Morning Must Reads — Caught in a communications rip tide

New York Times — U.S. Had Early Signals of a Terror Plot, Officials Say


On Tuesday, President Obama came forward a second time to undo the damage his team had done in talking to the American people about the latest terrorist attack.

He said: “a systemic failure has occurred.” Well, we all knew that once the jihadi’s pants exploded.

Obama also emphasized that he considered the failure “totally unacceptable.” If you feel the need to go on record as being opposed to letting terrorists with bombs get on planes, you’re having a bad PR week.

It was all made more weird by the fact that Obama did not allow live TV coverage of his statement, but released an audio file of his remarks to reporters and then later, weirdly, allowed video of the statement to be released.

Obama was withering in his critique of the nation’s security system, but unlike, say, global warming, this is not something on which talk will suffice. Having been backed into declaring a “catastrophic breach” of the security apparatus for which he is responsible, the president must now plug the gap.

Since he has given so much attention this year to initiatives that carried risk for the sake of his ideals – releasing CIA interrogation techniques, pushing to close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, etc. – and now muffing the public response to another in a string of attacks by Islamists, the president finds himself losing public confidence on national security.

Just as the devolving situation in Afghanistan eventually pushed Obama into another troop surge there, domestic terrorism may push Obama to crack down domestically in ways that his predecessor might never have imagined.

Writers Peter Baker and Carl Hulse look at how we got here:

“Two officials said the government had intelligence from Yemen before Friday that leaders of a branch of al Qaeda there were talking about “a Nigerian” being prepared for a terrorist attack…. The government also had more information about where Mr. Abdulmutallab had been and what some of his plans were.

Some of the information was partial or incomplete, and it was not obvious that it was connected, the official said, but in retrospect it now appears clear that had it all been examined together it would have pointed to the pending attack. The official said the administration was ‘increasingly confident’ that Al Qaeda had a role in the attack, as the group’s Yemeni branch has publicly claimed.”


Los Angeles Times — Yemen's ties to Al Qaeda complicate Guantanamo plans

Writer David Savage provides one of the most useful and concise looks at how Yemen has become a hotbed for terrorism, including the training of the underwear bomber, and how the Obama administration views the devolving situation there through the lens of closing Guantanamo Bay.

“In 2007, Saeed Ali Shahri, a Saudi national, was sent home from Guantanamo. He now is second in command to militant leader Naser Abdel-Karim Wahishi, a Yemeni with ties to Osama bin Laden. According to a U.S. counter-terrorism official, Shahri and another former detainee, Mohammed al Harbi, are members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

This year, the Obama administration conducted a case-by-case review of the Guantanamo detainees and decided that a handful of Yemenis could be safely released.

A White House official on Tuesday stressed the need to close Guantanamo, but denied that more of the Yemenis were due to be released.”


Maureen Dowd — As the Nation’s Pulse Races, Obama Can’t Seem to Find His

Dowd’s message to President Obama: Snap out of it!

In a withering recap of the way the president has responded to the underwear bomber, Dowd finds Obama more detached than cool:

“If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.”


<strong>Wall Street Journal — Rich Cling to Life to Beat Tax Man


Writer Laura Saunders looks at the morbid intersection between tax policy and end-of-life care as the estate tax, which takes a big bite out of the estates of some 5,500 wealthy dead people every year, is set to expire on Friday.

The gap in the tax is a result of Congress being in such a swivet over health care that regular business lapsed.

Since the gap may be closed once Congress gets back to work, do-not-resuscitate orders have been rescinded to the end of the year and the tax consequences of euthanasia have been considered.

“To make it easier on their heirs, some clients are putting provisions into their health-care proxies allowing whoever makes end-of-life medical decisions to consider changes in estate-tax law. ‘We have done this at least a dozen times, and have gotten more calls recently,’ says Andrew Katzenstein, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP in Los Angeles.

Of course, plenty of taxpayers themselves are eager to live to see the new year. One wealthy, terminally ill real-estate entrepreneur has told his doctors he is determined to live until the law changes.

‘Whenever he wakes up,’ says his lawyer, ‘He says: 'What day is it? Is it Jan. 1 yet?’’”


Shelby Steele — Obama and Our Post-Modern Race Problem


Steele, who is among the most gifted dissectors of American culture, has written what might argue to be the definitive Obama piece of 2009.

Steele argues that American attitudes about race, which are at the core of Obama’s success, have also left the president ill-equipped to do his job.

It’s very heady stuff.

The fact that Steele, who is black, is the first notable writer to contrast the fall of Tiger Woods to the struggles of Barack Obama further illustrates his point about the intentional blindness racial guilt has caused in America.

“[Obama] he has come forward in American politics by emptying himself of strong convictions, by rejecting principled stands as “ideological,” and by promising to deliver us from the “tired” culture-war debates of the past. He aspires to be “post-ideological,” “post-racial” and “post-partisan,” which is to say that he defines himself by a series of “nots”—thus implying that being nothing is better than being something. He tries to make a politics out of emptiness itself.

But then Mr. Obama always knew that his greatest appeal was not as a leader but as a cultural symbol. He always wore the bargainer's mask—winning the loyalty and gratitude of whites by flattering them with his racial trust: I will presume that you are not a racist if you will not hold my race against me. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and yes, Tiger Woods have all been superb bargainers, eliciting almost reverential support among whites for all that they were not—not angry or militant, not political, not using their moral authority as blacks to exact a wage from white guilt. “

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