Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 13, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Forbes, on Jennifer Rubin:

Actually “clean energy” and “universal coverage” are not worthy objectives. (The scare quotes used denotes these ideas as fantasies, or at best as ironic, and gives it away.) These ideas are simply Utopian, as with most (all?) Left-wing projects, they are subject to definition and re-definition, as verbal engineering always precedes social engineering.

Clean energy? Non-polluting? Now the Left defines CO2–a trace atmospheric gas necessary to sustain plant life–as a pollutant. Boggles the mind. Nuclear? No need to waste any pixels attempting to straighten the pretzel logic used by Left on that issue.

Universal coverage? What’s covered? One-size-fits-all mandated by philosopher kings in DC. Don’t worry about the rationing that results–as experience has demonstrated everywhere–smart American bureaucrats know better. You’ll be “covered” all right. Getting actual and necessary care will be decided by someone else at some future point in time.

Worthy objectives? Hardly. (And that’s being polite.) But we can always count on the Left to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Forbes, on Jennifer Rubin:

Actually “clean energy” and “universal coverage” are not worthy objectives. (The scare quotes used denotes these ideas as fantasies, or at best as ironic, and gives it away.) These ideas are simply Utopian, as with most (all?) Left-wing projects, they are subject to definition and re-definition, as verbal engineering always precedes social engineering.

Clean energy? Non-polluting? Now the Left defines CO2–a trace atmospheric gas necessary to sustain plant life–as a pollutant. Boggles the mind. Nuclear? No need to waste any pixels attempting to straighten the pretzel logic used by Left on that issue.

Universal coverage? What’s covered? One-size-fits-all mandated by philosopher kings in DC. Don’t worry about the rationing that results–as experience has demonstrated everywhere–smart American bureaucrats know better. You’ll be “covered” all right. Getting actual and necessary care will be decided by someone else at some future point in time.

Worthy objectives? Hardly. (And that’s being polite.) But we can always count on the Left to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

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Pirate Blowback!

The New York Times reports on some vengeful pirates:

“Every country will be treated the way it treats us,” Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the pirate den of Gaan, a central Somali town, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying in a telephone interview. “In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying.”

Pirates have also vowed violent revenge against French ships and sailors after French commandos stormed a private yacht seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Friday, an action in which two pirates and one hostage died while four hostages were freed and three pirates captured. “The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing,” a pirate identified only as Hussein told Reuters by satellite telephone on Monday. “We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now.”

The Left better get busy. This is pirate blowback! Did the president think we could use billion-dollar equipment to shoot some raggedy ransom-seekers out of their rowboat without inviting retaliation? By flaunting our material superiority we merely whet their appetites for treasure. And by demonstrating that we value one American life more than three Somali lives we’ve turned a handful of desperate thieves into a sympathetic movement with recruitment potential.

And all for the sake of one seized ship??? To paraphrase Michael Moore, “There is no piracy threat! There is no piracy threat!”

Let’s face it: on Sunday, we only created more pirates.

The New York Times reports on some vengeful pirates:

“Every country will be treated the way it treats us,” Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the pirate den of Gaan, a central Somali town, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying in a telephone interview. “In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying.”

Pirates have also vowed violent revenge against French ships and sailors after French commandos stormed a private yacht seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Friday, an action in which two pirates and one hostage died while four hostages were freed and three pirates captured. “The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing,” a pirate identified only as Hussein told Reuters by satellite telephone on Monday. “We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now.”

The Left better get busy. This is pirate blowback! Did the president think we could use billion-dollar equipment to shoot some raggedy ransom-seekers out of their rowboat without inviting retaliation? By flaunting our material superiority we merely whet their appetites for treasure. And by demonstrating that we value one American life more than three Somali lives we’ve turned a handful of desperate thieves into a sympathetic movement with recruitment potential.

And all for the sake of one seized ship??? To paraphrase Michael Moore, “There is no piracy threat! There is no piracy threat!”

Let’s face it: on Sunday, we only created more pirates.

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They Aren’t Saying — or They Don’t Know?

President Obama and VP Joe Biden went to the Transportation Department for a dog-and-pony show to feature the administration’s 2000th transportation program to be funded by the stimulus. They claim the programs are being “approved ahead of schedule and . . . coming in under budget.” The problem: it sort of isn’t true. ABC News is doing its job and fact-checking the Obama administration:

While it is true that there are 2,000 transportation projects that have been approved by the Department of Transportation, there are not  2000 projects underway, as the president’s remarks might lead you to believe.

That of course, begs the question:  how many Recovery Act transportation projects actually have begun?

The administration isn’t saying.

And furthermore, states aren’t required by law to post what they’ve actually started until October, so we won’t really know until then.

As for projects ‘coming in under budget’ – that doesn’t mean that projects have been completed, as the phrase would suggest.  Instead, the Department of Transportation explains it this way: “Bids are coming in consistently under engineering estimates due to incredible competition for this work.”

They aren’t saying? Well, the new transparency is a lot like the old secrecy, except there is no possible justification — other than the lack of any oversight or any resulting data — to withhold this information, particularly since they are trying to convince the public that the money is being spent in a timely fashion.

I suspect this sort of scrutiny is new to the Obama administration, which got through an entire campaign with precious little fact-checking — whether on its claim to propose a tax cut for 95% of Americans or its claim that John McCain wanted to stay in Iraq for a hundred years. But with the Oval Office and a somewhat emboldened media comes the need to get the facts right and complete — from the get-go. Otherwise the public might get the idea the president is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

President Obama and VP Joe Biden went to the Transportation Department for a dog-and-pony show to feature the administration’s 2000th transportation program to be funded by the stimulus. They claim the programs are being “approved ahead of schedule and . . . coming in under budget.” The problem: it sort of isn’t true. ABC News is doing its job and fact-checking the Obama administration:

While it is true that there are 2,000 transportation projects that have been approved by the Department of Transportation, there are not  2000 projects underway, as the president’s remarks might lead you to believe.

That of course, begs the question:  how many Recovery Act transportation projects actually have begun?

The administration isn’t saying.

And furthermore, states aren’t required by law to post what they’ve actually started until October, so we won’t really know until then.

As for projects ‘coming in under budget’ – that doesn’t mean that projects have been completed, as the phrase would suggest.  Instead, the Department of Transportation explains it this way: “Bids are coming in consistently under engineering estimates due to incredible competition for this work.”

They aren’t saying? Well, the new transparency is a lot like the old secrecy, except there is no possible justification — other than the lack of any oversight or any resulting data — to withhold this information, particularly since they are trying to convince the public that the money is being spent in a timely fashion.

I suspect this sort of scrutiny is new to the Obama administration, which got through an entire campaign with precious little fact-checking — whether on its claim to propose a tax cut for 95% of Americans or its claim that John McCain wanted to stay in Iraq for a hundred years. But with the Oval Office and a somewhat emboldened media comes the need to get the facts right and complete — from the get-go. Otherwise the public might get the idea the president is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

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Re: Re: Re: Cohen’s Cuddly Mullahs

Responding to a reader’s comment, Max Boot has just raised a fundamental question — and exposed a profound misunderstanding — about Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan. Max says that “I’m not sure whether I’m an expert on Afghanistan, but I know enough to realize that Iran doesn’t view the Taliban as a threat — certainly not as an existential threat (like Nazi Germany was to both the U.S. and U.S.S.R) that could drive Iran into America’s arms.” He then goes on to note that while the Iranians were helping the Northern Alliance in the 1990′s and certainly disliked the anti-Shi’a flavor of the Taliban, they are now supplying aid to those very same Taliban that we suppose to be their mortal enemies. Clearly, we are missing something here.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Max’s reader is actually correct — and that Iran does not see the Taliban’s prevailing in the Afghan conflict as a desirable outcome. That would be a common interest between Iran and the West. But would that be enough to justify cooperation? We are not just talking about Iran refraining from being unhelpful. Some have even raised the possibility of NATO supply routes going through Iran — though Iran has already ruled out the scenario.

After all, one could also say that countries like Turkey, Syria, and Iraq have a common interest in ensuring that the Tigris and Euphrates do not dry up. Or that countries like Algeria and Morocco have a shared interest in ensuring that Mediterranean fish do not become extinct. Venezuela and Colombia surely share similar concerns about hurricanes, and so do naturally the U.S. and Cuba. But such basic common interests are not enough to forge alliances or even to overcome ancient enmities. Whereas our basic desire to see the Taliban defeated may be shared by Tehran — and that is still a big if — Iran also desires to see America and its allies bogged down in Afghanistan for a long time. Iran does not wish to see America’s success there any more than it hoped for America’s success in Iraq. Iran wants to be the power-broker in both places and it has played the same game here and there — first, they’re arsonists, and then, only after we beg them and offer a fair price — only then, they’re firemen. They’ll be sure to make us pay the water, the fire trucks, and all the rest of the equipment, very dearly.

The fact is that Iran has not stepped forward and enunciated a vision for Afghanistan that converges with, or complements NATO’s and America’s vision for the country. There is no record of Iran indicating — beyond the drug issue — an area where there may be a strategic convergence. And stopping the drug trade, frankly, is not enough to build an alliance on. Beyond that, Iran’s interests are diametrically opposed to ours. Why then is so much mileage given to this silly idea?

Responding to a reader’s comment, Max Boot has just raised a fundamental question — and exposed a profound misunderstanding — about Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan. Max says that “I’m not sure whether I’m an expert on Afghanistan, but I know enough to realize that Iran doesn’t view the Taliban as a threat — certainly not as an existential threat (like Nazi Germany was to both the U.S. and U.S.S.R) that could drive Iran into America’s arms.” He then goes on to note that while the Iranians were helping the Northern Alliance in the 1990′s and certainly disliked the anti-Shi’a flavor of the Taliban, they are now supplying aid to those very same Taliban that we suppose to be their mortal enemies. Clearly, we are missing something here.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Max’s reader is actually correct — and that Iran does not see the Taliban’s prevailing in the Afghan conflict as a desirable outcome. That would be a common interest between Iran and the West. But would that be enough to justify cooperation? We are not just talking about Iran refraining from being unhelpful. Some have even raised the possibility of NATO supply routes going through Iran — though Iran has already ruled out the scenario.

After all, one could also say that countries like Turkey, Syria, and Iraq have a common interest in ensuring that the Tigris and Euphrates do not dry up. Or that countries like Algeria and Morocco have a shared interest in ensuring that Mediterranean fish do not become extinct. Venezuela and Colombia surely share similar concerns about hurricanes, and so do naturally the U.S. and Cuba. But such basic common interests are not enough to forge alliances or even to overcome ancient enmities. Whereas our basic desire to see the Taliban defeated may be shared by Tehran — and that is still a big if — Iran also desires to see America and its allies bogged down in Afghanistan for a long time. Iran does not wish to see America’s success there any more than it hoped for America’s success in Iraq. Iran wants to be the power-broker in both places and it has played the same game here and there — first, they’re arsonists, and then, only after we beg them and offer a fair price — only then, they’re firemen. They’ll be sure to make us pay the water, the fire trucks, and all the rest of the equipment, very dearly.

The fact is that Iran has not stepped forward and enunciated a vision for Afghanistan that converges with, or complements NATO’s and America’s vision for the country. There is no record of Iran indicating — beyond the drug issue — an area where there may be a strategic convergence. And stopping the drug trade, frankly, is not enough to build an alliance on. Beyond that, Iran’s interests are diametrically opposed to ours. Why then is so much mileage given to this silly idea?

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Re: Re: Cohen’s Cuddly Mullahs

I don’t normally urge people to read institutional responses to journalistic articles, but in the case of Roger Cohen — which both Max and I have covered — I’ll make an exception. The reason? It’s a great response and I know the author, Dr. Eran Lerman — former senior Israeli intelligence officer, and the Director of the Israel/Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee. When it comes to foreign relations, Lerman is one of the most knowledgeable Israelis alive. He rarely bothers picking a fight with a foolish column. His choosing to make an exception for Cohen’s columns speaks volumes. It means Lerman thinks Cohen’s naïve (or malicious; take your pick) arguments pose a threat that should be dealt with promptly.

To this effect, he wrote a column titled “Should Roger Cohen Have a Conversation with my Daughter?” and published it on the AJC‘s site. Below are a couple of paragraphs:

I wish I could tell [my 17 year old daughter] that Mr. Cohen, a knowledgeable man, has recently been to Iran and is now in possession of a mature understanding-which all of us here, hysterical children that we are, sorely lack-of the mullahs’ real (and relatively benign) intentions. Even better, I would have loved to let him come over for dinner and have a go at soothing her fears, which are deep and real, and shared by many in Israel, young and old alike, who are not playing strategic games; they are simply frightened. But somehow, reading his recent spate of essays, I am not sure he is up to the task. Neither am I.

[ . . .]

They don’t really hate Jews, do they? Cohen left Tehran with a positive impression about the lives of Jews under the present Iranian regime. (Luckily for the mullahs, he did not ask too many questions about Baha’is, gays, or women’s rights activists.) To write as he did about the perspectives of those among Iran’s Jews who chose to stay when the majority left is in itself a hidden problem, and apparently he was confronted on this issue by the strong community of formerly Iranian Jews now in the Los Angeles. area. But beyond that, it should have been obvious to him that, as a Jew, he was being used to promote Iran’s alleged distinction between “good” Jews (anti-Zionists) and the bad or even false Jews of the “unnatural regime occupying Palestine.” This is not a new trick. Arab states used it in the 1940s, coercing local Jews to march with anti-Zionist banners. Observing this practice, our great poet of that period, Natan Alterman, wryly commented-in rhyme that I cannot hope to reproduce-that nothing proves the absolute necessity of Jewish freedom, in a sovereign state, more than these forced displays of servility.

The article is not long and I recommend reading it in full.

I don’t normally urge people to read institutional responses to journalistic articles, but in the case of Roger Cohen — which both Max and I have covered — I’ll make an exception. The reason? It’s a great response and I know the author, Dr. Eran Lerman — former senior Israeli intelligence officer, and the Director of the Israel/Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee. When it comes to foreign relations, Lerman is one of the most knowledgeable Israelis alive. He rarely bothers picking a fight with a foolish column. His choosing to make an exception for Cohen’s columns speaks volumes. It means Lerman thinks Cohen’s naïve (or malicious; take your pick) arguments pose a threat that should be dealt with promptly.

To this effect, he wrote a column titled “Should Roger Cohen Have a Conversation with my Daughter?” and published it on the AJC‘s site. Below are a couple of paragraphs:

I wish I could tell [my 17 year old daughter] that Mr. Cohen, a knowledgeable man, has recently been to Iran and is now in possession of a mature understanding-which all of us here, hysterical children that we are, sorely lack-of the mullahs’ real (and relatively benign) intentions. Even better, I would have loved to let him come over for dinner and have a go at soothing her fears, which are deep and real, and shared by many in Israel, young and old alike, who are not playing strategic games; they are simply frightened. But somehow, reading his recent spate of essays, I am not sure he is up to the task. Neither am I.

[ . . .]

They don’t really hate Jews, do they? Cohen left Tehran with a positive impression about the lives of Jews under the present Iranian regime. (Luckily for the mullahs, he did not ask too many questions about Baha’is, gays, or women’s rights activists.) To write as he did about the perspectives of those among Iran’s Jews who chose to stay when the majority left is in itself a hidden problem, and apparently he was confronted on this issue by the strong community of formerly Iranian Jews now in the Los Angeles. area. But beyond that, it should have been obvious to him that, as a Jew, he was being used to promote Iran’s alleged distinction between “good” Jews (anti-Zionists) and the bad or even false Jews of the “unnatural regime occupying Palestine.” This is not a new trick. Arab states used it in the 1940s, coercing local Jews to march with anti-Zionist banners. Observing this practice, our great poet of that period, Natan Alterman, wryly commented-in rhyme that I cannot hope to reproduce-that nothing proves the absolute necessity of Jewish freedom, in a sovereign state, more than these forced displays of servility.

The article is not long and I recommend reading it in full.

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NY-20: No One Ever Gives Up

The counting of absentee ballots in the NY-20 is proceeding. Depending on whose vote count you like, either the Democrat or the Republican is ahead. But these races are preludes to court battles. In this one, the judge is sick for today, but the lawyers argue on.

These contests all have a familiar pattern now. The race is nearly a tie. Both sides begin the game of tossing out the other guy’s ballots for failure to meet the technical requirements of state balloting law. The candidate who’s behind claims all the votes aren’t being counted. The court cases drag on. The result is that voters soon get the idea, perhaps correctly, that the winner is just the fellow with the better lawyers. If not, the judges decide these things based on political affiliation. All of that is bad and erodes confidence in voting. Do we have a better solution? Automatic re-votes, perhaps, but those tend to be expensive and then we will fight over whether the margin is close enough to qualify for the re-vote. Unfortunately, with Bush v. Gore we opened a new chapter in voting, in which election day is simply the predicate for a lawsuit.

There is no substitute for restraint and good sportsmanship. And these days those are considered anachronisms of a by-gone era.

The counting of absentee ballots in the NY-20 is proceeding. Depending on whose vote count you like, either the Democrat or the Republican is ahead. But these races are preludes to court battles. In this one, the judge is sick for today, but the lawyers argue on.

These contests all have a familiar pattern now. The race is nearly a tie. Both sides begin the game of tossing out the other guy’s ballots for failure to meet the technical requirements of state balloting law. The candidate who’s behind claims all the votes aren’t being counted. The court cases drag on. The result is that voters soon get the idea, perhaps correctly, that the winner is just the fellow with the better lawyers. If not, the judges decide these things based on political affiliation. All of that is bad and erodes confidence in voting. Do we have a better solution? Automatic re-votes, perhaps, but those tend to be expensive and then we will fight over whether the margin is close enough to qualify for the re-vote. Unfortunately, with Bush v. Gore we opened a new chapter in voting, in which election day is simply the predicate for a lawsuit.

There is no substitute for restraint and good sportsmanship. And these days those are considered anachronisms of a by-gone era.

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Re: Cohen’s Cuddly Mullahs

In response to my question, “What common threat does [Roger] Cohen imagine would bind the U.S. and Iran together?”, Brien Jackson writes: “The Taliban. You’d think someone who fancies themselves an expert on Afghanistan would know that. But then, I suspect you probably did.”

I’m not sure whether I’m an expert on Afghanistan, but I know enough to realize that Iran doesn’t view the Taliban as a threat — certainly not as an existential threat (like Nazi Germany was to both the U.S. and U.S.S.R) that could drive Iran into America’s arms. Iran has a complicated history with the Taliban, having provided support to the Northern Alliance in the 1990s to fight the Taliban. Iran was also mildly helpful to U.S. efforts during the Bonn process in 2002 to set up a new, non-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

That was then, this is now. Today, Iran provides support to the Taliban. See, for example, this article in the Guardian of London, which reports:

British special forces operating on the border between Afghanistan and Iran have uncovered fresh evidence that Tehran is actively backing insurgents fighting UK troops.

Documented proof that Iran is supplying the Taliban with devastating roadside bomb-making equipment has been passed by British officials to Tehran, prompting fears that the war in Afghanistan may escalate into a regional armed conflict.

This is not an isolated instance. There is plenty more evidence — most of it classified — about links between Iran and the Taliban. The exact nature of the relationship isn’t clear, and it’s certainly not as close as the relationship between Iran and the Mahdist Army in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon. But a relationship does exist notwithstanding the Taliban’s hardcore Sunni theology, which includes anti-Shiite prejudice. That should hardly be surprising since Iran backs other Sunni groups like Hamas. Tehran also has links with non-Muslim states like Venezuela and North Korea which, if anything, should be even more offensive to Muslim sensibilities.

But the mullahs have consistently shown a willingness to put theological purity behind geopolitical considerations. In this case, they do not want the U.S. to stabilize Afghanistan and turn it into a reliable pro-American ally — any more than they want to see us turn Iraq into a pro-American ally on their other border. It would be naive in the extreme to assume that Iran will put such considerations aside in the interests of greater harmony with the Great Satan.

In response to my question, “What common threat does [Roger] Cohen imagine would bind the U.S. and Iran together?”, Brien Jackson writes: “The Taliban. You’d think someone who fancies themselves an expert on Afghanistan would know that. But then, I suspect you probably did.”

I’m not sure whether I’m an expert on Afghanistan, but I know enough to realize that Iran doesn’t view the Taliban as a threat — certainly not as an existential threat (like Nazi Germany was to both the U.S. and U.S.S.R) that could drive Iran into America’s arms. Iran has a complicated history with the Taliban, having provided support to the Northern Alliance in the 1990s to fight the Taliban. Iran was also mildly helpful to U.S. efforts during the Bonn process in 2002 to set up a new, non-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

That was then, this is now. Today, Iran provides support to the Taliban. See, for example, this article in the Guardian of London, which reports:

British special forces operating on the border between Afghanistan and Iran have uncovered fresh evidence that Tehran is actively backing insurgents fighting UK troops.

Documented proof that Iran is supplying the Taliban with devastating roadside bomb-making equipment has been passed by British officials to Tehran, prompting fears that the war in Afghanistan may escalate into a regional armed conflict.

This is not an isolated instance. There is plenty more evidence — most of it classified — about links between Iran and the Taliban. The exact nature of the relationship isn’t clear, and it’s certainly not as close as the relationship between Iran and the Mahdist Army in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon. But a relationship does exist notwithstanding the Taliban’s hardcore Sunni theology, which includes anti-Shiite prejudice. That should hardly be surprising since Iran backs other Sunni groups like Hamas. Tehran also has links with non-Muslim states like Venezuela and North Korea which, if anything, should be even more offensive to Muslim sensibilities.

But the mullahs have consistently shown a willingness to put theological purity behind geopolitical considerations. In this case, they do not want the U.S. to stabilize Afghanistan and turn it into a reliable pro-American ally — any more than they want to see us turn Iraq into a pro-American ally on their other border. It would be naive in the extreme to assume that Iran will put such considerations aside in the interests of greater harmony with the Great Satan.

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Bayh Nearly Alone

On Sunday Evan Bayh explained why he voted against the Obama budget:

I’ve been a fiscal conservative throughout my career. It’s nothing personal to the president . . In the short run, I agree with the president. We do need to stimulate the economy. The government needs to step in… In the long run, I think the deficits and the debt are too high. We need to get those under control. So that was the reason for my vote there.

So what happened to the other Democrats who claim to be fiscally conservative? True, twenty-two House and Senate Democrats voted against the budget but many prominent Red state Democrats, from Heath Shuler to Blanche Lincoln, went along with the president. Perhaps they are betting that the public won’t really recoil against the huge spending bonanza and accumulation of debt. Or maybe they think the president’s current popularity will hold up and shield them from the voters next year.

The Republicans, according to the mainstream media, have taken a huge gamble in their united opposition to the president. But if indeed the deficit swells, growth and recovery lag, and unemployment continues upward, it may be that those twenty-two are looked upon with envy by their Democratic colleagues. For now, the vast majority of the Congressional Democrats have no cover — and no Republicans to blame — if the budget comes to be seen as fiscally reckless.

On Sunday Evan Bayh explained why he voted against the Obama budget:

I’ve been a fiscal conservative throughout my career. It’s nothing personal to the president . . In the short run, I agree with the president. We do need to stimulate the economy. The government needs to step in… In the long run, I think the deficits and the debt are too high. We need to get those under control. So that was the reason for my vote there.

So what happened to the other Democrats who claim to be fiscally conservative? True, twenty-two House and Senate Democrats voted against the budget but many prominent Red state Democrats, from Heath Shuler to Blanche Lincoln, went along with the president. Perhaps they are betting that the public won’t really recoil against the huge spending bonanza and accumulation of debt. Or maybe they think the president’s current popularity will hold up and shield them from the voters next year.

The Republicans, according to the mainstream media, have taken a huge gamble in their united opposition to the president. But if indeed the deficit swells, growth and recovery lag, and unemployment continues upward, it may be that those twenty-two are looked upon with envy by their Democratic colleagues. For now, the vast majority of the Congressional Democrats have no cover — and no Republicans to blame — if the budget comes to be seen as fiscally reckless.

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“Imbalance”?

Does anyone know what Christopher Hitchens is talking about?

George W. Bush always spoke as if the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, were an attack on the United States only and drew the corollary in his rhetoric that you are either “with” the United States or with the “terrists” (as he always seemed to think they were called). By underlining the losses suffered by other countries, not only did Obama redress this imbalance, he also gently but firmly reminded Europeans that this was and is their struggle, too.

I guess labeling this struggle the Global War on Terror wasn’t inclusive enough for Hitchens. And I suppose Bush was being too parochial when he declared on 9/11, “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended,” or when he said, “The United States and our allies are determined: we refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger.”

And, gosh, could the rhetorical “imbalance” be any clearer than in Bush’s declaration that “if we do not defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan, we will face them on our own soil. Innocent civilians in Europe and North America will pay the price”?

Still not convinced? Consider the American self-absorption on display in 2002:

President Bush called on Europe yesterday to face the truth about the threat from terrorism and join America in its war or face “certain blackmail” from terrorists.

“In this war we defend not just America or Europe,” he told the German parliament at the start of his European tour. “We are defending civilisation itself.”

[ . . .]

“Those who despise human freedom will attack it on every continent . . . Those who seek terrible weapons are also familiar with the map of Europe,” he said.

But Hitchens is vitally correct about one all-important detail, and we should always remember not to overlook this:  Bush pronounced the word terrorists with an accent.

UPDATE (courtesy of  David):

Not to mention that Bush explicitly named these nations, including enemy nations, when he had his biggest megaphone and all the world’s attention at the joint session of Congress on Sept. 21, 2001. Christopher Hitchens needs to get much better fact checkers:

“Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own. Dozens of Pakistanis, more than 130 Israelis, more than 250 citizens of India, men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico and Japan, and hundreds of British citizens.”

Does anyone know what Christopher Hitchens is talking about?

George W. Bush always spoke as if the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, were an attack on the United States only and drew the corollary in his rhetoric that you are either “with” the United States or with the “terrists” (as he always seemed to think they were called). By underlining the losses suffered by other countries, not only did Obama redress this imbalance, he also gently but firmly reminded Europeans that this was and is their struggle, too.

I guess labeling this struggle the Global War on Terror wasn’t inclusive enough for Hitchens. And I suppose Bush was being too parochial when he declared on 9/11, “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended,” or when he said, “The United States and our allies are determined: we refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger.”

And, gosh, could the rhetorical “imbalance” be any clearer than in Bush’s declaration that “if we do not defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan, we will face them on our own soil. Innocent civilians in Europe and North America will pay the price”?

Still not convinced? Consider the American self-absorption on display in 2002:

President Bush called on Europe yesterday to face the truth about the threat from terrorism and join America in its war or face “certain blackmail” from terrorists.

“In this war we defend not just America or Europe,” he told the German parliament at the start of his European tour. “We are defending civilisation itself.”

[ . . .]

“Those who despise human freedom will attack it on every continent . . . Those who seek terrible weapons are also familiar with the map of Europe,” he said.

But Hitchens is vitally correct about one all-important detail, and we should always remember not to overlook this:  Bush pronounced the word terrorists with an accent.

UPDATE (courtesy of  David):

Not to mention that Bush explicitly named these nations, including enemy nations, when he had his biggest megaphone and all the world’s attention at the joint session of Congress on Sept. 21, 2001. Christopher Hitchens needs to get much better fact checkers:

“Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own. Dozens of Pakistanis, more than 130 Israelis, more than 250 citizens of India, men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico and Japan, and hundreds of British citizens.”

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Calling Out Europe on Iran

According to the Washington Times, Sens. Evan Bayh and Tom Coburn called on Sunday for an increase in sanctions against doing business with Iran:

The U.S. government must “really crack down on companies doing business with Iran, to increase the cost of that business, to drive up the price of violating these sanctions on the part of the Iranians,” Mr. Bayh, Indiana Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

For a starting point, look no further. On Monday, Eli Lake in the same Washington Times confirmed a story reported in the Jerusalem Post almost a year ago. Nokia Siemens Network, a joint venture of Finnish Nokia and German Siemens, sold Iran telecom technology for phone and internet intercepts — something Iran is reportedly using to monitor and pro-(per)-secute dissidents.

All protestations of innocence are hollow — even EU legislation forbids this type of export, when there is evidence that the products in question will be used for repressive purposes. So it would not hurt for the U.S. to poke European firms, in the hope that EU member states apply their legislation a bit more thoroughly when it comes to sales of sensitive technology to Iran.

According to the Washington Times, Sens. Evan Bayh and Tom Coburn called on Sunday for an increase in sanctions against doing business with Iran:

The U.S. government must “really crack down on companies doing business with Iran, to increase the cost of that business, to drive up the price of violating these sanctions on the part of the Iranians,” Mr. Bayh, Indiana Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

For a starting point, look no further. On Monday, Eli Lake in the same Washington Times confirmed a story reported in the Jerusalem Post almost a year ago. Nokia Siemens Network, a joint venture of Finnish Nokia and German Siemens, sold Iran telecom technology for phone and internet intercepts — something Iran is reportedly using to monitor and pro-(per)-secute dissidents.

All protestations of innocence are hollow — even EU legislation forbids this type of export, when there is evidence that the products in question will be used for repressive purposes. So it would not hurt for the U.S. to poke European firms, in the hope that EU member states apply their legislation a bit more thoroughly when it comes to sales of sensitive technology to Iran.

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The Balance Our Government Must Find

If you look at the domestic initiatives currently on the table, they are all geared (with one major exception) toward reducing uncertainty and risk from ordinary people’s lives. This is a far cry from the older conception of government’s role, which was to enforce contracts and some other basic rules and then get out of the way.

In times of broad economic uncertainty, it’s understandable that We The People would vote for the candidate who’s most focused on dispelling our fears. In the present case, this impulse has left us with a new activist government that’s eager and ready to pursue broad ends. This government must now ensure that it has the means to pursue those ends, but in doing so it must strike an important balance between private incentives that keep the economy running and government-imposed stability.

The major policy initiatives being discussed are: universal health-care (or at least universal health insurance); sweeping re-regulation of business and finance; and the replacement of carbon-based energy sources. The first two are all about eliminating uncertainty over the material circumstances of life. Green energy policy is the exception, and it’s no surprise that it’s the only major Obama initiative that doesn’t (at least superficially) command broad popular support.

We’re passing through a major social crisis in America. For several decades now, we’ve accepted that people freely acting in their own best interests will produce prosperity, if not stability. That equation is now in question. The people seem ready (as they were in 1932) to accept broad curbs on private freedoms in order to attain stability.

In other words, having suffered large losses in their home values and in the stock market, the people are looking for assurance that such things can never happen again. While they’re at it, they want to know that they’ll be able to send their kids to college, secure the health-care they need, and retire in comfort. They need to feel like someone is in charge. Market capitalism assures us that “it’s all up to you; if you work hard enough and smartly enough, everything will be great.” These assurances now ring hollow to many.

Therefore, the next few years will see a new openness to very different social arrangements. The objective is to deliver to everyone, or nearly everyone, a basic level of material well-being, including housing, healthcare, and access to higher education. And just as FDR did with Social Security (which in his famous words could never be taken away), Obama is trying to seize this opportunity to guarantee the essentials of middle-class life for everyone.

But not every individual produces at the same level consistently throughout his or her life. To ensure basic sustenance for all, we must stand ready to provide it by redirecting resources (including goods and services) in comprehensive ways. Finally delivering on the promises of the New Deal and the Great Society means that government will necessarily have the power to dispose of far more of society’s aggregate productivity than Americans have ever tolerated before in peacetime.

What comes next you’ve heard many times before. Government by itself doesn’t produce anything, or at least it doesn’t do so efficiently. Communism doesn’t actually work. If we want to provide an economic baseline for everyone, we still need to preserve private incentives for those who are highly motivated to produce efficiently. If we really want to go down this road (and I still think there are better ways to go), then we need a new American corporatism.

I’ve proposed at various times a compromise plan for how this might work. We need to ensure that economically productive investments continue to be made, while at the same time ensuring that most of the people can enjoy expanded benefits provided by the state. Taxes on business income and capital gains must be eliminated. The payroll tax and the income tax should be merged together, and eliminated entirely for every individual earning less than, say, $250,000 a year. For everyone above that level, tax at a flat 50%, but never allow that percentage to go any higher.

Is the Obama administration prepared to take these kinds of measures to institute the economic security it thinks necessary? We’ll just have to wait and see.

If you look at the domestic initiatives currently on the table, they are all geared (with one major exception) toward reducing uncertainty and risk from ordinary people’s lives. This is a far cry from the older conception of government’s role, which was to enforce contracts and some other basic rules and then get out of the way.

In times of broad economic uncertainty, it’s understandable that We The People would vote for the candidate who’s most focused on dispelling our fears. In the present case, this impulse has left us with a new activist government that’s eager and ready to pursue broad ends. This government must now ensure that it has the means to pursue those ends, but in doing so it must strike an important balance between private incentives that keep the economy running and government-imposed stability.

The major policy initiatives being discussed are: universal health-care (or at least universal health insurance); sweeping re-regulation of business and finance; and the replacement of carbon-based energy sources. The first two are all about eliminating uncertainty over the material circumstances of life. Green energy policy is the exception, and it’s no surprise that it’s the only major Obama initiative that doesn’t (at least superficially) command broad popular support.

We’re passing through a major social crisis in America. For several decades now, we’ve accepted that people freely acting in their own best interests will produce prosperity, if not stability. That equation is now in question. The people seem ready (as they were in 1932) to accept broad curbs on private freedoms in order to attain stability.

In other words, having suffered large losses in their home values and in the stock market, the people are looking for assurance that such things can never happen again. While they’re at it, they want to know that they’ll be able to send their kids to college, secure the health-care they need, and retire in comfort. They need to feel like someone is in charge. Market capitalism assures us that “it’s all up to you; if you work hard enough and smartly enough, everything will be great.” These assurances now ring hollow to many.

Therefore, the next few years will see a new openness to very different social arrangements. The objective is to deliver to everyone, or nearly everyone, a basic level of material well-being, including housing, healthcare, and access to higher education. And just as FDR did with Social Security (which in his famous words could never be taken away), Obama is trying to seize this opportunity to guarantee the essentials of middle-class life for everyone.

But not every individual produces at the same level consistently throughout his or her life. To ensure basic sustenance for all, we must stand ready to provide it by redirecting resources (including goods and services) in comprehensive ways. Finally delivering on the promises of the New Deal and the Great Society means that government will necessarily have the power to dispose of far more of society’s aggregate productivity than Americans have ever tolerated before in peacetime.

What comes next you’ve heard many times before. Government by itself doesn’t produce anything, or at least it doesn’t do so efficiently. Communism doesn’t actually work. If we want to provide an economic baseline for everyone, we still need to preserve private incentives for those who are highly motivated to produce efficiently. If we really want to go down this road (and I still think there are better ways to go), then we need a new American corporatism.

I’ve proposed at various times a compromise plan for how this might work. We need to ensure that economically productive investments continue to be made, while at the same time ensuring that most of the people can enjoy expanded benefits provided by the state. Taxes on business income and capital gains must be eliminated. The payroll tax and the income tax should be merged together, and eliminated entirely for every individual earning less than, say, $250,000 a year. For everyone above that level, tax at a flat 50%, but never allow that percentage to go any higher.

Is the Obama administration prepared to take these kinds of measures to institute the economic security it thinks necessary? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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How Is this Going to Actually Work?

Robert Samuelson contends that the president and his team are spinning a fantasy world:

They’ve left the impression that somehow magical technological breakthroughs will produce clean energy that is also cheap. Perhaps that will happen; it hasn’t yet. They’ve talked so often about the need to control wasteful health spending that they’ve implied they’ve actually found a way of doing so. Perhaps they will, but they haven’t yet.

What they are really doing, Samuelson says, is increasing the cost of energy (via a cap-and-trade tax) and of healthcare (via nationalized care funded by some yet-undetermined tax) . That is likely to produce less economic activity and less healthcare (which will in essence be rationed to control cost).

The alternatives –  for example, increasing domestic energy production and fostering personal healthcare coverage through competition — are not even considered. The innate bias against private competition and in favor of large, complex government-directed programs leaves these options out of the discussion.

The result is a return to a style of government that was popularized decades ago: large federal bureaucracies, volumes of regulations and ever higher taxes to pay for all of it. It isn’t very “modern,” as we have come to think of the 21st century. If the trend in everything from entertainment to media is decentralized, personalized, and competitive then the Obama government seems rather old-fashioned. When one thinks of creating, monitoring, and enforcing healthcare policy for 300 million Americans and regulating control carbon-output for thousands of businesses you come to appreciate how large and complex the government must be. Do we really think any government can pull this off?

“Clean energy” and “universal coverage” sound swell in theory. But when you stop to consider the type of energy and healthcare policies the Obama team envisions it becomes painfully obvious that it will all be very expensive and won’t possibly account for the needs and desires of a country as large and diverse as ours. Perhaps it is time to put away “childish” things ( e.g. green energy that doesn’t cost anything and expanded coverage that saves money) and think hard about the costs, limitations, complexities and trade-offs which these policies entail. And then we can get down to crafting plans that have a reasonable chance of success.

Robert Samuelson contends that the president and his team are spinning a fantasy world:

They’ve left the impression that somehow magical technological breakthroughs will produce clean energy that is also cheap. Perhaps that will happen; it hasn’t yet. They’ve talked so often about the need to control wasteful health spending that they’ve implied they’ve actually found a way of doing so. Perhaps they will, but they haven’t yet.

What they are really doing, Samuelson says, is increasing the cost of energy (via a cap-and-trade tax) and of healthcare (via nationalized care funded by some yet-undetermined tax) . That is likely to produce less economic activity and less healthcare (which will in essence be rationed to control cost).

The alternatives –  for example, increasing domestic energy production and fostering personal healthcare coverage through competition — are not even considered. The innate bias against private competition and in favor of large, complex government-directed programs leaves these options out of the discussion.

The result is a return to a style of government that was popularized decades ago: large federal bureaucracies, volumes of regulations and ever higher taxes to pay for all of it. It isn’t very “modern,” as we have come to think of the 21st century. If the trend in everything from entertainment to media is decentralized, personalized, and competitive then the Obama government seems rather old-fashioned. When one thinks of creating, monitoring, and enforcing healthcare policy for 300 million Americans and regulating control carbon-output for thousands of businesses you come to appreciate how large and complex the government must be. Do we really think any government can pull this off?

“Clean energy” and “universal coverage” sound swell in theory. But when you stop to consider the type of energy and healthcare policies the Obama team envisions it becomes painfully obvious that it will all be very expensive and won’t possibly account for the needs and desires of a country as large and diverse as ours. Perhaps it is time to put away “childish” things ( e.g. green energy that doesn’t cost anything and expanded coverage that saves money) and think hard about the costs, limitations, complexities and trade-offs which these policies entail. And then we can get down to crafting plans that have a reasonable chance of success.

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Cohen’s Cuddly Mullahs

Roger Cohen of the New York Times is rapidly becoming Iran’s foremost apologist in the United States — which is saying something considering how many others are all too willing to excuse and explain away the mullahs’ murderous misconduct. In his latest special pleading on behalf of the theocratic dictators in Tehran, Cohen trots out the Mother of All Dumb Analogies: “Imagine if Roosevelt in 1942 had said to Stalin, sorry, Joe, we don’t like your Communist ideology so we’re not going to accept your help in crushing the Nazis. I know you’re powerful, but we don’t deal with evil.”

If that’s supposed to show the error of our ways with Iran, it falls a little bit short. The reason that the U.S. allied with Russia in 1942 was that, notwithstanding the evils of its communist regime, the two countries faced a common existential threat in Nazi Germany. As soon as that threat disappeared, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. became mired in a decades-long Cold War. What common threat does Cohen imagine would bind the U.S. and Iran together? A Martian invasion?

Iran has been America’s enemy ever since 1979. Hatred of the “Great Satan” has been an essential element of the Iranian Revolution.

Numerous attempts by every American administration since Carter to engage with the Iranians have been rebuffed. Trying to engage with Iran might be likened to U.S. attempts to engage with the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union — attempts which inevitably ended in broken promises and failed treaties because the Soviets were not yet genuinely dedicated to reform and cooperation with the West.

Cohen nevertheless spins out what he calls a “normalization scenario”:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.

The only thing that’s missing is Ahmadinejad donning a yarmulke and singing “Hava Nagila.”

This fantasy veers from harmless wishful thinking into something more pernicious when Cohen writes:

Any such deal is a game changer, transformative as Nixon to China (another repressive state with a poor human rights record). It can be derailed any time by an attack from Israel, which has made clear it won’t accept virtual nuclear power status for Iran, despite its own nonvirtual nuclear warheads.

So you see the Iranians are ready to change their ways, to become a paragon of Western liberal virtue. The only thing standing in the way is mindless Israeli belligerence. If only the nasty Israelites would let the nice Iranians have a nuclear program, everyone could walk off into the sunset, arm in arm.  It is rare to get such insights outside of official Iranian government organs.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times is rapidly becoming Iran’s foremost apologist in the United States — which is saying something considering how many others are all too willing to excuse and explain away the mullahs’ murderous misconduct. In his latest special pleading on behalf of the theocratic dictators in Tehran, Cohen trots out the Mother of All Dumb Analogies: “Imagine if Roosevelt in 1942 had said to Stalin, sorry, Joe, we don’t like your Communist ideology so we’re not going to accept your help in crushing the Nazis. I know you’re powerful, but we don’t deal with evil.”

If that’s supposed to show the error of our ways with Iran, it falls a little bit short. The reason that the U.S. allied with Russia in 1942 was that, notwithstanding the evils of its communist regime, the two countries faced a common existential threat in Nazi Germany. As soon as that threat disappeared, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. became mired in a decades-long Cold War. What common threat does Cohen imagine would bind the U.S. and Iran together? A Martian invasion?

Iran has been America’s enemy ever since 1979. Hatred of the “Great Satan” has been an essential element of the Iranian Revolution.

Numerous attempts by every American administration since Carter to engage with the Iranians have been rebuffed. Trying to engage with Iran might be likened to U.S. attempts to engage with the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union — attempts which inevitably ended in broken promises and failed treaties because the Soviets were not yet genuinely dedicated to reform and cooperation with the West.

Cohen nevertheless spins out what he calls a “normalization scenario”:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.

The only thing that’s missing is Ahmadinejad donning a yarmulke and singing “Hava Nagila.”

This fantasy veers from harmless wishful thinking into something more pernicious when Cohen writes:

Any such deal is a game changer, transformative as Nixon to China (another repressive state with a poor human rights record). It can be derailed any time by an attack from Israel, which has made clear it won’t accept virtual nuclear power status for Iran, despite its own nonvirtual nuclear warheads.

So you see the Iranians are ready to change their ways, to become a paragon of Western liberal virtue. The only thing standing in the way is mindless Israeli belligerence. If only the nasty Israelites would let the nice Iranians have a nuclear program, everyone could walk off into the sunset, arm in arm.  It is rare to get such insights outside of official Iranian government organs.

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Too Big a Special Interest to Fail

This report tells us that the Obama administration is pushing G.M. toward a “surgical bankruptcy.” But then we get this tidbit:

President Obama, who was elected with strong backing from labor, remained concerned about potential risk to G.M.’s pension plan and wants to avoid harming workers, these people said.

So how exactly does this bankruptcy work? It doesn’t sound much like the standard-fare bankruptcy where an apolitical judge with the help of a referee cuts back the creditors, throws out the labor agreement, and constructs a reasonable contract enabling the company to return to profitability. Instead, the Obama administration is working hard — still — to get the bondholders to take a hit. It hopes to pre-set the terms of a “deal” rather than leave everyone, especially the union, to face the bankruptcy judge.

Maybe the stepped-up talk of bankruptcy will force the parties, including the UAW, to reach a deal. But so long as the president keeps sending signals that the UAW is too big to fail it is unlikely that the union will take the necessary steps to redo its labor agreement. Not until the administration sends an unequivocal message that the UAW needs to refashion its agreement — just as would be required in an ordinary bankruptcy — will there be hope for G.M.’s survival.

This report tells us that the Obama administration is pushing G.M. toward a “surgical bankruptcy.” But then we get this tidbit:

President Obama, who was elected with strong backing from labor, remained concerned about potential risk to G.M.’s pension plan and wants to avoid harming workers, these people said.

So how exactly does this bankruptcy work? It doesn’t sound much like the standard-fare bankruptcy where an apolitical judge with the help of a referee cuts back the creditors, throws out the labor agreement, and constructs a reasonable contract enabling the company to return to profitability. Instead, the Obama administration is working hard — still — to get the bondholders to take a hit. It hopes to pre-set the terms of a “deal” rather than leave everyone, especially the union, to face the bankruptcy judge.

Maybe the stepped-up talk of bankruptcy will force the parties, including the UAW, to reach a deal. But so long as the president keeps sending signals that the UAW is too big to fail it is unlikely that the union will take the necessary steps to redo its labor agreement. Not until the administration sends an unequivocal message that the UAW needs to refashion its agreement — just as would be required in an ordinary bankruptcy — will there be hope for G.M.’s survival.

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Pirate Economics

Well, the pirate standoff off the coast of Somalia has ended, and it ended well. One pirate surrendered, three pirates dead, and Captain Phillips once again free. No ransom paid, no concessions made, just a simple demonstration of resourcefulness and resolve.

The real hero here, despite his protestations, is Captain Phillips. First, he led his crew in successfully resisting the pirates as they boarded. Next, he traded his own freedom for that of his crew when he allowed himself to be made the pirates’ prisoner. Finally, he broke free and dove overboard in an attempt to escape before Navy snipers freed him.

The whole scenario serves as a stark reminder that when Western powers face threats from nominally weaker opponents, such as pirates or terrorists,  those opponents have access to a trump card that too often brings our military juggernaut to a grinding halt: hostages.

The pirates of Somalia are taking up piracy for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: “that’s where the money is.” And by taking hostages and using them as human shields, they have found a way to check the vast military force that could be brought down on them.

The problem is an ancient one, tied up in basic economics: whatever you subsidize, you get more of. If you pay a ransom (or make some other type of concession) for hostages, you guarantee that there will be more hostages.

Concession to kidnappers is a short-sighted solution. Yes, you get these particular hostages back — but with the increased odds that there will be more hostages in the future. After all, nothing succeeds like success. Another example would be Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas several years ago. He’s still being held (if he’s still alive), and Hamas is still making demands of hundreds or more prisoners for his freedom — and boasting that it will kidnap more Israeli soldiers to serve as bargaining chips.

There is no easy solution. As long as we make it abundantly clear that we will always back down when innocents are threatened, we guarantee that more innocents will be threatened. Because as long as the pirates and the hostage-takers are rewarded with ransoms for ships and people, they have absolutely no reason to stop.

Well, the pirate standoff off the coast of Somalia has ended, and it ended well. One pirate surrendered, three pirates dead, and Captain Phillips once again free. No ransom paid, no concessions made, just a simple demonstration of resourcefulness and resolve.

The real hero here, despite his protestations, is Captain Phillips. First, he led his crew in successfully resisting the pirates as they boarded. Next, he traded his own freedom for that of his crew when he allowed himself to be made the pirates’ prisoner. Finally, he broke free and dove overboard in an attempt to escape before Navy snipers freed him.

The whole scenario serves as a stark reminder that when Western powers face threats from nominally weaker opponents, such as pirates or terrorists,  those opponents have access to a trump card that too often brings our military juggernaut to a grinding halt: hostages.

The pirates of Somalia are taking up piracy for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: “that’s where the money is.” And by taking hostages and using them as human shields, they have found a way to check the vast military force that could be brought down on them.

The problem is an ancient one, tied up in basic economics: whatever you subsidize, you get more of. If you pay a ransom (or make some other type of concession) for hostages, you guarantee that there will be more hostages.

Concession to kidnappers is a short-sighted solution. Yes, you get these particular hostages back — but with the increased odds that there will be more hostages in the future. After all, nothing succeeds like success. Another example would be Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas several years ago. He’s still being held (if he’s still alive), and Hamas is still making demands of hundreds or more prisoners for his freedom — and boasting that it will kidnap more Israeli soldiers to serve as bargaining chips.

There is no easy solution. As long as we make it abundantly clear that we will always back down when innocents are threatened, we guarantee that more innocents will be threatened. Because as long as the pirates and the hostage-takers are rewarded with ransoms for ships and people, they have absolutely no reason to stop.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Why so low? “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 34% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-two percent (32%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of +2, his lowest total to date. . .” Maybe people are working on their taxes. It couldn’t be that Americans were irked by the president’s world apology tour, could it?

Ari Fleischer observes: “A very small number of taxpayers — the 10% of the country that makes more than $92,400 a year — pay 72.4% of the nation’s income taxes. They’re the tip of the triangle that’s supporting virtually everyone and everything. Their burden keeps getting heavier.” And about 50% of people pay no federal income tax. His proposal: everyone pays income tax, we create a multi-tiered, progressive system with no deductions.

An interesting contrast between Obama and Bush on religious holidays. I’m reminded that Bush always spared us the mushy “these-holidays-are-really-all-the-same.” He or his presidential proclamation writer invariably expressed what the Jewish holidays were all about on their own terms and without reference to a political agenda.

Better find another country to pick up the slack: “Reversing its role as the world’s fastest-growing buyer of U.S. Treasuries and other foreign bonds, the Chinese government actually sold bonds heavily in January and February before resuming purchases in March, according to data released this weekend by China’s central bank.” Our massive fiscal irresponsibility only “works” if their is appetite for more and more of our bonds.

Another subsidy, another $8B down the . . . er . . . drain.

A fascinating breakdown of who lacks health insurance and who we should really worry about.

“Hot contest over ‘card check’ continues,” blares the headline. Not really. Actually not at all.

This must-read explains why a “pubic option” in healthcare reform is not an option, but the end of private insurance. Hint: when liberals use “choice” or “option” be very wary.

From the Daily News: “Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, once a right-leaning Blue Dog Democrat who touted civil unions over gay marriage, has morphed in three short months into a poster girl for the Human Rights Campaign.” When you move left you have “evolved,” when you move right you have flip-flopped.

A smart take: “One of the more underplayed stories in the past couple of weeks is the effort made on the part of the Obama Administration and its Democratic allies in Congress to kill the D.C. school choice program. This is an unfair and heartless act on the part of an Administration claiming to want to improve the state of American education, an act that puts the teachers’ unions ahead of students and their families.”

If the tea party protests turn out hundreds of thousands of people will CNN look biased or out to lunch — or both — by ignoring them?

The Washington Post and Obama spin team play ball together (fetch?) over the First Dog? Well, it is cute. And yes, front page treatment is silly, but it was Easter Sunday after all and not exactly a big news day (until the captain’s rescue).

Jamie Kirchick raises a great question: when is it time for gay rights groups to declare victory and pack it in? An equally relevant query for a number of ethnic or race-based civil rights groups.

Why so low? “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 34% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-two percent (32%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of +2, his lowest total to date. . .” Maybe people are working on their taxes. It couldn’t be that Americans were irked by the president’s world apology tour, could it?

Ari Fleischer observes: “A very small number of taxpayers — the 10% of the country that makes more than $92,400 a year — pay 72.4% of the nation’s income taxes. They’re the tip of the triangle that’s supporting virtually everyone and everything. Their burden keeps getting heavier.” And about 50% of people pay no federal income tax. His proposal: everyone pays income tax, we create a multi-tiered, progressive system with no deductions.

An interesting contrast between Obama and Bush on religious holidays. I’m reminded that Bush always spared us the mushy “these-holidays-are-really-all-the-same.” He or his presidential proclamation writer invariably expressed what the Jewish holidays were all about on their own terms and without reference to a political agenda.

Better find another country to pick up the slack: “Reversing its role as the world’s fastest-growing buyer of U.S. Treasuries and other foreign bonds, the Chinese government actually sold bonds heavily in January and February before resuming purchases in March, according to data released this weekend by China’s central bank.” Our massive fiscal irresponsibility only “works” if their is appetite for more and more of our bonds.

Another subsidy, another $8B down the . . . er . . . drain.

A fascinating breakdown of who lacks health insurance and who we should really worry about.

“Hot contest over ‘card check’ continues,” blares the headline. Not really. Actually not at all.

This must-read explains why a “pubic option” in healthcare reform is not an option, but the end of private insurance. Hint: when liberals use “choice” or “option” be very wary.

From the Daily News: “Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, once a right-leaning Blue Dog Democrat who touted civil unions over gay marriage, has morphed in three short months into a poster girl for the Human Rights Campaign.” When you move left you have “evolved,” when you move right you have flip-flopped.

A smart take: “One of the more underplayed stories in the past couple of weeks is the effort made on the part of the Obama Administration and its Democratic allies in Congress to kill the D.C. school choice program. This is an unfair and heartless act on the part of an Administration claiming to want to improve the state of American education, an act that puts the teachers’ unions ahead of students and their families.”

If the tea party protests turn out hundreds of thousands of people will CNN look biased or out to lunch — or both — by ignoring them?

The Washington Post and Obama spin team play ball together (fetch?) over the First Dog? Well, it is cute. And yes, front page treatment is silly, but it was Easter Sunday after all and not exactly a big news day (until the captain’s rescue).

Jamie Kirchick raises a great question: when is it time for gay rights groups to declare victory and pack it in? An equally relevant query for a number of ethnic or race-based civil rights groups.

Read Less




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