Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 15, 2009

Stop Complaining About Taxes!

An interesting report on the president’s tax views:

Obliquely answering the hundreds of “tea bag” protests around the country on tax day, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he’s already delivered the most progressive tax cut in history, with 95% of families getting a tax break in every paycheck.

Americans need a “government that is working to create jobs and opportunity for them, rather than simply giving more and more to those at the very top in the false hope that wealth will trickle down,” Obama said.

In his remarks, Obama decried the use of taxes as a political wedge issue “to scare people into supporting policies that increased the burden on working people instead of helping them live their dreams.”

Hmm. Well, having spent the morning observing about a thousand Tea Day protesters in the pouring rain, I can tell you that bailouts, spending, and old fashioned notions of personal responsibility (not to mention “generational theft”) rather than taxes per se seem to be at the top of their list. But let’s talk taxes.

The so-called Making Work Pay tax credit is due to expire as of 2010,at least in the Senate version of the budget. Will Obama refuse to sign a budget without permanent tax relief? And as for tax hikes, he has not abandoned cap-and-trade legislation which amounts to a $3100 per family tax increase. And tobacco taxes were also raised. He proposed limiting the deductibility of the homeowners and charitable deductions. His campaign promise to cut capital gains is nowhere to be found. The death tax is going up. He’s committed to doing away with the Bush tax cuts — or at least letting them expire. Not exactly a tax cutting record to be proud of.

But you have to appreciate the terminology — those who protest tax hikes are “scaring people.” He is essentially telling everyone to hush up and get used to the new big government, higher taxes regime. But let’s see where we are a year or two from now. Does anyone think Obama won’t be proposing a raft of tax increases? Based on the first three months, that’s an easy call.

An interesting report on the president’s tax views:

Obliquely answering the hundreds of “tea bag” protests around the country on tax day, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he’s already delivered the most progressive tax cut in history, with 95% of families getting a tax break in every paycheck.

Americans need a “government that is working to create jobs and opportunity for them, rather than simply giving more and more to those at the very top in the false hope that wealth will trickle down,” Obama said.

In his remarks, Obama decried the use of taxes as a political wedge issue “to scare people into supporting policies that increased the burden on working people instead of helping them live their dreams.”

Hmm. Well, having spent the morning observing about a thousand Tea Day protesters in the pouring rain, I can tell you that bailouts, spending, and old fashioned notions of personal responsibility (not to mention “generational theft”) rather than taxes per se seem to be at the top of their list. But let’s talk taxes.

The so-called Making Work Pay tax credit is due to expire as of 2010,at least in the Senate version of the budget. Will Obama refuse to sign a budget without permanent tax relief? And as for tax hikes, he has not abandoned cap-and-trade legislation which amounts to a $3100 per family tax increase. And tobacco taxes were also raised. He proposed limiting the deductibility of the homeowners and charitable deductions. His campaign promise to cut capital gains is nowhere to be found. The death tax is going up. He’s committed to doing away with the Bush tax cuts — or at least letting them expire. Not exactly a tax cutting record to be proud of.

But you have to appreciate the terminology — those who protest tax hikes are “scaring people.” He is essentially telling everyone to hush up and get used to the new big government, higher taxes regime. But let’s see where we are a year or two from now. Does anyone think Obama won’t be proposing a raft of tax increases? Based on the first three months, that’s an easy call.

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Commentary of the Day

Will, on Peter Wehner:

It isn’t bipartisanship, it is post partisanshp that Obama advocates. Bipartisanship implies some kind of agreement shared by rival factions. Earmarks have largely been bipartisan. Obama believes in postpartisanship which has to mean no more partisan disagreements. The way this works in Chicago politics is the opposition ceases to exist and what lttle oppostion that does exist is destroyed by being left out or made to pay for everything. The Democrats have controlled Chicago for decades. There is no opposition in Chicago.

In eight years there will be little opposition in the country as the Congress (embellshed by two additional Senate seats from DC and the increasingly safe seats in the House) provides an alderman like atmosphere for the Democratic presidents. States like Texas abd Georgia will be forced to go along to get in on the redistribution required when gasoline, electricity, and healthcare force Texans and Georgians to get hand outs (tax credits) to pay bills.

Chicago has been post partisan for a long time and functions quite well after all Daley makes the trains run on time.

Will, on Peter Wehner:

It isn’t bipartisanship, it is post partisanshp that Obama advocates. Bipartisanship implies some kind of agreement shared by rival factions. Earmarks have largely been bipartisan. Obama believes in postpartisanship which has to mean no more partisan disagreements. The way this works in Chicago politics is the opposition ceases to exist and what lttle oppostion that does exist is destroyed by being left out or made to pay for everything. The Democrats have controlled Chicago for decades. There is no opposition in Chicago.

In eight years there will be little opposition in the country as the Congress (embellshed by two additional Senate seats from DC and the increasingly safe seats in the House) provides an alderman like atmosphere for the Democratic presidents. States like Texas abd Georgia will be forced to go along to get in on the redistribution required when gasoline, electricity, and healthcare force Texans and Georgians to get hand outs (tax credits) to pay bills.

Chicago has been post partisan for a long time and functions quite well after all Daley makes the trains run on time.

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AFF Winner

The winner of the America’s Future Foundation Blogger contest has been chosen by a panel of bloggers (of which I was delighted to be a part). The deserved first place finisher is the Arizona Desert Lamp, operated by students from the University of Arizona. You can read about all the contestants and how the rest stacked up here. While mainstream media is going through tough times it was an eye-opener to see the number of excellent college bloggers. Perhaps one of their friends in some econ department can figure out a new revenue stream to give them all well paying jobs in the future. In the meantime, congratulations to all the winners!

The winner of the America’s Future Foundation Blogger contest has been chosen by a panel of bloggers (of which I was delighted to be a part). The deserved first place finisher is the Arizona Desert Lamp, operated by students from the University of Arizona. You can read about all the contestants and how the rest stacked up here. While mainstream media is going through tough times it was an eye-opener to see the number of excellent college bloggers. Perhaps one of their friends in some econ department can figure out a new revenue stream to give them all well paying jobs in the future. In the meantime, congratulations to all the winners!

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A Dose of Reality

Those “glimmers of hope” for the start of the recovery met up with a dose of reality yesterday:

The president and the Federal Reserve chairman voiced cautious optimism yesterday that the economy could be beginning to stabilize. But the economy wasn’t cooperating. Retail sales dropped sharply in March, the government reported, and wholesale prices fell steeply. Both pieces of data underscore the hard slog the nation faces to emerge from its deep recession and the limitations of more optimistic talk from Washington. The stock market fell 2 percent, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

If you are in the White House you never want headlines like: “Weak Data Clash With Officials’ Call for Confidence.” But the problem may only get worse, despite the effort to cut out the gloom and doom talk which characterized the early days of his term.

The drag on consumer spending, which is responsible for about 70% of economic activity, is going to lag as long as job losses continues. As an MSNBC producer comments:

It’s still about jobs, jobs, jobs. Until the employment market starts showing signs of improvement, it will cast a pall over any ‘green shoots’ of growth poking up through the destruction left by the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. That’s even though banks say they’re getting back in the black, home sales are perking up and inflation is low. It’s simple: No jobs means no spending, even though President Barack Obama sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

Perhaps the administration should have done more on private sector job creation and less on bailouts and government pork in the first three months. At this point there is no indication we’re getting much of anything out of the stimulus plan. But we sure did take on a lot of debt.

Those “glimmers of hope” for the start of the recovery met up with a dose of reality yesterday:

The president and the Federal Reserve chairman voiced cautious optimism yesterday that the economy could be beginning to stabilize. But the economy wasn’t cooperating. Retail sales dropped sharply in March, the government reported, and wholesale prices fell steeply. Both pieces of data underscore the hard slog the nation faces to emerge from its deep recession and the limitations of more optimistic talk from Washington. The stock market fell 2 percent, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

If you are in the White House you never want headlines like: “Weak Data Clash With Officials’ Call for Confidence.” But the problem may only get worse, despite the effort to cut out the gloom and doom talk which characterized the early days of his term.

The drag on consumer spending, which is responsible for about 70% of economic activity, is going to lag as long as job losses continues. As an MSNBC producer comments:

It’s still about jobs, jobs, jobs. Until the employment market starts showing signs of improvement, it will cast a pall over any ‘green shoots’ of growth poking up through the destruction left by the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. That’s even though banks say they’re getting back in the black, home sales are perking up and inflation is low. It’s simple: No jobs means no spending, even though President Barack Obama sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

Perhaps the administration should have done more on private sector job creation and less on bailouts and government pork in the first three months. At this point there is no indication we’re getting much of anything out of the stimulus plan. But we sure did take on a lot of debt.

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Yes, but . . . Obama Is Still the Most Polarizing

Ron Brownstein has responded to pieces by Karl Rove, Michael Gerson, and me regarding the Pew Research Center survey indicating that, in Pew’s words,

For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades. The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama’s job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president – 88% job approval among Democrats – and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).

Brownstein doesn’t dispute the Pew poll or its data; he simply goes to great length to try to mitigate its unambiguous conclusion. His response can best be characterized as, “Yes, but…”

Several of the points Brownstein makes are legitimate. For example, Obama still maintains significant support among independents — though according to Gallup, Bush’s support among independents was by the end of April 2001 slightly higher than Obama’s is right now.

Still, in several respects, Brownstein’s analysis is either incomplete or simply wrong. For example, what Brownstein doesn’t say, but what is highly relevant, is that according to the Gallup Poll, Obama has lost 16 points of support among Republicans since his Inauguration. President Bush actually gained 5 points in approval among Democrats (from 32 percent to 37 percent) between his Inauguration and early April. In fact, it wasn’t until Gallup’s September 19-21, 2003 poll — more than two-and-a-half years after he took office — that Bush’s support among Democrats fell the equivalent of a 16-point drop in support from his Inauguration.

The truth is that Obama started his presidency with fairly strong support among Republicans (above 40 percent according to Gallup). This complicates Brownstein’s claim that the GOP has “contracted” in a way that made support for Obama extremely unlikely because it is a party “dominated by conservatives.” In fact, a dozen weeks ago, in a party “dominated by conservatives,” Obama had substantial support from Republicans. That has been squandered.

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Ron Brownstein has responded to pieces by Karl Rove, Michael Gerson, and me regarding the Pew Research Center survey indicating that, in Pew’s words,

For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades. The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama’s job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president – 88% job approval among Democrats – and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).

Brownstein doesn’t dispute the Pew poll or its data; he simply goes to great length to try to mitigate its unambiguous conclusion. His response can best be characterized as, “Yes, but…”

Several of the points Brownstein makes are legitimate. For example, Obama still maintains significant support among independents — though according to Gallup, Bush’s support among independents was by the end of April 2001 slightly higher than Obama’s is right now.

Still, in several respects, Brownstein’s analysis is either incomplete or simply wrong. For example, what Brownstein doesn’t say, but what is highly relevant, is that according to the Gallup Poll, Obama has lost 16 points of support among Republicans since his Inauguration. President Bush actually gained 5 points in approval among Democrats (from 32 percent to 37 percent) between his Inauguration and early April. In fact, it wasn’t until Gallup’s September 19-21, 2003 poll — more than two-and-a-half years after he took office — that Bush’s support among Democrats fell the equivalent of a 16-point drop in support from his Inauguration.

The truth is that Obama started his presidency with fairly strong support among Republicans (above 40 percent according to Gallup). This complicates Brownstein’s claim that the GOP has “contracted” in a way that made support for Obama extremely unlikely because it is a party “dominated by conservatives.” In fact, a dozen weeks ago, in a party “dominated by conservatives,” Obama had substantial support from Republicans. That has been squandered.

Where Brownstein veers into error is when he claims, “Obama is displaying more of an open door to diverse viewpoints than Bush did at any point after his first few months in office” and that “continuing to seek common ground with a broad range of interests” is the best way for Obama to reopen political fissures in America.

In fact, Obama’s governing approach so far has been polarizing. He has made no effort to “seek common ground” with Republicans. He has shut them out of the legislative process, whether we’re talking about his stimulus package, his budget, culture of life issues, or almost anything else.

Another claim made by Brownstein is simplistic and perpetuates an urban myth; namely, that the strategy Rove helped design “reduced the party to its absolute conservative nub.” In fact, Bush pursued in office almost every one of the initiatives he laid out in the 2000 campaign, when he ran as a “different kind of Republican” — including two enormously consequential domestic programs, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Prescription Drugs. Bush also championed immigration reform but was defeated, in large measure because of conservative opposition. And Bush did more for the African continent — including his AIDS and malaria initiatives — than any other American president. It’s also worth noting that from the 2000 to the 2004 election, Bush increased his support among women, Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, and Jewish voters. This is hardly the result of a “base strategy.”

It’s true that Bush lost support among independent and moderate voters over the course of his presidency; much of the reason for that was the Iraq war — a war, it’s worth pointing out, which had substantial bi-partisan support when it began. But because for several years the war was going badly, it inflicted enormous damage on Bush’s popularity. It’s also worth pointing out that what is probably the most impressive moment of the Bush presidency was his support of the surge in Iraq — which was done in the face of enormous odds and contributed at least temporarily to further polarization in American politics. Which leads to my final point.

I have never been one who believes that polarization per se is bad. The question to ask is this one: Polarization for what purpose? Polarization in the pursuit of justice is worth it. Indeed, many of the most revered figures in American history — Lincoln, FDR, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ronald Reagan among them — were viewed in their time as tremendously polarizing and divisive figures. In Great Britain, the same can be said of Churchill and Thatcher.

It is Barack Obama who made post-partisanship and ending polarization central to his candidacy, perhaps more than any other figure in our lifetime. Because he had such a thin record on which to run, it was key to his appeal. Obama is the one who set the standard; it’s only fair to judge him by it.

In 2003, Brownstein wrote, “Bush’s determination to satisfy his base… has led him to shelve almost entirely the bipartisan deal-making skills he demonstrated as Texas governor; he’s allowed the congressional GOP majority to exclude Democrats from negotiation on major bills.”

Obama has done this on the Democratic side to a greater extent than Bush at comparable points in their presidency (as Rove points out, among Bush’s first appointments were Democratic judicial nominees who had been blocked by Republicans under President Clinton, the Bush White House joined with Democratic and Republican leaders to draft education reform legislation, and Bush worked with Republican Charles Grassley to cut a deal with Democrat Max Baucus to win bipartisan passage of a tax cut in the Senate). I only hope that Brownstein uses the same standard for Obama that he applied to Bush. So far, he hasn’t.

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Obama Needs to Call Karzai

You can argue that the U.S. dropped the ball in Afghanistan if you like, but the following scene would have been unthinkable without the American commitment in that country over the last seven-plus years:

About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

To be sure, the law itself constitutes a human rights abomination, but prior to the U.S.’s toppling of the Taliban in late 2001 the very term marital rape was a misnomer. There was simply marriage. Rape (statutory, incestuous, plain rape, or some combination of all three) was a fundamental element of the “union” between man and wife.

Also unthinkable back then, was the means to redress the injustice:

Responding to the outcry, Mr. Karzai has begun looking for a way to remove the most controversial parts of the law. In an interview on Wednesday, his spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said that the legislation was not yet law because it had not been published in the government’s official register. That, Mr. Hamidzada said, meant that it could still be changed. Mr. Karzai has asked his justice minister to look it over.

When in 2006 Afghan Abdul Rahman faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity, George W. Bush said, “We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it . . . It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.” Bush leaned on Hamid Karzai and authorities released Rahman, who then took off for Italy. President Obama has signaled a lack of interest in keeping personal ties with Karzai. That’s a mistake. Obama should devote himself personally to this new setback in the country he is now helping to liberate.

You can argue that the U.S. dropped the ball in Afghanistan if you like, but the following scene would have been unthinkable without the American commitment in that country over the last seven-plus years:

About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.

It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.

To be sure, the law itself constitutes a human rights abomination, but prior to the U.S.’s toppling of the Taliban in late 2001 the very term marital rape was a misnomer. There was simply marriage. Rape (statutory, incestuous, plain rape, or some combination of all three) was a fundamental element of the “union” between man and wife.

Also unthinkable back then, was the means to redress the injustice:

Responding to the outcry, Mr. Karzai has begun looking for a way to remove the most controversial parts of the law. In an interview on Wednesday, his spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said that the legislation was not yet law because it had not been published in the government’s official register. That, Mr. Hamidzada said, meant that it could still be changed. Mr. Karzai has asked his justice minister to look it over.

When in 2006 Afghan Abdul Rahman faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity, George W. Bush said, “We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it . . . It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.” Bush leaned on Hamid Karzai and authorities released Rahman, who then took off for Italy. President Obama has signaled a lack of interest in keeping personal ties with Karzai. That’s a mistake. Obama should devote himself personally to this new setback in the country he is now helping to liberate.

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McCain Was Right About This One

Although not for lack of trying, John McCain was never able to convince voters of — or get the media to focus on — the fallacy of then-candidate Barack Obama’s claim that he would provide a tax break for 95% of voters. Well, with the enormous spending increases it is becoming clearer that a whopping tax increase is in store for many voters. The Hill reports:

The Obama administration will be hard-pressed to avoid raising taxes on the middle class, according to economists crunching federal budget numbers in the lead-up to tax return day — today, April 15.

President Obama’s proposed changes to the tax code, combined with exploding entitlement costs, will lead to ever-growing debt, according to independent estimates. The big question for Obama and his economic team will be whether he can meet the rising costs with increased tax revenue only from small slices of the electorate.

[.  .  .]

Many economists, including some who voted for Obama, do not believe that he can indefinitely avoid imposing tax increases much further down the income scale — on the middle class.

Yes, they can seek more revenue from the rich, but the top 1% are already paying about 40% of the tax bill and the top 20% are paying about 70%. You can try to keep raising corporate taxes, but we already have one of the highest rates in the world, well in excess of European countries. So the only group to tap is the middle class, especially since spending has taken off with no end in sight:

More revenue will be needed to service the growing national debt. Because annual deficits are expected to remain above $500 billion for the next decade, [former Reagan economic aide and Obama supporter Martin] Sullivan expects debt payments to more than double, from about 1.2 percent of GDP to more than 3 percent.

Clint Stretch, managing principal for tax policy for Deloitte Tax, doubts the administration will be able to generate enough revenue with its current policies. Obama’s proposals would raise corporate taxes by about 10 percent, Stretch estimates, but his proposals would cut revenue overall from individuals.

And what about that Making Work Pay tax credit? It isn’t in either the House or Senate versions of the budget.

Unfortunately, McCain was right. Obama may have run as a tax cutter, but you should brace yourself for some of the largest tax hikes in history. Unless of course Congress gets the idea it would be political suicide and looks to a combination of spending restraint, tax reform, and pro-growth policies.

Although not for lack of trying, John McCain was never able to convince voters of — or get the media to focus on — the fallacy of then-candidate Barack Obama’s claim that he would provide a tax break for 95% of voters. Well, with the enormous spending increases it is becoming clearer that a whopping tax increase is in store for many voters. The Hill reports:

The Obama administration will be hard-pressed to avoid raising taxes on the middle class, according to economists crunching federal budget numbers in the lead-up to tax return day — today, April 15.

President Obama’s proposed changes to the tax code, combined with exploding entitlement costs, will lead to ever-growing debt, according to independent estimates. The big question for Obama and his economic team will be whether he can meet the rising costs with increased tax revenue only from small slices of the electorate.

[.  .  .]

Many economists, including some who voted for Obama, do not believe that he can indefinitely avoid imposing tax increases much further down the income scale — on the middle class.

Yes, they can seek more revenue from the rich, but the top 1% are already paying about 40% of the tax bill and the top 20% are paying about 70%. You can try to keep raising corporate taxes, but we already have one of the highest rates in the world, well in excess of European countries. So the only group to tap is the middle class, especially since spending has taken off with no end in sight:

More revenue will be needed to service the growing national debt. Because annual deficits are expected to remain above $500 billion for the next decade, [former Reagan economic aide and Obama supporter Martin] Sullivan expects debt payments to more than double, from about 1.2 percent of GDP to more than 3 percent.

Clint Stretch, managing principal for tax policy for Deloitte Tax, doubts the administration will be able to generate enough revenue with its current policies. Obama’s proposals would raise corporate taxes by about 10 percent, Stretch estimates, but his proposals would cut revenue overall from individuals.

And what about that Making Work Pay tax credit? It isn’t in either the House or Senate versions of the budget.

Unfortunately, McCain was right. Obama may have run as a tax cutter, but you should brace yourself for some of the largest tax hikes in history. Unless of course Congress gets the idea it would be political suicide and looks to a combination of spending restraint, tax reform, and pro-growth policies.

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Diplomacy Overboard

Tom Friedman writes, “this is increasingly an age of pirates, failed states, nonstate actors and nation-building — the stuff of snipers, drones and generals, not diplomats.”

Now he tells us. Funny, he didn’t mention that “This is not the great age of diplomacy” back in 2008, when he lamented that “Bush had no coherent worldview to animate [Condoleezza Rice's] diplomacy.”

But if Friedman’s better-late-than-never awakening is on the money doesn’t that mean the Obama administration’s obsession with diplomacy reflects dated philosophy — not forward thinking? Doesn’t it vitiate the very premise upon which Obama has pledged to operate internationally? And doesn’t it undo Friedman’s own previous assessment that “the strongest case one could make for an Obama presidency right now is rarely articulated: it is his potential to repair the broken relationship between America and the world”?

Here’s Friedman’s eureka moment on the unmovable regimes that Obama hopes to sway through engagement:

The ones who won’t deliver — Iran and North Korea — time and again tell us: “Yes, we need to talk.” But at the end of the day, their hostile relationships with America or the West are so central to the survival strategy of their regimes, so much at the core of their justifications for remaining in power, that it is not in their interest to deliver real reconciliation, but just to pretend to deliver it.

So much for America-world couples therapy.

There are no golden ages of diplomacy. Unfortunately there are regimes and non-state actors who knew that before Tom Friedman caught on. The question is: when will Obama pick up on it?

Tom Friedman writes, “this is increasingly an age of pirates, failed states, nonstate actors and nation-building — the stuff of snipers, drones and generals, not diplomats.”

Now he tells us. Funny, he didn’t mention that “This is not the great age of diplomacy” back in 2008, when he lamented that “Bush had no coherent worldview to animate [Condoleezza Rice's] diplomacy.”

But if Friedman’s better-late-than-never awakening is on the money doesn’t that mean the Obama administration’s obsession with diplomacy reflects dated philosophy — not forward thinking? Doesn’t it vitiate the very premise upon which Obama has pledged to operate internationally? And doesn’t it undo Friedman’s own previous assessment that “the strongest case one could make for an Obama presidency right now is rarely articulated: it is his potential to repair the broken relationship between America and the world”?

Here’s Friedman’s eureka moment on the unmovable regimes that Obama hopes to sway through engagement:

The ones who won’t deliver — Iran and North Korea — time and again tell us: “Yes, we need to talk.” But at the end of the day, their hostile relationships with America or the West are so central to the survival strategy of their regimes, so much at the core of their justifications for remaining in power, that it is not in their interest to deliver real reconciliation, but just to pretend to deliver it.

So much for America-world couples therapy.

There are no golden ages of diplomacy. Unfortunately there are regimes and non-state actors who knew that before Tom Friedman caught on. The question is: when will Obama pick up on it?

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Facing Up to the Cost of Healthcare

Mickey Kaus writes that “we shouldn’t reform health care in order to reduce costs, and that we shouldn’t expect health care reform to in itself control the health care entitlement problem that’s scheduled to devour the budget.”

In fact, it is going to get a whole lot more expensive ($645B proposed by the Obama team is just the “downpayment”) if some of the plans rattling around Congress are enacted. The notion that we can cover more people, offer a “public option” (which then squeezes out private insurers and limits competition) and, presto, wind up with cheaper care is a fantasy. You can “invest” billions for some government-run system of electronic records, but you aren’t going to recoup a fraction of the cost. This is why nearly every country that has tried a nationalized healthcare scheme must in the end ration care — or wind up breaking the bank.

None of this is to say that expanded coverage is not a worthy goal. It does require that we face up to the fact that if we pursue a public option/nationalized model we will place a very substantial burden on the taxpayers. So rather than pretending this is a cost-saver — which allows us to indulge in even more carefree spending on other domestic programs — we should instead recognize the need to explore options which really do reduce cost such, as those suggested by John McCain during the campaign (e.g. interstate insurance competition, tax credits to make individuals responsible for their health insurance purchasing).

And in the end, we must acknowledge that richer, more advanced countries pay more for healthcare and the ever-expanding cost of new treatments (which leads to more medical care for the elderly). That is not a bad thing, but it does require we make some informed choices about our domestic spending.

Mickey Kaus writes that “we shouldn’t reform health care in order to reduce costs, and that we shouldn’t expect health care reform to in itself control the health care entitlement problem that’s scheduled to devour the budget.”

In fact, it is going to get a whole lot more expensive ($645B proposed by the Obama team is just the “downpayment”) if some of the plans rattling around Congress are enacted. The notion that we can cover more people, offer a “public option” (which then squeezes out private insurers and limits competition) and, presto, wind up with cheaper care is a fantasy. You can “invest” billions for some government-run system of electronic records, but you aren’t going to recoup a fraction of the cost. This is why nearly every country that has tried a nationalized healthcare scheme must in the end ration care — or wind up breaking the bank.

None of this is to say that expanded coverage is not a worthy goal. It does require that we face up to the fact that if we pursue a public option/nationalized model we will place a very substantial burden on the taxpayers. So rather than pretending this is a cost-saver — which allows us to indulge in even more carefree spending on other domestic programs — we should instead recognize the need to explore options which really do reduce cost such, as those suggested by John McCain during the campaign (e.g. interstate insurance competition, tax credits to make individuals responsible for their health insurance purchasing).

And in the end, we must acknowledge that richer, more advanced countries pay more for healthcare and the ever-expanding cost of new treatments (which leads to more medical care for the elderly). That is not a bad thing, but it does require we make some informed choices about our domestic spending.

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Calm But Deeply Misguided

The Washington Post once again calls out the president on his favorite non sequitur: the liberal policy agenda as an economic recovery plan:

The agenda focuses on education, renewable energy and health care. These are all worthy pursuits, areas where we support many of his proposals. But as his admirable summation of recent history made clear, these pursuits have little to do with the economic crisis, and they are not the key to economic recovery. The recovery will result from successfully transitioning away from an economy overly dependent on debt and the American consumer, unclogging the banking system, stabilizing housing — and dealing with the fiscal imbalances facing the country that were bad before, are worse now and, if left unattended, could well cause the next crisis.

But it is not just that those things on his wish list don’t have anything to do with solving the present crisis — it is that they will prolong it. A $3100 energy tax on every American? Pretty anti-stimulative. A regime of mandated health-care? Not exactly a boost for struggling businesses. And if education “reform” means killing voucher programs then even the country’s longterm needs are being poorly met.

But the Post editors save their sharpest barbs for the end when talking about the budget:

But that is the one area where Mr. Obama in fact seems to lack all seriousness — where the candor and courage go missing. Many of the savings identified in the president’s budget are phony, and the real ones are used to offset the costs of his new spending increases or tax cuts. He maintained yesterday that “health care reform is entitlement reform.” But the health-care savings he has identified are all directed to new health-care spending, and, even then, they cover only a fraction of the likely costs of a health-care bill — of what would become yet another entitlement program. Meanwhile, the keys to fixing Social Security are well known and far easier than health-care reform, but Mr. Obama yesterday deferred that challenge to some vanishing point on the horizon. . .

So what does it mean to say that we should feel “relief at the competence and calm the president conveyed”? He can calmly describe a plan at odds with economic reality, but it doesn’t suggest we are on a wise course. And while he may speak well, none of us should feel relief if the content is so deeply flawed.

The Washington Post once again calls out the president on his favorite non sequitur: the liberal policy agenda as an economic recovery plan:

The agenda focuses on education, renewable energy and health care. These are all worthy pursuits, areas where we support many of his proposals. But as his admirable summation of recent history made clear, these pursuits have little to do with the economic crisis, and they are not the key to economic recovery. The recovery will result from successfully transitioning away from an economy overly dependent on debt and the American consumer, unclogging the banking system, stabilizing housing — and dealing with the fiscal imbalances facing the country that were bad before, are worse now and, if left unattended, could well cause the next crisis.

But it is not just that those things on his wish list don’t have anything to do with solving the present crisis — it is that they will prolong it. A $3100 energy tax on every American? Pretty anti-stimulative. A regime of mandated health-care? Not exactly a boost for struggling businesses. And if education “reform” means killing voucher programs then even the country’s longterm needs are being poorly met.

But the Post editors save their sharpest barbs for the end when talking about the budget:

But that is the one area where Mr. Obama in fact seems to lack all seriousness — where the candor and courage go missing. Many of the savings identified in the president’s budget are phony, and the real ones are used to offset the costs of his new spending increases or tax cuts. He maintained yesterday that “health care reform is entitlement reform.” But the health-care savings he has identified are all directed to new health-care spending, and, even then, they cover only a fraction of the likely costs of a health-care bill — of what would become yet another entitlement program. Meanwhile, the keys to fixing Social Security are well known and far easier than health-care reform, but Mr. Obama yesterday deferred that challenge to some vanishing point on the horizon. . .

So what does it mean to say that we should feel “relief at the competence and calm the president conveyed”? He can calmly describe a plan at odds with economic reality, but it doesn’t suggest we are on a wise course. And while he may speak well, none of us should feel relief if the content is so deeply flawed.

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Re: Next Time We’ll Pass Two Resolutions

Jennifer, next time North Korea is condemned by the UN it may take three resolutions.  There was this equally interesting exchange today at the State Department, beginning with a reporter asking spokesman Robert Wood for a response to the North Korean announcements after the UN statement:

MR. WOOD: Well, Matt, let me just say I know you all have a lot of questions about North Korea. I don’t have very much at all today that I’m going to give you. And I know you’re going to come at me with a lot of questions from various angles, but I just want to basically refer you back to the UN Security Council presidential statement that was issued. And this presidential statement made very clear the position of the UN Security Council plus Japan. And as you know, the statement calls for an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks, a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and full implementation of the joint statement of 2005. I don’t have much more for you right now. At some later point, we’ll have more to say, but right now, that’s all I have.

QUESTION: In other words, you have no response?

MR. WOOD: As I said, I’ve given you right now what I have for you.

QUESTION: Well, that’s great. But, Robert, but that’s from – that’s from yesterday.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, things have happened on the ground today.

MR. WOOD: Oh, I understand.

QUESTION: Presumably, the United States is aware of them.

MR. WOOD: Look, we’re certainly aware of what’s going on. But what I’m saying is the statement that was issued by the Security Council in Japan spoke for the international community. It was very clear what our position is with regard to the type of behavior the North has been engaged in. There’s really nothing more to add to it.

It goes on in this vein for quite a while.  It is not only the White House press pool that is beginning to notice a certain inadequacy in our diplomacy.

Jennifer, next time North Korea is condemned by the UN it may take three resolutions.  There was this equally interesting exchange today at the State Department, beginning with a reporter asking spokesman Robert Wood for a response to the North Korean announcements after the UN statement:

MR. WOOD: Well, Matt, let me just say I know you all have a lot of questions about North Korea. I don’t have very much at all today that I’m going to give you. And I know you’re going to come at me with a lot of questions from various angles, but I just want to basically refer you back to the UN Security Council presidential statement that was issued. And this presidential statement made very clear the position of the UN Security Council plus Japan. And as you know, the statement calls for an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks, a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and full implementation of the joint statement of 2005. I don’t have much more for you right now. At some later point, we’ll have more to say, but right now, that’s all I have.

QUESTION: In other words, you have no response?

MR. WOOD: As I said, I’ve given you right now what I have for you.

QUESTION: Well, that’s great. But, Robert, but that’s from – that’s from yesterday.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, things have happened on the ground today.

MR. WOOD: Oh, I understand.

QUESTION: Presumably, the United States is aware of them.

MR. WOOD: Look, we’re certainly aware of what’s going on. But what I’m saying is the statement that was issued by the Security Council in Japan spoke for the international community. It was very clear what our position is with regard to the type of behavior the North has been engaged in. There’s really nothing more to add to it.

It goes on in this vein for quite a while.  It is not only the White House press pool that is beginning to notice a certain inadequacy in our diplomacy.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Rich Lowry: “If every Obama-era negotiation is as clear-eyed and unsentimental as that over the fate of Capt. Richard Phillips, the nation’s interests will be well-served.” Unfortunately, as demonstrated by his policy moves on North Korea and Iran, every negotiation is not so clear-eyed. And as Lowry points out, the task is made more difficult because Secretary Gates is the only cabinet official being forced to do more with less: “Emphasizing counterinsurgency within a reduced budget means cheating other priorities and hoping that the next big conflict looks like today’s irregular ground wars.”

The battle over tenure for Joseph Massad, author of “On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy”  and well-known Israel-basher,  at Columbia University is not quite over. (Massad, subject of the film Columbia Unbecoming, was previously brought up on university charges for bullying a student who defended Israel.) The question remains: will Lee Bollinger and the Board of Trustees put the stamp of approval on such a figure?

Comedy gold again from Jake Tapper, when he asks Robert Gibbs why unemployment is now higher than the president said it would be without the stimulus. The real answer: just as Christina Romer previously researched, these things hardly ever work because the economy gets better before the money is spent.

Club for Growth continues to torment Arlen Specter.

And Club for Growth’s former president Pat Toomey makes it official: he’s challenging Specter.

Yes, the puppy is cute and, yes, the media is an embarrassment. But neither is news.

Another trip, another blame America fest: “President Obama plans to take his message of partnership to Latin America and the Caribbean this week, but he will face a group of leaders far less forgiving than their European counterparts were about the United States’ central role in the global financial crisis.” Well, I guess the president will have to apologize that much more fervently.

A Czech writer doesn’t think much of Obama’s call for a world without nukes. A taste, from the New York Times, no less: “Since Obama was short on specifics, allow me to fill in the gaps in his vision with some minor details. First, rogue states and other troublemakers should swear to abandon any thoughts of nuclear weapons. We can begin with Comrade Kim Jong-il. Second, Israel should be persuaded to lay down its nuclear arms before its loving neighbors. In other words, it ought to give up the nukes that are its guarantor of deterrence and survival.” Too bad the Times already gave away the one conservative op-ed slot.

Steve Pearlstein cautions against rushing through a new regulatory scheme and reminds us: “Getting all this right would be useful in preventing future financial crises, but don’t confuse it with a panacea. Much of the current crisis could have been prevented if the existing patchwork of agencies, using their existing powers, had simply done their jobs. Congress can create a better regulatory structure and can expand regulatory powers, but in the end, the one thing it can’t legislate is the good judgment of the regulators.” Still, creating a coherent, predictable set of rules for institutions and investors and getting the Fed back to its role as independent banker are worthy endeavors.

The NY-20 absentee ballot count and challenges drag on. Probably a silly move to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand’s ballot. By the way, determining which of hundreds of challenged absentee voters are really “residents” is going to be a battle royale and a mind-numbing court fight over hundreds of voters. A useful analysis is here. I think we’ll have a resolution in Minnesota long before this one.

And the Daily Kos crowd is nervous about the NY-20 election judge.

Even the New York Times sounds a bit skeptical about the Obama plan to reinvent America while we’re still mired in a recession: “As Mr. Obama acknowledged, many Americans think he is taking on too much at once, or, conversely, not doing enough at all, or just wondering how all the pieces of his agenda fit together. A flurry of government action has yet to reverse the nation’s economic calamity, and while Mr. Obama said again that he detects ‘glimmers of hope,’ he pleaded for patience from an instant-gratification society that usually responds to crisis with ‘a lurch from shock to trance.’”

Glenn Reynolds explains the tea party protests — and why both political parties may be at risk if previously inactive ordinary people get the idea they don’t need professional politicians.

Some familiar Republican names will show up at some of the 750 tea parties nationwide.

Rich Lowry: “If every Obama-era negotiation is as clear-eyed and unsentimental as that over the fate of Capt. Richard Phillips, the nation’s interests will be well-served.” Unfortunately, as demonstrated by his policy moves on North Korea and Iran, every negotiation is not so clear-eyed. And as Lowry points out, the task is made more difficult because Secretary Gates is the only cabinet official being forced to do more with less: “Emphasizing counterinsurgency within a reduced budget means cheating other priorities and hoping that the next big conflict looks like today’s irregular ground wars.”

The battle over tenure for Joseph Massad, author of “On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy”  and well-known Israel-basher,  at Columbia University is not quite over. (Massad, subject of the film Columbia Unbecoming, was previously brought up on university charges for bullying a student who defended Israel.) The question remains: will Lee Bollinger and the Board of Trustees put the stamp of approval on such a figure?

Comedy gold again from Jake Tapper, when he asks Robert Gibbs why unemployment is now higher than the president said it would be without the stimulus. The real answer: just as Christina Romer previously researched, these things hardly ever work because the economy gets better before the money is spent.

Club for Growth continues to torment Arlen Specter.

And Club for Growth’s former president Pat Toomey makes it official: he’s challenging Specter.

Yes, the puppy is cute and, yes, the media is an embarrassment. But neither is news.

Another trip, another blame America fest: “President Obama plans to take his message of partnership to Latin America and the Caribbean this week, but he will face a group of leaders far less forgiving than their European counterparts were about the United States’ central role in the global financial crisis.” Well, I guess the president will have to apologize that much more fervently.

A Czech writer doesn’t think much of Obama’s call for a world without nukes. A taste, from the New York Times, no less: “Since Obama was short on specifics, allow me to fill in the gaps in his vision with some minor details. First, rogue states and other troublemakers should swear to abandon any thoughts of nuclear weapons. We can begin with Comrade Kim Jong-il. Second, Israel should be persuaded to lay down its nuclear arms before its loving neighbors. In other words, it ought to give up the nukes that are its guarantor of deterrence and survival.” Too bad the Times already gave away the one conservative op-ed slot.

Steve Pearlstein cautions against rushing through a new regulatory scheme and reminds us: “Getting all this right would be useful in preventing future financial crises, but don’t confuse it with a panacea. Much of the current crisis could have been prevented if the existing patchwork of agencies, using their existing powers, had simply done their jobs. Congress can create a better regulatory structure and can expand regulatory powers, but in the end, the one thing it can’t legislate is the good judgment of the regulators.” Still, creating a coherent, predictable set of rules for institutions and investors and getting the Fed back to its role as independent banker are worthy endeavors.

The NY-20 absentee ballot count and challenges drag on. Probably a silly move to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand’s ballot. By the way, determining which of hundreds of challenged absentee voters are really “residents” is going to be a battle royale and a mind-numbing court fight over hundreds of voters. A useful analysis is here. I think we’ll have a resolution in Minnesota long before this one.

And the Daily Kos crowd is nervous about the NY-20 election judge.

Even the New York Times sounds a bit skeptical about the Obama plan to reinvent America while we’re still mired in a recession: “As Mr. Obama acknowledged, many Americans think he is taking on too much at once, or, conversely, not doing enough at all, or just wondering how all the pieces of his agenda fit together. A flurry of government action has yet to reverse the nation’s economic calamity, and while Mr. Obama said again that he detects ‘glimmers of hope,’ he pleaded for patience from an instant-gratification society that usually responds to crisis with ‘a lurch from shock to trance.’”

Glenn Reynolds explains the tea party protests — and why both political parties may be at risk if previously inactive ordinary people get the idea they don’t need professional politicians.

Some familiar Republican names will show up at some of the 750 tea parties nationwide.

Read Less




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