The Year in Congress

I found this article at the CSM that highlights that we actually had a Do-a-Lot congress this year and it has a nifty self test on political knowledge in 2010 you may want to take.  They highlighted six big laws that were passed this year.  All of them were definitely steps in the correct direction even though they had flaws that will have to be worked out.  I’m not sure I’d consider all of them great successes but when you look back on the list, you’re sure to find something naughty and nice.

Here’s there intro to the list.

The post-election lame-duck session – typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town – also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it’s hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking. Here are six of this Congress’s major accomplishments, in the order in which they were approved.

Here are their list of “six big achievements”.

1. American Recovery & Reinvestment Act

The $819 billion economic stimulus package, signed into law February 2009 less than a month after Barack Obama became president, is the largest stand-alone spending bill in US history. It included tax cuts, as well as new spending for public works, education, clean energy, technology, and health care.

2. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Congress battled for a year to pass health-care reform, which was finally a done deal March 23, 2010. The law mandates that all Americans obtain health insurance coverage, and it sets up entities called health exchanges to provide people with affordable options.

3. Financial regulatory reform

Known officially as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the new law is the most significant regulatory overhaul of the financial system since the Depression ended in the 1930s. Signed into law in July 2010, it aims to end bailouts forced on taxpayers by financial institutions deemed “too big to fail” and to protect consumers. Included in the legislation is a powerful, independent consumer-protection bureau, an early-warning system for financial groups deemed too big to fail, new oversight of credit agencies, and lower fees on debit-card charges. It also directs much of the $600 trillion over-the-counter derivatives trade through clearinghouses and exchanges.

4. Big tax-cut extension, plus new stimulus

Congress averted the largest tax increase in American history by voting in December to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for two years, including for the highest-income households.

5. Repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Fulfilling campaign pledges of the last two Democratic presidents, Obama on Dec. 22 signed a law that repeals a 17-year ban on gay men and women serving openly in the US armed services.

6. New nuclear arms pact with Russia

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia reduces the US and Russian arsenals of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 apiece within seven years. The Senate ratified the treaty Dec. 22 by a vote of 71 to 26.

Juju--my youngest daughter's christmas cat--studies the list

Okay, I’ll put it to you!

 

Naughty or Nice list?

 

See, even JuJu the Christmas Cat wants in on the project!!!  (I guess my youngest daughter still hasn’t gotten through the doll phase yet.)


Only Bad lawyers and the Certifiably Insane wind up in Congress

I went to Memorandum today to see what was up with the votes on the DADT repeal, the Tax Giveaways to Billionaires Act, and the START treaty.  It’s one of the first places I go in the day because it usually groups the day’s relevant economic and political topics and it covers blog reactions from all sides of the political spectrum.  I just wanted to know when the votes would be. What I saw was a bunch of headlines that lead to the thought  you see above.  I don’t even know where to start with this conglomeration of links, but they all seem connected to my hypothesis above.

It’s not that all of us outside the Beltway don’t recognize that there’s very few real people with functional brains in Congress.  The proof for that is right there in the middle of the Memorandum page too.

From Gallup Polls:

Congress’ Job Approval Rating Worst in Gallup History :

Thirteen percent approve of the way Congress is handling its job

That headline is coupled with this one from WAPO:  Washington Post-ABC poll: Public is not yet sold on GOP

These poll results are fully explained by evidence through out the page.  Try these on for size.

From The Hill: DeMint will force readings of START Treaty and omnibus bill

For some reason, the 2000 pages of the Tax Bonuses for Billionaires plan isn’t germane to discussions of deficits and national security but the START treaty and the ominibus spending bill are fodder for ideological  temper tantrums.

From TPM: Kyl: Reid Disrespecting Christians By Suggesting Post-Christmas Senate Votes

(Psst Kyl:  the Reason for the Season is Mithros’ the Bull God’s birthday.   Read your Roman History.  The reason for Sunday services is The Sun God.  Read your Roman History. You were had a long time ago by Constantine and the Nicene Council. Read the historical records of the Council set up by Constantine to establish a Roman religion and get off your friggin, butt and do your job!)

Oh, speaking of mythology, try THIS one on for size from the NYTimes:   G.O.P. Panelists Dissent on Cause of Crisis.  I’m going to spend some time on this because it’s just the best example of what is wrong with POLITICIANS.  Congress was completely duplicitous in the crisis and yet, all the want to do is blame Federal Regulators.

Democrats have emphasized factors like fraudulent practices by mortgage lenders and reckless risk-taking by Wall Street banks and other financial institutions, while Republicans have focused on poor oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the entities that supported the secondary market for mortgages, and decades of government efforts to encourage homeownership.

“While the housing bubble, the financial crisis, and the recession are surely interrelated events, we do not believe that the housing bubble was a sufficient condition for the financial crisis,” the document states. “The unprecedented number of subprime and other weak mortgages in this bubble set it and its effect apart from others in the past.”

Unbelievable.  Yes, that happened. Yes, it was a problem.  But what drove the demand for subprime and weak mortgages was the demand for those wacky unregulated credit derivatives. It was all part of the same pattern of negligence and wishful thinking.   You can’t unlink the systemic problems and the symptoms.  Fannie and Freddie got into those things and drowned, but it wasn’t exactly their idea to begin with.  Congress should’ve stopped them from going there.  But the driving factor was still the demand for credit derivatives.  Every institution was churning those things out in this country and in others.  The delusion is worse than I thought.

From Yves at Naked Capitalism:

This whole line of thinking is garbage, the financial policy equivalent of arguing that the sun revolves around the earth. Yes, the US and other countries provide overly generous subsidies to housing, and curtailing them over time would not be a bad idea. But that’s been our policy for decades. Calling that a major, let alone primary, cause of the crisis, is simply a highly coded “blame the poor” strategy, In reality, both the runup to the crisis and its aftermath were on of the greatest wealth transfers from the citizenry at large to a comparatively small group of rentiers in the history of man. (If you want to read the long form debunking of this thesis, go straight to Barry Ritholtz, a Republican who has shredded this brand of class warfare, or as he calls it, “one giant clusterfuck of imbecility,” repeatedly on his blog.)

The intent is pretty transparent: to discredit an effort at fact finding into the roots of the crisis, what was hoped to be a Pecora Commission, by making it appear partisan and launching an alternative narrative to muddy the waters. And the reason is clear. Even though FCIC is certain not to have the same effect that the Pecora Commission did, of discrediting major financial services industry figures and exposing various forms of chicanery, it appears that even lesser forms of criticism of the banksters must be sandbagged (the bizarre part of this drama is that at least some Democrats and very selectively, Republicans in office are willing to call out the predatory, extractive behavior of the large banks. But no one has the guts to buck an industry that is a major paymaster in a very serious way).

From HuffPo:

Experts agree that while Fannie and Freddie and the federal government’s push to encourage homeownership played a significant role in causing the crisis, actions by Wall Street magnified the fallout and caused a crisis that led to the Great Recession. Economists from the Federal Reserve, as well as bank regulators first appointed by Republicans, agree that the Community Reinvestment Act played virtually no role in causing the financial crisis.

But the Republicans’ report will largely focus on the role played by the federal government. It will note that a crisis was averted after the government bailed out Bear Stearns and facilitated its absorption by JPMorgan Chase, according to people familiar with the matter. The crisis roared back after the government allowed Lehman Brothers to fail, scaring nervous investors. A bigger and more protracted downturn was avoided when policy makers essentially bailed out the entire financial system.

Exactly. It’s never EVER been the Community Reinvestment Act and to even insert it into the report is odious and false.  I never got how the CRA got connected to the Fannie/Freddie mess from the outset other than through political memes.   I remember getting blog wacked by some from the left because I said Fannie and Freddie were part of the problem.  I never ONCE mentioned the CRA; only that Frannie and Freddie did what all the financial instituions did except on a much larger scale.  They packaged and sold poorly underwritten mortgages that were eventually going to make some one homeless sooner or later.  Fannie and Freddie’s roll was complicit and huge only because of their size and importance in the mortgage market.  They’d have never dreamed of doing what they did if it wasn’t for the fact they could package and sell the things–just like Countrywide and a bunch of other now defunct private entities–to stupid investors who were mislead by high ratings and the belief that due diligence was done on mortgage underwriting. The deal is that Congress could’ve stopped all of that–especially Fannie and Freddie–but they did nothing.  They could’ve prevented the underwriting of many of those predator loans.

Couple that with this travesty via the Birmingham News and AL.com.

Bachus, in an interview Wednesday night, said he brings a “main street” perspective to the committee, as opposed to Wall Street.

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks,” he said.

In his quiet campaign for the chairmanship, Bachus promoted an agenda to end taxpayer subsidies for mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, repeal those parts of the Wall Street reforms that he thinks still leave the door open for taxpayer bailouts of financial institutions or their creditors, and increase oversight of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Then, we have Congressman Out-of-touch-with-reality Ron Paul who will be in charge of the subcommittee in Congress that deals with the FED. This is another example of putting some one in charge of oversight that want’s to just plain abolish the reality.  He’ll be so stuck in ideologue land that oversight will just go by the way side.  It’s like putting a Flat Earther in charge of NASA.

In a move that may seem to some like putting the fox in charge of the hen house, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has been named to head the House subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve.

Paul, 75, is a longtime critic of the central bank and, as Bloomberg pointed out, has even written a book called “End the Fed.” He will lead the domestic monetary policy subcommittee of the House Financial Services panel.

In announcing Paul’s appointment Thursday, chairman-elect Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said the Texan would add to the team that “crafted the first comprehensive financial reform bill to put an end to the bailouts, wind down the taxpayer funding of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and enforce a strong audit of the Federal Reserve.”

Paul told Bloomberg last week he plans to call for hearings on U.S. monetary policy and will continue to press for a full accounting of the Fed’s functions. In the past, Paul has introduced legislation to abolish the central bank.

There are a lot of people realizing that Congress is not acting in the interest of the American people.   The American Interest journal has a series of articles–including an important one on Income Inequality by Tyler Cowen–on inequality and democracy.  The front page of the Magazine–featured and linked to on the right–asks the most relevant question I can think of today. “Are Plutocrats Drowning our Republic?” A subsidiary question could well be “Why is every one in Congress intent on helping them do it?”

Congress did not get the message from this election.  Here’s a clue from another link at that AI site. They just seem intent and recreating the same scenarios and the same problems over and over and over again.

Many Americans are still furious that their government helped the rich and politically connected few while leaving the rest hung out to dry. The government bailed out Wall Street financiers who live in the top tenth of the top hundredth of the income distribution. Meanwhile, almost one quarter of families with mortgages remains stuck with negative equity in their homes.

Let’s return to that bit on the Republicans on the crisis panel.  I’ll borrow some analysis from Paul Krugman in his blog thread:  ‘Invincible Ignorance’.

So Republican members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission are going to issue their own report, placing primary blame on the government — because it’s always the government’s fault.

And according to reporting at the Huffington Post,

all four Republicans voted in favor of banning the phrases “Wall Street” and “shadow banking” and the words “interconnection” and “deregulation” from the panel’s final report, according to a person familiar with the matter and confirmed by Brooksley E. Born, one of the six commissioners who voted against the proposal.

Yep. It was all Fannie and Freddie, which somehow managed to cause housing bubbles in Ireland, Iceland, Latvia, and Spain as well as the United States; and the repo market had nothing to do with it.

And bear in mind that this wasn’t one Republican; it was all of them.

We consistently get people in congress that appear to live in a reality of their own making.  They ignore science.  They ignore history.  They ignore economics.  They ignore nearly everything to push partisan power, curry favor with the donor and the bonus class, and spin tails to deluded followers that have no basis in fact, evidence, or theory.  They even run campaigns based on denying scientific theories that are well prove–like evolution–and promoting failed hypothesis–like all of Reaganomics–even when the majority of people who would know try to give them the facts.

What is it about our political process that seems to put policy in the hands of complete whack jobs and unemployable lawyers?   My one dash at the Nebraska Unicameral convinced me that only pathological narcissists and liars and ideologues capable of denying reality can get through the process.  Those folks are surrounded and supported by equally pathological narcissists, liars, and ideologues and they’re all bought up by a plutocracy that pays to play.

We are so F’d.  I am so frightened for and disheartened about  the future of this country.  How is it that Congress can get such low approval numbers but go right back to ruining the country in the same manner post-elections?  Both parties have their on unique style that achieves the same end.  What can we do to stop this?  It has to be the gerrymandered districts and the money.   But, how can we change the laws when the foxes are in charge of all the hen houses?

UPDATE: Senate approves tax cut deal; House Dems weigh amending estate tax

The Senate on Wednesday approved a sweeping tax package negotiated by the White House and congressional Republicans, and House leaders – who were looking to amend the measure in a way that would satisfy liberals without unraveling the deal altogether – said a House vote could follow as soon as Thursday.

The Senate passed the package by a vote of 81 to 19.

Before senators began debating the $858 billion package in late morning, President Obama urged lawmakers in both houses to pass it “as swiftly as possible.” He called the plan “an essential ingredient in spurring economic growth over the short run.”

Speaking before a meeting with business leaders, Obama said: “I am absolutely convinced that this tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector.” He acknowledged that lawmakers of both parties object to different aspects of the plan but said, “That’s the nature of compromise.” He added that “we can’t afford to let it fall victim to either delay or defeat.”

In other news:  Obama announces his Faith Based VooDoo economics initiative based on advice from the ghost of Ronald Reagan … We are still so F’d.

that is all.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!

By now, you probably have heard that diplomat Richard Holbrooke has died at the age of 69 from an aorta tear.  His obits are chock-full of some amazing accomplishments.  Here’s one example from CNN.

Holbrooke was best known for being “the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement” that ended the Bosnian war — the deadly ethnic conflict in the 1990s that erupted during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Serving President Bill Clinton as assistant secretary of state for Europe from 1994 to 1996, Americans got a taste of Holbrooke’s drive and intellect, as typified in this remark from “To End a War” — his memoir of the Dayton negotiations.

“The negotiations were simultaneously cerebral and physical, abstract and personal, something like a combination of chess and mountain climbing,” he wrote.

After President Obama took office in 2008, Holbrooke took one of the toughest diplomatic assignments — U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the region Obama regards as center of the war on terrorism.

He rated a great one at the Grey Lady.

More recently, Mr. Holbrooke wrestled with the stunning complexity of Afghanistan and Pakistan: how to bring stability to the region while fighting a resurgent Taliban and coping with corrupt governments, rigged elections, fragile economies, a rampant narcotics trade, nuclear weapons in Pakistan and the presence of Al Qaeda, and presumably Osama bin Laden, in the wild tribal borderlands.

One of his main tasks was to press President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to take responsibility for security in his country and to confront the corruption that imperils the American mission there. At times, Mr. Karzai refused to see him, but Mr. Holbrooke was undeterred.

“He’s an enormously tough customer,” Mr. Holbrooke said during one of the periodic breakfasts he had with reporters who covered his diplomatic exploits. “As you’ve heard,” he added with a smile, “so am I.”

He helped his boss, Mrs. Clinton, whom he had supported in her presidential bid, to persuade Mr. Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, while pressing for more aid and development projects to improve the United States’ image there. But he died before anyone knew if the experiment would succeed.

A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter, he used a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger to press his positions. President Obama, who praised Mr. Holbrooke on Monday afternoon at the State Department as “simply one of the giants of American foreign policy,” was sometimes driven to distraction by his lectures.

As we posted yesterday, a huge Senate Majority voted to advance the Obama-McConnell Tax deal.  Only 15 senators voted to stop Cloture. The up or down vote will be scheduled for either today or tomorrow. Stay tuned. We’ll follow the details here.

Fifteen lawmakers voted against it, including five Republicans: Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Ensign (Nev.) and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Nine Democrats and one independent voted against the bill: Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Pat Leahy (Vt.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Sanders.

“It makes no sense to me to provide huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires while we drive up the national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay,” Sanders said in a statement after the vote.

Obama applauded the Senate’s action to move his tax cut compromise with Republicans and urged the House to do the same quickly.

In a statement in the White House briefing room, Obama hailed the Senate’s “strong bipartisan support” for the package and declared “this proves that both parties can in fact work together.”

BostonBoomer brought this my attention so I thought I’d post it.  Is there a Real-Life Da Vinci code in the Mona Lisa?  Cue the Twilight Zone Music.

Intrigue is usually focused on her enigmatic smile.

But the Mona Lisa was at the centre of a new mystery yesterday after art detectives took a fresh look at the masterpiece – and noticed something in her eyes.

Hidden in the dark paint of her pupils are tiny letters and numbers, placed there by the artist Leonardo da Vinci and revealed only now thanks to high-­magnification techniques.

Speaking of secrets, I’ve been looking into the status of Credit Derivatives since Frank-Dodd passed and the NY Times had an article up on Sunday on secret meetings of  a secret Derivatives Dealers Club of 9 on Sunday.  FiscalLiberal and I have been trying to figure out if all the news actually actually reveals anything.    The Financial Times did an update on the area that is an interesting read but doesn’t really say anything’s been solved or changed.

Yet like one of those teenaged vampires on television, the CDS market keeps coming back to life. For example, activity in sovereign CDS is up by a third this year, as speculators and hedgers bet they know more than their counterparties about the probability or timing of Greek or Irish defaults. And no, the sovereign CDS tail is not wagging the sovereign bond dog. For example, there are about $25bn of outstanding CDS on Italy, compared with some $2,000bn of actual Italian bonds.The essential point to remember is that credit derivatives don’t matter very much in determining the state of the real world. The industry, worldwide, almost certainly doesn’t employ more than 10,000 people. It is intended to be a zero-sum business.

The original, modest, purpose of CDS was to provide a low-transaction-cost means of distributing illiquid credit risks around European banks, so as to reduce their risk concentration. Then, the justification became the ease and low cost of hedging credit by buying protection through CDS, rather than going through the expense and uncertainty of maintaining short positions in bonds.

We would all be better off if there were laws to make the majority of these things exchange-traded but  it won’t happen unless governments write the laws.  BostonBoomer knew I’ve been trying to write about this and pointed me to the KO show last night and an interview with Matt Taibbi.  You may want to watch the video at the link.  They talk about the nine dealers from the NY Times link above.  These guys have been blocking the formation of exchanges and lobby hard to keep these things opaque.  You may have read me talk about how information asymmetry relieve messes up a market.  This is a prime example. This KO-Taibbi conversation is easily understood.  I was pretty impressed by what it covered.   KO also throws a gratuitous slam at Obama and Orzag so you might want to watch that just to see how the worm has turned.  Hopefully, I’ll figure out a way to explain this thing simply and have the complete post later.  I’m still trying to get more details.  In my doctoral program, every one saves their one C for the Derivatives Theory course.  Pricing is based on a really complex mathematical model and the language of the deal is written by lawyers. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of!  The math proofs even makes the guys with masters in physics quake. It’s not an easy thing to explain, teach, study or figure out.  I think they like it that way. Like I said, information asymmetry.  Also, KO brings up some nasty stuff about Senator Scott Brown and donations too. Go check it out.

Speaking of nasty stuff, here’s a blast from the past from Slate and Christopher Hitchens. The title alone titillates: ‘How Can Anyone Defend Kissinger Now?  The Nixon tapes remind us what a vile creature Henry Kissinger is’.

Chatting eagerly with his famously racist and foul-mouthed boss in March 1973, following an appeal from Golda Meir to press Moscow to allow the emigration of Soviet Jewry, Kissinger is heard on the tapes to say:

The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.

(One has to love that uneasy afterthought …)

In the past, Kissinger has defended his role as enabler to Nixon’s psychopathic bigotry, saying that he acted as a restraining influence on his boss by playing along and making soothing remarks. This can now go straight into the lavatory pan, along with his other hysterical lies. Obsessed as he was with the Jews, Nixon never came close to saying that he’d be indifferent to a replay of Auschwitz. For this, Kissinger deserves sole recognition.

It’s hard to know how to classify this observation in the taxonomy of obscenity. Should it be counted as tactical Holocaust pre-denial? That would be too mild. It’s actually a bit more like advance permission for another Holocaust. Which is why I wonder how long the official spokesmen of American Jewry are going to keep so quiet. Nothing remotely as revolting as this was ever uttered by Jesse Jackson or even Mel Gibson, to name only two famous targets of the wrath of the Anti-Defamation League. Where is the outrage? Is Kissinger—normally beseeched for comments on subjects about which he knows little or nothing—going to be able to sit out requests from the media that he clarify this statement? Does he get to keep his op-ed perch in reputable newspapers with nothing said? Will the publishers of his mendacious and purloined memoirs continue to give him expensive lunches as if nothing has happened?

Just a suggestion from me.  Drink your coffee before you go read that one. You may feel the need to spit at the screen.

One last depressing thing from the Wonk Room for advocates of GLBT rights.

This afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to say that President Obama would call on the Senate to stay in session until it brought up the stand-alone measure to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In a series of passive replies to the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson and the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld, Gibbs didn’t directly urge the Senate to consider the measure, but said, “our hope is that the Senate will take this up again and we’ll see this done by the time the year ends.” “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DREAM, along with government funding, are all in a basket of issues that are likely to come after” START, he argued earlier in the press briefing.

Asked by Eleveld why Obama has pledged to stay in DC until the Senate passed START but not DADT, Gibbs replied that the President would wait for the Senate to adjourn before leaving. Gibbs also refused to say if the administration was considering alternatives to legislative repeal …

Guess there’s more important things to do, like say, pass the Paris Hilton Inheritance Windfall Tax Breaks.

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?

What is the Sound of Styrofoam Columns Collapsing?

I suppose that I really don’t need to remind any of you of all the triumph of the Dauphin de Chicago that we endured during 2008.  In fact, I don’t want to go there any more.  I am going to mention that aspirational Nobel Peace Prize from a year later.   And, okay, one more inkle of all that 2008 hoopla in Germany when Der Speigel asked “Where is Germany’s Obama”?   Do you honestly think they’d really ask that question now and want an answer?

How the worm has turned and the facades have fallen.  The one area where Obama was supposed to excel was in the world forum.  If the world was expecting something different, they are sure realizing they didn’t get it.  But just as in 2008,  they trumped up Obama into some mythological sun god shining wisdom upon the world, we’re now seeing every one peel the paint off styrofoam and skin.  What is it about the Villagers?

Do they all really want to write heroic epics and tragic endings rather than just report the damned news?

This tidbit is from Politico.  Well, let’s just say I’m going to start with Politico. There will be more coming than this headline:   ‘View from Middle East: President Obama is a problem’. A problem?  Isn’t that a little different tale than  alt that “this is the one we’ve been waiting for” spin a few years ago?

He was supposed to be different. His personal identity, his momentum, his charisma and his promise of a fresh start would fundamentally alter America’s relations with the Muslim world and settle one of its bitterest grievances.

Two years later, he has managed to forge surprising unanimity on at least one topic: Barack Obama. A visit here finds both Israelis and Palestinians blame him for the current stalemate — just as they blame one another.

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and — increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Even those who still believe in the process that Obama has championed view his conduct as a deeply unfunny comedy of errors.

“He’s like rain,” said a top Israeli official involved in diplomacy with the U.S., speaking of Obama’s role in negotiations. “You can do all kinds of things to cope with it.”

Some fret that not only has Obama failed to move the process forward but he and his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts may have dealt it a setback that will leave it worse off than when they began.

Obama has moved from the man that can do nothing wrong to the man that cannot do anything right.  His failures since the mid term  “shellacking” have been failure on the world stage.   China, South Korea, Brazil, and now both Israel and The Palestine Authority are telling unfavorable tales.

How could any one be less respected than a President who thinks massaging the shoulders of a German Chancellor is acceptable behavior?

The Politico narrative is a long one and is peppered with items like this.

But the American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances — the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.”
Other polling in Israel shows a growing gap between aspirations for peace and the faith that it can happen. One survey last month found that 72 percent of Israelis favor negotiations, while only 33 percent think they can bear fruit. (Palestinians show a smaller gap, primarily because a smaller majority favors negotiations.)

Obama has resisted advisers’ suggestions that he travel to Israel or speak directly to Israelis as he has to Muslims in Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia.

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naiveté and inexperience.

So, it may be expected that Israel misses some cowboy swagger and doesn’t want any more “European-style Leaders”.  The article does spend most of its virtual ink on the I side of the I/P equation.  As we know from experience, any conversation about that topic tends to escalate into more than discussion; even among friends. There’s just one P in there to 9 I’s.  Where’s the balance in that?  Has every one in the U.S. bought into the new paradigm of what “fair and balanced” represents?

But, Politico isn’t the only one in the process of toppling the Styrofoam columns today. WAPO’s Jackson Diehl also examines Obama’s Foreign Policy today and suggests Obama may need an update . He timetrips back to the 80s as a way to talk about the new START treaty process. Diehl looks for clues in that, the I/P negotiations,  and the recent tour of Asia’s nascent democracies.  The bottom line is not flattering.  Diehl concludes that Obama is stuck on the 80s.  (Let’s hope that doesn’t include the Presidential taste in hairstyles and clothing.)

Still, this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy – or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.

Instead there is Obama, who likes to believe that he knows as much or more about policy than any of his aides – and who has been conspicuous in driving the strategies on nuclear disarmament and Israeli settlements. “I personally came of age during the Reagan presidency,” Obama wrote in “The Audacity of Hope.” Yes, and it shows.

Of course, the Conservative Blogosphere is having a hey day with both of these pieces.  Why wouldn’t they?  What’s lacking is a thoughtful liberal response to all of this.   What is also lacking is any mention of the Secretary of State who has been receiving some pretty glowing reviews and must be seen as carrying out an entire White House policy.  If the foreign policy is visionless, wouldn’t that reflect on Hillary Clinton also?

Hidden away on Project Syndicate is an article on START by Radosław Sikorski. Sikorski  is Poland’s Foreign Minister.  Poland is a country that has not forgotten the 1980s at all.

The US remains the world’s most powerful state, however, and the senators’ decision will inevitably have an impact beyond their country’s borders. It will be particularly significant for Poland, a staunch ally of the US in NATO. So it is important to make clear: my government supports the ratification of New START, because we believe it will bolster our country’s security, and that of Europe as a whole.

President Barack Obama’s nuclear-disarmament efforts have gained wide support in Poland. The country’s first democratic prime minister, along with two former presidents, including Lech Wałęsa, the legendary leader of Solidarity, published a joint article last year in support of Obama’s bold disarmament agenda.

For almost a year now, since the expiration of the original START treaty in December 2009, no US inspectors have been on the ground in Russia to verify the state of its nuclear arsenal. The START verification provisions provide crucial information that is essential for the force-planning process.

Without a treaty in place, holes will soon appear in the nuclear umbrella that the US provides to Poland and other allies under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the collective security guarantee for NATO members. Moreover, New START is a necessary stepping-stone to future negotiations with Russia about reductions in tactical nuclear arsenals, and a prerequisite for the successful revival of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE).

While we in Poland do not perceive an immediate military threat from Russia, most of the world’s active tactical or sub-strategic nuclear weapons today seem to be deployed just east of Poland’s borders, in speculative preparation for conflict in Europe. The cataclysmic potential of such a conflict makes it essential to limit and eventually eliminate this leftover from the Cold War.

The START treaty is area where the U.S. should and could succeed.   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated that it is deal that should be ‘beyond politics’.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday that ratifying the treaty is a “national security imperative” that cannot be delayed.  He called on the Senate for quick passage of the deal.

Ratification requires support from 67 of the Senate’s 100 members.

Senator Jon Kyl, the chief Republican negotiator on the issue, has resisted the president’s efforts to hold the vote before the new Congress takes office in January with a stronger Republican presence.  Kyl has voiced concerns that the new START treaty would harm U.S. missile defense efforts.

I’m very much with Clinton on this one and with the President.  For a press that seemed eager to believe that those Styrofoam columns were the real deal two years ago, they now stand as eager to push them over and point to an emperor with no clothes.  This is evident even when the topic is something that should be above politics and not highly debatable like the value of START.

Why can’t we get some reasonable attempt at holding people accountable rather than these all in or all out approaches?  You don’t make up for the sins of 2008 by committing equally egregious but different sins in 2010.  Let’s not lose sight that the START treaty is good policy.

Just sayin’.