— President Obama on Tuesday forcefully rebuked Republicans on the presidential
campaign trail and in Congress for “beating the drums of war” in criticizing his
efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program,
underscoring how squarely the national security issue had entered the
Mr. Obama’s comments, in which he suggested without naming Iraq that the United
States had only recently gone to war “wrapped up in politics,” came in a
televised news conference. The White House scheduled it on a day when leading
Republicans were addressing an influential pro-Israel lobbying group, the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, at its annual
There, the two leading Republican presidential candidates, Rick Santorum and
Mitt Romney, assailed Mr. Obama’s foreign policy as ineffective and weak in
their appeals to the group. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of
Kentucky, called for Congress to authorize the use of force against Iran.
The president was withering in his retort. “Those folks don’t have a lot of
responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not commander in chief. When I see
the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of
the costs involved in war” — for those who go into combat, for national security
and for the economy. “This is not a game,” he added. “And there’s nothing casual
“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say
so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do
that and what the consequences would be,” he said.
While the debate over Iran is unlikely to overshadow the economy as the
predominant election issue, the heated back-and-forth this week — and the
international tension over suspicions that Iran may seek to build nuclear
weapons — ensure that it is now a part of the presidential contest.
The spark was the Aipac meeting, where members of both parties sought to show
their support for Israel, especially against the potential threat of a
nuclear-armed Iran. Mr. Obama spoke on Sunday, and Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu of Israel addressed the conference on Monday night after meeting
earlier with Mr. Obama at the White House. The president, in his speech to
Aipac, said military force was one option on the table for dealing with Iran. At
the White House, Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Obama that he had not made a decision on
an Israeli strike, officials said, though he expressed deep skepticism that the
president’s strategy of diplomatic and economic sanctions would force Iran to
In his speech to Aipac, Mr. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, accused Mr.
Obama of allowing Iran “another appeasement, another delay, another opportunity
for them to go forward while we talk.” When he addressed the group, Mr. Romney,
a former Massachusetts governor, said, “The only thing respected by thugs and
tyrants is our resolve, backed by our power and our readiness to use it.”
For a president who inherited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has spent three
years trying to wind them down, the talk of war plainly rankled. Mr. Obama’s
early opposition to the Bush administration’s war against Iraq helped him to win
the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 over Hillary Rodham Clinton, who
had voted to authorize force against Iraq as a senator, and he seemed to recall
the period in drawing parallels to the current debate on Iran.
Citing the costs in lives lost or forever changed at his news conference, Mr.
Obama said: “Sometimes we bear that cost, but we think it through. We don’t play
politics with it. When we have in the past — when we haven’t thought it through
and it gets wrapped up in politics — we make mistakes. And typically it’s not
the folks who are popping off who pay the price.”
The politics aside, Mr. Obama struck a markedly more circumspect note on Iran a
day after he expressed solidarity with Mr. Netanyahu. He reiterated at the news
conference the need for time to allow diplomacy and sanctions to work, and
rejected suggestions that Iran was so close to a nuclear weapon that the
situation needed to be resolved “in the next week or two weeks or month or two
The president added that sanctions were starting to squeeze Iran’s oil industry
and central bank, and would intensify in coming months. He said that Iran was
now signaling that it wanted to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear
program, and he emphasized the risks of what he called premature military
“It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken
prematurely,” he said. “There are consequences to the United States as well.” As
a friend of Israel, he said, it is the job of the United States “to make sure
that we provide honest and unvarnished advice.”
Finally, Mr. Obama made clear that when he said the United States “has Israel’s
back” — a phrase he used in his speech on Sunday and in the Oval Office with Mr.
Netanyahu — it should not be interpreted to mean that he was giving Israel any
kind of go-ahead for a pre-emptive strike on Iran.
His statement, Mr. Obama said, was a more general expression of American support
for an ally, like Britain or Japan. “It was not a military doctrine that we were
laying out for any particular military action,” he said.
Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials attached great importance to Mr.
Obama’s statement, on Sunday and at the White House, that Israel had a sovereign
right to defend itself.
It was one of four remarks the president made that Israeli officials said they
thought had drawn the United States closer to Israel in recent days. The others
were Mr. Obama’s vow to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, his
rejection of a policy aimed at containing a nuclear-armed Iran and his explicit
reference to military force as an option on the table.
Mr. Netanyahu, in his address to Aipac on Monday, appeared comfortable with the
results of his meeting with the president, even as he rejected warnings voiced
by Mr. Obama and others that a strike on Iran could unleash even more dangerous
consequences for Israel and the United States.
“It’s about time we start talking about the cost of not stopping Iran,” said Mr.
Netanyahu, at one point holding up copies of letters from 1944, in which the War
Department, the precursor of what is now the Defense Department, rebuffed an
appeal by the World Jewish Congress to bomb Auschwitz because, the American
officials said, it might drive Nazi Germany to even more “vindictive action.”
nothing wrong — and much that is right — with building a national monument to
memorialize the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 attacks a decade ago. The
awful events of that day traumatized the country — and changed it. The dead
deserve to be remembered. Far be it from me to suggest otherwise.
What I do want to suggest, though, is that what’s being built in the name of
9/11 — a staggering $11 billion worth of government-sponsored construction on
the 16 acres we now call ground zero — is an example of just about everything
wrong with modern government. When the World Trade Center site is finally
completed, it will include a state-of-the-art train station whose cost overruns
have surpassed $1 billion. The 9/11 memorial itself, which covers the footprint
of the former twin towers, was so far behind schedule that it is now being
hastily constructed, out of sequence, so that it will be ready by the 10th
anniversary of the tragedy.
And then there’s 1 World Trade Center, scheduled to be completed in 2013, which
will add 2.6 million square feet of office space in a city that doesn’t need it,
at a cost so high that it will be a cash drain for decades to come. Where’s the
Tea Party when you need them?
Last year, I wrote about 1 World Trade Center, pointing out that its $3.3
billion price tag made it, by far, the most expensive office building ever
constructed in America. At the time, Richard Gladstone, the project manager for
the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is in charge of rebuilding
ground zero, told me point-blank that despite its costs, the new skyscraper
would not affect the commuters who pay the tolls to cross the six bridges and
tunnels the agency operates.
But, on Friday, that statement was shown to be — how to put this nicely? —
untrue. The Port Authority, with the complicity of Andrew Cuomo and Chris
Christie, the governors of New York and New Jersey, who oversee the agency,
approved a series of toll increases so onerous that by 2015, a typical commuter
who uses the George Washington Bridge will have to pay $62.50 a week to get to
What has been especially galling has been the cynicism surrounding the efforts
to get the toll increases. First, the Port Authority said that unless it could
increase the tolls, it would have to “slow or stop” the construction of 1 World
Trade Center. Though this scenario was highly unlikely, it got the construction
unions duly aroused, as it was intended to do. They began calling in favors
among the politicians.
The Port Authority was originally going to propose two increases of $2, spaced a
few years apart. But the politicos in both Cuomo’s and Christie’s offices
suggested that the agency come forth with a much higher initial toll increase —
thus allowing the two governors to look like heroes when they “persuaded” the
Port Authority to lower the increases. The governors also railed on about waste
and fraud at the Port Authority, while knowing full well the real problem was
the fact that $3.3 billion — money that could have been spent on needed
infrastructure improvements — was instead diverted to a white elephant at ground
I understand that it’s hard, even for a blunt-talking fiscal conservative like
Christie, to openly criticize 1 World Trade Center. For many people, its
rebuilding has enormous symbolic importance. George Pataki, the former New York
governor, who pushed hardest for the rebuilding, originally named the building
Freedom Tower. Recent editorials in the New York tabloids objecting to the toll
increases nevertheless tiptoed gingerly around the outrageous costs of 1 World
But despite the shroud of patriotism that its supporters have always cloaked it
in, it’s really just a big, fancy office building. An office building with such
poor economics that it will soak New Jersey and New York commuters for decades
to come. An office building only the government could love.
Lately, supporters of the project have begun saying that its economics have
improved. They point to the fact that Condé Nast, the publishing giant, has
agreed to be the anchor tenant. What they fail to point out is that Condé Nast’s
rent is less than half the break-even cost of the 1 million square feet it will
occupy. In other words, a company that publishes high-end magazines aimed at
rich people will be getting an enormous government subsidy for the foreseeable
And who will be paying for that subsidy? The mailroom attendants who use the
Lincoln Tunnel to get to work. The middle-class New Jersey-ites who use the
George Washington Bridge. The firefighters and police officers who live in
Staten Island. Thus, in the name of 9/11, does New York and New Jersey place
another economic burden on the already overburdened middle class. How sad.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama called on the Syrian government on
Friday to stop using "outrageous" violence against demonstrators and accused
President Bashar al-Assad of seeking help from Iran.
"This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now,"
Obama said in a statement.
"Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders
while seeking Iranian assistance
in repressing Syria's citizens through the same
brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies."
| Wed Apr 13, 2011
By Kevin Drawbaugh
(Reuters) - In the most damning official U.S. report yet produced on Wall
Street's role in the financial crisis, a Senate panel accused powerhouse Goldman
Sachs of misleading clients and manipulating markets, while also condemning
greed, weak regulation and conflicts of interest throughout the financial
Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, one
of Capitol Hill's most feared panels, has a history with Goldman Sachs.
He clashed publicly with its Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein a year ago at a
hearing on the crisis.
The Democratic lawmaker again tore into Goldman at a press briefing on his
panel's 639-page report, which is based on a review of tens of millions of
documents over two years.
Levin accused Goldman of profiting at clients' expense as the mortgage market
crashed in 2007. "In my judgment, Goldman clearly misled their clients and they
misled Congress," he said, reading glasses perched as ever on the tip of his
A Goldman Sachs spokesman said, "While we disagree with many of the conclusions
of the report, we take seriously the issues explored by the subcommittee."
The panel's report is harder hitting than one issued in January by the
government-appointed Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which "didn't report
anything of significance," Republican Senator Tom Coburn said at the briefing.
More than two years since the crisis peaked, denunciations of Wall Street
misconduct are less often heard on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers focused on
fiscal issues. But Coburn joined Levin at Wednesday's bipartisan briefing,
firing his own sharp attacks on the financial industry.
"Blame for this mess lies everywhere -- from federal regulators who cast a blind
eye, Wall Street bankers who let greed run wild, and members of Congress who
failed to provide oversight," said Coburn, the subcommittee's top Republican.
"It shows without a doubt the lack of ethics in some of our financial
institutions who embraced known conflicts of interest to accomplish wealth for
themselves, not caring about the outcome for their customers," he said.
The Levin-Coburn report criticized not only Goldman, but Deutsche Bank, the
former Washington Mutual Bank, the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision and credit
rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's.
"We will be referring this matter to the Justice Department and to the SEC,"
Levin said at the briefing, though he did not elaborate. A spokesman later said,
"The subcommittee does not intend to reveal the specifics of any referral."
The report offered 19 recommendations for reform going beyond changes already
enacted after the crisis in 2010's Dodd-Frank Wall Street and banking regulation
Case studies from the go-go years of the real estate bubble formed the bulk of
the report, which said a runaway mortgage securitization machine churned out
abusive loans, toxic securities, and big fees for lenders and Wall Street.
It cited internal emails by Wall Street executives that described
mortgage-backed securities underlying many collateralized debt obligations, or
CDOs, as "crap" and "pigs."
It said Washington Mutual -- which became the largest failed bank in U.S.
history in 2008 -- embraced a high-risk home loan strategy in 2005 while its own
top executives were warning of a bubble that "will come back to haunt us."
The U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision -- which will be shut down and merged into
another agency under 2010's Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul -- logged 500 serious
deficiencies at Washington Mutual from 2003-2008, but no crackdown followed, the
Mass downgrades of mortgage-related investments in July 2007 by Moody's and
Standard & Poor's constituted "the most immediate cause of the financial
crisis," it said.
Investment banks, it said, charged $1 million to $8 million in fees to
construct, underwrite and sell a mortgage-backed security in the bubble, and $5
million to $10 million per CDO.
As for Goldman, the subcommittee said, the firm "used net short positions to
benefit from the downturn in the mortgage market." It said Goldman designed,
marketed, and sold CDOs in ways that created conflicts of interest with clients,
while also at times providing the bank with profits "from the same products that
caused substantial losses for its clients."
reporting by Lauren LaCapra and Kim Dixon;
advertisements and negative attacks are a staple of presidential campaigns, but
Senator John McCain has drawn an avalanche of criticism this week from
Democrats, independent groups and even some Republicans for regularly stretching
the truth in attacking Senator Barack Obama’s record and positions.
Mr. Obama has also been accused of distortions, but this week Mr. McCain has
found himself under particularly heavy fire for a pair of headline-grabbing
attacks. First the McCain campaign twisted Mr. Obama’s words to suggest that he
had compared Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, to a
pig after Mr. Obama said, in questioning Mr. McCain’s claim to be the change
agent in the race, “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig.” (Mr.
McCain once used the same expression to describe Senator Hillary Rodham
Clinton’s health plan.)
Then he falsely claimed that Mr. Obama supported “comprehensive sex education”
for kindergartners (he supported teaching them to be alert for inappropriate
advances from adults).
Those attacks followed weeks in which Mr. McCain repeatedly, and incorrectly,
asserted that Mr. Obama would raise taxes on the middle class, even though
analysts say he would cut taxes on the middle class more than Mr. McCain would,
and misrepresented Mr. Obama’s positions on energy and health care.
A McCain advertisement called “Fact Check” was itself found to be “less than
honest” by FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan group. The group complained that the
McCain campaign had cited its work debunking various Internet rumors about Ms.
Palin and implied in the advertisement that the rumors had originated with Mr.
In an interview Friday on the NY1 cable news channel, a McCain supporter,
Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, called “ridiculous” the implication that Mr.
Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” comment was a reference to Ms. Palin, whom he also
defended as coming under unfair attack.
“The last month, for sure,” said Don Sipple, a Republican advertising
strategist, “I think the predominance of liberty taken with truth and the facts
has been more McCain than Obama.”
Indeed, in recent days, Mr. McCain has been increasingly called out by news
organizations, editorial boards and independent analysts like FactCheck.org. The
group, which does not judge whether one candidate is more misleading than
another, has cried foul on Mr. McCain more than twice as often since the start
of the political conventions as it has on Mr. Obama.
A McCain spokesman, Brian Rogers, said the campaign had evidence for all its
claims. “We stand fully by everything that’s in our ads,” Mr. Rogers said, “and
everything that we’ve been saying we provide detailed backup for — everything.
And if you and the Obama campaign want to disagree, that’s your call.”
Mr. McCain came into the race promoting himself as a truth teller and has long
publicly deplored the kinds of negative tactics that helped sink his candidacy
in the Republican primaries in 2000. But his strategy now reflects a calculation
advisers made this summer — over the strenuous objections of some longtime hands
who helped him build his “Straight Talk” image — to shift the campaign more
toward disqualifying Mr. Obama in the eyes of voters.
“I think the McCain folks realize if they can get this thing down in the mud,
drag Obama into the mud, that’s where they have the best advantage to win,” said
Matthew Dowd, who worked with many top McCain campaign advisers when he was
President Bush’s chief strategist in the 2004 campaign, but who has since had a
falling out with the White House. “If they stay up at 10,000 feet, they don’t.”
For all the criticism, the offensive seems to be having an impact. It has been
widely credited by strategists in both parties with rejuvenating Mr. McCain’s
campaign and putting Mr. Obama on the defensive since it began early this
Some who have criticized Mr. McCain have accused him of blatant untruths and of
failing to correct himself when errors were pointed out.
On Friday on “The View,” generally friendly territory for politicians, one
co-host, Joy Behar, criticized his new advertisements. “We know that those two
ads are untrue,” Ms. Behar said. “They are lies. And yet you, at the end of it,
say, ‘I approve these messages.’ Do you really approve them?”
“Actually they are not lies,” Mr. McCain said crisply, “and have you seen some
of the ads that are running against me?”
Mr. Obama’s hands have not always been clean in this regard. He was called out
earlier for saying, incorrectly, that Mr. McCain supported a “hundred-year war”
in Iraq after Mr. McCain said in January that he would be fine with a
hypothetical 100-year American presence in Iraq, as long as Americans were not
being injured or killed there.
More recently, Mr. Obama has been criticized for advertisements that have
distorted Mr. McCain’s record on schools financing and incorrectly accused him
of not supporting loan guarantees for the auto industry — a hot topic in
Michigan. He has also taken Mr. McCain’s repeated comments that American economy
is “fundamentally sound” out of context, leaving out the fact that Mr. McCain
almost always adds at the same time that he understands that times are tough and
“people are hurting.”
But sensing an opening in the mounting criticism of Mr. McCain, the Obama
campaign released a withering statement after Mr. McCain’s appearance on “The
“In running the sleaziest campaign since South Carolina in 2000 and standing by
completely debunked lies on national television, it’s clear that John McCain
would rather lose his integrity than lose an election,” Hari Sevugan, a
spokesman for the Obama campaign, said in a statement.
At an event in Dover, N.H., a voter asked Mr. Obama when he would start
“fighting back.” Mr. Obama, who began his own confrontational advertising
campaign Friday, said, “Our ads have been pretty tough, but I just have a
different philosophy that I’m going to respond with the truth.”
“I’m not going to start making up lies about John McCain,” Mr. Obama said.
The McCain advertisements are devised to draw the interest of bloggers and cable
news producers — but not necessarily always intended for wide, actual use on
television stations — to shift the terms of the debate by questioning Mr.
Obama’s character and qualifications.
Mr. Sipple, the Republican strategist, voiced concern that Mr. McCain’s approach
could backfire. “Any campaign that is taking liberty with the truth and does it
in a serial manner will end up paying for it in the end,” he said. “But it’s
very unbecoming to a political figure like John McCain whose flag was planted
long ago in ground that was about ‘straight talk’ and integrity.”
The campaign has also been selective in its portrayal of Mr. McCain’s running
mate, Ms. Palin. The campaign’s efforts to portray her as the bane of federal
earmark spending was complicated by evidence that she had sought a great deal of
federal money both as governor of Alaska and as mayor of Wasilla.
Ms. Palin has often told audiences about pulling the plug on the so-called
Bridge to Nowhere, an expensive federal project to build a bridge to a sparsely
populated Alaskan island that became a symbol of wasteful federal spending. “I
told Congress, ‘Thanks but no thanks’ for that Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska,” she
said this week in Virginia.
But her position was more like “please” before it became “no thanks.” Ms. Palin
supported the bridge project while running for governor, and abandoned it after
it became a national scandal and Congress said the state could keep the money
for other projects. As a mayor and governor, she hired lobbyists to request
millions in federal spending for Alaska. In an ABC News interview on Friday with
Charles Gibson, Ms. Palin largely stuck to her version of the events.
Disputed characterizations are not uncommon on the trail. At a campaign stop
this week in Missouri, Mr. McCain said that Mr. Obama’s plan would “force small
businesses to cut jobs and reduce wages and force families into a government-run
health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor.”
Jonathan B. Oberlander, who teaches health policy at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that Mr. Obama’s plan would not force families
into a government-run system. “I would say this is an inaccurate and false
characterization of the Obama plan,” he said. “I don’t use those words lightly.”
Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting from Dover, N.H.