Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 24, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Matt in Portland, on Jennifer Rubin:

One of the problems with creating socialized medicine in America is that it will cut off the much needed medical care that people from countries with socialized medicine come here to receive. Seattle Hospitals, for example, have no shortage of Canadian patients who are getting the knee replacements that they needed, but couldn’t get under their own socialized medical system. They have to travel hundreds of miles and pay out of pocket here to receive the medical care which anonymous bureaucrats, acting on committees, have decided they don’t need. They also have to cross the border to get something as simple as physical therapy, which again, government bureaucrats say they don’t need. Where will these people go for their necessary healthcare if we adapt a similarly inflexible and bureaucratic healthcare system.

There’s an economic angle to this as well. If we move to a Canadian style system, we lose healthcare as an “export” income generator. Right now, citizens of countries with socialized medicine are willing to pay American individuals and corporations out of pocket for their healthcare. That generates money for the American economy.

Matt in Portland, on Jennifer Rubin:

One of the problems with creating socialized medicine in America is that it will cut off the much needed medical care that people from countries with socialized medicine come here to receive. Seattle Hospitals, for example, have no shortage of Canadian patients who are getting the knee replacements that they needed, but couldn’t get under their own socialized medical system. They have to travel hundreds of miles and pay out of pocket here to receive the medical care which anonymous bureaucrats, acting on committees, have decided they don’t need. They also have to cross the border to get something as simple as physical therapy, which again, government bureaucrats say they don’t need. Where will these people go for their necessary healthcare if we adapt a similarly inflexible and bureaucratic healthcare system.

There’s an economic angle to this as well. If we move to a Canadian style system, we lose healthcare as an “export” income generator. Right now, citizens of countries with socialized medicine are willing to pay American individuals and corporations out of pocket for their healthcare. That generates money for the American economy.

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No is not Enough when You are in a Primary

Pat Toomey isn’t quite giving up the job of bird-dogging Arlen Specter. He put out a statement:

When Senator Specter does a flip flop, it’s worth checking the fine print.  On the senate floor today he said:  “I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.”

But Specter didn’t exactly say that. Yes, he left a crack open for EFCA, but it is a very conditional crack:

The problems of the recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employees Free Choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses. If efforts are unsuccessful to give Labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the NLRA, then I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.

In other words, the economy has to get better, other measures have to be implemented, that would fail to give unions “sufficient bargaining power,” in order for him to reconsider the EFCA. It’s not exactly an airtight “buzz off” but he is basically telling Big Labor not to count on him — for a good long time.

What we do know from this scuffle, however, is that Toomey isn’t giving up his primary race options quite yet.

Pat Toomey isn’t quite giving up the job of bird-dogging Arlen Specter. He put out a statement:

When Senator Specter does a flip flop, it’s worth checking the fine print.  On the senate floor today he said:  “I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.”

But Specter didn’t exactly say that. Yes, he left a crack open for EFCA, but it is a very conditional crack:

The problems of the recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employees Free Choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses. If efforts are unsuccessful to give Labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the NLRA, then I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.

In other words, the economy has to get better, other measures have to be implemented, that would fail to give unions “sufficient bargaining power,” in order for him to reconsider the EFCA. It’s not exactly an airtight “buzz off” but he is basically telling Big Labor not to count on him — for a good long time.

What we do know from this scuffle, however, is that Toomey isn’t giving up his primary race options quite yet.

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It’s All Coming Together, Don’t You See?

Some classic Andrew Sullivan on Dick Cheney:

it is beginning to dawn on him that he is in very serious trouble – legally, politically, historically. As the full details of his obsession with the torture program emerge, and as the gruesome nature of the actual torture becomes clearer, he knows he will go down in history as a war criminal, defined for all time as the man who took America and the West to the dark side with no easy way back. He’s trying to prevent that with the usual bluff and bravado. But even Bush isn’t buying all of it any longer.

So now Sullivan has Bush colluding with him in his Cheney paranoia? This may be my favorite development in the psychedelic saga of the Beagle Blogger. You know, maybe John McCain secretly shares Andrew’s suspicions about Trig Palin. Sure, that’s it. He was trying to let Andrew know through the funny faces he made in the last debate. And, come to think of it, isn’t it obvious that Gen. Petraeus now agrees with Sullivan that the Iraq War was all about Israel? And can it be denied that Martin Peretz now sees that the Israel Lobby was behind Chas Freemans’s withdrawal? And . . .

Some classic Andrew Sullivan on Dick Cheney:

it is beginning to dawn on him that he is in very serious trouble – legally, politically, historically. As the full details of his obsession with the torture program emerge, and as the gruesome nature of the actual torture becomes clearer, he knows he will go down in history as a war criminal, defined for all time as the man who took America and the West to the dark side with no easy way back. He’s trying to prevent that with the usual bluff and bravado. But even Bush isn’t buying all of it any longer.

So now Sullivan has Bush colluding with him in his Cheney paranoia? This may be my favorite development in the psychedelic saga of the Beagle Blogger. You know, maybe John McCain secretly shares Andrew’s suspicions about Trig Palin. Sure, that’s it. He was trying to let Andrew know through the funny faces he made in the last debate. And, come to think of it, isn’t it obvious that Gen. Petraeus now agrees with Sullivan that the Iraq War was all about Israel? And can it be denied that Martin Peretz now sees that the Israel Lobby was behind Chas Freemans’s withdrawal? And . . .

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Whoa!

Sen. Arlen Specter just took to the floor of the Senate to announce he will oppose cloture on card check. Even with the addition of Al Franken, Specter’s vote would be needed to shut down a filibuster. To say this is a huge and unexpected blow to Big Labor is to understate the enormity of the embarrassment. They spent, by some calculations, close to a billion dollars in local, state, and federal races with card check as their Number One priority. They did not get their money’s worth.

Sen. Arlen Specter just took to the floor of the Senate to announce he will oppose cloture on card check. Even with the addition of Al Franken, Specter’s vote would be needed to shut down a filibuster. To say this is a huge and unexpected blow to Big Labor is to understate the enormity of the embarrassment. They spent, by some calculations, close to a billion dollars in local, state, and federal races with card check as their Number One priority. They did not get their money’s worth.

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Re: They Want to Do What?

Deciding which is worse — mandatory interest arbitration or loss of the secret ballot — is a tough call. Hans Von Spakovsky is out with a new must-read analysis of card check. The  effort to do away with secret ballots is defended by claims that the current process is too time-consuming and well as rigged against unions. Businesses, with their fancy lawyers and sneaky tactics, don’t give unions a chance, say the card check proponents. But that simply isn’t true:

The median time for conducting elections in 2007 was only 39 days from the filing of the peti­tion—little more than one month. The NLRB conducted 1,905 “conclusive representation elec­tions” in cases closed in fiscal 2007, and unions won 55.7 percent of those elections.

What would we get in place of the time-honored secret ballot anyway? A whole lot of intimidation and manipulation. This conclusion doesn’t come only from businesses or conservative pundits, but from a former union organizer:

A former union organizer for UNITE HERE, a union that represents employees in the textile, lodging, food-service, and manufacturing indus­tries, testified in 2007 about the “disgraceful prac­tices” that unions use to obtain card checks from employees. Those manipulative tactics included:

• A “blitz” in which “teams of two or more orga­nizers” go to the homes of employees, most of whom have no idea there is a union campaign underway, and “use the element of surprise to get ‘into the door.'” Usually, when someone signed a card, “it had nothing to do with whether a worker was satisfied with the job or felt they were treated fairly by his or her boss…. [M]ost often it was the skill of the orga­nizer to create issues from information the orga­nizer had extracted from the worker during the ‘probe’ state of the house call.”

• Avoiding showing employees the union con­tract or talking about “topics such as dues increases, strike histories, etc.”

• Manipulating the size of the group of workers they were supposedly organizing “after the drive was finished” if required to reduce the number of cards needed to obtain a majority “regardless of [the employees’] level of union support.”

    Understandably, unions are alarmed by their dwindling numbers (35% in the mid-1950’s to just over 8% today). But numbers have declined in non-public employment in many industrialized countries, especially among younger workers. Perhaps it is not the secret ballot that accounts for the decline in unionization. Perhaps, American workers just don’t like unions as much as they used to. But if card check is enacted, their preferences won’t matter much.

    Deciding which is worse — mandatory interest arbitration or loss of the secret ballot — is a tough call. Hans Von Spakovsky is out with a new must-read analysis of card check. The  effort to do away with secret ballots is defended by claims that the current process is too time-consuming and well as rigged against unions. Businesses, with their fancy lawyers and sneaky tactics, don’t give unions a chance, say the card check proponents. But that simply isn’t true:

    The median time for conducting elections in 2007 was only 39 days from the filing of the peti­tion—little more than one month. The NLRB conducted 1,905 “conclusive representation elec­tions” in cases closed in fiscal 2007, and unions won 55.7 percent of those elections.

    What would we get in place of the time-honored secret ballot anyway? A whole lot of intimidation and manipulation. This conclusion doesn’t come only from businesses or conservative pundits, but from a former union organizer:

    A former union organizer for UNITE HERE, a union that represents employees in the textile, lodging, food-service, and manufacturing indus­tries, testified in 2007 about the “disgraceful prac­tices” that unions use to obtain card checks from employees. Those manipulative tactics included:

    • A “blitz” in which “teams of two or more orga­nizers” go to the homes of employees, most of whom have no idea there is a union campaign underway, and “use the element of surprise to get ‘into the door.'” Usually, when someone signed a card, “it had nothing to do with whether a worker was satisfied with the job or felt they were treated fairly by his or her boss…. [M]ost often it was the skill of the orga­nizer to create issues from information the orga­nizer had extracted from the worker during the ‘probe’ state of the house call.”

    • Avoiding showing employees the union con­tract or talking about “topics such as dues increases, strike histories, etc.”

    • Manipulating the size of the group of workers they were supposedly organizing “after the drive was finished” if required to reduce the number of cards needed to obtain a majority “regardless of [the employees’] level of union support.”

      Understandably, unions are alarmed by their dwindling numbers (35% in the mid-1950’s to just over 8% today). But numbers have declined in non-public employment in many industrialized countries, especially among younger workers. Perhaps it is not the secret ballot that accounts for the decline in unionization. Perhaps, American workers just don’t like unions as much as they used to. But if card check is enacted, their preferences won’t matter much.

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      Obama’s Virtual Reality

      Anne Applebaum is onto something with her thoughts on reset diplomacy:

      Sooner or later, however, Barack Obama will also have to make hard decisions about regimes that oppose U.S. policy for reasons deeper than dislike of George W. Bush.

      [. . .]

      I do realize that these are early days. The traditional, deadly struggle between the State Department and the National Security Council for influence is only just getting underway, and the president has other things on his mind. But the gift of a “reset button,” however translated, was a not a good beginning. If this administration thinks it can transform America’s relationships with Russia or anyone else with the flick of a switch and a change of rhetoric, it is living in a virtual reality, not a real one.

      There’s a lot of virtual reality with this bunch. Daily stock market plunges don’t constitute real money losses, just opinion readings. Cooler temperatures aren’t signs of cooler climates, just noise in the system. Success in Iraq is an epiphenomenal condition with no connection to a supposedly unwinnable war. This pervasive detachment from reality goes a long way in explaining the administration’s ability to smile, joke, and make small talk while things nosedive.

      Anne Applebaum is onto something with her thoughts on reset diplomacy:

      Sooner or later, however, Barack Obama will also have to make hard decisions about regimes that oppose U.S. policy for reasons deeper than dislike of George W. Bush.

      [. . .]

      I do realize that these are early days. The traditional, deadly struggle between the State Department and the National Security Council for influence is only just getting underway, and the president has other things on his mind. But the gift of a “reset button,” however translated, was a not a good beginning. If this administration thinks it can transform America’s relationships with Russia or anyone else with the flick of a switch and a change of rhetoric, it is living in a virtual reality, not a real one.

      There’s a lot of virtual reality with this bunch. Daily stock market plunges don’t constitute real money losses, just opinion readings. Cooler temperatures aren’t signs of cooler climates, just noise in the system. Success in Iraq is an epiphenomenal condition with no connection to a supposedly unwinnable war. This pervasive detachment from reality goes a long way in explaining the administration’s ability to smile, joke, and make small talk while things nosedive.

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      Be Careful What You Wish For

      The administration is insistent on pursuing health-care “reform” this year. But before we go uprooting what’s in place perhaps we should take note of what we have. Scott Atlas, M.D. a Hoover Institute fellow, puts out ten helpful facts here. Each is worth reading and references some rather stunning statistics, but the summary is as follows:

      Fact No. 1:  Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers.
      Fact No. 2:  Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians.
      Fact No. 3:  Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed  countries.
      Fact No. 4:  Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians
      Fact No. 5:  Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians.
      Fact No. 6:  Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.K.
      Fact No. 7:  People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed.

      Fact No. 8:  Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians.
      Fact No. 9:  Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K.
      Fact No. 10:  Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations.

      On Fact No. 7,  just how dissatisfied are other countries with their health care systems? “More than 70 percent of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British adults say their health system needs either “fundamental change” or “complete rebuilding.” And those waiting times (Fact. No. 6):

      Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long – sometimes more than a year – to see a specialist, to have elective surgery like hip replacements or to get radiation treatment for cancer.  All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada.  In England, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.

      There is something to be said for not decimating our system — which is, by the way, better liked by our fellow citizens (51.3%) than that of other industrialized countries. But I’m sure the Obama team has it all figured out.

      The administration is insistent on pursuing health-care “reform” this year. But before we go uprooting what’s in place perhaps we should take note of what we have. Scott Atlas, M.D. a Hoover Institute fellow, puts out ten helpful facts here. Each is worth reading and references some rather stunning statistics, but the summary is as follows:

      Fact No. 1:  Americans have better survival rates than Europeans for common cancers.
      Fact No. 2:  Americans have lower cancer mortality rates than Canadians.
      Fact No. 3:  Americans have better access to treatment for chronic diseases than patients in other developed  countries.
      Fact No. 4:  Americans have better access to preventive cancer screening than Canadians
      Fact No. 5:  Lower income Americans are in better health than comparable Canadians.
      Fact No. 6:  Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.K.
      Fact No. 7:  People in countries with more government control of health care are highly dissatisfied and believe reform is needed.

      Fact No. 8:  Americans are more satisfied with the care they receive than Canadians.
      Fact No. 9:  Americans have much better access to important new technologies like medical imaging than patients in Canada or the U.K.
      Fact No. 10:  Americans are responsible for the vast majority of all health care innovations.

      On Fact No. 7,  just how dissatisfied are other countries with their health care systems? “More than 70 percent of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British adults say their health system needs either “fundamental change” or “complete rebuilding.” And those waiting times (Fact. No. 6):

      Canadian and British patients wait about twice as long – sometimes more than a year – to see a specialist, to have elective surgery like hip replacements or to get radiation treatment for cancer.  All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada.  In England, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.

      There is something to be said for not decimating our system — which is, by the way, better liked by our fellow citizens (51.3%) than that of other industrialized countries. But I’m sure the Obama team has it all figured out.

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      They Want to Do What?

      Richard Epstein explains what mandatory arbitration means in the context of the Employee Free Choice Act:

      An outpost of the Labor Department, the mediation service, will set the terms of all new labor contracts in the United States. It will do so under provisions that are undefined under the act. The FMCS will have sole authority to pick the arbitration panel, which will have the power to draft, on its own initiative, detailed contract provisions, tables and appendices that can run to more than 1,000 pages. The arbitrators’ decision will be final: The EFCA allows neither employers nor unions to appeal arbitrators’ decisions to a neutral judicial body.

      In a lengthy research paper, Epstein (here, beginning at page 98) details the multiple Constitutional issues raised by the mandatory arbitration portion of the EFCA, including improper delegation of Congressional powers, lack of judicial review, due process, and takings concerns. These legal issues, to one degree or another, all focus on whether government appointed arbitrators, unchecked by any legal standard or judicial review, can set wages, benefits, and working conditions for thousands of workplaces which are snared in card check organizing. If it sounds unprecedented or like a radical departure from seventy years of federal labor law, it is.

      But this statist approach is entirely consistent with the Obama agenda. As Linda pointed out, the government is going to seize “failing” companies and shred contracts. Tim Geithner is going to tell financial institutions how to compensate their employees. The EPA, or some new bureaucracy, is going to tell every business how much carbon it can emit. Government “experts” are already at work deciding which medical procedures are the “right” ones, a preliminary step to eliminating reimbursement for the “wrong” ones. So mandatory labor arbitration is simply par for the course.

      It remains to be seen whether Congress and the American people have a stomach for all this. But make no mistake: the Obama administration likes big government very, very much.

      Richard Epstein explains what mandatory arbitration means in the context of the Employee Free Choice Act:

      An outpost of the Labor Department, the mediation service, will set the terms of all new labor contracts in the United States. It will do so under provisions that are undefined under the act. The FMCS will have sole authority to pick the arbitration panel, which will have the power to draft, on its own initiative, detailed contract provisions, tables and appendices that can run to more than 1,000 pages. The arbitrators’ decision will be final: The EFCA allows neither employers nor unions to appeal arbitrators’ decisions to a neutral judicial body.

      In a lengthy research paper, Epstein (here, beginning at page 98) details the multiple Constitutional issues raised by the mandatory arbitration portion of the EFCA, including improper delegation of Congressional powers, lack of judicial review, due process, and takings concerns. These legal issues, to one degree or another, all focus on whether government appointed arbitrators, unchecked by any legal standard or judicial review, can set wages, benefits, and working conditions for thousands of workplaces which are snared in card check organizing. If it sounds unprecedented or like a radical departure from seventy years of federal labor law, it is.

      But this statist approach is entirely consistent with the Obama agenda. As Linda pointed out, the government is going to seize “failing” companies and shred contracts. Tim Geithner is going to tell financial institutions how to compensate their employees. The EPA, or some new bureaucracy, is going to tell every business how much carbon it can emit. Government “experts” are already at work deciding which medical procedures are the “right” ones, a preliminary step to eliminating reimbursement for the “wrong” ones. So mandatory labor arbitration is simply par for the course.

      It remains to be seen whether Congress and the American people have a stomach for all this. But make no mistake: the Obama administration likes big government very, very much.

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      Path to Tyranny

      The Obama administration now wants unfettered power to seize assets, abrogate contracts, and take over management of private corporations if it believes their failure would cause systemic damage to the economy.  This is how Robert Gibbs justified it this morning:

      “We need resolution authority to go in and be able to change contracts, be able to change the business model, unwind what doesn’t work,” Gibbs said on CNN in one of several morning television interviews aimed at promoting the administration proposal. ” . . . This is the exact type of authority that will allow us to deal with the problems in AIG . . . that will address the systemic risk without having to put [a failing firm] in bankruptcy.”

      On its face, this is an assault on free enterprise.  We’re no longer talking about companies coming hat-in-hand to the government begging for a bailout and agreeing to let the government tell them what to do. The Obama administration is now seeking the go-ahead to make these decisions on its own.  This is truly scary — worse than anything we’ve seen out of this crew so far.

      These are the same people who believe that no threat to national security justifies warrant-less searches or electronic eavesdropping, not even on non-citizens who are outside the U.S.  But they are quite willing to bypass the courts in order to seize companies and rewrite contracts.  We already have an effective system through our bankruptcy laws to re-negotiate contracts (a system many Democrats seem to believe is too onerous to subject union autoworkers to). Beware the future if we give up on the notion that contracts are sacrosanct, subject to change only by the agreement of the parties, or through a carefully conducted bankruptcy procedure in which all parties who have a stake in the outcome have the chance to be heard. This is the path to economic ruin and tyranny.

      The Obama administration now wants unfettered power to seize assets, abrogate contracts, and take over management of private corporations if it believes their failure would cause systemic damage to the economy.  This is how Robert Gibbs justified it this morning:

      “We need resolution authority to go in and be able to change contracts, be able to change the business model, unwind what doesn’t work,” Gibbs said on CNN in one of several morning television interviews aimed at promoting the administration proposal. ” . . . This is the exact type of authority that will allow us to deal with the problems in AIG . . . that will address the systemic risk without having to put [a failing firm] in bankruptcy.”

      On its face, this is an assault on free enterprise.  We’re no longer talking about companies coming hat-in-hand to the government begging for a bailout and agreeing to let the government tell them what to do. The Obama administration is now seeking the go-ahead to make these decisions on its own.  This is truly scary — worse than anything we’ve seen out of this crew so far.

      These are the same people who believe that no threat to national security justifies warrant-less searches or electronic eavesdropping, not even on non-citizens who are outside the U.S.  But they are quite willing to bypass the courts in order to seize companies and rewrite contracts.  We already have an effective system through our bankruptcy laws to re-negotiate contracts (a system many Democrats seem to believe is too onerous to subject union autoworkers to). Beware the future if we give up on the notion that contracts are sacrosanct, subject to change only by the agreement of the parties, or through a carefully conducted bankruptcy procedure in which all parties who have a stake in the outcome have the chance to be heard. This is the path to economic ruin and tyranny.

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      We Really Did Get a Woman President

      Like just about every other Beltway pundit Richard Cohen is not delighted with what he’s seen of the Pelosi Presidency. Yes, that’s right. She seems to be running the show two-thirds of the time in the First 100 Days. While Obama was cracking unfunny jokes with Jay Leno, what was Madame President up to?

      Using the tax code to exact punishment for political reasons is both bad policy and bad law — why not put gun-shop owners and cigarette manufacturers in the 100 percent bracket? — but it hurtled through Pelosi’s branch of the government with nary a hearing and few discouraging words, and only the mildest suggestion from the president that the bill was really a dumb idea.

      Likewise, the stimulus pork-a-thon was largely her doing, as was the $410 billion earmark-stuffed omnibus spending bill. Cohen frets that Republicans are using Pelosi’s excesses to seize the high ground and that Obama’s poll numbers are slipping.

      But it’s not like we don’t have an actual president, right? He could have sent up his own stimulus plan, threatened to veto the omnibus spending bill and declared that the House can rant all it likes but in America we don’t go after citizens to grab what the Congress itself has secured by law. That would be leadership — bold, bipartisan and mature.

      So why hasn’t he done any of that? You got me. Maybe he actually likes Pelosi’s radicalism and is hiding behind her skirts. Maybe he doesn’t have the force of will or the legislative acumen to head her off. Or maybe he simply prefers to campaign and hold summits, leaving the governing to others. But the result is a far-left agenda and a nice juicy target for his opponents to aim at. Oh — and mounds and mounds of debt.

      Like just about every other Beltway pundit Richard Cohen is not delighted with what he’s seen of the Pelosi Presidency. Yes, that’s right. She seems to be running the show two-thirds of the time in the First 100 Days. While Obama was cracking unfunny jokes with Jay Leno, what was Madame President up to?

      Using the tax code to exact punishment for political reasons is both bad policy and bad law — why not put gun-shop owners and cigarette manufacturers in the 100 percent bracket? — but it hurtled through Pelosi’s branch of the government with nary a hearing and few discouraging words, and only the mildest suggestion from the president that the bill was really a dumb idea.

      Likewise, the stimulus pork-a-thon was largely her doing, as was the $410 billion earmark-stuffed omnibus spending bill. Cohen frets that Republicans are using Pelosi’s excesses to seize the high ground and that Obama’s poll numbers are slipping.

      But it’s not like we don’t have an actual president, right? He could have sent up his own stimulus plan, threatened to veto the omnibus spending bill and declared that the House can rant all it likes but in America we don’t go after citizens to grab what the Congress itself has secured by law. That would be leadership — bold, bipartisan and mature.

      So why hasn’t he done any of that? You got me. Maybe he actually likes Pelosi’s radicalism and is hiding behind her skirts. Maybe he doesn’t have the force of will or the legislative acumen to head her off. Or maybe he simply prefers to campaign and hold summits, leaving the governing to others. But the result is a far-left agenda and a nice juicy target for his opponents to aim at. Oh — and mounds and mounds of debt.

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      The Conversion Issue

      While most eyes today will be on Israel’s Labor Party convention and its scheduled vote on joining Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition, another important political story is barely getting attention. That is, the refusal of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) to sign a coalition deal, because of differences with Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu over the issue of conversion. Lieberman is known around the world mostly for his views on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a representative of the very large community of Russian immigrants to Israel he also holds strong views on church-state relations — views that often contradict those of Netanyahu’s other “natural” political partners, the religious-right parties. Thus, we get this new crisis:

      In coalition talks with the Likud, Lieberman’s party was able to extract concessions on reforms in the conversion process. Yet these clauses in the agreement were deemed unacceptable by the spiritual head of UTJ, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, thus leading to an impasse in coalition talks with the Likud.

      Lieberman’s achievement seems technical in nature. It will authorize rabbis of municipalities to oversee conversions, thus diminishing the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over all conversions. The ultra-Orthodox control the chief rabbinate, but in different parts of the country some moderate rabbis are more attuned to the needs of local communities, among them Russian immigrants with whom questions of conversion can be very sensitive.

      A senior rabbinic figure and critic of the conversion reforms who is close to Elyashiv told The Jerusalem Post last week that past experiences have shown that allowing city rabbis to perform
      conversions tends to lead to bribery. “A local rabbi is liable to be exposed to all sorts of economic pressures from residents of his town,” said the source.

      Of course, the fractures within the ultra-Orthodox camp don’t help to clarify matters. Some of Netanyahu’s aides believe that the new crisis is more a sign of struggle between the two rival camps comprising this party. Earlier in the process, there were signs that UTJ would be ready to make some compromises in order to join the coalition. But on the conversion issue, there’s very little chance that the party will change its position, and efforts are now being made to convince Lieberman to show some flexibility, and to agree to amend the already-signed agreement he has with Likud.

      Where does all this lead?

      Politically speaking, it means Netanyahu desperately needs Labor to vote “yes” and join him. Without Labor, and without a UTJ compromise, he will not have a majority. The marriage between Israel Beiteinu and the religious parties was problematic to begin with. Even if a compromise in this case can be construed, future religion wars will surely make the narrow coalition even more fragile than it is.

      Culturally speaking, it means that while ultra-Orthodox parties gain votes (and voters, by way of higher birth-rate), their actual ability to control Israel’s religious life is weakening. Haredi power was always built on political maneuvering as well as on the relative apathy of many of Israel’s more secular citizens. The emergence of parties for whom challenging ultra-Orthodox power is an important agenda item — from Shinui almost a decade ago, to Lieberman today — indicates that apathy is still alive.

      While most eyes today will be on Israel’s Labor Party convention and its scheduled vote on joining Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition, another important political story is barely getting attention. That is, the refusal of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) to sign a coalition deal, because of differences with Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu over the issue of conversion. Lieberman is known around the world mostly for his views on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a representative of the very large community of Russian immigrants to Israel he also holds strong views on church-state relations — views that often contradict those of Netanyahu’s other “natural” political partners, the religious-right parties. Thus, we get this new crisis:

      In coalition talks with the Likud, Lieberman’s party was able to extract concessions on reforms in the conversion process. Yet these clauses in the agreement were deemed unacceptable by the spiritual head of UTJ, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, thus leading to an impasse in coalition talks with the Likud.

      Lieberman’s achievement seems technical in nature. It will authorize rabbis of municipalities to oversee conversions, thus diminishing the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over all conversions. The ultra-Orthodox control the chief rabbinate, but in different parts of the country some moderate rabbis are more attuned to the needs of local communities, among them Russian immigrants with whom questions of conversion can be very sensitive.

      A senior rabbinic figure and critic of the conversion reforms who is close to Elyashiv told The Jerusalem Post last week that past experiences have shown that allowing city rabbis to perform
      conversions tends to lead to bribery. “A local rabbi is liable to be exposed to all sorts of economic pressures from residents of his town,” said the source.

      Of course, the fractures within the ultra-Orthodox camp don’t help to clarify matters. Some of Netanyahu’s aides believe that the new crisis is more a sign of struggle between the two rival camps comprising this party. Earlier in the process, there were signs that UTJ would be ready to make some compromises in order to join the coalition. But on the conversion issue, there’s very little chance that the party will change its position, and efforts are now being made to convince Lieberman to show some flexibility, and to agree to amend the already-signed agreement he has with Likud.

      Where does all this lead?

      Politically speaking, it means Netanyahu desperately needs Labor to vote “yes” and join him. Without Labor, and without a UTJ compromise, he will not have a majority. The marriage between Israel Beiteinu and the religious parties was problematic to begin with. Even if a compromise in this case can be construed, future religion wars will surely make the narrow coalition even more fragile than it is.

      Culturally speaking, it means that while ultra-Orthodox parties gain votes (and voters, by way of higher birth-rate), their actual ability to control Israel’s religious life is weakening. Haredi power was always built on political maneuvering as well as on the relative apathy of many of Israel’s more secular citizens. The emergence of parties for whom challenging ultra-Orthodox power is an important agenda item — from Shinui almost a decade ago, to Lieberman today — indicates that apathy is still alive.

      Read Less

      Better Than a Poke in the Eye

      The Wall Street Journal editors aren’t doing cartwheels over the latest toxic asset plan:

      The best news about the new Treasury bad bank asset purchase plan is that Secretary Timothy Geithner has finally settled on a strategy. The uncertainty was getting almost as toxic as those securities. Now all Mr. Geithner has to do is find private investors willing to “partner” with the feds (Congress!) to bid for those rotten assets, coax the banks to sell them at a loss, and hope that the economy doesn’t keep falling lest taxpayers lose big on their new loan guarantees.

      Yes, it might be dicey to get financial firms to pony up, even with most of the risk absorbed by the taxpayers:

      Geithner says investors won’t be subject to the same compensation limits as TARP recipients, but what happens if their asset purchases pay off in big profits? Will Congress settle for only half the upside — especially as it faces epic deficits in the years ahead? Most likely, cries will go up that the buyers were allowed to underpay for the assets and thus make a killing.

      Especially after last week, every investor has to ask whether the potential payoff is worth the risk of appearing in the future before a Congressional committee, saying “I do solemnly swear . . .” Maybe Treasury should also sell investors some Nancy Pelosi-political risk insurance.

      And, no, they aren’t going to Congress to ask for money — that would be, well, so 2008. Now the Fed is running the show (with some help from the FDIC), although the taxpayers are on the hook:

      In the case of the FDIC, it will lend at a debt-to-equity ratio of 6-to-l to the buyers. This means, according to the Treasury example, that the FDIC would guarantee 72 cents in funding for an asset purchased for 84 cents on the dollar. The feds and private investors would each put up six cents in capital. If the asset rises in value over time, the taxpayer and investors share the upside. If it falls further, then the taxpayers would absorb by far the biggest chunk of the losses.

      Nevertheless, it is a plan, finally. And the markets are thrilled with a plan, any plan that is more than “I’ll tell you later.” Will it work? Who knows. But if Congress and the public have had it with bailouts, too bad. They  just got another really, really big one — probably a trillion dollars worth when we are done with it. Let’s all hope it works better than all the variations which preceded it.

      The Wall Street Journal editors aren’t doing cartwheels over the latest toxic asset plan:

      The best news about the new Treasury bad bank asset purchase plan is that Secretary Timothy Geithner has finally settled on a strategy. The uncertainty was getting almost as toxic as those securities. Now all Mr. Geithner has to do is find private investors willing to “partner” with the feds (Congress!) to bid for those rotten assets, coax the banks to sell them at a loss, and hope that the economy doesn’t keep falling lest taxpayers lose big on their new loan guarantees.

      Yes, it might be dicey to get financial firms to pony up, even with most of the risk absorbed by the taxpayers:

      Geithner says investors won’t be subject to the same compensation limits as TARP recipients, but what happens if their asset purchases pay off in big profits? Will Congress settle for only half the upside — especially as it faces epic deficits in the years ahead? Most likely, cries will go up that the buyers were allowed to underpay for the assets and thus make a killing.

      Especially after last week, every investor has to ask whether the potential payoff is worth the risk of appearing in the future before a Congressional committee, saying “I do solemnly swear . . .” Maybe Treasury should also sell investors some Nancy Pelosi-political risk insurance.

      And, no, they aren’t going to Congress to ask for money — that would be, well, so 2008. Now the Fed is running the show (with some help from the FDIC), although the taxpayers are on the hook:

      In the case of the FDIC, it will lend at a debt-to-equity ratio of 6-to-l to the buyers. This means, according to the Treasury example, that the FDIC would guarantee 72 cents in funding for an asset purchased for 84 cents on the dollar. The feds and private investors would each put up six cents in capital. If the asset rises in value over time, the taxpayer and investors share the upside. If it falls further, then the taxpayers would absorb by far the biggest chunk of the losses.

      Nevertheless, it is a plan, finally. And the markets are thrilled with a plan, any plan that is more than “I’ll tell you later.” Will it work? Who knows. But if Congress and the public have had it with bailouts, too bad. They  just got another really, really big one — probably a trillion dollars worth when we are done with it. Let’s all hope it works better than all the variations which preceded it.

      Read Less

      Maybe It’s All Part of “Smart Statecraft”

      Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, notes it has now been three weeks since a State Department official insulted Britain, by justifying the shabby treatment of Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his U.S. visit with these words:

      There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.

      Gardiner suggests the White House should start rebuilding its tarnished image in the U.K. by disowning those words — before the president travels to Britain next week to attend the G-20 summit and meet the Queen.

      Good luck with that.  The Queen will get a nicer gift, but not likely much more.  Perhaps Britain can console itself, however, that another special relationship appears on its way out.  At the State Department daily briefing yesterday, there was this exchange regarding Poland:

      QUESTION: The Polish foreign minister was quoted recently as expressing some concern that his country had taken some significant political risk, as he put it, in cooperating – agreeing to cooperate with American missile defense plans. He was further quoted as saying, “We signed with the old administration, we patiently wait for the new Administration, and we hope we don’t regret our trust in the United States.”

      Has the Polish Government conveyed to this Administration some anxiety about, to put it colloquially, being left high and dry?

      MR. WOOD: No, no one has been left high and dry. We’ve had discussions with the Government of Poland with regard to missile defense over, you know, a number of months. The Polish Government is aware that we are taking a close look at this missile defense program. We want to make sure that it’s cost-effective and that it works. We will continue to have discussions with the Government of Poland on this. We look forward to cooperating with Poland on a wide range of issues, but I don’t have anything more than that for you, James.

      We’ve had discussions, it may just be too expensive, and we’ll have more discussions later — not exactly a ringing endorsement of the relationship with Poland, or appreciation for its commitments, or concern for its security.  The reporter tried to follow-up:

      QUESTION: The comments by the Polish foreign minister which I just read to you and the accuracy of which I trust you don’t challenge suggest that they are growing impatient, or that at least they feel that they are not being consulted fully on the plans of this Administration.

      MR. WOOD: Well, I can’t speak for the Polish Government, but we certainly have been consulting with that government on the issue of missile defense. Again, we’re reviewing missile defense policy, and the Polish Government is aware of that. And you know, once we are able to complete our review, we will have further discussions with the Government of Poland. But I don’t have anything more than that to give you at this point, James.

      That will be all, James.  Tell Poland it is just the same as the other 190 countries in the world and should not expect special treatment.

      This is an administration that reaches out to adversaries, without preconditions, while making allies nervous about commitments already made.  The former receive a personal video or a button with a pleasing word on it.  The latter are gracelessly informed that their prior relationships are being reset.

      Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, notes it has now been three weeks since a State Department official insulted Britain, by justifying the shabby treatment of Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his U.S. visit with these words:

      There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.

      Gardiner suggests the White House should start rebuilding its tarnished image in the U.K. by disowning those words — before the president travels to Britain next week to attend the G-20 summit and meet the Queen.

      Good luck with that.  The Queen will get a nicer gift, but not likely much more.  Perhaps Britain can console itself, however, that another special relationship appears on its way out.  At the State Department daily briefing yesterday, there was this exchange regarding Poland:

      QUESTION: The Polish foreign minister was quoted recently as expressing some concern that his country had taken some significant political risk, as he put it, in cooperating – agreeing to cooperate with American missile defense plans. He was further quoted as saying, “We signed with the old administration, we patiently wait for the new Administration, and we hope we don’t regret our trust in the United States.”

      Has the Polish Government conveyed to this Administration some anxiety about, to put it colloquially, being left high and dry?

      MR. WOOD: No, no one has been left high and dry. We’ve had discussions with the Government of Poland with regard to missile defense over, you know, a number of months. The Polish Government is aware that we are taking a close look at this missile defense program. We want to make sure that it’s cost-effective and that it works. We will continue to have discussions with the Government of Poland on this. We look forward to cooperating with Poland on a wide range of issues, but I don’t have anything more than that for you, James.

      We’ve had discussions, it may just be too expensive, and we’ll have more discussions later — not exactly a ringing endorsement of the relationship with Poland, or appreciation for its commitments, or concern for its security.  The reporter tried to follow-up:

      QUESTION: The comments by the Polish foreign minister which I just read to you and the accuracy of which I trust you don’t challenge suggest that they are growing impatient, or that at least they feel that they are not being consulted fully on the plans of this Administration.

      MR. WOOD: Well, I can’t speak for the Polish Government, but we certainly have been consulting with that government on the issue of missile defense. Again, we’re reviewing missile defense policy, and the Polish Government is aware of that. And you know, once we are able to complete our review, we will have further discussions with the Government of Poland. But I don’t have anything more than that to give you at this point, James.

      That will be all, James.  Tell Poland it is just the same as the other 190 countries in the world and should not expect special treatment.

      This is an administration that reaches out to adversaries, without preconditions, while making allies nervous about commitments already made.  The former receive a personal video or a button with a pleasing word on it.  The latter are gracelessly informed that their prior relationships are being reset.

      Read Less

      Flotsam and Jetsam

      The Pestering … er .. Organizing America canvassers over the weekend didn’t exactly wow the masses. It’s hard when your guy is the one in the White House. (h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez)

      Andrew Cuomo seems to be running an extortion racket: return the bonus or we release your name. Is this what we have been reduced to? So far only a few AIG execs have resigned. It is the Unretention Bonus Plan — take away your money, threaten you with public humiliation, and subject you to an angry populist mob.

      Home sales soared and prices plunged. You don’t think the two could be connected — sort of a supply and demand thing? Hmm. Maybe we should stop trying to prop up home prices and let the market operate.

      Chris Buckley seems quite disappointed with the candidate whose “temperament” seemed so alluring. “In the midst of this bonfire of inanities, President Obama is pressing ahead with a $3.6 trillion budget, predicated on utterly unrealistic economic growth, even as the Congressional Budget Office is now projecting that this year’s deficit will soar past $1.8 trillion, 13 percent of the US economy. . . President Obama came to office proclaiming that he aims to solve problems, not hand them on to our children. Most presidents say that sort of thing. But now we are in very dire straits, and that being the case, he will be held to account. It’s your legacy, sir, and let’s not hear any more about ‘inheriting the crisis.’”

      No, that’s not Tim Geithner’s reputation exploding over the Potomac — it’s a TV special effect.

      The teleprompter gives it away: “We are being absolutely transparent in our utter lack of confidence in TATUS. Our motives are transparent, even if actions are not.” TATUS? Terrific Tim at Treasury, of course.

      By  45%-34% Americans want to stop all bailouts to financial institutions. This may explain why the toxic asset plan is so convoluted and disguises the huge taxpayer subsidy.

      Phil Klein explains how convoluted the Geithner toxic asset plan is. Why so complex? To disguise the amount the taxpayers are paying and subsidizing. If it wasn’t the government doing it, it would be called money laundering.

      Rep. John Campbell thinks financial firms will be wary of doing business with the government. Ya think? Once Congress becomes lawless, seeking to take back what was previously guaranteed by statute (e.g. retention bonuses) there is no assurance that they won’t do the same thing in the future — no matter what the Treasury Secretary promises.

      And George Will compiles a list of lawlessness that should confirm we have much to fear from a Congress and administration no longer bound by contract law and international trade obligations, and playing roulette with the nation’s financial future. While Obama was “taking politics out of science” he should have been taken it out of law and math.

      61% of Americans want to end car bailouts. By the way, doesn’t Congress get to vote on anything anymore — or is “bailout” now an executive branch power?

      One blogger seems amazed that “it looks as if the idea of investing taxpayer money in the financial system still isn’t palatable to Republicans, regardless of private partners sharing in the risk.” Perhaps that is because nearly all the risk is being undertaken by the taxpayers.

      Chas Freeman is now reduced to writing hysterical letters to Rep. Frank Wolf accusing him of lying about the real reason Wolf opposed Freeman’s appointment. Suffice it to say Freeman has now confirmed his own crackpottery and made his supporters look like dunces.

      The Pestering … er .. Organizing America canvassers over the weekend didn’t exactly wow the masses. It’s hard when your guy is the one in the White House. (h/t Kathryn Jean Lopez)

      Andrew Cuomo seems to be running an extortion racket: return the bonus or we release your name. Is this what we have been reduced to? So far only a few AIG execs have resigned. It is the Unretention Bonus Plan — take away your money, threaten you with public humiliation, and subject you to an angry populist mob.

      Home sales soared and prices plunged. You don’t think the two could be connected — sort of a supply and demand thing? Hmm. Maybe we should stop trying to prop up home prices and let the market operate.

      Chris Buckley seems quite disappointed with the candidate whose “temperament” seemed so alluring. “In the midst of this bonfire of inanities, President Obama is pressing ahead with a $3.6 trillion budget, predicated on utterly unrealistic economic growth, even as the Congressional Budget Office is now projecting that this year’s deficit will soar past $1.8 trillion, 13 percent of the US economy. . . President Obama came to office proclaiming that he aims to solve problems, not hand them on to our children. Most presidents say that sort of thing. But now we are in very dire straits, and that being the case, he will be held to account. It’s your legacy, sir, and let’s not hear any more about ‘inheriting the crisis.’”

      No, that’s not Tim Geithner’s reputation exploding over the Potomac — it’s a TV special effect.

      The teleprompter gives it away: “We are being absolutely transparent in our utter lack of confidence in TATUS. Our motives are transparent, even if actions are not.” TATUS? Terrific Tim at Treasury, of course.

      By  45%-34% Americans want to stop all bailouts to financial institutions. This may explain why the toxic asset plan is so convoluted and disguises the huge taxpayer subsidy.

      Phil Klein explains how convoluted the Geithner toxic asset plan is. Why so complex? To disguise the amount the taxpayers are paying and subsidizing. If it wasn’t the government doing it, it would be called money laundering.

      Rep. John Campbell thinks financial firms will be wary of doing business with the government. Ya think? Once Congress becomes lawless, seeking to take back what was previously guaranteed by statute (e.g. retention bonuses) there is no assurance that they won’t do the same thing in the future — no matter what the Treasury Secretary promises.

      And George Will compiles a list of lawlessness that should confirm we have much to fear from a Congress and administration no longer bound by contract law and international trade obligations, and playing roulette with the nation’s financial future. While Obama was “taking politics out of science” he should have been taken it out of law and math.

      61% of Americans want to end car bailouts. By the way, doesn’t Congress get to vote on anything anymore — or is “bailout” now an executive branch power?

      One blogger seems amazed that “it looks as if the idea of investing taxpayer money in the financial system still isn’t palatable to Republicans, regardless of private partners sharing in the risk.” Perhaps that is because nearly all the risk is being undertaken by the taxpayers.

      Chas Freeman is now reduced to writing hysterical letters to Rep. Frank Wolf accusing him of lying about the real reason Wolf opposed Freeman’s appointment. Suffice it to say Freeman has now confirmed his own crackpottery and made his supporters look like dunces.

      Read Less




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