’s capabilities have combined to ensure that the Israeli government maintains a high state of awareness. Even though a year has passed, Israelis, too, are waiting for the other shoe to drop. On Feb. 1, Elkana Harnof of the Counterterrorism Bureau in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office told The Jerusalem Post that, “Based on our information, we believe the organization is planning one large revenge attack close to the anniversary of [Mughniyah’s] death.” Harnof added, “All we can say publicly is that [Hezbollah] has gone to enormous effort to prepare various kinds of terror attacks, and the big one is likely going to take place soon.” Like Stratfor, the Israelis also believe that the attack will be directed against Israeli or Jewish targets outside of Israel.
There are a number of indications that Hezbollah has not been idle in the year since Mughniyah’s death. First, there has been a good deal of preoperational activity by Hezbollah militants in several countries, including the United States. This activity has included surveillance and other intelligence-gathering for targeting purposes. At one point last fall, the activity was so intense inside the United States that law enforcement officials believed a strike was imminent — but it never came. Additionally, there are credible reports that Hezbollah plots to strike Israeli targets in Azerbaijan and the Netherlands have been thwarted. (Although, from information we have received, it does not appear that either of these plots was at an advanced stage of the attack cycle.)
We have no reason to doubt the reports of Hezbollah preoperational activity. It is simply what they do and what they are. Even though the group has not conducted a successful attack overseas since 1994, it does maintain a robust network of operatives who stay busily engaged in operational activities. While many of these operatives are involved primarily in financial and logistical activities, we believe it is worth noting that Hezbollah has never conducted or attempted an attack in a country where it did not have such a support network in place. They use these networks to assist their militant activities in a number of ways, but perhaps the most significant way is in the conduct of preoperational surveillance.
Hezbollah, a creature of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, also has a long history of receiving aid from Iranian embassies in its overseas operations, including its terrorist strikes. Almost inevitably, Hezbollah’s overseas attack plans are found to have murky links of some sort to the Iranian embassy in the country where the attack was to occur, and to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers stationed there.
Hezbollah utilizes an “off the shelf” method of planning its terrorist attacks. This is very similar to the way major national military commands operate, where they make contingency war plans against potential adversaries in advance and then work to keep those plans updated. This style of sophisticated, advance planning provides Hezbollah’s senior decision makers with a wide array of tactical options, and allows them to assess a number of attack plans in various parts of the world and quickly select and update a particular attack plan when they make the decision to launch it. When they do decide to pull the trigger, they can strike hard and fast.
This type of planning requires a great deal of intelligence-gathering, not only to produce the initial plans but also to keep them updated. Because it requires a lot of collection activity, this effort likely accounts for much of the operational activity that has been observed over the past year in the United States and elsewhere. These ongoing surveillance operations are not just useful for planning purposes, but they are also good for sowing confusion, creating distractions and causing complacency. If Hezbollah operatives have been seen periodically conducting surveillance around a facility and no attack has followed that activity, over time it becomes very easy for security personnel to write off all such activity as harmless — even when it might not be this time.
Not Crying Wolf
There are some who argue that the lack of an attack by Hezbollah since the Mughniyah assassination, combined with the fact that the group has not used its terrorist capability to conduct an attack for many years, signifies that Hezbollah has abandoned its terrorist ways and instead focused on developing its conventional warfare capability.
We do not buy this argument. First, it ignores the existence and purpose of Hezbollah’s Unit 1800, which, among other things, recruits Palestinians for anti-Israeli terror operations inside Israel and the occupied territories. Second, if Hezbollah had abandoned its terrorist arm, there would be no need for the preoperational planning activity noted previously, and in our opinion, reports of such surveillance activity are too frequent and too widespread to be discounted as false sightings. Granted, such activities do cause jitters and have some effectiveness as a psychological warfare tool, but we do not believe that those limited benefits justify the time and effort being put into Hezbollah’s intelligence-collection program. There is also that pesky problem of explaining the thwarted attack plots in Azerbaijan and the Netherlands. Because of this, we do not believe that the U.S. and Israeli governments (among others) are crying wolf when they provide warnings of pe nding Hezbollah attacks.
We continue to believe that if there is an attack by Hezbollah, it will likely come in a country where there is an existing Hezbollah support apparatus and an Iranian embassy. (Although, in a confined geographic area, operations could be supported in a third country that lacked one or both of those elements.) We also believe that such an attack is more likely in a country where there is ready access to weapons or explosives, and where there are poor law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. We wrote an analysis discussing this in some detail during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. In that piece, we provided a matrix of the places we believed were most likely to be the site of a Hezbollah attack against Israeli targets, and one of the important criteria we considered was the presence of both an Iranian embassy and a local Hezbolla h support network. When we discuss these two elements, it is important to note that in past attacks, the attackers were brought in from the outside in order to provide plausible deniability — but they did receive important support and guidance from the network and embassy.
Since we wrote that analysis in July 2006, there has been a significant increase in Iranian influence in parts of Latin America, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, and Hezbollah has not been far behind. In addition to claims by the U.S. Treasury Department that Venezuelan nationals and organizations are supporting Hezbollah financially, there have been persistent rumors of Hezbollah militants and IRGC officers conducting training at camps in the Venezuelan jungles.
These reports are especially noteworthy when combined with a recent rise in anti-Semitism in Venezuela and an outright hostility toward Jews demonstrated by pro-Chavez militia groups. A pro-Chavez militia is believed to have been involved in the vandalism of the main synagogue in Caracas on the night of Jan. 30-31, 2008. We are among many who don’t buy the government’s official explanation that the vandalism was motivated by robbery. To us, the fact that the intruders remained in the building for several hours, made the effort to scrawl anti-Israeli graffiti inside the building and stole databases containing personal information on congregational members seems very unusual for a simple burglary. Our suspicion is magnified by the extensive anti-Semitic statements made on the Web sites of some of the pro-Chavez militia l eaders. All of this raises serious concerns that the Venezuelan government could turn a blind eye to Hezbollah efforts to conduct an attack on Israeli or Jewish interests in that country.
There are many who believe that the anti-Semitic attitudes of the Argentine government in the early 1990s helped embolden Mughniyah and his followers to attack Israeli and Jewish targets there. The anti-Semitic environment in Venezuela today is even more overt and hostile than it was in Argentina.
In keeping with Hezbollah’s history, if an attack is launched, we anticipate that it will have to be fairly spectacular, given the fact that Mughniyah was very important to Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors — although the attack must not be so spectacular as to cause a full-on Israeli attack in Lebanon. Hezbollah can weather a few airstrikes, but it does not want to provoke an extended conflict — especially as Hezbollah’s political leadership is extremely focused on doing well in the upcoming elections in Lebanon.
Given Hezbollah’s proclivity toward using a hidden hand, we suspect the attack will be conducted by a stealthy and ambiguous cell or cells that will likely have no direct connection to the organization. For example, in July 1994, the group used Palestinian operatives to conduct attacks against the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish nongovernmental organization office in London. Also, as we have seen in prior attacks, if a hardened target such as an Israeli embassy or VIP is not vulnerable, a secondary soft target might be selected. The July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires is a prime example of this type of attack. It should serve as a warning to Jewish community centers and other non-Israeli government targets everywhere that even non-Israeli Jewish targets are considered fair game.
5) Obama's Empty Pragmatism
By Michael Gerson
WASHINGTON -- If Barack Obama's presidential campaign was smooth and deep like the rivers, his first few weeks in Washington have been turbulent and shallow like the rapids. It began with the quick end of the Richardson nomination, revealing a vetting process with the thoroughness of a subprime loan application. Then came an inaugural address so flat that both supporters and detractors wondered if the flatness was intentional -- a subtle game of strategic mediocrity. Then the broad violation of an overbroad lobbying ban, which made no distinction between lobbying for the Iranian regime and lobbying against teenage smoking. Then a spate of IRS troubles, leaving the impression of an administration more interested in raising taxes than paying them.
These stumbles have had an almost theological effect among Republicans: The doctrine of Obama's political infallibility has been challenged. But the administration's setbacks -- particularly those on personnel -- are temporary, and easily reversed by a series of legislative victories that have already begun.
The initial period of the Obama administration, however, has provided hints of a long-term problem -- not one of incompetence, but of emptiness.
Obama partisans would doubtlessly call this "pragmatism." His inaugural address included one of the most prominent defenses of that political philosophy in American history. "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them," he informed Americans of old-fashioned ideological belief, "that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works. ... "
This approach has earned Obama praise for his prudence, independent thinking, epistemological modesty, empiricism, curiosity, results orientation, lack of dogmatism, distaste for extremism, willingness to compromise and insistence on nuance. He has been compared to William James and John Dewey, the heroes of American pragmatism.
But that creed has now been tested in two areas. First, the new president deferred almost entirely to the Democratic congressional leadership on the initial shape of the stimulus package -- which, in turn, was shaped by pent-up Democratic spending appetites instead of an explainable economic theory. Senate modifications made the legislation marginally more responsible. But Obama's pragmatism, in this case, was a void of creativity, filled by the most aggressively ideological branch of government. And this managed to revive Republican ideological objections to federal overreach. In the new age of pragmatism, all the ideologues seem to be encouraged.
The second test of Obama's pragmatism has been education. During his campaign for president, Obama's post-partisan appeal was most credible -- to me and to others -- on education reform. He supported test-based accountability and merit pay for teachers -- significant departures from the education union agenda.
But education spending in the stimulus -- about $140 billion in the House and $80 billion in the Senate -- has little or no emphasis on teacher quality in high-minority schools, little or no emphasis on strengthening charter schools, little or no emphasis on improved assessment, little or no emphasis on teaching the basics of reading. With shrinking state and local education budgets, an increase in federal spending may be justified. But the administration's approach abandons the most basic principle of school improvement: Reform, and then resources.
The philosophic pragmatism of John Dewey involved, in his words, "variability, initiative, innovation, departure from routine, experimentation." On education, the Obama administration has displayed none these qualities. Instead, it has returned to an older kind of pragmatism -- the political pragmatism of paying off one's political supporters. The problem with this approach is not merely its cost to the Treasury but its cost to children. Schools have proved for decades that there is little correlation between their consumption of resources and their training of children in the basics of reading and math. When these outcomes are not required and measured, they should not be expected.
The educational betrayal of disadvantaged children is the tragedy that causes no scandal. Most Democrats in Congress seem content to represent education unions. Most Republicans oppose federal standards as a matter of ideology. Governors, both Democrat and Republican, are only too happy to take federal money without accountability. If a president does not speak for struggling children in failing schools, they will be ignored. As they are being ignored.
It is still early in the Obama era. But it is already evident that pragmatism without a guiding vision or a fighting faith can become little more than the service of insistent political interests.
6) Obama Stimulates Fear, Doom & Gloom
By Mark Davis
I can't speak for everyone, but the honeymoon ended for me the day President Barack Obama handed terrorists a victory with his reckless plan to close Guantánamo Bay and his foolish public promise of friendlier interrogations.
Not one month earlier, I sat in the Oval Office speaking to a president whose days began and ended with one question: Have I done all I can to keep America safe today?
God only knows what complex checklist fills the mind of our new president, but it certainly does not involve maintaining the policies that have fended off repeats of 9/11.
Nor does it involve letting our suffering economy recover the way it always has, by relying on the engine of free markets.
Obama, known for his unflappable cool on the campaign trail, now comes to us with doom saying that makes Jimmy Carter look like Richard Simmons.
Carter merely saddled us with the stigma of "malaise," acknowledging the wrecked economy beneath him by giving voice, not solutions, to a nation's discomfort. Even this worst of presidents during my lifetime (so far) did not try to pull off this kind of economic hijacking.
When Ronald Reagan inherited an economy far worse than today's, his first instinct was to prop up the American spirit by reminding us that American talents and ingenuity would get us out of that mess.
And they did. Reagan did not, in fact, "create" 20 million jobs, he merely tilled the economic landscape with policies designed to make job creation favorable.
Today, we hear shameful fear mongering from an administration that can no longer hide its lust to open the floodgates filled with our money, so they can buy off reliable Democrat constituencies
"Doing nothing is not an option," Obama is fond of saying. Actually, those of us who still believe in the American workforce and a robust private sector do indeed want to do something.
The running narrative that only a trillion-dollar-plus stimulus package can fend off near-term disaster apparently did not inject sufficient fear into the masses. The president, long used to crowds falling like plums at his feet, thus needed to ramp things up to prod skeptics who have failed to defer to his redistributionist instincts.
Invoking a "crisis" that "we may not be able to reverse," Obama last week sought to alarm the numbed millions whose attention span goes no broader than "economy's bad, government's gotta do something."
This stunningly craven scam continued in his Monday night news conference. "Ideological blockage" is the dismissive insult he reserved for Republicans who are trying to prevent the digging of a trillion-dollar hole our kids and grandkids will have to dig out of. Those would be the Republicans who reflect the skepticism seen in majorities of Americans polled on this pig in a poke.
So what's it going to be? Are we going to allow this suddenly rattled and jumpy president to bankrupt our children and our children's children so he and Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank can say they did something?
They're doing something, all right. In an economic mess that featured mortgages at its root, they are mortgaging the fates of future generations of Americans so they can engage in the backslapping that always accompanies the moments when self-satisfied politicians know they have put one over on us.
Let the denizens who have brought us to this ledge smile widely now, because there will be little to smile about when the bill comes due, a prospect made even sadder by the fact that the economy would have come around anyway.
7) Trillion Dollar Baby
By MAUREEN DOWD
So much for the savior-based economy.
Tim Geithner, the learned and laconic civil servant and financial engineer, did not sweep in and infuse our shaky psyches with confidence. For starters, the 47-year-old’s voice kept cracking.
Escorting us over the rickety, foggy bridge from TARP to Son of TARP by way of TALF —don’t ask — Geithner did not, as the president said when he drew on the wisdom of Fred Astaire, inspire us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.
The Obama crowd is hung up on the same issues that the Bush crew was hung up on last September: Which of the potentially $2 or $3 trillion in toxic assets will the taxpayers buy and what will we pay for them?
Despite the touting, the Treasury chief unveiled a plan short on illumination, recrimination, fine points and foreclosure closure. The Dow collapsed on its fainting couch as Sports Illustrated swimsuit models rang the closing bell.
It wasn’t only that Geithner’s own tax history — and his time as head of the New York Fed when all the bad stuff was happening on Wall Street, and when he left with nearly a half-million in severance — makes him a dubious messenger for the president’s pledge to keep the haves from further betraying the have-nots.
It wasn’t only that Americans’ already threadbare trust has been ripped by Hank Paulson’s mumbo-jumbo and the Democrats’ bad judgment in accessorizing the stimulus bill with Grammy-level “bling, bling,” as the R.N.C. chairman, Michael Steele, called it.
The problem is that the “lost faith” that Geithner talked about in his announcement Tuesday cannot be restored as long as the taxpayers who are funding these wayward banks don’t have more control.
Geithner is not even requiring the banks to lend in return for the $2 trillion his program will try to marshal, mostly by having the Fed print money out of thin air, thereby diluting our money, or borrowing more from China. (When, exactly, can China foreclose on us and start sending us toxic toys again?)
There’s a weaselly feel to the plan, a sense that tough decisions were postponed even as President Obama warns about our “perfect storm of financial problems.” The outrage is going only one way, as we pony up trillion after trillion.
Geithner is coddling the banks, setting it up so that either we’ll have to pay the banks inflated prices for poison assets or subsidize investors to pay the banks for poison assets.
As Steve Labaton and Ed Andrews wrote in The Times on Tuesday, Geithner won an internal battle with David Axelrod and other Obama aides who wanted to impose pay caps on every employee at institutions taking the bailout and set stricter guidelines on how federal money is spent. Geithner prevailed over those who wanted to kick out negligent bank executives and wipe out shareholders at institutions receiving aid.
In a move that would have made his mentor, Robert Rubin, proud, Geithner beat back the populists and protected the economic royalists. The new plan offers insufficient meddling with Wall Street, even though Wall Street shows no sign that the hardscrabble economy has pierced its Hermès-swathed world.
Wells Fargo, for instance, which has leeched $25 billion in bailout money, bought an inadvertently hilarious full-page ad in The Times to whinge about the junkets to Las Vegas and elsewhere it was forced to cancel because of public outrage. (The ad in The Times on Sunday could have cost up to $200,000, which may count as a bailout for our industry.)
“Okay, time out. Something doesn’t feel right,” John Stumpf, the president and chief executive of Wells Fargo wrote in an open letter defending their two decades of four-day employee recognition “events.” Calling them junkets or boondoggles is “nonsense,” he protested, adding about his employees: “This recognition energizes them.”
In this economy, simply having a job should energize them.
Geithner is wrong. The pay of all the employees in bailed-out banks, not just top executives, should be capped. And these impervious, imperial suits who squander taxpayers’ money after dragging the country over the cliff should all be fired — preferably when they come to D.C. on Wednesday in a phony show of populism on Amtrak and the shuttle to testify before Barney Frank.
Wall Street cannot be trusted to change its culture. Just look at the full-page ads that Bank of America (which got $45 billion) and Citigroup (which got $50 billion) are plastering in newspapers, lavishing taxpayer money on preening prose.
We don’t want our money spent, as Citigroup did, to pat itself on the back “as we navigate the complexities together.” Bank of America cannot get back our trust by spending more of our cash to assure us that it’s “getting to work” on getting back our trust.
Just get back to work and start repaying us.