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Monthly Archives: October 2008

Obama and the Potential Blackmail Factor

October 31st, 2008 - 2:15 am

There’s a huge and much-overlooked reason for filling in those gaps in Barack Obama’s resume, and letting America’s voters see any and all tapes, transcripts and other documentation of his career and friendships — and fast. It’s called the potential for blackmail.

Actually, full daylight is the only way to be reasonably sure that Obama himself is safe from blackmail. If voters have seen the worst of it, and don’t mind — well, OK. But if there is damaging information still unknown to the public, but known to somebody out there, then Obama — if he wins the presidency — could make a tempting target.

The same could be said of anyone running for public office. But there is a worrying convergence here of the most powerful office in the world, and the most untested and cryptic candidate in living memory. The question is not simply what Obama knew at the time about a variety of friends and associates, from his not-so-distant past, who in one way or another have been involved in criminal acts, or embraced as a theme the subversion, destruction or damning of America and America’s allies. The question is also: What might such people might know about Obama?

This is not to accuse anyone of planning to lever any still-secret information into undue influence over the Oval Office. But the best defense against that kind of thing in politics has always been genuine and full disclosure.

Take, for instance, the mysteries surrounding the refusal of the Los Angeles Times to release the video of the 2003 Khalidi dinner – Obama’s toasts and all. The people who were there know what Obama actually said, or applauded — or whatever actually happened. The source who gave the video to the LA Times knows (and it’s an intriguing question, why, if nothing untoward took place, a source would want confidentiality  for providing a video of a festive and well-attended dinner). Obama knows — he was there. But the American public does not know.

It is not John McCain and Fox News who should be left to argue the case for a public airing of that tape. In the interest of good faith in asking the trust of American voters, it is Obama himself who should be trying to dig up it up, unedited; and in public, let it roll.

Or, take the case of the house for which Obama paid $1.65 million in Chicago, and the land purchase next door by Syrian-born Tony Rezko, who was convicted in Chicago this June on 16 counts of influence peddling. Are the mysteries fully solved? I cannot vouch for the details in the links that follow, but they make interesting reading. Here’s a summary from John Batchelor, whose blog links in turn to GOPMOM – where there is a photo of a very nice house, and an account of real estate dealings that suggest a weirdly intricate deal, a disturbing number of people who won’t talk, and some good questions which — in the interest of both the public and Obama himself – really deserve to be answered in full before Nov. 4.

As a preview of life in a socialist America, Barack Obama’s half-hour Infomercial Wednesday evening wasn’t half bad. It had its pricey origins in a broken promise about practicing restraint with money. With a mood-molding musical soundtrack, it featured a peerless leader moving among the common folk. He listened to the sad stories of their gray and difficult lives in a land of scarcity. He did this in his shirt sleeves.

Speaking at times on the road, and at times from a fake Oval Office, he conjured for us all a country in which after long years of darkness, light will finally filter into our desperate lives. He will manage our collective wealth and opportunities so that no factories will close, no homes will be foreclosed, all medical bills will be paid, all refrigerators will be stocked with the best of snacks, the price of milk will never rise and the sun will never set on the radiant future. As president, he will tread the byways of the ”Middle Class,” listening to the lamentations, cutting up the pie, dispensing the dole.

He will do this surrounded only by cheering crowds, grateful citizens and maybe a couple of adoring CEOs. Sometimes he will speak to small reverent groups, while they nod in silent agreement. Sometimes he will stand alone on a high pedestal and survey the cheering crowds. Sometimes he will need a stadium. He will explain to the common folk their own pension plans, and nod thoughtfully, in profile for the camera. He will bestow grace upon, and ration welfare to, those who stay humbly below his “Middle Class” income limits of $200,000 per year (or — we interrupt the Infomercial to ask – is the limit for eviction from the “Middle Class” $250,000? or $150,000? — depending on the day, and whether it’s Obama or Joe Biden speaking).

In Infomercial America, no one steps forward to challenge Obama. There are no awkward questions, and certainly no explanations, about sermons by Rev. Wright, book blurbs for Bill Ayers, real estate deals with Tony Rezko, toasts to Rashid Khalidi, ties to ACORN, confidential school records, or the whole medley of Marxist, radical, terrorist, God-damn-America mysteries that have dogged Obama’s campaign. There are no worries about how in truth Obama plans to assemble and dispense the endless largesse that will flow to the grateful and humble workers of his realm.

“Together we will change this country, and change the world,”  proclaims Obama. But how? Dedicated to the proposition of from each according to his ability, to each according to his need, Americans will rise in the morning, work happily in their ossified jobs, and wait gratefully for their government handouts? This country will see a new birth of the value theory of labor?

True, it’s expecting a lot to think that a candidate would spend $3 million to buy a half hour of primetime on seven networks and then use it present anything other than his idealized picture of himself. But if this is Obama’s ideal, if this is the change that’s coming, will Americans still be left with enough freedom-to-choose to change the channel?

CNN Slants the News on Palin, Sources Say

October 25th, 2008 - 11:39 pm

By the time this interminable presidential campaign is over, we may all have our favorite examples of MSM gone wild –whether by way of blatant bias; unfounded allegations; intense scrutiny of one candidate while giving a free pass to the other (fill in the names as you like); etc.

But for a prize specimen of hazily sourced trashing of Sarah Palin in particular, I am marveling right now at an article from the CNN web site, which — a joint labor of not one, not two, but three CNN reporters – has been getting enough attention to have popped up this evening on the main screen of google news.

The headline is Palin’s ‘going rogue.’ McCain aide says.” Well hey, that sounds juicy.

But who is the “McCain aide” who is saying this? It turns out the aide quoted in the headline is never named. The article begins with the sweeping statement that with the election imminent, “long-brewing tensions between GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin and key aides to Sen. John McCain have become so intense they are spilling out in public” – but according to whom? Well, apparently it’s not so public that anyone doing the spilling is willing to be named. So CNN wraps up that bold intro with: “Sources say.”

The next paragraph mentions “Several McCain advisers” — unnamed — “who have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide” — unnamed — “described as Palin ‘going rogue.’ ”

So the quote in the headline is from an unnamed source who is one of several unnamed advisers, rounding out a picture attributed to unnamed sources (plural).

It gets better. Briefly, there is “A Palin associate” — unnamed — offering a defense of Palin. Then the criticisms resume, with the article citing: “McCain sources” — unnnamed — “A Second McCain source” — unnnamed (and not clear if this second source is one of the previous plural McCain sources, or an independently consulted unnamed source).  That ”second McCain source” is quoted for two full paragraphs, taking nasty swipes at Palin, but the source remains anonymous.

Then we get “A Palin associate” — unnnamed, and unclear if this is a second Palin associate, or the same one unnamed above — who is described as defending her, but the quote given to illustrate this defense is actually a criticism, describing Palin, as “not good at process questions” (according to this unnamed “associate,” who is further referred to only as “this Palin source”).

Then, at last, in connection with what is described as a defense of Palin, we do get a name — an actual name – that of Palin’s press secretary, Tracey Schmitt, who is also described here as having tried urgently to end an unscheduled session Palin had with the press. But there is no attribution for this information, and the only quote from Schmitt herself, which comes lower in the article is a statement she gave to traveling reporters that: “Unnamed sources with their own agenda will say what they want, but from Gov. Palin down, we have one agenda, and that’s to win on election day.”

After the mention of Schmitt, it’s back to the unnamed sources, this time by way of “a different Palin adviser” — unnnamed — who is quoted delivering yet more backhanded criticism of Palin (“We acknowledge that she should have been out there doing more,” etc).

Then a reference to a story on Politico, which mentioned by name two McCain advisers, Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt, as having decided to limit Palin’s initial press contact to Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, “which all McCain sources admit were highly damaging” — note, the “all McCain sources” here are all unnnamed.

CNN did get an email response on the record from one McCain source, Nicolle Wallace, “If people want to throw me under the bus, my personal belief is that the most honorable thing is to lie there.”

Then it’s back to “But two sources, one Palin associate and one McCain adviser” –both unnamed — “defended the decision to keep her press interaction limited… both saying that she was not ready and that the missteps could have been a lot worse.”

From there it’s on to “another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process…” — unnnamed. From this source, identified on second reference as “The source” — still unnnamed — comes another quote that takes a swipe at Palin.

There follows a brief account that “Yet another senior McCain adviser lamented the public recriminations.” And “this adviser” — who is, guess what? also unnamed — is then quoted as talking about “finger-pointing and scapegoating” in the campaign.

Finally, near the bottom of the article, we are handed the highly relevant information (but putting it higher in the story would have deflated the entire story) — that squabbles among aides are pretty normal: “Tensions like those within the McCain-Palin campaign are not unusual; vice-presidential candidates also have a history of butting heads with the top of the ticket.” (Then comes the lone paragraph mentioning that Joe Biden “has gone off the reservation as well” — though in this case there are apparently no sources, anonymous or otherwise, worth quoting to illustrate dissent in the Biden-Obama ranks).

But this comes only after about 20 paragraphs in which the slamming of Palin is done by ”sources” who cannot be challenged or further questioned, because they are anonymous. The article ends with some lines from a Democratic pollster, who — imagine this! — is quoted by name, Peter Hart, delivering one last swipe at Palin.

There are circumstances in which journalists may reasonably cite or even quote unnamed sources. And if campaign reporters are privy to squabbles among aides, that may well be an interesting story. But when a story amounts to a litany of swipes framed as quotes from nameless “sources,” there comes a point at which a line is crossed between news and rumor, between reporting and hype, between anonymous in-house gossip and “spilling out in public.” Is it Palin who’s going rogue here? Or CNN?

Whichever candidate wins, the drumbeat is that Americans, along with all the other bills and bailouts, will be slated for further sacrifice — not in the name of change, but in the name of stopping “climate change.”

If the aim is — reasonably enough — to look for alternatives to oil, it would be worth disentangling that agenda from the calls for UN and government-backed bureaucracies (the folks who brought us, respectively, Oil-for-Food and subprime mortgages) to regulate and license rights to the atmosphere itself. At the very least, how about a closer look at the credentials behind the “science” and personnel of the bureaucracies now aiming to bleed Americans white in the name of going green. More in my column today on Forbes.com .

Policing Sarah Palin’s Wardrobe

October 22nd, 2008 - 11:35 pm

So, in this campaign of many shockers, we now have the New York Times headline: “$150,000 wardrobe for Palin May Alter Tailor-Made Image.”

I guess that if reporters wish to pursue this rich vein of inquiry, there’s a whole series of investigative stories waiting to be written on the sartorial side of politics.  It’s certainly more entertaining than digging into curious real estate deals, unreleased school transcripts, radical associates and millions dispensed in troubling ways (see this latest from my colleague, Andy McCarthy, on Obama’s “Social Justice” education expert).

In this new sartorial seam of campaign coverage, we might hope to read the full accounts of how much precisely has been spent, and by whom, on pantsuits, silk scarves, jewelry, men’s suits, socks and shoes; those shirts that seem to arrive with the sleeves pre-rolled-up; and, of course, the facelifts, hair treatments, and above all (or maybe beneath some) the Botox.

On the historical side, there’s the calculation (inflation-adjusted, please) of how much Jackie Kennedy spent on her widely admired wardrobe, first on the campaign trail and then in the White House. Or, how about some answers to a question that’s been bothering me for years — When Jimmy Carter arrived for his Washington inaugural pointedly carrying his own garment bag, was there actually anything inside it? And then there’s the multilateral theme — While Kofi Annan was lecturing the world about poverty, how much was he spending on those Brioni suits?

The angles are endless. It’s quite possible that here and there some of these stories have already appeared, though probably under headlines less portentous.

But here’s the real point. In an excellent article about the cheap shots at Sarah Palin, Dan Henninger of The Wall Street Journal notes:

It seems only yesterday that the most critical skill in presidential politics was being able to connect to people in places like Bronko’s bar or Saddleback Church. When Gov. Palin showed she excelled at that, the goal posts suddenly moved and the new game was being able to talk the talk in London, Paris, Tehran or Moscow. She looks about a half-step behind Sen. Obama on that learning curve.

About those moving goal posts, one might well wonder. Had it turned out, upon urgent inspection, that the wardrobe assembled in haste for Palin’s campaign travels had been purchased entirely in bargain basement bulk sales, would the headline have been: “Cheapskate Wardrobe Tarnishes Veep Pick’s Image” — ?

We’ll never know. But given the apparent importance and urgency of the topic, I do await with impatience the editorials now screaming to be written, spelling out to the last penny exactly how much it is fitting to spend on the campaign wardrobe of the first woman candidate in history for vice-president of the United States.  [Note: My apologies for the error: As readers point out below, Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman candidate for vice-president. I should have said of Palin ... "the first woman candidate for vice-president of the United States who, no matter what she wears, could not possibly get it right."]  

Obama Is Just Powell’s Latest Mistake

October 20th, 2008 - 9:50 pm

Having watched Colin Powell’s enraptured endorsement of Obama on Meet the Press, I got to thinking about Powell’s track record of judgment calls.

That took me back to memories of Powell’s performance during the debate at the UN over the Iraq War — not his presentation at the on WMD (which reflected available intelligence on WMD at the time) but his strange omission of something I think was highly germane. As the U.S. Secretary of State, responsible for U.S. dealings with the UN, Powell was probably best placed – after maybe Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein — to know that the UN’s corrupt Oil-for-Food program had deeply compromised the integrity of the UN Security Council itself (at least, to the extent it had any integrity to begin with). With UN approval, Saddam Hussein had thrown massive, lucrative business to veto-wielding Russia, France and China. They had stakes in billions worth of deals with UN-sanctioned Baghdad; they also had an interest in covering up the graft that had become the norm within the program.

Colin Powell had privileged access to details and documentation which could have shown this. He never brought it into the public debate, and his State Department refused to release it to the public. While intent on taking Iraq’s case to the UN, Powell apparently failed to alert President Bush, and certainly failed to alert the American public, to the corrupting influence of billions worth of Oil-for-Food dollars on the UN debate itself.

That, in my view, was a cover-up that helped Saddam’s pals and business partners, hurt America, and demonstrated lousy judgment on the part of Secretary of State Colin Powell. So, in light of Powell’s Obama endorsement, on Monday I wrote a column about all this, in which you can find more details, dollar amounts and a fuller explanation, on National Review Online, “General Blind Spots.”

NRO does not post reader comments, but does forward them. And in the stack of messages I received, from various quarters, the basic message was that in focusing chiefly on Powell’s odd handling of Oil-for-Food, I had produced far too kind an appraisal of his record.

The notes were addressed to me, not to the public, so to avoid violating the confidentiality of those who wrote in, I will paraphrase. But here’s the gist, in some cases combining a number of comments:

1) Although Powell claims to be friends with McCain, he did not so much as give him a call before endorsing Obama on Meet the Press. That is underhanded.

2) Don’t forget, in the 1991 Gulf War, Powell was one of the influences behind the decision to stop the war before Saddam was completely defeated. That, plus America’s abandonment of the Iraqis who rebeled after the first Gulf War were serious mistakes, with deadly results for many.

3) During the tempest over the “outing” of Valerie Plame, Powell and his deputy at State, Richard Armitage, kept silent about the real source, leaving the White House to take the heat. 

4) In 2005, Powell called his own 2003 speech at the UN, making the case for invading Iraq, a “blot” on his record. So he would have preferred to leave Saddam in power, to be succeeded by his sadistic sons, running a regime that cut off hands, cut out tongues, ripped out nails with pliers, and butchered its own people?

5) A yen for bureaucratic revenge? (This one is a bit complicated, but an interesting conundrum): Obama argues that the Bush administration and its Iraq war, in which Powell played a major role, was dishonorable. Powell, who left office on a sour note, is now lending his honor to Obama. Just how much honor can a man afford to lend to the idea that he was dishonorable, before he is actually dishonoring himself in the process?

First They Came for Joe the Plumber…

October 17th, 2008 - 11:31 pm

Joe’s question about taxes threw a wrench into Barack Obama’s campaign pitch. So, oh what a background check Joe got. Within days, reports were all over the news that Joe owes back taxes, he doesn’t have an Ohio plumber’s license, his real name is Samuel, and he is — shock and horror — a registered Republican. Within days, Obama and Biden were holding up Joe to public ridicule, and by implication mocking any American working stiff who might have the audacity to want to earn more than $250,000 per year.

Obama may be full of talk about delivering the American dream, but he apparently has enormous disdain for Americans who actually sweat to earn it for themselves. He wants to take Joe’s money and spread it around in the name of helping others get ahead — but if anyone gets ahead more than Obama deems fitting, watch out.

It seems that Joe’s sins are less than the litany would make them. He may not have a plumber’s license, but he works for someone who does. He owes back taxes, but less than $1,200. And at least to date, it is not a crime in America to use a nickname or be a registered Republican.

But to squabble over Joe’s record is to miss the real point. Obama is the one running for public office, aspiring to the country’s highest position of power and public trust. Joe is not. He’s a private citizen, who had every right to ask a very good question. He wanted to know why he was being taxed “more and more for fulfilling the American dream?”

What he got from the well-heeled Senators Obama and Biden was mockery and contempt.

Most disturbing is this: If that’s how Joe the Plumber gets dealt with while Obama is still stumping for votes, then what happens to Joe, or anyone else who dares question Obama’s plans, should Obama win the White House?

Should we expect that that the answer will be targeted investigations, a public display of whatever can be dug up in the way of private laundry, and sneers from the Oval Office?

In the interest of having an informed electorate, it would be far more valuable were the media teams working less frantically to dig up dirt on Joe, and a lot harder on filling in the gaps in the record of candidate Obama. Why won’t Obama release his Columbia transcripts? What exactly was he doing during those gaps in the bio?

How are we supposed to square the lavish praise of Obama’s intellectual powers and refined sensitivities with his professed failure during years of intimate acquaintance to notice the hate-speech of Rev. Wright? What is the real story with the ties to Bill Ayers, to Tony Rezko? What does that say about his judgment in choosing friends and advisers and associates?

Would Obama appoint similar pals to high office in Washington? Would he bring similarly blinkered perceptions to the job of making policy? Would his critics receive the kind of savaging just dished out to Joe? If there’s any chance that the answer is yes, then the drubbing of Joe the Plumber is a warning to us all.

Joe the Plumber Meets the Wealth Spreader

October 16th, 2008 - 12:46 am

Obama’s colloquy with Joe the Plumber sure got my attention, and not just because it was the star feature of the final presidential debate. I’m worried that in the communal paradise promised by Obama, there’s going to be a horrendous shortage of plumbers.

After all, once Obama’s wealth-spreaders arrive to start carting away more of Joe’s hard-earned money, why should Joe bother with all that hard work? He won’t be doing it for himself, or his family, or his private dreams and ambitions. He’ll be toiling away on other people’s drains so that officials of an extremely large government can take away even more of his income than they do right now.

Of course, these public servants will have to be paid for their own hard work in deciding where and how to spread Joe’s money around — or whatever is left of Joe’s money, once all the government deciders and spreaders are done with it. If history and human nature are any guide, they will use their powers to foster all sorts of new entitlements and interest groups, on top of the old ones, which will mean even more people figuring out ways to spread around yet more of Joe’s money.

So, just try phoning Joe the plumber when your sink backs up, or a pipe springs a leak. He’ll have better uses for his time, like not working to make more money so the Obamocracy can take it away.  

Joe just might feel that his wealth has been spread around quite enough already. If Joe has been a prudent spender, current on his mortgage and faithfully paying his taxes, he’s already on the hook for the wealth-spreading done in the name of happy home-ownership by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. If Joe has been putting away money for a private pension (because with good reason he doesn’t trust the government’s Social Security plan to someday pay out to him the way he’s paying out for others right now), he’s just seen his pension account trashed by the market implosions triggered by Freddie and Fannie. You get the idea.

Obama’s breezy remarks to Joe are the voice of the Harvard Man talking down to the Plumber, and somewhere in there, it starts to sound like Orwell’s Big Brother talking to Winston: “It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too,” said Obama. “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Oh really? Who’s the “you” who’s going to do the spreading? It’s not Joe. If Joe was using his income himself to buy things he wants and can afford, he was already spreading the wealth around — and in the process helping to create real jobs, and real value, probably with a lot more knowledge and efficiency than the government ever could.

But in Obamaworld, the government can do a much better job than Joe himself of spreading Joe’s wealth. So who cares what Joe wants? Once the IRS gets done with him, other government officials must be empowered to decide who, exactly, qualifies as being “behind” Joe. Should that include people who had the same opportunities to make money as Joe the Plumber, but decided they’d rather do something they like more, but which pays less? Should Joe be required to subsidize third-string artists, middle-aged sociology students, unemployed bankers and beach bums? And someone has to decide exactly what it is that other people are supposed to need, and when, and how often, and what government hoops (held by paid government hoop-holders) they have to jump through to get it.

Joe himself may even discover that if he cuts back enough on his work and income, then instead of being required to fork out more taxes, he may qualify for all sorts of government refunds and incentives and handouts. These tend to come with all sorts of government lines and mistakes and complexities — hey, it’s government, the folks who create your IRS forms! So Joe, will be doing even less plumbing, and more paperwork.  

And what about people who through no fault of their own are born poor, and need opportunities to realize the American dream? Joe won’t be offering them jobs, or paying them for goods and services  – because he’ll be cutting back on business. After all, the wealth-spreaders have reduced his incentives to earn more money, and increased his incentives to spend time figuring out how to get a piece of the growing government dole. If there are fewer people behind Joe, that might just be because he will now be waiting in government lines next to them. And as tax rates go up, and more plumbers cut back on work, tax revenues will go down. The government lines will get even longer. Forget the American dream. Welcome to the nightmare.

Seems like a no-brainer. Except, who am I kidding? These days, it also seems that spin and slick presentation are all. Right now, the news networks are out there trolling for the real Joe the Plumber, who is going to be a hot item for at least the next 20 minutes — and if he breathes a word implying support of Obama, even by accident, it will be served up as the ultimate pitch for taking away, and spreading around, the wealth of an army of anonymous toilers in the drains and trenches and workshops and offices of the American economy.

I am bracing for the Katie Couric production in which we get the heavily edited version of Joe the Patriotic Plumber, thrilled to pay taxes so Obama can spread around the wealth. To be followed by some variation on Joe, doing Saturday Night Live, yucking it up with Tina Fey? It will be funny, at least until the election is over, and the toilet breaks, and the plumber can’t be bothered to come fix it, because he’d have to turn over most of his fee to the tax man. If Obama wins, then maybe along with the semi-nationalized banking system he will inherit, and the grand wealth-spreading he has in mind, he can set up a federal program to provide state-subsidized plumbing for all. He can use some of Joe’s dwindling wealth to help pay for it.

UPDATE: After I put up this post, someone sent me an interview that Family Security Matters just did with the Joe the Plumber, the real McCoy. After reading it, I’d guess Katie Couric won’t be asking him around for any interviews. But I’d absolutely recommend this one as worth reading. Here’s a link, and here’s a sample:

“Some people will say, “Well, I’m not gonna work for the stars or shoot for ‘em because if I do, I’m gonna be punished, or I’m gonna be subjugated to more taxes,” or for whatever they wanna do. So yeah, I would agree to that to a point. Some people will say, “Well you know, I still want this, I’m still gonna work hard and try to make that happen for myself” And then other people are gonna sit back – and then you look at mediocrity for the country, and I don’t like that idea.”

Gee, Thanks, OPEC

October 10th, 2008 - 10:54 am

If there’s been any upside to the global financial crisis, it’s that oil prices have plummeted more than 40% from their high in July. Crude fell this week to below $87 per barrel, down from more than $147. We may all be wondering if we’re about to spend years dining on cabbage and beans, but at least gas prices have been falling at the pump.

For most folks, that’s good news — cheaper oil lowers all sorts of costs. That frees up resources for something more productive than paying oil-rich countries to become vastly richer, and in the cases of assorted oil-swollen tyrannies, more dangerous to America’s democratic way of life.

But OPEC doesn’t see it that way. Currently expressing kindly concern for a world in trouble, OPEC leaders have scheduled a special meeting next month at which the aim seems likely to be a production cut, to try to keep oil prices up. By OPEC’s lights, this constitutes addressing “deteriorating economic conditions” in order to keep markets stable. According to Nigerian Energy Minister Odein Ajumogobia, as reported by Bloomberg, ’OPEC may need to ‘intervene’ to ‘balance the fundamentals of the market.’ “ 

Funny, but when oil prices were soaring earlier this year, hitting the tripwires for the current crisis, OPEC — whose top five oil producers are Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Venezuela — didn’t seem nearly as concerned about keeping the oil prices steady. Now they want to help. Gee, thanks, OPEC.

While everyone’s watching the markets and the election, the State Department – by now the Fannie Mae of foreign policy — is setting us up for the next crisis. That one is going to involve things possibly even worse than mortgage defaults, such as missiles and nuclear bombs.

At the core of that crisis, when things really start to crater, will be Iran. But in times to come, when analysts (working by candlelight in their underground shafts) get around to asking the ritual questions (you know them well: Who let this happen? Why didn’t we see it coming?) they will also point to the leading edge of the wreck. That would be the Bush administration policy of the past few years on North Korea. It is Kim Jong Il (dead or alive) who has been setting the pace for racketeering rogue regimes and wannabe nuclear extortionists everywhere. If — over the objections of the U.S., Europe, Japan and anyone else who wants to play — he can counterfeit U.S. currency, wheel and deal in missiles and nuclear technology, make and test nuclear bombs, offer a piece of the action to Syria and Iran, and get paid by America for his pains, well then, who can’t?

Here’s how Nuclear Extortion 101 works. North Korea tests some missiles, revs up its Yongbyon reactor, and America & friends pay Kim to stop. He pockets the bribe, reneges on the deal, and repeats the threat. We pay, he pockets… and here we go again: 

Word is leaking out of Washington that Condoleezza Rice is on the verge of removing North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, with an announcement imminent.

Why? It’s not because North Korea has gone out the terror business. If anything, Pyongyang –with considerable success — appears to be quite busy at the moment terrorizing the U.S. State Department. North Korea has learned that Rice and her special envoy, Chris Hill, baseball cap in hand, will do just about anything (pay, wait, fudge, dissemble, cover up, roll over, beg) to keep alive the pretense of a nuclear disarmament deal which from the start was about as solid as today’s mortgage derivatives market.

North Korea wants off the terror list. The State Department, having showered Kim with gifts since mid-2007, finally balked, for the very good reason that North Korea refuses to agree to any system that might let inspectors actually verify what’s going on with its nuclear ventures (let alone take away the bombs). So North Korea is now threatening to re-start its Yongbyon reactor, and letting out rumbles about preparations to test another nuclear weapon. This is a way of telling the United States to jump. And if Rice responds to this blackmail by taking North Korea off the terror list, what she and Hill and President Bush (is he still there?) will really be saying to Pyongyang is: How high?

Fox News is reporting that in preparing to caper to North Korea’s tune, State has cut its own verification bureau out of the loop. Looks like U.S. policy has morphed from “trust, but verify” to “trust, and pay the blackmail.”

The same otherwise worthy Fox report includes an interesting sentence, culled from the conventional wisdom of the diplomatic circuit: “Removing North Korea from the terror list would be a major step in mending relations between the reclusive communist nation and the United States, though it would also come amid concerns about North Korea’s weapons program.”

Aha… so it’s the terror list that’s caused all that friction between North Korea and the U.S.? Hey, if all we have to do to be safe from North Korea is take them off the terror list, a whole industry awaits. Make the whole world safe. Take everyone off the terror list. But why stop there? Just scrap the entire idea of a terror list.

I do have a suggestion for what we might create in its place. To play its part in the growing global market in nuclear extortion that the Condi-and-Chris legacy is even now engendering, America is going to have to do a lot of groveling, and appropriate a lot of tax money – for free food, free fuel (nuclear or otherwise) and other doo-dads — to pay off rogue regimes that are already lining up to cash in on this bonanza.

So how about State creating a public list of terror-loving governments to which America sends pay-offs in hope of stopping their nuclear weapons programs. Call it the Nuclear Extortion Racket List. That way, instead of Chris Hill cutting secret deals while back-slapping North Koreans in Berlin and touring Yongbyon, there could at least be some better planning, and accountability. There could be clear budgets assigned to how much in pay-offs  — whether in cash, kind or diplomatic concessions — should go to North Korea, to Iran, to Syria…or, well, imagine the possibilities.

Heck, the way U.S. policy is going, this has all the makings of a broad and deep emerging market. A sort of Subprime for Rogue States.

Of course, the startup costs for a nuclear weapons program are considerable. So maybe the World Bank and the UN Development Program could be recruited to figure out how to issue shares in the proposed nuclear extortion rackets of developing economies. We could have Cuba’s initial public offering, Khartoum extortion bonds. And there’s no reason for terrorist groups to be excluded from the action just because they happen to be part of the private sector. There is scope here for Al-Qaeda-Hezbollah extortion-racket swaps. And no reason that the American taxpayer should be cut out of this, if he wants to speculate on the chance of getting back some of his own money.

Welcome to the 21st century, State Department style. Congratulations, Chris and Condi. How long before we can sit at our computers and trade Nuclear Extortion Racket derivatives? .. at least until the lights go out.