Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 10, 2009

Commentary of the Day

RCAR, on Jennifer Rubin:

The reason our currency is so Toxic is the same reason the Derivatives are so Toxic. Nobody can valuate our dollars accurately,because their valuation is dependent on the subjective valuation of foreign currencies that are tied to ours. Therfore all business transactions become exceedingly complex in trying to predict the future value of the dollar. Plus,no one can control the Fed’s decisions over the size of the money supply. The Fiat money system started in 1971,the Financial system blew up in 2007. Is there any argument that the origin of our crisis started in 1971?

RCAR, on Jennifer Rubin:

The reason our currency is so Toxic is the same reason the Derivatives are so Toxic. Nobody can valuate our dollars accurately,because their valuation is dependent on the subjective valuation of foreign currencies that are tied to ours. Therfore all business transactions become exceedingly complex in trying to predict the future value of the dollar. Plus,no one can control the Fed’s decisions over the size of the money supply. The Fiat money system started in 1971,the Financial system blew up in 2007. Is there any argument that the origin of our crisis started in 1971?

Read Less

Digging a Hole

Here are some troubling stats:

The U.S. federal budget deficit rose to a record $956.8 billion in the first six months of the fiscal year after the government stepped up spending to cope with a recession that has depressed tax receipts, the Treasury Department reported Friday.
The deficit is well on its way to the $1.75 trillion — or 12.3% of gross domestic product — that the White House has estimated for the full fiscal year, which ends in September.
The deficit through the first six months is more than three times higher than it was at this time last year. The government has borrowed $1 trillion from the public so far this fiscal year.

The prospect of mushrooming debt is one that should trouble both parties, yet there is no sign that the president or the Democratic-controlled Congress intend to seriously address it. To the contrary, the Democrats have plans to spend more money on healthcare. And there are the supplemental defense measures that will be needed to fund our two wars. In short, the promise of fiscal discipline is perhaps the most glaringly unfulfilled one of the Obama campaign.

It will become increasingly difficult to find buyers for our Treasury debt. The likely reality in which growth rates will slow and debt will simply be unsustainable is one which Democratic observers, the CBO, and even OMB head Peter Orszag have all recognized. But the administration which promised an era of financial responsibility is proving to be the most irresponsible yet.

Here are some troubling stats:

The U.S. federal budget deficit rose to a record $956.8 billion in the first six months of the fiscal year after the government stepped up spending to cope with a recession that has depressed tax receipts, the Treasury Department reported Friday.
The deficit is well on its way to the $1.75 trillion — or 12.3% of gross domestic product — that the White House has estimated for the full fiscal year, which ends in September.
The deficit through the first six months is more than three times higher than it was at this time last year. The government has borrowed $1 trillion from the public so far this fiscal year.

The prospect of mushrooming debt is one that should trouble both parties, yet there is no sign that the president or the Democratic-controlled Congress intend to seriously address it. To the contrary, the Democrats have plans to spend more money on healthcare. And there are the supplemental defense measures that will be needed to fund our two wars. In short, the promise of fiscal discipline is perhaps the most glaringly unfulfilled one of the Obama campaign.

It will become increasingly difficult to find buyers for our Treasury debt. The likely reality in which growth rates will slow and debt will simply be unsustainable is one which Democratic observers, the CBO, and even OMB head Peter Orszag have all recognized. But the administration which promised an era of financial responsibility is proving to be the most irresponsible yet.

Read Less

Captives, What Captives?

Four Americans are now being held captive by foreign governments or non-state actors: two journalists in North Korea, one journalist in Iran, and one ship captain off the coast of Somalia.

Has anyone heard from the president about these incidents?

In regard to North Korea and Iran, Barack Obama is too dug-in to a capitulationist stance to make a peep.  While free and safe journalists praise Obama for “listening” to autocrats and fanatics, their less fortunate colleagues have been listening in vain for a word from the American president. Tragic as that is, it does at least free up Obama to speak forcefully about the Somali pirates now holding the brave and selfless Capt. Richard Phillips. After all, we can’t possibly have an interest in engaging these stateless thugs. So what message has Obama sent?

“So far President Barack Obama’s role in the U.S. response to an American sea captain’s kidnapping by Somali pirates has been careful – and quiet,” writes the Associated Press’ Liz Sidoti. “The new commander in chief has been kept abreast of negotiations over the captain’s release, but advisers say Obama has delegated the heavy lifting to high-level administration officials and his military commanders. The president himself has yet to speak publicly about the incident near the Horn of Africa. He brushed off a reporter’s question Thursday. Instead he has let his top surrogates do the talking, although their comments have been brief, perhaps mindful that their words could influence the sensitive negotiations with the hostage-taking pirates.”

It is far too easy to criticize the president for failing to do or say the right thing in regard to these fragile situations. Missteps could prove fatal. But to do and say nothing about Americans being held captive in foreign lands is a scandal in itself and another global advertisement for America’s new and pervasive sense of trepidation.

Four Americans are now being held captive by foreign governments or non-state actors: two journalists in North Korea, one journalist in Iran, and one ship captain off the coast of Somalia.

Has anyone heard from the president about these incidents?

In regard to North Korea and Iran, Barack Obama is too dug-in to a capitulationist stance to make a peep.  While free and safe journalists praise Obama for “listening” to autocrats and fanatics, their less fortunate colleagues have been listening in vain for a word from the American president. Tragic as that is, it does at least free up Obama to speak forcefully about the Somali pirates now holding the brave and selfless Capt. Richard Phillips. After all, we can’t possibly have an interest in engaging these stateless thugs. So what message has Obama sent?

“So far President Barack Obama’s role in the U.S. response to an American sea captain’s kidnapping by Somali pirates has been careful – and quiet,” writes the Associated Press’ Liz Sidoti. “The new commander in chief has been kept abreast of negotiations over the captain’s release, but advisers say Obama has delegated the heavy lifting to high-level administration officials and his military commanders. The president himself has yet to speak publicly about the incident near the Horn of Africa. He brushed off a reporter’s question Thursday. Instead he has let his top surrogates do the talking, although their comments have been brief, perhaps mindful that their words could influence the sensitive negotiations with the hostage-taking pirates.”

It is far too easy to criticize the president for failing to do or say the right thing in regard to these fragile situations. Missteps could prove fatal. But to do and say nothing about Americans being held captive in foreign lands is a scandal in itself and another global advertisement for America’s new and pervasive sense of trepidation.

Read Less

The Speech Netanyahu Could Give

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu may meet as early as next month, and the New York Times is already teeing up a conflict between Israel and the United States over whether Netanyahu will support a Palestinian state.  Helene Cooper reports Obama is “girding for a protracted showdown” over the pursuit of Palestinian statehood and she predicts the meeting will be “pretty interesting” as a result.

But the issue is one the President might describe as a false choice.  The question is not whether there should be a Palestinian state, but what kind of Palestinian state there might be.  Netanyahu could endorse a Palestinian state – in the same terms Obama used to do so in his June 2008 speech to 7,000 people at AIPAC.  Here is what such a Netanyahu speech would look like (everything inside quotation marks is from Obama’s speech):

I have been asked if I support a Palestinian state, and the answer is:  it depends.  No one wants a Palestinian state like the one Arafat ran, or the one Hamas is running in Gaza.  In the last Palestinian election, the Palestinians elected Hamas to control their government:  no two-state solution is possible as long as terrorists are the people’s choice.  “The long road to peace requires Palestinian partners committed to making the journey.”

“We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations.”  There is another Palestinian election scheduled for January:  we hope the Palestinians elect candidates who campaign on the need to make the journey down the long road to peace.

In the meantime, “Arab governments [should] take steps to normalize relations with Israel” and “Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.”  For our part, “consistent with [our] security, [we] will take steps to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank, and to refrain from building new settlements.”  But lest there be any doubt:

“Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper – but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

If the Palestinians elect leaders who are prepared to endorse a Jewish state with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, I will be prepared to endorse a contiguous and cohesive Palestinian state in return. But to date even those who have been willing to negotiate with us have been unwilling to endorse a Jewish state, or defensible borders, or an undivided Jerusalem.

It is not Israel who bears the burden of proof here:  we withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza and saw it become a staging area for rockets into Israel, and we watched the Palestinians elect Hamas four months later.  We await the emergence of Palestinian leaders, elected by the people, who are committed to negotiate based on the principles outlined above, which I believe are consistent with those expressed last year by the President of the United States.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu may meet as early as next month, and the New York Times is already teeing up a conflict between Israel and the United States over whether Netanyahu will support a Palestinian state.  Helene Cooper reports Obama is “girding for a protracted showdown” over the pursuit of Palestinian statehood and she predicts the meeting will be “pretty interesting” as a result.

But the issue is one the President might describe as a false choice.  The question is not whether there should be a Palestinian state, but what kind of Palestinian state there might be.  Netanyahu could endorse a Palestinian state – in the same terms Obama used to do so in his June 2008 speech to 7,000 people at AIPAC.  Here is what such a Netanyahu speech would look like (everything inside quotation marks is from Obama’s speech):

I have been asked if I support a Palestinian state, and the answer is:  it depends.  No one wants a Palestinian state like the one Arafat ran, or the one Hamas is running in Gaza.  In the last Palestinian election, the Palestinians elected Hamas to control their government:  no two-state solution is possible as long as terrorists are the people’s choice.  “The long road to peace requires Palestinian partners committed to making the journey.”

“We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations.”  There is another Palestinian election scheduled for January:  we hope the Palestinians elect candidates who campaign on the need to make the journey down the long road to peace.

In the meantime, “Arab governments [should] take steps to normalize relations with Israel” and “Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.”  For our part, “consistent with [our] security, [we] will take steps to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank, and to refrain from building new settlements.”  But lest there be any doubt:

“Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper – but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

If the Palestinians elect leaders who are prepared to endorse a Jewish state with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, I will be prepared to endorse a contiguous and cohesive Palestinian state in return. But to date even those who have been willing to negotiate with us have been unwilling to endorse a Jewish state, or defensible borders, or an undivided Jerusalem.

It is not Israel who bears the burden of proof here:  we withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza and saw it become a staging area for rockets into Israel, and we watched the Palestinians elect Hamas four months later.  We await the emergence of Palestinian leaders, elected by the people, who are committed to negotiate based on the principles outlined above, which I believe are consistent with those expressed last year by the President of the United States.

Read Less

Was It Worth It?

Obama economic advisor Christina Romer and her husband have previously explained one of the key objections to economic stimulus plans: the timing never comes out quite right. Spending kicks in after it is really needed. Yes, some of the money from the Obama stimulus has come through and there is some road building. However, the Washington Post tells us:

In most cases, though, the money is working its way into the system far more gradually as officials strive to meet not only existing guidelines for programs receiving aid but also reporting requirements that have been added to make sure that stimulus funding is spent as intended and to account for the jobs it creates.

As a result, White House officials say the bulk of the money will start hitting the streets later this year and early next, with the goal of spending 70 percent of it by the summer of 2010. As of Tuesday, $54 billion from the package had been “obligated,” meaning that states, cities or other recipients could begin drawing from it, and $11.7 billion of that had been disbursed.

But by the summer of 2010 the recession should be ending, right? That’s what Larry Summers was saying when he assured us that the economic “free fall” was over and better times were in sight. So what was the purpose of the stimulus then? Certainly it has not, as advertised, kept unemployment below 8%. And that needed infrastructure turned out to be much less of the total pie than many had imagined. It seems all that was “achieved” was a dramatic rise in spending, the establishment of a new “baseline” in budgeting, and another trillion dollars of debt.

Obama economic advisor Christina Romer and her husband have previously explained one of the key objections to economic stimulus plans: the timing never comes out quite right. Spending kicks in after it is really needed. Yes, some of the money from the Obama stimulus has come through and there is some road building. However, the Washington Post tells us:

In most cases, though, the money is working its way into the system far more gradually as officials strive to meet not only existing guidelines for programs receiving aid but also reporting requirements that have been added to make sure that stimulus funding is spent as intended and to account for the jobs it creates.

As a result, White House officials say the bulk of the money will start hitting the streets later this year and early next, with the goal of spending 70 percent of it by the summer of 2010. As of Tuesday, $54 billion from the package had been “obligated,” meaning that states, cities or other recipients could begin drawing from it, and $11.7 billion of that had been disbursed.

But by the summer of 2010 the recession should be ending, right? That’s what Larry Summers was saying when he assured us that the economic “free fall” was over and better times were in sight. So what was the purpose of the stimulus then? Certainly it has not, as advertised, kept unemployment below 8%. And that needed infrastructure turned out to be much less of the total pie than many had imagined. It seems all that was “achieved” was a dramatic rise in spending, the establishment of a new “baseline” in budgeting, and another trillion dollars of debt.

Read Less

Obama Demotes the Jews

In his inaugural address President Obama jettisoned the long-established locution that embodies the generally-accepted notion of “the Judeo-Christian tradition.” That tradition, in America, mandates the phrase “Christians and Jews,” with Christians in first place for the good reason that the roots of this country and most of those who founded it are Christian. Obama, however, said on January 20 that “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims,” and then, after a slight pause, “Jews and Hindus,” another slight pause, “and unbelievers.” Later, in his Al-arabiya interview, he demoted the Jews still further, calling America a country of “Muslims, Christians, Jews.” Obama’s actions (and inactions) with respect to Jewish concerns suggest that this demotion is real and not merely verbal.

The appointments to his Middle East “team” have been mostly leftovers from the Clinton administration — peace processors like George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, trotting out (for about the fifteenth time) the stale formulas of peace conferences and the “two-state solution.” But the new faces in positions that are crucial to formulation of Middle East policy are people notable for a distinct lack of charity in the Israeli direction, like Susan Rice at the UN and Samantha Power as Director of Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council. Power has in the past advocated ending all aid to Israel and even invading it to protect Palestinians from Israeli “genocide.” (One of her tasks is to look over the shoulder of Hillary Clinton, whom she called “a monster” in 2008.)

The Obama administration also chose Charles Freeman to serve as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman has blamed Israel not only for 9/11 and world terrorism but for nearly every evil on the globe with the (possible) exception of bird flu. But when his close ties to Saudi Arabia and China (and his approval of the Tiananmen Square massacre) became public knowledge, he withdrew.

Far more disturbing than Obama’s appointments however, has been his own obsession with appeasing the forces of militant Islam through flattery and oily sycophancy, embodied in his now famous bow from the waist before Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. His public utterances have been characterized by a hammering insistence on the need to “respect” Islam. He urged this no fewer than seven times in his Al-Arabiya interview, as if emulating George Galloway’s far left and pro-Hamas “Respect Party” in England.

At least as crucial for understanding Obama’s cold indifference to Jewish fears is what he has not said, especially during his recent grand tour of Europe, the continent that in his mind represents the high moral standards that America must strive to satisfy. His visit took place a week or so after the Religion of Perpetual Outrage had been expressing its outrage over Israeli actions in Gaza by staging virulent, often violent pro-Hamas demonstrations throughout the old post-Christian continent. Muslim Brotherhood members and their sympathizers took to the streets of European cities screaming, “Death to Israel! Death to the Jews!” In several cities they were joined by members of parliament. And shortly after Muslim mobs had intimidated policemen in London and Malmo, smashed up the Place de l’Opera in Paris, burned Israeli and American flags while chanting Allahu Akbar, Obama was busily apologizing to Europe in general for “our past arrogance.” All this happened while Europe was once again in full retreat, as the French-American writer Nidra Poller observed, from “enraged mobs bearing down on helpless victims.”

Nowhere in Europe was this more blatant than in Turkey, which in the three months prior to Obama’s recent speech there had been the scene of the fiercest anti-Israel and antisemitic agitation in all of Europe, extending from the streets to schools, newspapers, TV stations — for the very good reason that it was encouraged by Prime Minister Erdogan, who declared that “Israelis know very well how to kill” and that “Jews control the media.” But nary a word about this little unpleasantness crept into Obama’s April speech to Turkish parliamentarians. Rather, it was full of his usual calls for “respect” plus assurances that America is not and “never will be” at war with Islam. He also said, cryptically, that Islam had made great contributions to America — by which he meant not the massacres of 9/11 but the fact of his having had a Muslim father. Listening to him, a new arrival from Mars might well have gotten the impression that it is Muslims and not Jews who are the constant target of physical and verbal aggression throughout Europe.

The inability of Jew to recognize political realities is one of the marvels of human nature. James Baker once, with typical nastiness, alluded to it when he responded to expressions of American-Jewish unhappiness with his Middle East policies as follows: “F— the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” Now Barack Obama seems to be saying: “F— the Jews, they always vote for us anyway.”

In his inaugural address President Obama jettisoned the long-established locution that embodies the generally-accepted notion of “the Judeo-Christian tradition.” That tradition, in America, mandates the phrase “Christians and Jews,” with Christians in first place for the good reason that the roots of this country and most of those who founded it are Christian. Obama, however, said on January 20 that “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims,” and then, after a slight pause, “Jews and Hindus,” another slight pause, “and unbelievers.” Later, in his Al-arabiya interview, he demoted the Jews still further, calling America a country of “Muslims, Christians, Jews.” Obama’s actions (and inactions) with respect to Jewish concerns suggest that this demotion is real and not merely verbal.

The appointments to his Middle East “team” have been mostly leftovers from the Clinton administration — peace processors like George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, trotting out (for about the fifteenth time) the stale formulas of peace conferences and the “two-state solution.” But the new faces in positions that are crucial to formulation of Middle East policy are people notable for a distinct lack of charity in the Israeli direction, like Susan Rice at the UN and Samantha Power as Director of Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council. Power has in the past advocated ending all aid to Israel and even invading it to protect Palestinians from Israeli “genocide.” (One of her tasks is to look over the shoulder of Hillary Clinton, whom she called “a monster” in 2008.)

The Obama administration also chose Charles Freeman to serve as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman has blamed Israel not only for 9/11 and world terrorism but for nearly every evil on the globe with the (possible) exception of bird flu. But when his close ties to Saudi Arabia and China (and his approval of the Tiananmen Square massacre) became public knowledge, he withdrew.

Far more disturbing than Obama’s appointments however, has been his own obsession with appeasing the forces of militant Islam through flattery and oily sycophancy, embodied in his now famous bow from the waist before Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. His public utterances have been characterized by a hammering insistence on the need to “respect” Islam. He urged this no fewer than seven times in his Al-Arabiya interview, as if emulating George Galloway’s far left and pro-Hamas “Respect Party” in England.

At least as crucial for understanding Obama’s cold indifference to Jewish fears is what he has not said, especially during his recent grand tour of Europe, the continent that in his mind represents the high moral standards that America must strive to satisfy. His visit took place a week or so after the Religion of Perpetual Outrage had been expressing its outrage over Israeli actions in Gaza by staging virulent, often violent pro-Hamas demonstrations throughout the old post-Christian continent. Muslim Brotherhood members and their sympathizers took to the streets of European cities screaming, “Death to Israel! Death to the Jews!” In several cities they were joined by members of parliament. And shortly after Muslim mobs had intimidated policemen in London and Malmo, smashed up the Place de l’Opera in Paris, burned Israeli and American flags while chanting Allahu Akbar, Obama was busily apologizing to Europe in general for “our past arrogance.” All this happened while Europe was once again in full retreat, as the French-American writer Nidra Poller observed, from “enraged mobs bearing down on helpless victims.”

Nowhere in Europe was this more blatant than in Turkey, which in the three months prior to Obama’s recent speech there had been the scene of the fiercest anti-Israel and antisemitic agitation in all of Europe, extending from the streets to schools, newspapers, TV stations — for the very good reason that it was encouraged by Prime Minister Erdogan, who declared that “Israelis know very well how to kill” and that “Jews control the media.” But nary a word about this little unpleasantness crept into Obama’s April speech to Turkish parliamentarians. Rather, it was full of his usual calls for “respect” plus assurances that America is not and “never will be” at war with Islam. He also said, cryptically, that Islam had made great contributions to America — by which he meant not the massacres of 9/11 but the fact of his having had a Muslim father. Listening to him, a new arrival from Mars might well have gotten the impression that it is Muslims and not Jews who are the constant target of physical and verbal aggression throughout Europe.

The inability of Jew to recognize political realities is one of the marvels of human nature. James Baker once, with typical nastiness, alluded to it when he responded to expressions of American-Jewish unhappiness with his Middle East policies as follows: “F— the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” Now Barack Obama seems to be saying: “F— the Jews, they always vote for us anyway.”

Read Less

Roger Cohen’s Liberation

Roger Cohen is at it again. This time, he has put his cards on the table. “Israeli hegemony is proving a kind of slavery,” he writes in the New York Times. “Passage to the Promised Land involves rethinking the Middle East, starting in Iran.”

Offering yet another column in which bald assertions are backed up with little evidence, Cohen claims that Israel has been “crying wolf” by repeatedly offering estimates of when Iran will have nuclear weapons that proved too early.

But regardless of how near he is to our skin, there really is a wolf out there. Yesterday Ahmadinejad declared that Iran now has 7,000 centrifuges working to enrich uranium. Does that mean it is months or years away from a bomb? Cohen doesn’t really know. Neither does Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Frankly, neither do I.

The trouble is, while the true timetable for Iran’s nuclear program may be hard to point out, it doesn’t mean that people who warn of it are crying wolf. On the contrary, not knowing is exactly creates the urgency: How much nuclear technology do we want the mullahs to have before we stop them? Without a clear understanding of Iran’s progress, the threat is a perpetual one.

There are two arguments against confronting Iran’s nukes, arguments which cannot live side-by-side. One is that the Iranians has already crossed the threshold, and that we therefore need to learn to live with a nuclear Iran. The other is that they’re nowhere near it, and therefore there is no urgency to confronting them. One does not need to be a nuclear engineer to recognize that neither seems like a basis for sound policy: If Iran had already crossed the threshold, it would be proving it to the world, and a radical shift in the balance of power between Iran and the West would already be detectable. If it’s years away and not months, this is precisely the time to maximize the confrontation and deter Iran from taking any further steps.

We may not know how much sand there is in the glass, but we can easily imagine what would happen if Iran is allowed to become a nuclear power. Cohen’s strongest arguments concern the least important parts of this debate. Iran doesn’t care if Cohen wants to be its friend or what he would offer at the negotiating table; it has positioned itself, from the birth of its regime, as an implacable enemy of the West, and has made every effort to (i) make this clear to its citizens and the world; (ii) support, finance, and train enemies that are actively targeting Western countries; (iii) enlist as many other countries as possible, such as Venezuela, to join its opposition to the U.S.; and (iv) develop much more fearsome weapons than it currently has, from nuclear weapons to the long-range missiles it needs to launch them. That it has not yet succeeded, that these are small threats compared to those of the past, that the last American administration failed to wage this conflict with aplomb, or that many Americans are just sick and tired of all this war mongering — none of this should calm us in the slightest.

Nor is the answer to be found in undercutting allies and cozying up with our enemies. If Cohen thinks that America’s alliance with Israel is a form of “slavery,” then he will certainly enjoy the liberation that the mullahs are offering him. It may give new meaning to his next Passover.

Roger Cohen is at it again. This time, he has put his cards on the table. “Israeli hegemony is proving a kind of slavery,” he writes in the New York Times. “Passage to the Promised Land involves rethinking the Middle East, starting in Iran.”

Offering yet another column in which bald assertions are backed up with little evidence, Cohen claims that Israel has been “crying wolf” by repeatedly offering estimates of when Iran will have nuclear weapons that proved too early.

But regardless of how near he is to our skin, there really is a wolf out there. Yesterday Ahmadinejad declared that Iran now has 7,000 centrifuges working to enrich uranium. Does that mean it is months or years away from a bomb? Cohen doesn’t really know. Neither does Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Frankly, neither do I.

The trouble is, while the true timetable for Iran’s nuclear program may be hard to point out, it doesn’t mean that people who warn of it are crying wolf. On the contrary, not knowing is exactly creates the urgency: How much nuclear technology do we want the mullahs to have before we stop them? Without a clear understanding of Iran’s progress, the threat is a perpetual one.

There are two arguments against confronting Iran’s nukes, arguments which cannot live side-by-side. One is that the Iranians has already crossed the threshold, and that we therefore need to learn to live with a nuclear Iran. The other is that they’re nowhere near it, and therefore there is no urgency to confronting them. One does not need to be a nuclear engineer to recognize that neither seems like a basis for sound policy: If Iran had already crossed the threshold, it would be proving it to the world, and a radical shift in the balance of power between Iran and the West would already be detectable. If it’s years away and not months, this is precisely the time to maximize the confrontation and deter Iran from taking any further steps.

We may not know how much sand there is in the glass, but we can easily imagine what would happen if Iran is allowed to become a nuclear power. Cohen’s strongest arguments concern the least important parts of this debate. Iran doesn’t care if Cohen wants to be its friend or what he would offer at the negotiating table; it has positioned itself, from the birth of its regime, as an implacable enemy of the West, and has made every effort to (i) make this clear to its citizens and the world; (ii) support, finance, and train enemies that are actively targeting Western countries; (iii) enlist as many other countries as possible, such as Venezuela, to join its opposition to the U.S.; and (iv) develop much more fearsome weapons than it currently has, from nuclear weapons to the long-range missiles it needs to launch them. That it has not yet succeeded, that these are small threats compared to those of the past, that the last American administration failed to wage this conflict with aplomb, or that many Americans are just sick and tired of all this war mongering — none of this should calm us in the slightest.

Nor is the answer to be found in undercutting allies and cozying up with our enemies. If Cohen thinks that America’s alliance with Israel is a form of “slavery,” then he will certainly enjoy the liberation that the mullahs are offering him. It may give new meaning to his next Passover.

Read Less

Iran Gets Closer

Speaking in Isfahan on Thursday, Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced that Iran’s nuclear program had crossed another important threshold and now Iran could rightfully claim to have mastered the nuclear cycle. In addition to the usual boasting about more centrifuges, there is something significant in this latest step taken by Iran. Ahmadinejad was in Isfahan to open a new nuclear fuel plant, which could produce uranium pellets to feed Iran’s heavy water reactor in Arak — a facility which Iran to this day refuses to open to inspections.

According to Secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, Iran’s latest announcement of progress is not a rebuff of U.S. overtures toward the Islamic Republic.

We could not agree more. Iran does not rebuff overtures. It never does. It uses them to improve its position in a never-ending diplomatic dance. The point is not to reach a compromise, but to keep its adversaries talking while Iran nears the finish line.

Speaking in Isfahan on Thursday, Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced that Iran’s nuclear program had crossed another important threshold and now Iran could rightfully claim to have mastered the nuclear cycle. In addition to the usual boasting about more centrifuges, there is something significant in this latest step taken by Iran. Ahmadinejad was in Isfahan to open a new nuclear fuel plant, which could produce uranium pellets to feed Iran’s heavy water reactor in Arak — a facility which Iran to this day refuses to open to inspections.

According to Secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, Iran’s latest announcement of progress is not a rebuff of U.S. overtures toward the Islamic Republic.

We could not agree more. Iran does not rebuff overtures. It never does. It uses them to improve its position in a never-ending diplomatic dance. The point is not to reach a compromise, but to keep its adversaries talking while Iran nears the finish line.

Read Less

Fifty Chances

Ramesh Ponnuru makes a compelling case that “universal” health insurance coverage should not be the primary goal of health-care reform. The case is simple: the cost shifting which politicians point to as a reason for mandating coverage for everyone is relatively small. It can be addressed in less destructive ways and is a less critical problem than other issues (e.g. soaring costs and lack of portability).

But there is another reason to avoid “universal” plans: so far they haven’t worked. In Massachusetts, the best effort to use “market” reforms to attain universal coverage has resulted in less than universal coverage and rising costs. California abandoned its proposal and Hawaii pulled the plug on its universal coverage system.

Once you force coverage for everyone the cost skyrockets — unless of course you start limiting care, cutting doctors’ fees, and controlling what sort of treatment you will pay for. That has been the experience in the western countries that have gone down this road. The alternative — to try to stimulate competition among insurance carriers, have individuals purchase and control their own insurance and provide subsidies for the hard-to-insure cases – seems infinitely more attractive than duplicating the problems of other countries.

But the Massachusetts plan has been edifying, and perhaps the argument is better made by allowing fifty separate state experiments to bloom rather than creating a one-size fits all federal system. Maybe one of those fifty, or more than one, will hit on a formula for expanding coverage, improving care and reducing cost. The odds are certainly better than  they would be under a single untested federal plan. So if “something must be done,” a system of block grants and a period of experimentation might be in order.

That would be less grandiose than a single federal scheme. But it might do less damage and produce some real world experience on which we can draw to create a workable national system.

Ramesh Ponnuru makes a compelling case that “universal” health insurance coverage should not be the primary goal of health-care reform. The case is simple: the cost shifting which politicians point to as a reason for mandating coverage for everyone is relatively small. It can be addressed in less destructive ways and is a less critical problem than other issues (e.g. soaring costs and lack of portability).

But there is another reason to avoid “universal” plans: so far they haven’t worked. In Massachusetts, the best effort to use “market” reforms to attain universal coverage has resulted in less than universal coverage and rising costs. California abandoned its proposal and Hawaii pulled the plug on its universal coverage system.

Once you force coverage for everyone the cost skyrockets — unless of course you start limiting care, cutting doctors’ fees, and controlling what sort of treatment you will pay for. That has been the experience in the western countries that have gone down this road. The alternative — to try to stimulate competition among insurance carriers, have individuals purchase and control their own insurance and provide subsidies for the hard-to-insure cases – seems infinitely more attractive than duplicating the problems of other countries.

But the Massachusetts plan has been edifying, and perhaps the argument is better made by allowing fifty separate state experiments to bloom rather than creating a one-size fits all federal system. Maybe one of those fifty, or more than one, will hit on a formula for expanding coverage, improving care and reducing cost. The odds are certainly better than  they would be under a single untested federal plan. So if “something must be done,” a system of block grants and a period of experimentation might be in order.

That would be less grandiose than a single federal scheme. But it might do less damage and produce some real world experience on which we can draw to create a workable national system.

Read Less

ABC Shoots Itself in the Foot

Tonight, ABC News airs a hard-hitting expose into guns in America, including a fierce look at the infamous “gun show loophole” that supposedly allows for more lax weapons purchases at gun shows. On the eve of the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings, Omar Samaha, the brother of one of the victims is given $5,000 to buy as many guns as he legally can — and comes back with 10 in less than an hour.

From its premise to its execution, this broadcast is chock-a-block full of mistakes.

First up, there is absolutely no reason to link the Virginia Tech shooting with gun shows. The shooter (whose name should be lost to history to deny him the fame he sought) bought his guns from a dealer.

Next up, the infamous “gun show loophole” is as big a fiction as the “most of the guns used in Mexico’s drug wars come from the United States” canard. It implies that there are exceptions to gun laws that cover transactions that take place at gun shows.

That is simply wrong.

The law says that gun dealers must run background checks on all would-be buyers. Gun dealers at shows have to — and do — run those checks on all would-be buyers.

The law says that non-dealers who sell a gun need not run a background check on whom they intend to sell their gun to. At a gun show, they still don’t have to run those background checks.

When Omar Samaha took his $5,000 into that Richmond, Virginia gun show, he bought his ten guns from private sellers. He didn’t make a single purchase from a licensed dealer.

Tonight, ABC News airs a hard-hitting expose into guns in America, including a fierce look at the infamous “gun show loophole” that supposedly allows for more lax weapons purchases at gun shows. On the eve of the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings, Omar Samaha, the brother of one of the victims is given $5,000 to buy as many guns as he legally can — and comes back with 10 in less than an hour.

From its premise to its execution, this broadcast is chock-a-block full of mistakes.

First up, there is absolutely no reason to link the Virginia Tech shooting with gun shows. The shooter (whose name should be lost to history to deny him the fame he sought) bought his guns from a dealer.

Next up, the infamous “gun show loophole” is as big a fiction as the “most of the guns used in Mexico’s drug wars come from the United States” canard. It implies that there are exceptions to gun laws that cover transactions that take place at gun shows.

That is simply wrong.

The law says that gun dealers must run background checks on all would-be buyers. Gun dealers at shows have to — and do — run those checks on all would-be buyers.

The law says that non-dealers who sell a gun need not run a background check on whom they intend to sell their gun to. At a gun show, they still don’t have to run those background checks.

When Omar Samaha took his $5,000 into that Richmond, Virginia gun show, he bought his ten guns from private sellers. He didn’t make a single purchase from a licensed dealer.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Kevin Madden reminds me of my favorite George Shultz story (quizzing ambassadorial appointees as to where “their” country was) and concludes: “Schultz’s point was that our nation’s foreign policy initiatives are endangered if our most important objective is to promote the world’s views to America, instead of showcasing America’s leadership and values to the rest of world.”

Robert Gibbs insists on denying the “bow” because it was, like, a week ago. And no one noticed. Except they did. But if it is no big deal, why lie?

Tedisco was up 24 votes. Then maybe less. Or maybe he’s behind. Or maybe no one really knows until the votes are counted.

Whatever you think of immigration reform this seems downright strange at a time when the Obama administration is already facing legislative override and finding it hard to reach consensus on its top priorities: “While Mr. Emanuel once predicted that comprehensive immigration reform wouldn’t be considered until the second term of a Democratic president, he now says conversations on the issue will begin this year to lay the groundwork for possible action in 2010.” In an election year? I find it hard to believe Democrats and Big Labor (which helped sink immigration reform last time with the some poison pill amendments approved by the Junior Senator from Illinois) are going to be thrilled with that.

Fred and Kimberly Kagan agree with the president’s formulation on Iraq: “Mr. Obama has stated his objectives in Iraq clearly: The U.S. must ‘make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally.’ This is an attainable goal. Iraq has undergone a profound transformation — it is no longer a predatory, dictatorial state or a maelstrom of sectarian violence. It no longer threatens its neighbors or stability in the region. Indeed, Iraq has become an attractive political and economic partner for states throughout the Middle East.”

The Washington Post editors have discovered that the U.S. income tax system is very progressive: “In 2006, the top 20 percent of earners paid 70 percent of all federal taxes. On average, they paid 26 percent of their income to the government. The very richest — the top 1 percent of taxpayers, with household incomes of over $332,000 — paid 28 percent of all taxes, with an effective tax rate of 31 percent. The middle three quintiles paid rates of 10, 14 and 18 percent. The lowest 20 percent of households paid only 0.8 percent of all federal taxes — and the bottom 90 percent of households paid only 45 percent.” You mean George W. Bush didn’t sock it to the poor? Well, as the editors point out, that means there is only one place to go for more tax revenue — the middle class.

Charles Krauthammer sums up the Obama foreign foray: “After all, it was Obama, not some envious anti-American leader, who noted with satisfaction that a new financial order is being created today by 20 countries, rather than by ‘just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy.’ And then added: ‘But that’s not the world we live in, and it shouldn’t be the world that we live in.’ It is passing strange for a world leader to celebrate his own country’s decline. A few more such overseas tours, and Obama will have a lot more decline to celebrate.”

You mean Joe Biden made up stories about meetings with former President George W. Bush to exaggerate his own importance? Wow. Who’d have thought Biden would lie about easily verifiable facts?

Alex Conant makes a good argument that Obama should spend more time and political captial rallying the public to support the war in Afghanistan: “Make no mistake: Obama is committing the US to a multi-year escalation in Afghanistan that will be costly in both American blood and treasure. Without first rallying the public’s support, he is now asking Congress to fund the first installment of his escalation.” Ironic isn’t it, that he follows a president who also failed to prepare the public for the realities of the Long War?

Consensus is breaking out: “Three-quarters of all Americans think that the federal government should let General Motors or Chrysler go bankrupt rather than pumping more money into the struggling automakers, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll — and most now say that the economy would not face major problems if those companies went into bankruptcy.” You don’t think that’s why the Obama team is now talking about bankruptcy as a possibility, do you?

Kevin Madden reminds me of my favorite George Shultz story (quizzing ambassadorial appointees as to where “their” country was) and concludes: “Schultz’s point was that our nation’s foreign policy initiatives are endangered if our most important objective is to promote the world’s views to America, instead of showcasing America’s leadership and values to the rest of world.”

Robert Gibbs insists on denying the “bow” because it was, like, a week ago. And no one noticed. Except they did. But if it is no big deal, why lie?

Tedisco was up 24 votes. Then maybe less. Or maybe he’s behind. Or maybe no one really knows until the votes are counted.

Whatever you think of immigration reform this seems downright strange at a time when the Obama administration is already facing legislative override and finding it hard to reach consensus on its top priorities: “While Mr. Emanuel once predicted that comprehensive immigration reform wouldn’t be considered until the second term of a Democratic president, he now says conversations on the issue will begin this year to lay the groundwork for possible action in 2010.” In an election year? I find it hard to believe Democrats and Big Labor (which helped sink immigration reform last time with the some poison pill amendments approved by the Junior Senator from Illinois) are going to be thrilled with that.

Fred and Kimberly Kagan agree with the president’s formulation on Iraq: “Mr. Obama has stated his objectives in Iraq clearly: The U.S. must ‘make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally.’ This is an attainable goal. Iraq has undergone a profound transformation — it is no longer a predatory, dictatorial state or a maelstrom of sectarian violence. It no longer threatens its neighbors or stability in the region. Indeed, Iraq has become an attractive political and economic partner for states throughout the Middle East.”

The Washington Post editors have discovered that the U.S. income tax system is very progressive: “In 2006, the top 20 percent of earners paid 70 percent of all federal taxes. On average, they paid 26 percent of their income to the government. The very richest — the top 1 percent of taxpayers, with household incomes of over $332,000 — paid 28 percent of all taxes, with an effective tax rate of 31 percent. The middle three quintiles paid rates of 10, 14 and 18 percent. The lowest 20 percent of households paid only 0.8 percent of all federal taxes — and the bottom 90 percent of households paid only 45 percent.” You mean George W. Bush didn’t sock it to the poor? Well, as the editors point out, that means there is only one place to go for more tax revenue — the middle class.

Charles Krauthammer sums up the Obama foreign foray: “After all, it was Obama, not some envious anti-American leader, who noted with satisfaction that a new financial order is being created today by 20 countries, rather than by ‘just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy.’ And then added: ‘But that’s not the world we live in, and it shouldn’t be the world that we live in.’ It is passing strange for a world leader to celebrate his own country’s decline. A few more such overseas tours, and Obama will have a lot more decline to celebrate.”

You mean Joe Biden made up stories about meetings with former President George W. Bush to exaggerate his own importance? Wow. Who’d have thought Biden would lie about easily verifiable facts?

Alex Conant makes a good argument that Obama should spend more time and political captial rallying the public to support the war in Afghanistan: “Make no mistake: Obama is committing the US to a multi-year escalation in Afghanistan that will be costly in both American blood and treasure. Without first rallying the public’s support, he is now asking Congress to fund the first installment of his escalation.” Ironic isn’t it, that he follows a president who also failed to prepare the public for the realities of the Long War?

Consensus is breaking out: “Three-quarters of all Americans think that the federal government should let General Motors or Chrysler go bankrupt rather than pumping more money into the struggling automakers, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll — and most now say that the economy would not face major problems if those companies went into bankruptcy.” You don’t think that’s why the Obama team is now talking about bankruptcy as a possibility, do you?

Read Less