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Another Crisis On Obama’s Crowded Front Burner

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December 29, 2008

Barack Obama’s first day as President is still three weeks away.  Nevertheless, on that first day in the Oval Office, he will be expected to focus his attention on a number of crisis situations.  How many are there now?  First, we have the economic crisis and all of its subplots:  infrastructure spending and job creation, stopping the foreclosures, oversight of the TARP giveaway (which should include bringing the TARP thieves to justice), a new economic stimulus package, getting the Securities and Exchange Commission to start doing its job, responding to cries of help from state governments and deciding on what to do about the American automakers.  As if those economic emergencies weren’t enough, the new President will need to multitask his crisis management skills to take on a number of other issues.  These include health care reform, undoing all of Bush’s “midnight” Executive Orders, winding down the Iraq war, building up troop strength in the neglected Afghanistan war and, speaking of neglect, the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has again reared its ugly head.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the Executive Director of J Street, which he describes as “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement”.  On December 27, Mr. Ben-Ami issued the following plea to the Obama administration from the J Street website:

The need for diplomatic engagement goes beyond a short-term ceasefire.  Eight years of American neglect and ineffective diplomacy have led us directly to a moment when the prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hang in the balance and with them the prospects for Israel’s long-term survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

We urge the incoming Obama administration to lead an early and serious effort to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.

This is a fundamental American interest as we too stand to suffer as the situation spirals, rage in the region is directed at the United States, and our regional allies are further undermined.  Our goals must be a Middle East that moves beyond bloody conflicts, an Israel that is secure and accepted in the region, and an America secured by reducing extremism and enhancing stability.  None of these goals are achieved by further escalation.

The December 27 Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip was code-named:  “Operation Cast Lead”.  Reaction to the strike from the Israeli media ran the spectrum from support to outrage.  On December 28, The Jerusalem Post ran a favorable editorial approving the attack:

The IDF’s mission is not to bring down the Hamas regime, but to bring quiet to the South.  In a sense we are asking Hamas to stop being Hamas. The Islamists need to decide whether they want to go down in flames or are prepared to take on the responsibilities that come with control over the Strip. T hey may give Israel no choice but to topple their administration.

On the other hand, Gideon Levy wrote a scathing commentary on the incident for the December 29 edition of Haaretz:

Once again the commentators sat in television studios yesterday and hailed the combat jets that bombed police stations, where officers responsible for maintaining order on the streets work.  Once again, they urged against letting up and in favor of continuing the assault.  Once again, the journalists described the pictures of the damaged house in Netivot as “a difficult scene.”  Once again, we had the nerve to complain about how the world was transmitting images from Gaza.  And once again we need to wait a few more days until an alternative voice finally rises from the darkness, the voice of wisdom and morality.

On December 28, Barak Ravid of Haaretz provided an excellent, objective “back-story” on the planning and execution of this air strike.  The article explained that prior to the offensive, Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, went to Cairo to inform Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, of Israel’s decision to strike at Hamas.  Ms. Livni is the candidate from the centrist Kadima party who will oppose Likud party stalwart, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the February 10 election for the office of Prime Minister.  Netanyahu had been ahead in the polls, prior to the execution of Operation Cast Lead.  If Israel can avoid a ground war in Gaza, she may win the support of the more hawkish voters who would have voted for Netanyahu.  A televised broadcast by Haaretz in conjunction with Channel 10 News, reported that   “Palestinians said 180 of those killed were Hamas officials, the rest — civilians.”  As of the present time, the total death toll from the assault is believed to be 280.  If 180 of those individuals really were “Hamas officials”, this could work to Livni’s advantage in the upcoming election.

The Obama administration’s diplomatic initiative on this conflict will redefine America’s role in the Middle East.  A December 28 editorial in The Washington Post concluded that the Gaza incident could prove to be a costly distraction from the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Nevertheless, if Hillary Clinton were to dispatch an envoy to Syria to engage the al-Assad regime in getting control over Hamas’ activities in Gaza:  Could this undermine Iranian hegemony in the area?  Ultimately, everyone in the world is hoping that the Obama administration will provide the aggressive diplomacy that has been lacking in the Middle East for the past eight years.  The pressure for immediate results will be just one more headache waiting for him on Day One.

No Jews Allowed In Rick Warren’s Heaven

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December 22, 2008

There has been quite a bit of attention focused on Barack Obama’s choice of conservative evangelical minister, Rick Warren, to deliver the invocation at the Presidential inauguration ceremony on January 20.  Most of the outrage over that choice stems from the fact that Warren was actively involved in promoting Proposition 8, the controversial California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriages.

A large number of objections to Warren’s participation in this historic ceremony are coming from Hollywood.  As Tina Daunt reported in the December 20 Los Angeles Times, the entertainment community’s reaction to Warren’s role in the inaugural was “swift, angry and bitter”.  Her article quoted Hollywood publicist, Howard Bragman who said the following about Barack Obama:

“What he didn’t realize was how much untapped energy there was in the gay and lesbian community because of the passage of Prop. 8,” said Bragman. “Obama didn’t realize, after all the support he got from the gay and lesbian community, we feel betrayed right now.”

Meanwhile, back at the nation’s capitol, Barney Frank, the openly gay Senator from Massachusetts, had much to say about Warren’s role in the inaugural ceremony.  As Jason Blum reported on December 21 at the Bloomberg website, Senator Frank said this about the inclusion of Warren in the event:

“Giving that kind of mark of approval and honor to someone who has frankly spoken in ways I and many others have found personally very offensive, I thought that was a mistake for the president-elect to do.”

I particularly enjoyed the piece written by Christopher Hitchens for Slate on December 19.  I thought the televangelist lobby would have been run out of Washington in the wake of the 2008 elections.  Chris Hitchens appears to be sharing my disappointment over that group’s enduring presence on Capitol Hill, despite the efforts of many to preserve the separation of church and state.  The most impressive point made in this article concerned Warren’s insistence that there are no Jews allowed in heaven:

It is a fact that Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., was present at a meeting of the Aspen Institute not long ago and was asked by Lynda Resnick — she of the pomegranate-juice dynasty — if a Jew like herself could expect to be admitted to paradise.  Warren publicly told her no.

Similarly, Time magazine’s Joe Klein had this to say in his December 16 posting on his Swampland blog at Time.com, concerning Warren’s insistence that Jews can’t go to heaven:

I am not a big fan of Rick Warren’s.  He thinks I’m going to hell.  He said so in mixed company, at an Aspen Institute forum.  He was asked if Jews were going to hell.  He said yes.  He can go ahead and feed every poor child in Africa and I’m still going to think he’s a fool for believing that.  Reverend Rick is also not too big on gay or women’s rights.  (Indeed, if Jews–and all other non born-again Christians–homosexuals, feminists, and anyone who has either had an abortion, performed an abortion or reluctantly agrees that it’s none of our business who has abortions  …  if all those people are going to hell, then heaven’s got to be about as interesting as linoleum.)

Regardless of the controversies over Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage, is it really appropriate to have a man deliver the invocation at the Presidential inauguration ceremony, when that man professes that Jews are not allowed into heaven?  Does Warren believe that there is a big “No Jews Allowed” sign at the pearly gates?  Has heaven been getting away with something that American country clubs have not been able to do, since the 1970s?

There is obviously plenty wrong with having someone of Warren’s ilk speaking at the Presidential inauguration.  Gay weddings constitute just one of many issues these characters have on their list of things to not tolerate.  Chris Hitchens suggested three questions to be asked of the Obama transition team, before the inauguration proceeds:

— Will Warren be invited to the solemn ceremony of inauguration without being asked to repudiate what he has directly said to deny salvation to Jews?

— Will he be giving a national invocation without disowning what his mentor said about civil rights and what his leading supporter says about Mormons?

— Will the American people be prayed into the next administration, which will be confronted by a possible nuclear Iran and an already nuclear Pakistan, by a half-educated pulpit-pounder raised in the belief that the Armageddon solution is one to be anticipated with positive glee?

Remember John McCain’s old expression, “agents of intolerance”?  Who would have thought that one such agent would deliver the invocation when Barack Obama is sworn in as our next President?

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

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December 18, 2008

The Ponzi Scheme case involving Bernie Madoff is only the latest example of scumbaggery on Wall Street.  Madoff helped found the NASDAQ Exchange and established a reputation for himself as one of the captains of the financial world.  Now we know that he pilfered over 50 billion dollars from sophisticated investors, colleges, charitable institutions, banks and plain-old, rich people.  Worse yet, when he couldn’t get enough co-signers to back his ten-million dollar bail, he was placed under “house arrest” and confined to his $7,000,000 home.  When a car thief can’t make bail, he sits in jail until his case is tried.  Why is it that when someone is charged with stealing ten million times that much, he gets treated as though he was driving on an expired license?    By the way:  How does somebody hide fifty billion dollars?  Is he going to claim that he lost it or that he blew it all on lottery tickets?

The knaves who held themselves out as financial magicians have made pimps and drug dealers seem like Red Cross volunteers, by comparison.  Beyond that, the government institutions and officials charged with protecting the integrity of our financial system have been out to lunch for several years.  Worse yet, these hacks continue to facilitate the theft of trillions of dollars of taxpayer money and, for this reason, I believe they all belong in prison.  On second thought, they should be placed before a firing squad along with the swindlers whom they enabled.  After the Enron treachery was exposed to the light of day, one would have thought that the Securities and Exchange Commission might have started doing its job.  It didn’t.  People have to start forcing our elected officials to find out why.  I think I know the answer.  I believe it’s because many of the people entrusted to regulate the financial system are crooks themselves.

On December 16, Brent Budowsky posted an important article on The Hill website concerning the bailout bungle.  Mr. Budowsky is a gentleman who earned an LL.M. degree (that’s something you work on after graduating from law school) in International Financial Law from the London School of Economics.  He was a former aide to Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Representative Bill Alexander.  Mr. Budowsky pointed out that:

Government agencies have poured close to $8 trillion into banking bailouts.  The Treasury secretary has promoted massive government support of troubled, failed and corrupted institutions.

This program is a 100 percent top-down exercise involving the largest amount of money in history.

Virtually none of this money directly helps average Americans. Virtually none of it trickles down to the people who suffer the most and pay for the program.

*   *   *

The Securities and Exchange Commission is discredited.  The Federal Reserve has failed in its duty as banking regulator. Congress has failed in its duty of oversight.  The most wise and citizen-friendly regulator, Sheila Bair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, is treated with contempt by the Treasury secretary.

*   *   *

Today the Federal Reserve Board refuses to disclose information regarding some $2 trillion provided to financial institutions.  Bloomberg business news has filed a historic freedom-of-information case seeking disclosure.  Congress and the president-elect should support it.

Bailout money is not a private account that belongs to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Fed governors, the Treasury secretary or the banks.  It is the people’s money.  It should be used to benefit the people.  It should be monitored through the checks and balances of the democratic process.

Secrecy is the enemy of equity, integrity and common sense. Secrecy is the friend of negligence, misjudgment and corruption.  There are probably selected instances where the Fed should not disclose, but show me $2 trillion of secretly spent money and I will show you trouble.

Do you care to hazard a guess as to what the next Wall Street scandal might be?  I have a pet theory concerning the almost-daily spate of “late-day rallies” in the equities markets.  I’ve discussed it with some knowledgeable investors.  I suspect that some of the bailout money squandered by Treasury Secretary Paulson has found its way into the hands of some miscreants who are using this money to manipulate the stock markets.  I have a hunch that their plan is to run up stock prices at the end of the day before those numbers have a chance to settle back down to the level where the market would normally have them.  The inflated “closing price” for the day is then perceived as the market value of the stock.  This plan would be an effort to con investors into believing that the market has pulled out of its slump.  Eventually the victims would find themselves hosed once again at the next “market correction”.  I don’t believe that SEC Chairman Christopher Cox would likely uncover such a scam, given his track record.  Perhaps we can thank him when “vigilante justice” comes to Wall Street.

Home Improvement With Norm And Ted

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December 15, 2008

The battle for Norm Coleman’s Senate seat, representing Minnesota, continues to drag on toward the new year.  Democratic candidate Al Franken inched closer to victory when the state Canvassing Board ruled that more than 1,600 absentee ballots were improperly rejected by local officials.  As Curt Brown reported in the December 14 Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The recount has revealed numerous missteps, some involving enough ballots to tip the balance.

There are a couple of similarities between the Senatorial election in Minnesota and the Senatorial election in Alaska.  When Alaska Senator Ted Stevens lost his bid for re-election in the 2008 Senate race, it was the count of absentee and questioned ballots that determined the outcome of that event, as reported in the November 20 Seattle Times.  More importantly, the crucial factor motivating voters in the Alaska election was also discussed in that article:

A week before the election, a jury convicted Stevens of seven felonies for lying on his financial-disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in gifts, including renovations of his Girdwood, Alaska, home.

Prior to the resolution of that race, there was a good deal of discussion concerning the likelihood that the Senate would not tolerate the membership of a convicted felon in their exclusive organization.

Meanwhile, Senator Norm Coleman is facing questions from reporters over his own home improvement scandal.  Although he is not presently facing criminal charges for any wrongdoing in this matter, the FBI has begun an investigation into the money trail left by $75,000 in campaign contributions.  On Thursday, December 11, Fox 9 of St. Paul provided this:

The FBI is now reportedly investigating the allegations that Nasser Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 in campaign contributions through the Senator’s wife.

*      *     *

Norm Coleman’s home in St. Paul’s Crocus Hill neighborhood is not lavish — but it’s a lot nicer than it used to be, thanks in part to contractor Jim Taylors, who helped remodel the home two years ago.

“Put in a second floor master bedroom/bathroom, the bedroom was there, we just added a bathroom and closet and a kitchen remodel, actually turned into half the house remodel by the time we painted and refinished floors and did some landscape work,” says Taylors.

The remodeled kitchen was the backdrop for some of the Senator’s campaign commercials.  FOX 9 learned the woman in charge of the project was Shari Wilsey, an interior designer.  Wilsey, along with her husband Roger, are longtime friends of the Coleman’s and financial contributors to the Senator’s campaigns.

*     *     *

Two lawsuits allege that in spring of 2007, Edina businessman Nasser Kazeminy began a series of $25,000 payments to Coleman from Deep Marine Technology, a company he controlled in Texas, to Hays Companies, the Minnesota Insurance company where Laurie Coleman works.

*     *     *

While Coleman didn’t agree to sit down for a interview, his campaign did agree to share billing records of the remodeling project.  Original projections in 2006 estimated a cost of $328,000, but four months later, the construction cost was estimated at $414,000, over-budget by $86,000.

During that time is when, the lawsuit alleges, Kazeminy was trying to get money to Coleman.

According to the lawsuits, in March of 2007, Kazeminy said that “U.S. Senators don’t make s—” and he was going to try to find a way to get money to Coleman.

“On the one level it could just be a coincidence, on the other level this could be one of the reasons he’s getting that money from elsewhere, to try to make up for his, to be able to pay off a loan, pay off a line of credit,” says Schultz.

Records provided by the campaign show that Coleman paid Wilsey in full for the renovation — $414,000.  In part, by refinancing his home in March 2007, for $775,000.

The Senator acknowledges, that like a lot of people in America, he now owes more on his home than it’s actually worth.

What we know is this: the Senator had costly and over-budget renovations to his home at the same time a contributor was allegedly trying to funnel him money.  But he’s still criticized for walking away from reporters, while the questions aren’t going away.

It’s nice to know that we can count on a Fox news outlet for a good scandal, and if we’re lucky, it might even involve a Republican.  Although Coleman was not named as a defendant in either lawsuit, the FBI investigation into the campaign contributions could eventually give Coleman some more serious headaches.  At this point, it seems as though Coleman could document that he paid for the remodeling project by refinancing his home.  However, did the refinancing cover the entire $414,000 cost?  Even if Coleman is re-elected, could we eventually get to the point where the Senate, itself, has to consider giving him the boot?  Stay tuned.

The News Nobody Wants To Hear

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December 11, 2008

You can’t watch a news program these days without hearing some “happy talk” about how our dismal economy is “on the verge of recovery”.  You have to remember that many of these shows are sponsored by brokerage firms.  That fact must be taken into consideration when you decide how much weight you will give the opinions of the so-called “experts” appearing on those programs to tell you that the stock market has reached “the bottom” and that it is now time to jump back in and start buying stocks.  Similarly, those people interested in making a home purchase (i.e. millionaires, who don’t have to worry about getting a mortgage) want to know when the residential real estate market will hit “bottom” so they can get the best value.  If I had a thousand dollars for every time during the past six months that some prognosticator has appeared on television to tell us that the stock market has “hit bottom”, I would have enough money to start my own geothermal power utility.

People interested in making investments have been scared away from stocks due to the pummeling that the markets have taken since the “mortgage crisis” raised its ugly head and devastated the world economy.  If those folks believe the hype and start buying stocks now, they are taking a greater risk than the enthusiastic promoters on TV might be willing to disclose.

People just don’t like bad news, especially when it is about the future and worse yet, if it’s about the economy.  On Friday, December 5, the stock market rallied, despite the dismal news that November’s non-farm employment loss was the greatest monthly employment decline in 34 years.  More than half a million people lost their jobs in November.  Despite this news, all of the major stock indices were up at least 3 percent for that day alone.  Have all these people bought into the magical thinking described in The Secret?  Do that many people believe that wishing hard enough can cause a dream to become reality?

There is one authority on the subject of economics, who earned quite a bit of “street cred” when our current economic crisis hit the fan. He is Nouriel Roubini, a professor of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He earned the nickname “Doctor Doom” when he spoke before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on September 7, 2006 and described, in precise detail, exactly what would bring the financial world to its knees, two years later.  In this time of uncertainty, many people (myself included) pay close attention to what Dr. Roubini has to say by regularly checking in on his website.  On December 5, we were surprised to hear Doctor Doom’s admission to Aaron Task (on the web TV show, Tech Ticker) that his own 401(k) plan is comprised entirely of stocks.  Dr. Roubini explained that he is not in the “Armageddon camp” and that for the long haul, stocks are still a good investment (although currently not a good idea for investors with more short-term goals).  Upon learning of this, I began to wonder if the revelation about Doctor Doom’s stock holdings could have been the reason for the stock market rally that day.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Roubini at a lecture he gave within staggering distance of my home.  I was able to talk to him about my concern over Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke’s idea of having the federal government purchase stocks in order to pep-up a depressed stock market.  How could this possibly be accomplished?  How could the Fed decide which stocks to buy to the exclusion of others?  Dr. Roubini told me that the government has already done this by purchasing preferred shares of stock issued by the banks participating in the TARP program.  He explained that rather than purchasing selected stocks of particular companies, the government would, more likely, invest in stock indices.  Before I get to Doctor Doom’s other points from his lecture, I will share this photo taken of yours truly and Doctor Roubini (who appears on your left):

Doctor Doom with Me

Dr. Roubini told the audience that he believes this recession will be worse than everyone expects. During the next few months, “the flow of macroeconomic news will be awful and worse than expected”. He opined that people are going to be surprised if they think that the stock market “bottom” will come in mid-2009. He expects that by the end of 2009 “things will still be bad” and unemployment will peak at 9% in early 2010. He thinks that the consensus on earnings-per-share estimates for stocks during the next year is “delusional”. He anticipates risk aversion among investors to be severe next year. We are now in a global recession and this has caused commodity prices to fall 30%. He pointed out that commodity prices could still fall another 20%. He considers it “very likely” that between 500 to 600 hedge funds will go out of business within the next six months. As this happens, the stocks held by these funds must be dumped onto the market. With respect to the beleaguered residential real estate market, he pointed out that home prices could fall another 15-20% by early 2010.

The good news provided by Dr. Roubini is that the global recession should end by the close of 2009. However, he expects recovery to be “weak” in 2010. He surmised that the possibility of a systemic meltdown has been minimized by the actions taken at the recent G7 meeting and most particularly with the G7 resolution to prevent further “Lehman Brothers-type” bankruptcies from taking place. He concluded that this recession should be nothing like the Japanese recession of the 1990s, which lasted nearly a decade.

So there you have it:  The news (almost) nobody wants to hear.  You can say these are the predictions voiced by one man who could be wrong.  Nevertheless, given Dr. Roubini’s track record, I and many others hold his opinions in high regard.  Now, let’s see how this all plays out.

Barack Anxiety Builds On The Left

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December 8, 2008

With each passing day, we see an increase of editorial essays with the same theme:  After winning the election, will Barack Obama abandon the liberal or progressive base of the Democratic Party?  Some of the more strident ideologues from the liberal side of the spectrum are becoming more vocal in expressing anxiety about where the Obama Administration might take us.  This distress results from the President-elect’s recent naming of Cabinet and other high-level appointees.

For example, On December 1, Katrina vanden Heuvel posted an article on The Nation website, expressing dismay over Obama’s decision to allow Robert Gates to continue serving as Secretary of Defense under the new administration.  The criticism she voiced about the new foreign policy / national security team exemplifies the perspective of many writers concerning the entire list of appointments disclosed by Obama so far:

For Obama, who’s said he wants to be challenged by his advisors, wouldn’t it have made sense to include at least one person on the foreign policy/national security team who would challenge him with some new and fresh thinking about security in the 21st century?  Isn’t the idea of a broader bandwidth of ideas also at the heart of this ballyhooed “team of rivals” stuff?

Commentator David Sirota has been quite vocal in articulating his disappointment over Obama’s cabinet picks.  Back on November 19, he had this to say on the Campaign for America’s Future website:

Look, I’m all for “inclusion” – but let’s also remember, the most comprehensive post-election poll shows that a whopping 70 percent of Americans want conservatives to bend to Obama’s agenda, not the other way around.  And so what about the other side of the “team?”  If “Team of Rivals” = “Bipartisanship,” shouldn’t there be some full-on progressives in some very powerful positions?  Wouldn’t that complete the “team” in “Team of Rivals” and the “bi” in “bipartisan?”  Or are we really not going to see a “team” nor “bipartisanship” – but merely lockstep corporatism/conservatism disguised with the latest happy sounding terms from the (David) Broder dictionary?

Robert Scheer voiced similar uncertainty about Obama’s appointments in a December 2 posting on the Truthdig website:

Yet, it all does hang on him.  Yes, Obama.  The superstar, and not that supporting cast of retreads from a failed past that have popped up in his administration in the making.  Now that we have the list of his top economic and foreign policy picks — mostly a collection of folks who wouldn’t know change if it slapped them upside the head — we’ve got to hope that it’s Obama who is using them, and not the other way around.

*   *   *

The problem with Obama’s national security team is not that he has picked hawks whom he cannot control; they are all professionals, who took the job expecting to go along with his game plan.  The danger here, as with his economic advisers, is only that Obama may stop being Obama, the agent of change who electrified a nation.

The analyses of Obama’s loyalty to the progressive base of the Democratic Party were not restricted to the liberal-oriented blogs.  John Harwood’s article in the December 6 New York Times provided us with a more optimistic view of what we might expect from the Obama Administration:

All this raises the question: can Mr. Obama indeed be forging the new style of politics he invoked so often during the election — one that transcends the partisan divisions that have marked recent administrations?  If so, what will he replace it with, a bipartisan style of governance that splits the differences between competing ideological camps, or a “post-partisan” politics that narrows gaps between red and blue or even renders them irrelevant?

Actually, insiders in Mr. Obama’s emerging team foresee a third option:  a series of left-leaning programs that draw on Americans’ desire for action and also on Mr. Obama’s moderate, even conservative, temperament, to hurdle the ideological obstacles that have lately paralyzed Washington.

Robert Creamer demonstrated a similarly positive outlook in his November 24 posting on the Campaign for America’s Future website:

Barack Obama will not govern from the “center right”, but he will govern from the “center”.  That’s not because he is “moving to the center”.  It’s because the center of American politics has changed.  It has moved where the American people are.  It once again resides in the traditional progressive center that has defined America’s promise since Thomas Jefferson penned its founding document over 200 years ago.

As we approach the initial days of the Obama Administration, it seems amusing to observe more squeamishness about our next President, coming from those on the political left than from those on the right.  The McCain campaign’s old theme:  “Who is Barack Obama?” seems to be lingering in the minds of many Obama supporters.  Saturday Night Live taught a lesson to all of the worriers, with the sketch:  “Obama Plays It Cool” .  Fear not, ye of leftist leanings!  Just stay cool.

The Return Of Jeb Bush

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December 4, 2008

I was surprised when I read the December 2 report by Beth Reinhard in the Miami Herald concerning the announcement by Mel Martinez, that he would not seek re-election to the United States Senate in 2010, at the end of his first term.  He has always been such an ambitious guy.  Immediately after the mid-term elections in 2006, Senator Martinez was named Chairman of the Republican National Committee (although he ultimately resigned from that post in October of 2007).  As Martin Kady reported in the November 14, 2006 edition of the New York Times:

Republicans are hoping that Martinez, whose family fled communist Cuba in 1962, will appeal to the pivotal Hispanic voting bloc, which went heavily for Democrats in the Nov. 7 elections.

Beth Reinhard’s article in the Miami Herald quoted the Senator’s explanation for not seeking another term:  the simple desire to spend more time in Orlando with family and friends.  However, Ms. Reinhard provided an alternative explanation for the motivating factors behind this decision:

His slumping poll numbers and lackluster reelection fundraising have fueled speculation for months that he would not seek another term.  But Martinez, a reluctant Washington insider recruited by President George W. Bush, insisted that he wasn’t deterred by the prospect of a tough race.  He added that he announced his retirement early to give potential candidates enough time to build campaigns.

The article went on to disclose that “a close ally” of former Governor Jeb Bush indicated that Jeb “was thinking about the race”.

A December 3 report by Carol Lee and Jonathan Martin on the Politico website bore the headline:   “Jeb: I am considering Senate run”.  They noted the likelihood that in the event Jeb should seek the Senate seat relinquished by Mel Martinez, he would not likely face any Republican opposition.  What really stood out in this piece was Jeb’s strategic vision for the future of the Republican Party in the wake of the 2008 elections.  At a time when many Republicans expressed dread that the only “rising star” in their party might be Sarah Palin, it must have been nice to hear “the smart one” from the Bush family provide an enlightened perspective on the future:

In an interview with Politico immediately after November’s election, the former governor said the Republican Party should take four primary steps to regain favor with voters: Show no tolerance for corruption, practice what it preaches about limiting the scope of government (“There should not be such a thing as a Big Government Republican”), stand for working families and small business, and embrace reform.

Bush said conservatives should “do the math of the new demographics of the United States,” explaining that the Republican Party “can’t be anti-Hispanic, anti-young person — anti many things — and be surprised when we don’t win elections.”

Jeb let everyone know that there is at least one Republican who “gets it” and can provide change the Republicans can believe in.  The obvious next question is:  When is he planning on a run for the Presidency?  If his plan is to run in the 2012 Presidential election, he would have to begin campaigning immediately upon being sworn in as a Senator in January of 2011.  That simply would not make sense.  He would more likely spend a few years in the Senate, re-defining himself as a centrist and demonstrating the capacity for bipartisanship that his brother lacked.  He would then likely set his sights on the 2016 Presidential election, when President Obama’s term expires.

In the mean time, the Democrats need to focus on nominating a worthy opponent for Jeb in the Senatorial election.  Their best chance for victory would be the nomination of a Latin-American woman as their candidate.  Jeb’s wife, Columba, is a native of Mexico and this has always endeared him to the Latin-American voters in Florida.  A female candidate could attract the votes of independent female voters.

The Democratic Party’s response to Jeb’s likely senatorial bid is already taking shape.  The Politico website ran a second article on Jeb’s Senatorial aspirations on December 3, written by Amie Parnes and Charles Mathesian, entitled:  “Will voters elect a Bush again?” They quoted the response from Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz about the prospect of a Senator Jeb Bush:

“I don’t think Jeb Bush’s leadership style is a good fit for the US Senate or any legislative body. He governs with ‘my way or the highway’ politics. He was literally the most inflexible public official I’ve ever encountered in my 16 years in office,” said Wasserman Schultz. “I think they’re very similar in terms of his leadership style. When they decide that they are correct there’s no telling them that they are not.”

Who would have thought that before George W. Bush could move out of the White House, there would be serious discussion of another Bush candidacy?

The Biggest Challenge For Hillary

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December 1, 2008

The recent attacks in Mumbai, India focused international attention back to the continuing problem of organized terrorist activity.  As Hillary Clinton is presented to the world as our next Secretary of State, the more sensationalist elements of the media have their focus on terrorism.  Terrorism is highlighted to the exclusion of the other pressing matters to be faced during Secretary Clinton’s upcoming tenure, presiding over that all-important bureaucracy in the neighborhood known as “Foggy Bottom”.  Nevertheless, Secretary Clinton will have several other pressing issues on her agenda  — “leftovers” that have stumped the previous administration for the past eight years.  Among these abandoned, stinking socks on the floor of the Oval Office, the least fragrant involves the situation with Iran.  The Bush years took that bad situation and made it far worse.  A December 1 article in the Tehran Times focused on the remarks of Majlis Speaker, Ali Larijani, about what might lie ahead between the United States and Iran.  While suggesting that the Bush Administration “sabotaged” efforts to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, the article mentioned Larijani’s criticisms of what was described as the Democrats’ Iran containment policy.

A report in the December 1 Los Angeles Times examined the expectations of Arabs and Israelis, with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  Discussing various forecasts concerning American strategy towards Iran, the article noted:

Some analysts predict the Obama administration will try instead to broker an Israeli-Syrian accord, aimed at drawing Syria away from Iran’s influence and diminishing Iran as a threat to the Jewish state.

Elizabeth Bumiller’s article in the November 22 New York Times described the “working chemistry” that has developed between Barack Obama and Ms. Clinton.  This chemistry resulted in a softening of Clinton’s position, expressed during the primary season debates, about negotiating with Iran:

But although Mrs. Clinton criticized Mr. Obama for being willing to sit down and talk to dictators, he has said he would have a lower-level envoy do preparatory work for a meeting with Iran’s leaders first.  Mrs. Clinton has said she favors robust diplomacy with Iran and lower-level contacts as well.

In the November 24 Jerusalem Post, Douglas Bloomfield gave us a refreshing look at how the Obama – Clinton foreign policy team might function:

Hillary’s great challenge will be to remember who IS President, who ISN’T and who WAS.  She will have to focus on rebuilding relationships damaged during the Bush years of “my way or the highway” foreign policy, taking the lead from the man she once described as not ready to be president.

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In the Middle East peace process, as in other policy areas, Obama seems intent on charting a pragmatic, centrist course.  While that will disappoint both the Jewish Right and Left, it could prove a welcome change after eight years of the Bush administration’s faith-based foreign policy and not-so-benign neglect of the peace process.

As Inauguration Day approaches, the Bush Administration’s legacy of complete incompetence in nearly all areas is being documented by countless writers around the world.  By invading Iraq, Bush-Cheney helped Iran realize its dreams of hegemony.  Bush’s mishandling of Iran’s rise as a nuclear power became the subject of a thought-provoking opinion piece by David Ignatius in the November 30 Washington Post.  Mr. Ignatius noted that Iran had neither enriched uranium nor the technology to enrich uranium (centrifuges) when Bush took power.  As Bush’s days in the White House wind down, we now see Iran with nearly 4,000 centrifuges and approximately 1,400 pounds of enriched uranium.  The 2006 precondition that Iran halt uranium enrichment before the United States would participate in diplomatic efforts to address this issue, exemplifies the handicapped mindset of the Bush-Cheney regime.  As Mr. Ignatius pointed out:

It’s impossible to say whether Iran’s march toward nuclear-weapons capability could have been stopped by diplomacy.  But there hasn’t yet been a good test.  Because of bitter infighting in the Bush administration, its diplomatic efforts were late in coming and, once launched, have been ineffective.

By the time we finally have a President and a Secretary of State who are capable of taking on the dicey task of negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue, it may be too late.  Hillary Clinton’s biggest challenge in her new job has already been cut out for her by the Bush Administration’s nonfeasance.