Saturday, September 22, 2012
Why was almost nothing the Obama Administration initially said about the Libyan tragedy accurate?
I recommend to you Stephen F. Hayes' timely essay entitled "Permanent Spin." Key bit:
So we are left with this: Four Americans were killed in a premeditated terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, and for more than a week the Obama administration misled the country about what happened.
This isn’t just a problem. It’s a scandal.
By all means, read the whole thing.
At least it wasn't Jimmy Carter's administration who made up the fiction that the terrorists who stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage — a terrorist group whose members included the current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — were "merely students." Carter just republished that fiction — and indeed, he relied upon it to pretend that Iran hadn't committed what would have been immediately recognized throughout human history as an unequivocal declaration of war through an armed attack. (And should have been so recognized then.)
We can argue about whether this Administration's misinformation was merely incompetent or actively deceptive (i.e., disinformation). Hayes makes, in my judgment, a strong case for the latter, whereas I'd argue it's a combination of both.
But no one can argue that the early information released by the Obama Administration about the Libyan tragedy has been accurate or trustworthy.
I hope that during the foreign policy debate, Gov. Romney spotlights this particularly ugly performance by the Obama Adminstration. That will probably be his best chance to cut through the mainstream media's too-willing fog on these issues.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Beldar on Patterico on Crawford (updated)
My excellent blogospheric friend Patterico has posted an articulate defense of CBS News reporter Jan Crawford, who's being accused of having been caught on tape coordinating with other mainstream media reporters their questions for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney about the current Middle East turmoil. He fairly summarizes the particulars of the accusations, so I won't repeat them here.
Like Patterico, I'm a long-time fan of Ms. Crawford's — see, for example, my 2007 review of her book on the Supreme Court and its Justices — although I don't have the personal acquaintance with her that he has. In the interest of further disclosure, I should also perhaps mention again that I briefly represented Ms. Crawford's current employer, CBS News, in a Fifth Circuit defamation appeal back in the mid-1980s, although I'm no longer at the same law firm which CBS hired then, and certainly since my participation in Rathergate I have had no expectations that they'd ever hire me again.
Patterico and I agree entirely, I think, that Ms. Crawford's body of work over time has earned her a great deal of credibility — far too much to discount it all to zero over one incident.
But his defense goes far beyond that, and you really should read the whole thing there on his blog.
In general I share our host’s good opinion of Ms. Crawford. This episode doesn’t outweigh everything else she’s done which I admire. But I emphatically do not admire this episode, at least in its murky outlines.
That those outlines are still murky is her fault. She needs to explain if she wants to salvage the good reputation she earned. That people are critical is no excuse whatsoever for her failure to do so — unless one thinks cowardice is a virtue.
And I think the vehemence of the reaction is in large part due to the fact that we expected better of her than this, and we’re concerned that this unguarded glimpse actually represents the common reality instead of an exception.
I also don’t at all share Patterico’s view that the campaign press pool’s “coordinating questions” is okay in the abstract. It’s emphatically not okay in the abstract or in the concrete, it’s collusion designed to script and therefore limit and channel the American political dialog. It’s a very, very fundamental breach of journalistic ethics, and if abstracted and universalized would make a mockery of the entire concept of the “Fourth Estate” as a watchdog of our liberties.
It’s no accident that we metaphorically speak of the “marketplace of ideas.” The members of the press corps who are allowed continual access to our major-party candidates are repositories of our collective trust, but they aren’t supposed to act collectively themselves. Instead, we rely upon them, and their questions to the candidates, to reflect, in broad terms, the interests of the electorate in all its diversity and peculiarity.
If the candidate takes ten questions of ten different reporters, presumably each of those ten reporters will have considered what’s previously been asked before asking his own, to avoid wasteful duplication. Among them, they should manage to fairly inquire about not just the “consensus” issues, but some of the outliers too.
What Crawford appears to be caught on tape doing is the journalistic equivalent of price-fixing. That’s hard to prove in the marketplace of commerce or the marketplace of ideas, but occasionally there’s the proverbial “smoking gun”: the memorandum agreeing that next quarter’s steel output will be limited and prices fixed, the revelation that there’s a JournoList, or here, an open-mike snatch of conversation which dispels all pretense of journalistic independence of thought or action.
If the question is genuine, and genuinely important, there should never be any more need to coordinate its asking than there is for manufacturers to coordinate the price of steel.
UPDATE (Sat Sep 15 @ 2:20am): Patterico has a follow-up post. He argues persuasively, with links and quotes, to establish that after the Cairo embassy's statement, the sequence was:
So: a) Crawford attacks the embassy’s statement; b) Romney issues a similar statement; and c) Crawford does a fair report that portrays Romney in a positive light.
I've no quarrel with any of that. He continues:
Now, I can understand people arguing that any discussion among colleagues about what they are going to ask a candidate is somehow illegitimate. I disagree, but that argument is not outside the realm of reasonableness.
But portraying Crawford as some nasty member of a liberal cabal, while it might feel satisfying, is, in the end, an unnecessary attack on one of the good ones.
I agree completely with the second paragraph of that, and that's by far the more important paragraph.
I'd quibble with the first. I don't think anyone contends that "any discussion among colleagues about what they are going to ask a candidate is somehow illegitimate." I think that misstates the issue rather badly. The issue is instead, I believe, whether it's ethical and appropriate for journalists to negotiate and mutually agree that they should construct or conform their questions in a particular manner. These reporters are supposedly competitors of one another; all should be trying to ask unique and brilliant questions so that they and their employers will be relatively more successful in the marketplace of ideas and, therefore, in the marketplace of commerce. Instead, they're engaged in a secret plan, quite literally a conspiracy, to ensure that Mitt Romney will look bad so that Obama will be reelected.
Patterico argues, again — and again with merit — that it sounds from the tape as if Crawford was trying to exercise a moderating influence on the rest of the press corps' reflexive hostility to Mitt Romney. Again, I agree entirely with that.
But her job isn't to be a moderating influence as a participant in a fundamentally corrupt and fraudulent exercise. After this private discussion, she went on with business as usual, when an ethical journalist would, I contend, have made the story of the day: "Press corps conspires to coordinate hostile questions to Romney."
Is it entirely possible that CBS would have promptly fired Crawford if she'd made that the story of the day? Yes, I think so. But Crawford presumably knew their history when she took the job; perhaps she's made a Faustian bargain, blinkering herself to her colleagues' unethical behavior as the necessary cost of admission to the club.
Patterico's conclusion is one I can also cheerfully endorse, and do:
Again: the so-called “coordination of questions” issue is fair game for reasonable minds to differ. I don’t see it as a huge deal, but I can respect someone who argues to the contrary. I’d like to see Jan address that issue, frankly.
But I think it’s unfair to write off this reporter as part of a liberal conspiracy to undermine Romney, when she seemingly agreed with his position, and portrayed it fairly and in a positive light. I hope this post makes people rethink such a position. Because Jan Crawford is not the enemy. She just isn’t.
Yes, I'd like to see her address this, too. But I'd rather she blew the whistle on this kind of stuff.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
On 9/11/01 plus eleven
As part of my private commemoration of the eleventh anniversary of 9/11/01, earlier this evening I finished reading No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden, written under the pseudonym "Mark Owen" by a senior member of SEAL Team 6 (with assistance from an experienced military author who'd been embedded with American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kevin Maurer). It is a quick read, and it is written in the most plain and straightforward prose, but I nevertheless found it to be a very satisfying and timely read.
But today's news is full of ugly omens. The President of the United States has once again publicly brushed off the Prime Minister of Israel, who'd like to meet this week to discuss the completely unresolved problem of Iran's nuclear weapons program. American embassies are being assaulted in Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood-led government that we're supporting with money borrowed from China nominally stands watching and secretly plots America's mortification.
Roughly half of America has nevertheless been lulled back into the most false sense of security in human history. The voters among them will vote for Obama, again.
But when the next attack comes, and when it is worse, they will be incandescent in their resentment and fury whenever anyone suggests to them that they were foolish back in the Novembers of 2008 and 2012, back when Iran's nuclear program could still have been stopped at less than the cost of an American city.
UPDATE (Sep 12 @ 5:40am): All Americans of every political stripe will be horrified by the awful news coming out of Libya this morning. I'm not yet prepared to comment on it, and when I am I'll do that in another post, so I'm simply going to close comments on this post for now.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Press assumes nothing BUT Obamacare can possibly be caring
It is very hard for even well-informed members of the general public to stay focused during detailed discussions of health care reform, Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid. I have become very appreciative, therefore, of the consistently clear and powerful writing on these topics from Yuval Levin. He gives me detail at a level I can still absorb, and he gives us all links. And he always orients everything he says so that it can be understood as part of the biggest picture and broadest perspective: He explains and organizes so that things can be seen to fit together coherently.
His recent post on NRO's The Corner entitled "Pre-Existing Ignorance" is bracing. And its clarity dispels a lot of confusion and mental cobwebs.
Levin faults the reporters covering the political fights on these health-care reform issues for not even making an effort to inform themselves about the two nominees' respective positions on the subject matter, and he says they've completely "fallen for the Democratic line about Obamacare":
That line involves, first of all, the notion that Obamacare is simply the definition of health-care reform, and that to oppose it means to not want to solve the problems with our system. Reporters are therefore surprised anytime a Republican expresses the desire to solve those problems, and they assume that means he must want to keep Obamacare....
They're not journalists. They're acolytes.
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Of sidelines, collegiality, and Barack Obama's spectacular ineffectiveness
I've never doubted the reports that the University of Chicago Law School would gladly have put Barack Obama on a "tenure track" if he'd wanted that. They would have converted him from a "lecturer" or "senior lecturer" — both polite ways of pointing out to other academics that someone is neither tenured, nor on a tenure-track — into an "assistant professor." And then, in addition to teaching, he'd have had to produce appropriate proof of sustained scholarship, which in this profession means researching and writing serious articles for publication in law reviews like the one he helped edit when he was a student at Harvard Law. If his articles met the very subjective standards of the faculty, and if his teaching and other professorial work was acceptable, he'd have been granted tenure, and the title of "associate professor"; he'd have started participating in the faculty senate, voting on tenure decisions and law school policy; and eventually he'd have become a full professor (the "Professor of Law" that he's so often and so misleadingly claimed himself to be when away from the law school), and he'd probably eventually have ended up with an endowed chair (e.g., "the Fenster Q. Bigcontributor Chair in Socio-Legal Comparative Studies," or some such). And if Chicago hadn't embraced him for such a career path, literally hundreds of other law schools would have, and gladly, simply on the basis of Obama having been the first black editor-in-chief (a/k/a "president" in their odd nomenclature) of the Harvard Law Review.
Of course, as any career academic or even any one-time graduate student is keenly aware, "faculty politics" is some of the most intense and competitive politics around. But it's not always purely cut-throat; instead it must also be collaborative to be successful. Every academic's individual prestige is linked with that of his institution, and while they are rivals in some respects, all members of a faculty have a shared interest in seeing their institution prosper and grow in repute (and funding) over the long term. That they can and do cooperate to build great institutions of higher learning, and that leaders emerge among them to show the way, is why it's not a mockery that "college" and "collegiality" share the same linguistic roots.
But Obama chose not to go that path, for whatever reasons. He probably had a key to the faculty lounge and washroom, but by his choice, he was never part of the permanent, full-time faculty of Chicago Law School, or any law school.
Similarly, although Barack Obama could have had his choice of partnership-track associate positions at the top law firms in the country, he chose to be merely a non-owner part-time employee, "of counsel" at the small and not particularly distinguished Chicago law firm he joined after Harvard Law School.
Barack Obama was never anyone's fellow tenured faculty member, nor anyone's law partner and business co-owner. He never even tried to be.
I thought of that bit of Obama's personal history when I read this appalling story from Bob Woodward in the Washington Post. It's titled "Inside story of Obama’s struggle to keep Congress from controlling outcome of debt ceiling crisis," but the URL under which it was published contains a short and succinct indictment (italics mine, of course): "A president sidelined." It begins:
President Obama summoned the top four congressional leaders to the White House on Saturday morning, July 23, 2011. The night before, House Speaker John A. Boehner had withdrawn from negotiations to raise the $14 trillion federal debt limit and save the government from a catastrophic default. “Nobody wanted to be there,” Boehner later recalled. “The president’s still pissed.”
They had about 10 days left before the government would run out of money. Given the global importance of U.S. Treasury securities, failing to extend the debt limit could trigger a worldwide economic meltdown.
Boehner said he believed that he and the others — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — had a plan. He told Obama: We think we can work this out. Give us a little more time. We’ll come back to you. We are not going to negotiate this with you.
Obama objected, saying that he couldn’t be left out of the process. “I’ve got to sign this bill,” he reminded the leaders as they sat in the Cabinet Room off the Oval Office.
“Mr. President,” Boehner challenged, “as I read the Constitution, the Congress writes the laws. You get to decide if you want to sign them.”
Reid, the most powerful Democrat on Capitol Hill, spoke up. The congressional leaders want to speak privately, he said. Give us some time.
This was it. Congress was taking over. The leaders were asking the president to leave the meeting he had called in the White House.
Sidelined! Well, yeah, everyone else on the team has effectively sidelined him because he doesn't know the plays, doesn't know how to play his position, pays no attention to the snap count, draws a penalty flag with every other step he takes, and yet trash-talks endlessly. It's not unusual for a player to be sidelined. But it's pretty unusual when the other players sideline the nominal quarterback.
Barack Obama never learned to work and play constructively with others, so he certainly never learned how to effectively lead others.
The closest he ever came was when he was elected as a compromise candidate to head the Harvard Law Review. That was a great honor, but ask yourself: Other than the fact that he was the first black editor-in-chief, have you heard a single other notable fact about his service in that one-year slot? Oh, the HLR published on schedule (more or less, as law reviews tend to do), and it sailed along with the same standards of quality and scholarship that had built its reputation over more than a century. But frankly, the Harvard Law Review — like the Texas Law Review, on whose board I served in 1979-1980, or most other top law reviews — is easily capable of surviving for a year on auto-pilot regardless of the leadership skills of any single editor-in-chief. And I'm reasonably sure that during Obama's tenure, the HLR didn't have to borrow billions from the Chinese to put out its next issue either.
By all accounts, the only legislation of consequence that Obama ever passed as a state senator was that which was drafted by others and decided by the party bosses that, for symbolic reasons, he should sponsor. He passed absolutely nothing of consequence in his brief tenure as a U.S. Senator, served in no important leadership positions, and left not a single fingerprint on the institution of the United States Senate.
And now, when the United States and the world desperately need someone who can not just make speches, but actually lead — not just in public, but in private with his sleeves rolled up to deal with competing congressmen and constituencies — Barack Obama does not know what to do. He has the power of the Presidency, but not a clue how to use it effectively, so he is not taken seriously by any of the other players whom the Constitution makes part of the process of government.
And not only can Obama not lead, he can't even cooperate effectively.
I would feel slightly sorry for him, if he were not destroying my children's future.
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way," it's said. The 2012 election now represents President Obama — refusing even to get out of the way.
Friday, September 07, 2012
Friday morning national hangover
The fantasy from last night:
... And I’m asking you to choose that future. I’m asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country, goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation.
We can choose a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs. After a decade that was defined by what we bought and borrowed, we’re getting back to basics, and doing what America has always done best:
We’re making things again....
I’ve worked with business leaders who are bringing jobs back to America, not because our workers make less pay, but because we make better products....
After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years....
We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines, and long-lasting batteries....
The reality in the cold morning light:
U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs last month, a weak figure that could slow any momentum President Barack Obama hoped to gain from his speech to the Democratic National Convention.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, the Labor Department said Friday. But that was only because more people gave up looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching.
The government also said 41,000 fewer jobs were created in July and June than first estimated. The economy has added just 139,000 jobs a month since the beginning of the year, below 2011’s average of 153,000.
Dow Jones industrial futures, which had been up before the report, fell soon after it was released.
The report was weak throughout. Hourly pay fell, manufacturers cut the most jobs in two years and the number of people in the work force dropped to its lowest level in 31 years.
In addition to those who’ve given up looking for work, many young Americans are avoiding the job market by remaining in school. All told, the proportion of the population that is either working or looking for work fell to 63.5 percent. That’s the lowest level in 31 years for the labor force participation rate.
Average hourly wages dipped a penny to $23.52 and are only slightly ahead of inflation in the past year.
Many of the jobs were in lower-paying industries such as retail, which added 6,100 jobs, and hotels, restaurants and other leisure industries, which gained 34,000. Higher-paying manufacturing jobs fell by 15,000, the most in two years.
If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that the downward adjustment of previous figures for July and June by 41,000 jobs continues a long and depressingly consistent pattern: the Bureau of Labor Statistics, long thought to be one of the most genuinely nonpartisan of Washington institutions, now seems only able to err in one direction (overstating employment), but to do so like clockwork every month. So the 96k claimed new jobs for August — which was well short of the 125k expected by most economists before today's report — will probably be revised downward by tens of thousands, too.
The President bragged about the improvement of manufacturing employment, and promised a million new manufacturing jobs if he's given a second term. But the WaPo's reference to a drop in "higher paying manufacturing jobs" meant that manufacturing jobs in general are higher paying, not that just the number of top-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector dropped. Last month's 15k drop in total manufacturing jobs is the first since September 2011.
Of course, all such changes are completely dwarfed by the number of people who've given up and dropped out of the workforce altogether; there are almost three million more such Americans now than there were this time last year; 368k gave up in August alone, and if they hadn't, the nominal unemployment rate would have risen to 8.4% instead of dropping. And this is the 43rd straight month of unemployment above 8%, even using that understated calculation — can you remember when Dubya was villified for an unemployment rate around 5%?
The POTUS gets the monthly jobs report on the Thursday afternoon before they're released. President Obama knew these lousy numbers while he stood before the country claiming he has turned things around and that his "path leads to a better place." He and his partisans had a fine convention. It's too bad they are so unable to acknowledge — much less cope with — the world outside of it.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Slow Joe seems secure
My blogospheric friend Dafydd ab Hugh asked earlier this week if I would be just a little bit disappointed if U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did indeed turn up in Timor-Leste and Brunei today, as scheduled, instead of in Charlotte, NC, to replace Slow Joe Biden as President Obama's running mate for the 2012 presidential election. As I answered him then,
I will be relieved if my prediction is false, not disappointed. I want Obama to lose, and I think replacing Biden with Hillary could and would help him win.
I'd like to be able to say "I told you so" if Hillary shows up on stage in Charlotte on Thursday night, but not remotely enough to wish, even a little, for something that would improve Obama's reelection chances.
I will concede only that if Obama does win, I would very much prefer for Joe Biden no longer to be first in the line of presidential succession....
Multiple news organizations are reporting that the SecState is indeed on schedule, and the AP photo at right purports to show Mrs. Clinton as she "enjoys a cup of coffee as she tours the Timor Coffee Cooperative in Dili, East Timor, Sept. 6, 2012." That is indeed enough to overcome my residual conspiracy-theory paranoia. Short of the Air Force strapping Mrs. Clinton into an SR-71 Blackbird, I don't think she could be in Charlotte in time to accept the Dems' nomination. That doesn't, of course, rule out a last-minute switch to someone else as a Biden replacement, but anyone else would be harder for the Democratic voting public to embrace spontaneously.
There is still a very, very, very remote chance that Obama could replace Biden before election day, but they're very close to ballot-printing deadlines across the country. If he had wanted to pull off a surprise comparable to the bin Ladin raid, the convention would have been the time for Obama to do it. So I think Slow Joe can breathe easy.
And as I predicted to Dafydd, I am indeed relieved, and I am very happy to contemplate, with chortles and chuckles, the prospect of the current Vice President debating he whom I believe should be the next one, Paul Ryan, in due course. Obama keeping Biden guarantees the maximum contrast in competency, and that Romney will get the most possible benefit from his Veep pick.
I think political wonks will someday mark this missed opportunity as the moment when Obama's political savvy finally finished turning from stainless steel to rust. The Dems will surely lick their wounds and re-write their convention rules and primary schedule and delegate selection procedures for 2016 — presumably to Clintonista specifications — during 2013-2014, when they take steps to prevent another accidental presidency by someone who's still coasting on fumes from one really good speech or exploiting one really appealing new angle. And some of them will wonder what might have been if only Obama had been slightly more adventurous, slightly more honest with himself about the risks of keeping Slow Joe, back in September 2012. As when the Dems recovered from the disastrous McGovern candidacy in 1972, as a party they'll surely tack more toward the center to return to competitiveness. That will probably be a good thing overall for the two-party system and for the country, and I support both.
"Bold and brittle talk, Beldar," you may say, "from one just proved so wrong." That may be, and this isn't the first time one of my predictions has come a cropper. But why should I lament the failure of my political opponents to exploit an opportunity that I saw, but that they, apparently, chose not to follow?
Just in case, though: I really, really do hope that President Obama has finally really given up smoking.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
So what if a local meteorologist says that Thursday night is likely to be "the best weather of the entire week," with only a 20% chance of rain?
I think the Dems are just being pro-active here in recognizing that their natural constituency probably includes Wiccans. Some Wiccans may be from the west. A famous witch from the west once melted unexpectedly when she got wet. Mitt Romney probably admitted in his secret tax returns that a 20% chance of anyone melting at the Democratic National Convention is a perfectly acceptable gamble — but that just further highlights the stark choice facing Americans this November.
No, sir, Barack Obama may or may not have slowed the rise of the oceans as he promised. But no one is melting in the rain on his watch, regardless of his or her preferences regarding flying monkeys. And you can take that to the bank. (Just not to the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.)
Hillary watch, pt. 2 [updated x 8]
I have a bad back myself. I know how back problems can flare up unexpectedly. So I'm certainly not asserting that Xi Jinping didn't really hurt his back:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday and pledged greater cooperation despite tensions on a rising number of issues.
But a meeting with Mr. Hu's expected successor, Xi Jinping, was unexpectedly canceled for what a U.S. official said was a back injury.
The severity and cause of the injury wasn't clear on Wednesday. The U.S. official said the cancellation wouldn't likely affect the tenor of Mrs. Clinton's visit. A senior State Department official said Mr. Xi had also canceled appearances with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and an unidentified Russian official.
From other news reports, under the slightly alarming headline "China's Xi Jinping cancels Hillary Clinton meeting amid 'tensions,'" we learn this:
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, asked at a joint news conference with Clinton about Xi's cancellation, said: "I hope people will not have unnecessary speculation."
China has in the past called off meetings at the last minute to show displeasure, although Xi has generally made US-friendly statements and sought warm relations during a trip across the United States earlier this year.
As I wrote earlier this week, I don't think our SecState would blow off an important meeting with the Chinese. I'm sure the senior State Department official who spoke to the WSJ's reporters was comprehensively briefed on the status of Mr. Xi's back and appointment schedule before going on the record (but not, apparently, for attribution by name) to Secretary Clinton's traveling press corps. And even the Chinese sometimes have trouble remembering the names of those Russian officials.
Surely only a delusional conspiracy theorist would believe that a high official in the Obama Administration might secretly bargain for a competing world power's cooperation by offering, for example, offering some vague quid pro quo during a second Obama term, when the President will have a little more flexibility.
But it might turn out to be awfully convenient for Secretary Clinton that Mr. Xi hurt his back if, for instance, she were in no particular hurry to get to Timor-Leste tomorrow to tour that coffee plantation.
So as I wrote on Monday: "I will be happy to be proved wrong, and I hope I will be." Nevertheless, "I'll believe Joe Biden's job is safe when I see reliable proof that Secretary Clinton has stepped onto the tarmac at the Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili."
UPDATE #1 (Wed Sep 5 @ 7:50am): Things are getting even weirder. Now WaPo correspondent William Wan is reporting from Beijing that other journalists can't get confirmation of the report I linked above from the Wall Street Journal, to the effect that the reason for cancellation was Mr. Xi's back:
The formal and highly scripted meetings in Beijing had their share of surprises. Besides the Wen comments, a meeting planned for Wednesday with Xi Jinping — the man expected to replace Hu Jintao as China’s president — was abruptly canceled upon Clinton’s arrival. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi did not explain the cancellation, only warning that people not use it as an excuse for "unnecessary speculation."
Xi also canceled meetings with the prime minister of Singapore and a Russian parliamentarian, according to U.S. officials. To try to make sure the United States would not interpret the cancellation as a snub, the Chinese set up a last-minute meeting instead with Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who is widely expected to succeed Wen as premier.
Yang also told the Clinton that the Chinese would deliver a letter to her from Xi on Wednesday.
Citing an anonymous U.S. official, the Wall Street Journal reported the Xi cancellation was due to a back injury, a claim that American diplomats traveling with Clinton refused to confirm.
I wish the WaPo had reported when the consolation meeting with Vice Premier Li Keqiang took place, or is scheduled to take place. But surely there is a perfectly innocent explanation for all this confusion. I'm just not clever enough to piece it together yet. Certainly none of these reporters who are rushing into print to contradict each other seem to sense that anything is amiss or other than what meets the eye. At least now we know that the unidentified Russian whose meeting with Mr. Xi was also cancelled was a parliamentarian instead of some other kind of official.
UPDATE #2 (Wed Sep 5 @ 8:15am): The NYT assures us that all is well and normal. The Chinese Foreign Ministry says so:
One of Mrs. Clinton’s most important appointments, a session with Vice President Xi Jinping, the likely next leader of China, was canceled. The Foreign Ministry said at its regular briefing that the cancellation was a “normal adjustment of the itinerary.” Mr. Xi also canceled his scheduled meeting Wednesday with Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong. “We have reached consensus with the United States and Singapore” on the cancellations, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said.
Diplomats in Beijing said they were told that Mr. Xi had hurt his back and said there was no reason not to believe that explanation, even though there was speculation about whether the cancellation of the meeting with Mrs. Clinton was connected to the once-in-a-decade transition, or whether it was intended as a snub.
Instead of Mr. Xi, Mrs. Clinton met with the vice premier, Li Keqiang, who is expected to become the premier early next year. Earlier Wednesday, she met with President Hu Jintao, whose term ends next year, at the Great Hall of the People.
So why can't the WaPo's reporter find the same "diplomats in Beijing" that the NYT's reporters found?
UPDATE #3 (Wed Sep 5 @ 9:55am): Hanna Beech of TIME now reports more specifics. They do not reduce my curiosity, but perhaps they will yours:
The urgent notice from the U.S. embassy in Beijing arrived in e-mail inboxes at 10:26 on Wednesday morning. The press conference with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been moved up suddenly to 10:30. That would be in four minutes’ time. Could members of the foreign press please proceed quickly to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the edge of Tiananmen Square? The reason for the last-minute change of schedule appeared to be a no-show by the man widely expected to take over from President Hu Jintao in China’s upcoming once-a-decade leadership transition. Clinton’s scheduled talk this morning with Vice President Xi Jinping had been called off by the Chinese side, paving the way for an earlier press conference with the Chinese Foreign Minister. In the Sept. 5 media briefing, Clinton sidestepped a question about whether Xi’s cancellation might reflect tensions between the world’s two biggest economies at a time when competing territorial claims in waters off China have marred the People’s Republic’s relations with its maritime neighbors.
Despite the Xi cancellation, Clinton met with President Hu and other top Chinese leaders in Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday. According to the American side, Xi’s scheduled meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday was also scrapped. One version of events ascribes the Chinese Vice President’s absence to an injured back. “The current schedule of the secretary’s visit has been agreed by both sides,” said Yang, presumably referring to Xi’s cancellation. “I hope people won’t have unnecessary speculation.” China’s chattering classes are atwitter over how the upcoming leadership transition will play out in the coming weeks, as the first of the high-level staffing changes within the government trickle out of the capital. In a country where analysts often must seize on the briefest of shadow plays in order to guess what’s really going on behind the bamboo curtain, it’s only natural that Xi’s no-show will set off the rumor mill. Perhaps China’s presumptive heir to the presidency really does have an aching back. But convincing China pundits of that may be tough.
I'm no "China pundit," so I'm convinced! This is totally, totally a coincidence. Certainly there's no reason to think President Obama would have any incentive to create, at the moment of his re-nomination, the same kind of spectacular international distraction from his record that he briefly enjoyed after the bin Ladin raid. Surely the speech he plans to deliver on Thursday night, and that of Vice President Biden earlier that same evening, will be so wondrous that we'll all laugh, just laugh, to think that he might have ever wanted Hillary to replace Slow Joe.
But it only takes about fifteen hours to get from Beijing to Charlotte, N.C., by air, even flying commercial. And my wild fantasy has never involved Secretary Clinton taking any risks to offend the Chinese. But the East Timoreans are, perhaps, a different story. So I'm still looking for that "Dateline: Dili" news report confirming Secretary Clinton's arrival in Timor-Leste before I'm 100% convinced.
UPDATE #4 (Wed Sep 5 @ 10:20am): Now the AP (via Bloomberg) reports:
Clinton had been scheduled to meet Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as China's top leader later this year, but that was canceled by the Chinese for "unexpected scheduling reasons," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. A meeting between Xi and the visiting prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, also was canceled without explanation.
Yang would say only there should not be "unnecessary speculation" about changes to Clinton's schedule.
So we might infer that at least one of the State Department officials who's been speaking on this subject is Victoria Nuland. She is the "Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson," for the State Department, which is impressive in a place filled with deputies and assistant vice underlings. I wonder if she knows any Russian parliamentarians. I'm guessing yes. Ms. Nuland, if you happen to read this in the next 24 hours, could you leave me a comment below, please?
UPDATE #5 (Wed Sep 5 @ 11:40am): From a southwest Asian source with which I'm not familiar, so for which I cannot vouch, a quote and time reference I haven't seen elsewhere yet:
China's likely next president Xi Jinping has cancelled a meeting with the visiting US Secretary of State, a US official said Wednesday, amid friction between the two global powers.
Hillary Clinton had been due to meet Vice President Xi later Wednesday during a brief visit to Beijing that looks set to be dominated by a series of territorial disputes between China and its neighbours, notably in the South China Sea.
"We were informed after 11:00 pm last night by the Chinese side that for unexpected scheduling reasons, the meeting between Vice President Xi and Secretary Clinton is not going to happen today," said the official, who requested anonymity.
"We understand from the Chinese side that Vice President Xi's meetings with the prime minister of Singapore and a Russian official have also been cancelled today."
Lots of things happen late at night. People hurt their backs. Airplanes fly, sometimes to secret destinations. It's sure hard for me to figure out what's going on with the SecState's travels, though.
UPDATE #6 (Wed Sep 5 @ 11:50am): Now the WSJ's reporters, Brian Spegele and Monica Langley, have posted an updated story:
China and the U.S. made little visible progress in resolving thorny diplomatic disputes during a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, as both sides stuck to long-standing positions on issues from regional territorial claims to violence in Syria.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government stayed silent on why Vice President Xi Jinping unexpectedly pulled out of a planned meeting with Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday. A U.S. official said Mr. Xi was suffering from a back problem. The incident highlighted how Beijing's information vacuum regarding its senior leaders spurs speculation by an increasingly curious and digitally savvy public.
Mr. Xi, the vice president, is expected to succeed Mr. Hu as Communist Party chief later this year and as president in 2013. Beijing's decision to cancel the meeting immediately drew speculation on the country's raucous online forums.
Chinese censors have struggled to quell political gossip on Twitter-like microblogging websites, which have become incubators for rumors. The rumors appear to be at least partly prompted by a lack of available information about the lives and work of China's senior leaders, whose very names are blocked on the services.
On Sina Corp.'s popular Weibo microblogging service, users who managed to evade censors put forward theories as to why Mrs. Clinton's meeting with Mr. Xi was canceled so suddenly.
"It seems like it's related to Japan's purchase today of the Diaoyu islands," wrote one user upon hearing the news, speculating that the Chinese might be preparing a military operation.
Mr. Yang, China's foreign minister, said there shouldn't be "unnecessary speculation" about why Mr. Xi's meeting was canceled.
Mr. Hong, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, described the cancellation as a normal "adjustment of itinerary" at Wednesday's daily press briefing.
One U.S. official said the meeting was canceled because Mr. Xi was suffering from a back problem. Further details were unclear. A senior State Department official said Mr. Xi had also canceled an appearance with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr. Xi, who is 59 years old, hasn't appeared since Saturday on the government's official nightly news broadcast, which routinely spotlights the activities of senior leaders.
Aha. Perhaps this really is all about the Diaoyu Islands.
But why would Victoria Nuland, the most official of spokespersons, permit herself to be quoted by name by some reporters (unless we assume they risked banishment by naming her after having promised not to), but not by others, in one or more conversations about this specific topic within the last 24 hours? Isn't it reasonable to infer that there was perhaps another senior Treasury Department official who's also been speaking to the press about this — and if so, is the She Who Must Not Be Named someone who once lived in Arkansas?
This is hugely amusing to me, however it all turns out. If you're still reading this post, you must share my slightly warped sense of humor, or perhaps you just credit the Dems with the same capacity for deviousness that I do.
UPDATE #7 (Wed Sep 5 @ 12:15pm): How hard does BeldarBlog work to find out what the Secretary of State is doing on the opposite side of the globe? I even check the People's Daily Online, the official state-sponsored Chinese newspaper, which does indeed give us another piece of the puzzle, while leaving other questions unanswered:
Clinton arrived in Beijing Tuesday evening for a two-day visit at the invitation of Yang. She met with Chinese President Hu Jintao Wednesday morning and is due to meet with Premier Wen Jiabao, Vice Premier Li Keqiang and State Councilor Dai Bingguo in the afternoon.
So the consolation-prize interview with Vice Premier Li Keqiang took place many hours ago, and with it ended her need to remain in Beijing: It's already 1:15am on Thursday there. Is the SecState airborne already? And if so, are they headed to East Timor, or to North Carolina?
UPDATE #8 (Wed Sep 5 @ 1:40pm):
The LA Times, which I am normally loathe to link, has this:
In a short, frustrating visit to Beijing, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was stood up Wednesday by the future leader of China and delivered a stern lecture on China’s rights in the South China Sea.
During the third stop in her nearly two-week sweep of Asia, Clinton had hoped to meet with Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to get the nod next month to succeed Hu Jintao as China's president.
Xi also canceled meetings Wednesday with the Singapore prime minister and Russian officials, claiming a back injury. Nonetheless, the no-show at the session with Clinton was widely interpreted as a snub.
Xi’s cancellation of his meetings Wednesday triggered speculation that something was amiss with his candidacy and censors blocked any reference to “back injury” on the voracious microblog sites.
This is beginning to remind me of Akira Kurosawa's 1950 classic film, Rashomon.
And by the way, the video in the newer WSJ piece I linked above is an interview with their Sydney correspondent; the audio link was quite bad. But he made a determined and impressive case for the proposition that Secretary Clinton's visit to Timor-Leste is actually quite important because that new country has a lot of offshore hydrocarbons that are being developed by consortia which include American companies like Conoco-Philips. Moreover, he argued, a visit from a high-level U.S. diplomat is actually needed to show our support in the face of increased competition or even threat to Timor-Leste by China. That's all perfectly plausible. Yet none of it explains why Secretary Clinton couldn't instead simply make the visit next week after she finishes up in Vladivostok, or some other convenient time this fall.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Fixed that for ya, Mr. President
Among the websites controlled by the Obama White House is one intended for ready public access to fiscal matters — www.treasurydirect.gov. It even has a section for kids. There, we find this very educational bar chart showing the national debt:
For whatever reason, no one in the Obama Treasury Department has bothered to update the chart since 2009, which of course was only President Obama's first year in office. I was a liberal arts major, and I've only modest photoshop skills, but I do read the headlines and this bar chart is dirt simple to fix:
Of course, the chart is still slightly misleading because the selected dates aren't proportionately scaled along the X-axis, and of course the national debt history begins well before 1990.
But never let it be said that I wasn't trying to help the Obama Administration in its efforts to "tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." We surely wouldn't want the kiddos to be confused about what Obama has done, and this bar chart certainly tells a story that gives me a sense of purpose.
Persuasive evidence of Republican incompetence at something
It is so because I say it is so, and it doesn't exist unless I acknowledge it.
This is the entire logic undergirding a WaPo op-ed from Matt Miller, an MSNBC contributor and a "senior fellow at the Center for American Progress" (i.e., a professional talking head who's financially supported by a Democratic think-tank)(bold-face mine):
The striking thing about the Republican National Convention was how all of the most powerful speeches invoked tales of ascent from humble circumstance....
Anyone listening to Rubio’s moving tale surely thought, “Yes! This is exactly what America is about!” But the stories were all we got. No Republican speakers offered any policies to renew upward mobility in the United States....
I've omitted a hyperlink from that quotation since it wasn't to an actual authority on anything, just a link to another WaPo op-ed from another paradigm of liberal intellectual honesty, this one a self-admitted plagiarist. That's how the WaPo does its fact-checking: "Do our liberals all agree? Then it's a fact."
Note the spectacular arrogance, the insufferable closed-mindedness. Here's what Miller's entire pitch amounts to: "I don't agree with your ideas regarding what the government can and should do (or can and should refrain from doing) in order to encourage people to dream and to work and to succeed. Therefore, your ideas simply don't exist. Your ideas aren't even policies, they aren't even ideas, and everything you propose — even something as specific and concrete as 'repeal Obamacare' — was never actually mentioned. Therefore I don't have to bother even making an argument about why your policies are wrong."
Here's the problem with Miller's approach, though: If the American tradition being lauded by all those minority speakers at the GOP convention — including the personal experience of America that was had by the families of Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Mia Love, Condi Rice, Ted Cruz, Artur Davis, Nikki Haley, Brian Sandoval, and others (Miller's list is awfully short and selective, wonder why that was?) — is so closed, so hostile to people on account of their race or their national origin, then how did all those non-white people become senators and governors and cabinet officers?
The only answer available, once you've bought into Miller's logic, is that the GOP are awfully incompetent racists. After all, if you permit a "token" to share and exercise real power, then by definition he or she is no longer a token.
Or: Perhaps we shouldn't buy into Miller's logic because he's a dishonest partisan hack who makes his living off of telling clever lies.
I am so very guilty as charged
Should a video like this (hat-tip Jay Nordlinger) get wider distribution?
That's a clown question, bro.
Monday, September 03, 2012
In support of the "crazy like a fox" theory ...
Clint Eastwood's next movie — he starred in and co-produced, but didn't direct, this one — is called "Trouble With the Curve":
The ad campaign, featuring him, is on now. The film is scheduled for release on September 21st.
What percentage of the people who watch those ads between now and September 21st, or watch that film between September 21st and Election Day, do you suppose will also go back and watch Eastwood's speech — or, rather, performance — from the Republican National Convention?
Just in case you're curious — and I am, obviously — the SecState's official website says she's spending Monday (which is barely underway in Texas as I write this), September 3, in Jakarta (where it's already early Monday afternoon now), and she is expected in Beijing on Tuesday-Wednesday, September 4-5.
But what's next? Again per Secretary Clinton's official schedule on her official government website:
On [Thursday,] September 6, Secretary Clinton will be the first Secretary of State to travel to Dili, where she will emphasize U.S. support for the young democracy of Timor-Leste in her meetings with senior officials.
In Brunei, Secretary Clinton will meet with senior officials to emphasize the importance of the increasingly vibrant U.S.-Brunei relationship. She will also highlight the U.S.-Brunei ASEAN English Language initiative and discuss Brunei’s 2013 chairmanship of ASEAN.
The final stop on Secretary Clinton’s trip will be Vladivostok, where she will lead the U.S. delegation to the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting [on Saturday-Sunday,] September 8-9....
Meanwhile back in Charlotte, North Carolina, the official schedule for the Democratic National Convention promises that:
President Obama and Vice President Biden will accept the Democratic nominations for President and Vice President on Thursday, September 6 at Bank of America Stadium.
I note that many pundits have asserted that Secretary Clinton is not only not attending her husband Bubba's speech (which I fully expect to be the highlight of the entire convention), she's scheduled to be on the other side of the world. Many wise pundits whom I admire insist that Obama could never replace Biden because it would imply a mistake in choosing Biden to begin with, a mistake which Obama is incapable of admitting. And I certainly don't expect Secretary Clinton to create an international incident by publicly snubbing the Indonesians or the Chinese or the Russians.
But to the argument that Obama can't admit error: That's true, but it's still never stopped him from changing direction on a dime (see, e.g., his sudden epiphany that he really does support gay marriage). Obama is undeniably over-proud, but one must also take into account the Beldar Corollary: "Only a sucker would base any bet on the proposition that Barack Obama is capable of being shamed by anything."
Once or twice already in the two and a third centuries of American diplomatic history, a small country (like, say, Dili or Brunei) may have been disappointed when an American diplomat has sent a subordinate or asked to postpone a meeting. I don't know how important the Obama Administration thinks Timor-Leste is in the grand scheme of things, but apparently no American SecState has taken time to go there either before or since its independence a decade ago. While in Dili, Secretary Clinton is scheduled to "visit a coffee plantation," but one doubts whether missing that visit would be a casus belli even with the East Timoreans. And it would be in the Sultan of Brunei's financial interests to see Obama win, assuming the sultan wants to continue America's dependence on foreign oil. (He's surely shrewd enough to contain his giggles whenever anyone mentions Obama's "green energy" push.) Indeed, if you skimmed the roster of the U.N. looking for countries to which the SecState could most easily send a brush-off her polite regrets at the last minute and with no real consequence, Timor-Leste and Brunei would be hard to top.
Moreover, the world is smaller than it used to be, especially when you are the SecState and you have the resources of the U.S. Air Force at your command. The press covering her trip consists largely of the reporters traveling on her plane; and such reporters are routinely held incommunicado while they're being re-routed across the globe without notice or apology, as with Obama's recent surprise trip to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a joint civil-military facility, one to which a government plane could easily divert and land in complete secrecy. And even upon leaving the USAF's protective arms to venture into a busy city, a cabinet secretary, when she wants, can move with far greater stealth than, say, a Hollywood celebrity like Clint Eastwood (who famously played a Secret Service agent on film, but doesn't have any himself).
If the sudden replacement for Joe Biden had just secretly flown in from international diplomatic negotiations in Beijing, and was about to head off to Russia afterwards, that would certainly add to the breathless excitement of a Thursday night surprise, wouldn't it? Would anyone in the country still be talking on Friday about the latest disastrous unemployment figures or the $16 trillion national debt milestone?
So, being admittedly paranoid and fond of conspiracy theories — and still of the firm opinion that this switch would represent Obama's best hope for reelection and Hillary's best hope to succeed him — I'll believe Joe Biden's job is safe when I see reliable proof that Secretary Clinton has stepped onto the tarmac at the Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili.
I will be happy to be proved wrong, and I hope I will be.
But if you're a would-be Democratic voter this fall and my prediction indeed fails, will you not be disappointed?
Sunday, September 02, 2012
If he was born in Honolulu, must he therefore be the Messiah?
The following photo (hat-tip Mark Hemingway at the Weekly Standard) is from a post by David Weigel, Slate's token sorta-conservative, who in turn scanned this photo from a calendar sold by a street vendor outside the premises of the gathering Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina — so it's not fairly attributable directly to Obama or the Obama-Biden[?] campaign.
Weigel concludes from this merely that "the Cult of Obama staggers on." I think I'd say instead: "The Cult of Obama is just about all that's left."
I understand the Left's mockery of "birthers." By their dogged fixation on this issue, the birthers have given Obama and his supporters an enormous and comical distraction from the genuine mysteries in Obama's past — of which there are many that have not been addressed, much less rebutted, by Obama or his supporters. Even relying only on that which Obama admits, one could easily have concluded in 2008 that he was poorly qualified for the presidency even if he did meet the minimum constitutional qualifications, just as one can conclude that his sorry performance in office since January 2009 has more than justified all such reservations. And now, his actual performance in his first term is vastly more relevant to the question of whether he should be re-elected in 2012 than anything which came before his election in 2008.
But it seems to me that even from the point of view of an Obama supporter, there ought to be an awful lot of middle ground between "was born in the U.S." and "is the Son of God whose coming was prophesized by the Jews."
And besides, if the printing on this photo were accurate, shouldn't the birth certificate say "Bethlehem" instead of "Honolulu"? I'm pretty sure that when King Herod convened the greatest scholars of Judaism to ask them where the Messiah would be born (Matthew 2:4-6), none of them said, "We think it will be somewhere on Oahu."
(Weigel's Flickr account purports to claim copyright over this photo for Weigel. That's almost certainly incorrect; if it's a copyrighted photo, those rights belong to whoever took it and/or photoshopped the printing and snapshot onto it, or possibly (if the originator's rights were transferred) to the calender's publisher. I reprint it here, as Weigel undoubtedly did in Slate and on his Flickr feed, in reliance on the "fair use" exception to the copyright laws, but making no claim to ownership on my own behalf.)