Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Obama drops 'silly' presidential seal
WHITE House contender Barack Obama will no longer use a campaign seal that critics call an arrogant imitation of the president's official emblem. The seal was first seen on Friday at a meeting between Senator Obama and Democratic state governors, causing tongues to wag owing to its close resemblance to the eagle logo displayed on the lectern whenever the President speaks in public. The Obama seal had the same bald eagle clutching arrows and an olive branch, denoting war and peace, but inserted the words "Vero possumus'' - a loose Latin translation of the Democrat's campaign slogan "Yes, we can.''
One Obama aide told Fox News that the widely panned seal was intended as a one-off for Friday's event. But Atlantic.com reported that the candidate himself felt the image had been a "silly mistake". An Obama spokesman could not be reached for comment.
The seal was greeted with universal derision by US media, and the campaign of Republican candidate John McCain called it "laughable, ridiculous, preposterous and revealing all at the same time".
Media Excuse Obama's False Advertising
Is there a left-wing bent here that has tainted their research? What happens when the "fact-checkers" don't check facts and the "watchdogs" don't watch? Consider the case of those who claim to be watching politicians for lies and deceptions and pretend to analyze Senator Barack Obama's new patriotic "Country I Love" television ad, airing in 18 states. The Annenberg Political Fact Check, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz have written analyses of the Obama ad. But they are as flawed as the ad itself.
The Obama TV ad purports to describe his upbringing and legislative accomplishments but ignores his childhood mentor, Communist Frank Marshall Davis. While Obama associates Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn looked to Havana and Hanoi for their inspiration and guidance, Davis loved the old Soviet Union and refused to answer questions under oath about his Communist Party membership. He was a Stalinist. Overall, there is a pattern of people who hate America showing up at critical junctions in Obama's life and career to influence and advise him. But he wants us to believe that somehow American "values" have been instilled in him. By whom?
By airing his patriotic ad, Obama is trying to suggest that whatever associations he had with these and other anti-American figures, and whatever mysterious circumstances he may have been raised or trained in, he still managed to somehow become a loyal American. But how is this possible? Which pro-American political figures had any influence at all on his life and career? Would he please name some?
A reasonable interpretation of this ad, based on what we know about Obama so far, would have to conclude that it is the most deceptive commercial ever to air in the history of politics. It is designed to mask the fact that Obama, with all of his baggage, could not by any reasonable standard get a federal security clearance. But our media don't have the basic integrity to point this out.
The Obama ad, which also touts his alleged legislative accomplishments, is curious for another reason. It ignores his costly pro-U.N. Global Poverty Act, now on the verge of full Senate passage. The reason for the omission is obvious: Obama's campaign understands that the bill, which commits the United States to spending more foreign aid money on the rest of the world, is not popular with the American people and would make him look like an anti-American globalist and socialist. This perception has to be avoided at all costs.
"America is a country of strong families and strong values," Obama declares in the ad. "My life's been blessed by both. I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. We didn't have much money, but they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up." In fact, his white grandfather helped raise Obama by selecting Frank Marshall Davis, a black communist writer and poet, as a father-figure and role model while he was growing up in Hawaii. His values, passed on to Obama, were those of a communist agent who pledged allegiance to Stalin. Among other things, as Obama himself admits in his book, "Frank" told him that blacks had a reason to hate whites and that he should not believe that [expletive deleted] about the American way of life. Davis was an influence over Obama during the years 1975-1979. His "poetry" is viciously anti-American and pro-Soviet. And yet Obama listened to it growing up.
All of this has been well-documented in numerous articles by Accuracy in Media, based on information in Obama's book, Dreams From My Father; books by and about Davis; and interviews with and speeches by those who had information about Davis's role in raising Obama. Congressional investigations named Davis as a key member of the Communist Party USA involved in a Soviet network that also included actor Paul Robeson and labor leader Harry Bridges.
The Davis Connection
Professor Paul Kengor makes the essential point that the role of Davis in influencing Obama has to be taken into account: "Davis and his comrades worked to undermine genuine liberal causes because of their lock-step subservience to the Comintern and the USSR," he notes. "Modern liberals need to understand, for example, how the American communist movement, including men like Davis, flip-flopped on issues as grave as Nazism and World War II based entirely on whether Hitler was signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin or invading Stalin's Soviet Union. The disgusting about-face by CPUSA on this matter was unforgivable. And what a shame that liberal college professors don't teach this to their students. Liberals also need to know how their friends inside government were used by communists who sought victory for Mao Tse-Tung in China in 1949, which would lead to the single greatest concentration of corpses in human history: 60-70 million dead Chinese from 1957 to 1969."
Does Obama understand the dangers of communism and socialism? It is not reassuring to consider that Obama obviously doesn't want the public to know that his childhood mentor was a Stalinist member of a communist network in Hawaii. His "Country I Love" TV ad ignores it. But that's why we are supposed to have outside "fact-checkers," media watchdogs, and the media themselves.
Nevertheless, the Annenberg Political Fact Check project declares that Obama's "description of his upbringing and work history are accurate." It claims, "The basic details that Obama provides about his family are correct. His books and various news reports confirm that Obama was raised in Hawaii by his mother and grandparents, who were transplants from Kansas."
Books and various reports? That seems rather vague. In fact, his book, Dreams From My Father, confirms that a mysterious "Frank" was a mentor, and that he was a significant influence over Obama after his father had abandoned the family. And this "Frank," as we now know, was Frank Marshall Davis. But the folks at "Fact Check" pretend not to know. Perhaps they didn't take the time to examine the facts. This project includes personnel formerly with CNN, Time magazine, and public broadcasting. But a more serious examination of their backgrounds reveals that some of the staffers have had affiliations with liberal causes, personalities, and candidates such as Common Cause, Bill Moyers, the AFL-CIO, and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark. Is there a left-wing bent here that has tainted their research?
Obama as a grass-roots president?
It's far from clear that he could run the country the way he's running his campaign
More than any other candidate, Barack Obama has used the power of the Internet to involve millions of people in his campaign. His bottom-up approach tapped a wellspring of money and votes. But organizing from the grass roots is one thing. Could he govern that way? He says he wants to, if elected. "Real change doesn't begin in the halls of Washington, but on the streets of America. It doesn't happen from the top down, it happens from the bottom up," the presumed Democratic nominee told an Indiana crowd in April.
Only vigorous citizen involvement can overpower special interest groups and move dead-weight issues through Congress, Mr. Obama preaches. He and his potential White House advisers imagine mobilizing an e-army of millions with a keystroke, then steering it toward Washington on behalf of universal healthcare or reduced greenhouse gases. This could transform the political dynamics in the capital - if an Obama presidency could actually pull it off. The campaign promises much:
Regular "fireside" Internet chats from a President Obama (the country just got a sample of that in his preemptive Web video announcing his reversal on public funding).
Online town-halls held by cabinet members, and important meetings of public agencies streamed live with an ability for public input - a sort of White House C-SPAN.
Laws posted on the Web for public comment five days before Obama would be due to sign them, and federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contacts with officials made easily available for citizen tracking.
Obama's successful harnessing of supporters and self-forming groups in the primaries hints he just might be able to transfer this MO to governing. Analysts estimate his e-mail list to be vast - anywhere from 3 million to 8 million. He's got roughly a million "friends" spreading the word on Facebook, the social-networking site. YouTube circulates video such as his wife's recent appearance on ABC's "The View."
But big questions remain. Presidents, for instance, have a poor track record in going over the heads of Congress. Ronald Reagan succeeded with a campaign to have Americans phone lawmakers and tell them to lower taxes, but that was an exception. George W. Bush could not do it with Social Security reform and Bill Clinton couldn't with healthcare.
Public mobilization can fail for many reasons: presidents get distracted, the public loses interest or becomes disillusioned, opponents are strong, people don't understand the president's message. It's usually a crisis - a civil war, an economic depression - that ushers in big change. A vast majority of Americans believe the country is on the "wrong track." But does this really constitute a crisis?
At the same time, there's a reason why America has representative government and not mob rule. Direct democracy is inefficient. Would mass e-interaction bog down the White House?
Still, even Obama says he was "surprised" by how well his overall campaign message melded with the power of the Internet in running the primary race. In truth, no one really knows whether it could also work in running the country.
Pro-abortion Catholics Line Up for Obama
You are the Democratic candidate for president. You want to reach out to Catholics. So what do you do when the majority of the elected officials on your National Catholic Advisory Council have the seal of approval from NARAL Pro-Choice America? That's the position Barack Obama now finds himself in. A few months ago, his Catholic advisory council was announced with great enthusiasm, and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) was listed as a national co-chair. His appearance at the top of the council sent a clear message: This campaign is determined to recover some of the lost Democratic sheep who have gravitated to the GOP over abortion.
This council does indeed include some Catholics whose pro-life credentials are impeccable, including Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar. But let us also stipulate the obvious: Of the 21 senators, congressmen and governors listed on the council's National Leadership Committee, 17 have a 90%-100% NARAL approval rating. Even Mr. Casey now enjoys a 65% NARAL approval rating.
It's not as if these NARAL scores are outliers: Sen. Obama himself boasts a 100% NARAL rating, and for good reason. In a speech before Planned Parenthood, he declared that the right to an abortion is at stake in this election, and vowed that he would not yield on appointing judges that would uphold Roe v. Wade.
Mr. Obama is for using tax dollars to fund abortions, and against restrictions on partial-birth abortion. In the Illinois Senate, he voted against legislation protecting a child who was born alive despite an abortion. In sum, if you want to know what Mr. Obama's policies mean, it's this: taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.
Not fair, complains the Obama camp. They point to statements supporting adoption. They cite the story about how he removed language about "right-wing ideologues" from one of his Web sites after a pro-life doctor complained. Above all, they say he has acknowledged a moral dimension to abortion, that he's willing to listen, and that he wants to work for fewer abortions. All very true. Yet this defense reflects a common complaint about the Obama campaign in general: When you look past the soothing language about "change" and the willingness to "listen," the actual policies and voting record are to the left of Ted Kennedy's and Bernie Sanders'.
It's a tough sell to present this record as auguring an America where there are fewer abortions. But some try. Generally there are two lines of argument. The first is to claim that Republicans have done nothing during their time in power to diminish abortion. Plainly this is not the view that Planned Parenthood promotes on its Web site, where President Bush's many actions are chronicled and listed under the heading "war on women." As Mr. Obama himself notes, moreover, Republicans generally do not appoint the kind of judges the pro-choice side demands: That is, judges who can be counted on to impose their own views upon the law on issues that ought properly be left to the American people.
The other line of argument is the They're-Just-As-Bad-As-We-Are defense. Thus the Web sites that go on and on about Catholic social teaching on war and poverty and greed and the death penalty, etc. The implication being, of course, that Republicans are on the wrong side of all these issues - and that simply by enumerating all these concerns, you can somehow balance out the Democratic Party's singular commitment to abortion on demand. These issues are all legitimate subjects for debate, and each can and should be argued. The problem is that abortion is not just any issue. In the language of the church, abortion is an "intrinsic evil," always and everywhere wrong.
That is what Catholics for Obama have to get around. Given this awkward fact, the political reality is that a National Catholic Advisory Council may do less to advance Mr. Obama than to alert the public about how extreme his votes and policies are - not to mention the similar votes and policies of the Catholic politicians supporting him. Already Kathleen Sebelius - governor of Kansas and one of the Catholic co-chairs - has been asked by her bishop to refrain from Communion because of what he says is her support for abortion. As for Sen. Casey, well, let's just say it's hard to imagine his sainted father - who bucked his party's president and refused to support his old friend Sen. Harris Wofford's 1994 re-election bid over the life issue - lending his imprimatur to such a NARAL-friendly enterprise.
It's not that Catholic Democrats lack a moral language. Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), for example, is another Catholic council member who also enjoys a 100% NARAL approval rating. During recent Senate hearings, he accused oil company executives of having "all the compassion of Burmese generals." When Mr. Durbin is willing to use similar language to describe the taking of innocent, unborn life, we'll know we have change we can believe in.
Obamanomics: How McCain can fight back--if he cares to
by Irwin M. Stelzer
Every day that passes makes one thing clearer and clearer: Barack Obama knows precisely what he wants to do to the U.S. economy, and John McCain is intent on proving his self-confessed lack of knowledge with a charming set of homilies.
Start with Obama's proposal to raise taxes on all families earning more than $250,000 per year in order to finance a $1,000 tax cut for "middle-income" tax payers. Assuming that there is enough money to be had from taxpayers in that higher-income class to fund the cut for the much larger number of middle-income earners--a heroic assumption--McCain's charge that Obama is planning a massive tax increase doesn't apply to this overt redistribution of the tax burden. Taking from Peter and giving to Paul is not an increase in the taking.
Nor can this rejiggering of the tax burden be dismissed out of hand. The transfer of income from one taxpayer to another does not reduce total welfare. Indeed, the Obama proposal arguably increases welfare or, to use the vaguer but more voguish term, "happiness." Economists, and this includes those working for McCain, know that the value ("marginal utility") of a $1,000 increase in income for someone earning $60,000 per year exceeds the loss in value, even of a greater sum, to someone earning $250,000 and more. So Obama can rightly claim that this one of his several tax proposals does not involve a tax increase, and makes a lot of people much better off at the expense of making a few people only slightly worse off. Not bad policy.
Or is it? McCain's people will undoubtedly work the numbers to see if one can indeed take a chunk from a few Peters and get enough to add a consequential amount to lots of poorer Pauls. But even if the numbers don't support the feasibility of the Obama redistribution, I suspect that point will get lost in the welter of statistical claim and counterclaim. The take-away, as the pros in Washington call it, will be: Obama wants to tax those who have appropriated most of the benefits of the recent prosperity and share those benefits more fairly with those who have been left behind.
No, if McCain is to have an answer it must be based on a demolition of the basic Obama thesis that he can make many people better off by making a few worse off, and a demonstration that the Obama program satisfies neither the criterion of economic efficiency nor the (more potent) public notion of what is fair. It will be necessary for McCain to show that the recipients of Obama's $1,000 gift will not be better off, and might indeed be worse off after the income transfer is completed. How could this be?
Taxes change behavior. By raising rates on upper income payers, Obama is reducing their incentive to work and take risks. The income tax increase is not all that he has in mind for them. He plans to increase their payroll taxes, the taxes they pay on dividends received and capital gains earned, and on any transfers they might have in mind to their kith and kin when they shuffle off this mortal coil. If the aggregate of these additional taxes substantially diminishes incentives to set up a small business of the sort that has created most of the new jobs in recent decades, the $1,000 tax rebate will be more than offset by the consequences of reduced growth and new business formation.
There are two problems with this counterpunch. The first is that we have no idea whether it is true. The McCain campaign has shown little taste for doing the sort of empirical work on which the Obama team thrives. The second is that this is just the sort of exercise that McCain finds unappealing. At best, he will leave such matters to "surrogates." Alas, the precise mechanics by which they will answer questions directed at their candidate during the town hall meetings he is proposing have not been worked out.
Perhaps, then, there is some sort of income redistribution with which McCain can be comfortable, the sort that increases faith in the fairness of the market capitalist system of which he is justifiably so fond, and which has produced greater prosperity for more people than any other economic system.
Surely the populist streak in the Arizona Republican leads him to find something wrong--yes, wrong--with the way executive compensation has become divorced from executive performance. And surely he would be comfortable calling for greater shareholder participation in the approval of executive compensation, and supporting the SEC's recent efforts to require corporations to report just how they plan to relate executive compensation to performance.
Surely, too, McCain knows that paying mortgage brokers based on the quantity of business they generate creates incentives to imprudent lending. These are not the much-derided speculators, who actually take large risks with their own money, and who are the favorite target of politicians-on-the-make: These are people who have found a structural flaw in a market, and exploited it while imposing the costs of their activities on society. There's a principle here that would permit McCain to favor regulation--regulation that makes mortgage markets work better.
Then there is energy policy. It should be possible on the straight-talk express to devise some alternative to the patently cynical promise of "energy independence." No such "independence" is within reach, as the successive failures of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and two Bushes to attain it should demonstrate. Leave that pandering to Obama, who would somehow achieve that goal while at the same time foreclosing drilling offshore and in Alaska, and killing the nuclear option by opposing the opening of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, without which nuclear plant construction will be minimal.
McCain, meanwhile, need not feel stuck with his own oft-stated opposition to drilling in Alaska. First, he might point out that a policy appropriate when gasoline was selling for $2 a gallon is not appropriate when it is headed towards $5. Second, since the governor of Alaska has announced that she is eager for exploration to begin in ANWR, McCain can in good conscience apply to Alaska the position he has long taken in regard to offshore drilling in Florida and other states--that the decision should be left to those states. Finally, he might point out that now that we know we are in a long war with radical Islam, it is more than ever incumbent on us to make painful tradeoffs. One such is bearing any environmental consequences of drilling in ANWR, consequences he can continue to regret, in order to achieve the more important goal of depriving Middle East funders of jihadists at least some of the billions now flowing to them by substituting domestic oil for imports.
The art of governing is the art of making just such tough decisions. The political risk of being accused of flip-flopping seems minimal. The voters are ahead of the politicians on this issue, and now lean towards making the most of our domestic resources. Besides, moving energy policy from the realm of economic policy into the realm of national security can only be to McCain's advantage. He would certainly have a more coherent policy position if he argued that it is important to keep money out of the hands of bad guys, than if he continued attacking oil companies for what he calls "obscene profits." After all, polls show that the voters know that it is OPEC, rising demand in China, and the refusal of producer countries to allow our companies to develop their resources--not big, bad oil companies--that are responsible for high oil prices.
McCain might go further, and build on his reputation for opposing earmarks and the worst machinations of the K Street crowd, by abandoning the cap-and-trade system he has been supporting, in part at the urging of his buddy, Joe Lieberman (the man who could have rid the nation of the scourge of Majority Leader Harry Reid, Chairman Patrick Leahy, and the like by voting with the Republicans to organize the Senate). McCain can part with Lieberman by pointing out that what seemed sound theory has turned out in practice to represent everything he opposes. The recent abortive trial run of the cap-and-trade system in Congress showed that it would be a lobbyists' bonanza, as some interest groups scramble for permits to pollute, and other interest groups insert their snouts into the multibillion-dollar trough that would be made available to fund technologies of Friends of Nancy and Harry and assorted bureaucrats.
Finally, and this would require a leap of political courage, McCain should spend ten minutes with his adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who I would guess is still recovering from his embarrassment at McCain's call for a cut in gasoline taxes, to discuss the opposite: a tax on oil products, especially gasoline and heating oil. This doesn't mean abandoning his opposition to higher taxes. Indeed, the point is not to raise federal revenues. Every dollar that comes in should be rebated, perhaps by reducing the payroll taxes of everyone earning less than, say, $50,000 per year, the group Obama intends to benefit by raising taxes on those energetic small-business owners. The beneficiaries of the McCain shift in taxes from work to polluting, imported gasoline would see the reduction in taxes immediately--when they received their first salary check after the new regime was in place. But the main point is this: The money that the Saudis and other supporters of jihadists would otherwise get would be reducing the taxes of hard-pressed Middle America. Take that, Barack Obama. It's called straight talk.
My best guess is that none of this will come to pass. McCain has little interest in economic policy, and prefers the sort of intuitive, ad hoc reaction that unfortunately led him to support the continued closure of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and more sensibly to rail against multi-million payoffs to executives who had almost brought their companies to ruin. His economic policies have been aptly described as the politics of personal honor, which is a nice way of saying incoherent. They will therefore likely continue to be a combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly. If he ends up a winner in the debates as often as Clint Eastwood did in his flicks, McCain's strategy will be vindicated. If not, we are in for an expansion of the role of government in economic life that will make Lyndon Johnson look like laissez-faire.
Obama and the failures of lawfare
SPEAKING without a text in front of him, Barack Obama betrays a troubling lack of knowledge on important issues - such as the law and terrorism. In his ABC interview last Monday, for example, Obama attacked the Bush approach on fighting terror. He claimed that, in the case of "the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in US prisons, incapacitated."
As an assistant US attorney, Andrew McCarthy prosecuted the perpetrators of the 1993 WTC attack. He calls Obama's statement "a remarkably ignorant account of the American experience with jihadism." Writing for National Review Online, McCarthy notes: "While the government managed to prosecute many people responsible for the 1993 WTC bombing, many also escaped prosecution because of the limits on civilian criminal prosecution.
"Some who contributed to the attack, like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, continued to operate freely because they were beyond the system's capacity to apprehend. Abdul Rahman Yasin was released prematurely because there was not sufficient evidence to hold him - he fled to Iraq, where he was harbored for a decade (and has never been apprehended)."
Pointing to the later terrorist attacks on Americans and US assets, culminating in 9/11, McCarthy concludes that the law-enforcement approach to combating terrorism was futile.
But Obama's comments fall short on other grounds, too. The convicted spiritual mentor of the 1993 WTC bombers is Omar Abdel-Rahman ("the blind sheik"). By Obama's logic, the blind sheik was "incapacitated" and therefore rendered harmless by his conviction and imprisonment. In fact, Abdel-Rahman continued to wage jihad from behind bars, issuing instructions to his followers in Egypt.
Attorney Lynne Stewart was convicted in February 2005 of conspiracy and providing and concealing material support of terrorism for her actions in smuggling messages from Abdel-Rahman to his followers in the terrorist group Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group).
The jihadist activities of Abdel-Rahman from behind bars, plus the collaboration of his attorney, illustrate the challenges President Bush sought to confront fairly with the arrangements for the detention and isolation of captured enemy combatants in Guantanamo.
Of course, the Supreme Court just upended those arrangements with its controversial ruling in the Boumediene case, which gave Gitmo detainees the right to challenge their confinement through habeas corpus proceedings in federal court.
Obama approves: He recently asserted that the "principle of habeas corpus, that a state can't just hold you for any reason without charging you and without giving you any kind of due process - that's the essence of who we are."
Obama's stubborn willful ignorance on this subject is a danger to this country if he is elected. If the constitution guarantees habeas corpus rights to enemy combatants, doe sit also guarantee Miranda rights and the appointment of lawyers? Does it require us to treat the battle space as a crime scene? It is cases like this that make liberals look hopelessly naive.
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