Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 3, 2009

A Very Simplistic View of the Honduran Situation

Upon the news that Honduras had ousted its chief executive, President Obama — as is his wont — dithered and dawdled, then decided he would stand with the UN, Hugo Chavez, and the mullahs of Iran and back President Zelaya’s return.

I’m no expert on Honduran law and custom, but it could be useful to think of what happened in Honduras in the context of the American Constitution. Like the United States, Honduras has three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. And all three were involved in recent events.

In the United States, the Constitution achieves a balance of powers. No one branch has absolute power — each can check the actions of another, and any two can override the third. Congress and the Supreme Court can remove the president, the president and Congress can remove and replace Justices, and the president can refuse to enforce laws until the court strikes them down.

In Honduras, the president was taking action toward amending the country’s Constitution in a way that many believed was illegal. Among those who considered it such were the nation’s Supreme Court and legislature, who acted to prevent the constitutional changes. And even the nation’s attorney general and military leaders — nominally elements of the Chief Executive branch — also sided against their titular leader.

President Obama, by backing President Zelaya, is siding with a leader who has lost the faith of most of his own government and a great deal of the people by attempting to illegally rewrite the nation’s Constitution to suit his own ends. I don’t think this is the kind of “Change” in American foreign policy many Americans were Hoping for.

Upon the news that Honduras had ousted its chief executive, President Obama — as is his wont — dithered and dawdled, then decided he would stand with the UN, Hugo Chavez, and the mullahs of Iran and back President Zelaya’s return.

I’m no expert on Honduran law and custom, but it could be useful to think of what happened in Honduras in the context of the American Constitution. Like the United States, Honduras has three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. And all three were involved in recent events.

In the United States, the Constitution achieves a balance of powers. No one branch has absolute power — each can check the actions of another, and any two can override the third. Congress and the Supreme Court can remove the president, the president and Congress can remove and replace Justices, and the president can refuse to enforce laws until the court strikes them down.

In Honduras, the president was taking action toward amending the country’s Constitution in a way that many believed was illegal. Among those who considered it such were the nation’s Supreme Court and legislature, who acted to prevent the constitutional changes. And even the nation’s attorney general and military leaders — nominally elements of the Chief Executive branch — also sided against their titular leader.

President Obama, by backing President Zelaya, is siding with a leader who has lost the faith of most of his own government and a great deal of the people by attempting to illegally rewrite the nation’s Constitution to suit his own ends. I don’t think this is the kind of “Change” in American foreign policy many Americans were Hoping for.

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Strike of the Sword

The initial stage of Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) appears to be going well in Afghanistan — but that doesn’t mean much.

Some 4,000 marines and 650 Afghan soldiers are sweeping into insurgent strongholds in Helmand Province. They have encountered little resistance so far, which suggests that Taliban fighters are doing what smart guerrillas always do: melting away in the face of superior enemy forces. The pattern in Afghanistan has always been that NATO forces march into villages then march out, leaving the Taliban to regain effective control.

The difference this time is that the marines don’t plan to leave. Just as in Iraq, they are planning to establish small combat outposts next to villages that will allow them to dominate the terrain they are now occupying. That will present insurgents with a difficult choice: either (a) cede the ground to the marines or (b) attack them and try to dislodge them. The likelihood is that they will soon try option B. That will mean heavy fighting and more casualties than the marines have so far suffered. (One marine was killed in the initial operation.)

But assuming that marines stick it out — and with the marines that’s a pretty safe assumption — they will inflict heavy casualties on their attackers and gradually gain control of the situation. The Taliban will have to shift their operations to other areas — and then those too will be targeted by NATO forces.

That is, in essence, the classic “spreading oil spot” strategy of counterinsurgency. It is a slow, difficult process, and we shouldn’t read too much into early reports of success. There will be much hard fighting ahead, but the likely result will be, just as in Iraq, a gradual extension of governmental control and eventually a decrease in violence. The key to success is to deploy enough forces to drive out the Taliban altogether from substantial swathes of the countryside rather than simply pushing them from one area to another. Whether there are enough troops on the ground to attain that goal remains to be seen, even with a total of 21,000 American reinforcements on the way. But the strategy is a sound one and should over time gradually improve the situation.

The initial stage of Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) appears to be going well in Afghanistan — but that doesn’t mean much.

Some 4,000 marines and 650 Afghan soldiers are sweeping into insurgent strongholds in Helmand Province. They have encountered little resistance so far, which suggests that Taliban fighters are doing what smart guerrillas always do: melting away in the face of superior enemy forces. The pattern in Afghanistan has always been that NATO forces march into villages then march out, leaving the Taliban to regain effective control.

The difference this time is that the marines don’t plan to leave. Just as in Iraq, they are planning to establish small combat outposts next to villages that will allow them to dominate the terrain they are now occupying. That will present insurgents with a difficult choice: either (a) cede the ground to the marines or (b) attack them and try to dislodge them. The likelihood is that they will soon try option B. That will mean heavy fighting and more casualties than the marines have so far suffered. (One marine was killed in the initial operation.)

But assuming that marines stick it out — and with the marines that’s a pretty safe assumption — they will inflict heavy casualties on their attackers and gradually gain control of the situation. The Taliban will have to shift their operations to other areas — and then those too will be targeted by NATO forces.

That is, in essence, the classic “spreading oil spot” strategy of counterinsurgency. It is a slow, difficult process, and we shouldn’t read too much into early reports of success. There will be much hard fighting ahead, but the likely result will be, just as in Iraq, a gradual extension of governmental control and eventually a decrease in violence. The key to success is to deploy enough forces to drive out the Taliban altogether from substantial swathes of the countryside rather than simply pushing them from one area to another. Whether there are enough troops on the ground to attain that goal remains to be seen, even with a total of 21,000 American reinforcements on the way. But the strategy is a sound one and should over time gradually improve the situation.

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How to Make Socialized Medicine Work

This morning, a story out of England showing the weaknesses of their health system is drawing attention: a three-year-old girl, born with a critical heart defect, desperately needs corrective surgery. She underwent open heart surgery when she was nine days old, but her heart is in trouble again — she’s already had one stroke, and is in failing health. Therefore doctors scheduled her for another operation.

Then canceled it because of a lack of bed space. Then they rescheduled it, and canceled it a second time for the same reason. And a third time. Her parents are hoping that the fourth time will be the charm.

The story is reminiscent of a recent development out of Canada. An infant was born prematurely in Hamilton, Ontario (population: 500,000) and needed to be treated in a neonatal intensive-care-unit. Unfortunately, such bed space (or incubator space, more accurately) was lacking in Hamilton. The call went out: was there anywhere in the province (population: 13 million — the largest in Canada) where the infant could be cared for? Did any hospital in the land of guaranteed free health-care have enough space for a tiny baby?

Nope. Instead, the only hospital that could save the infant was in Buffalo, New York (population: 300,000). This example shows what England lacks for making its health-care system work: a bigger neighboring nation without socialized medicine to pick up the slack. So, if the United States adopted the Canadian model, who’s going to be to us what we are now to Canada? Who’s going to be our emergency go-to nation for health care?

This morning, a story out of England showing the weaknesses of their health system is drawing attention: a three-year-old girl, born with a critical heart defect, desperately needs corrective surgery. She underwent open heart surgery when she was nine days old, but her heart is in trouble again — she’s already had one stroke, and is in failing health. Therefore doctors scheduled her for another operation.

Then canceled it because of a lack of bed space. Then they rescheduled it, and canceled it a second time for the same reason. And a third time. Her parents are hoping that the fourth time will be the charm.

The story is reminiscent of a recent development out of Canada. An infant was born prematurely in Hamilton, Ontario (population: 500,000) and needed to be treated in a neonatal intensive-care-unit. Unfortunately, such bed space (or incubator space, more accurately) was lacking in Hamilton. The call went out: was there anywhere in the province (population: 13 million — the largest in Canada) where the infant could be cared for? Did any hospital in the land of guaranteed free health-care have enough space for a tiny baby?

Nope. Instead, the only hospital that could save the infant was in Buffalo, New York (population: 300,000). This example shows what England lacks for making its health-care system work: a bigger neighboring nation without socialized medicine to pick up the slack. So, if the United States adopted the Canadian model, who’s going to be to us what we are now to Canada? Who’s going to be our emergency go-to nation for health care?

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Employers Caught?

Mickey Kaus wonders whether employers after Ricci are caught in a tough spot when they juggle the risks of a disparate treatment lawsuit (e.g., throw out the test that minorities fail, thereby penalizing whites) and a disparate impact lawsuit (from aggrieved minorities if they stick with test results). The real answer, as Justice Scalia suggests, is to revisit the very constitutionality of the entire disparate impact jurisprudence. But in the short run there are two answers.

First, other than providing sanctions and instituting some “loser pay” reforms, employers will just have to buck up and defend nuisance suits when they refuse to discriminate by putting their finger on the scale to favor minorities with boisterous special interest groups behind them. Employers in the 1960’s also complained that customers wouldn’t frequent integrated restaurants. But we don’t buy the whole “people will make a fuss” defense. We have rejected in “customer preference” cases for years the notion that overt discrimination is permitted because the economic consequences of avoiding discrimination may be very steep.

Second, employers can and do “validate” these tests and provide themselves with more than enough data with which to defend the disparate impact suits. Again they still might be sued, but if they construct appropriate tests and defend the results, they shouldn’t face a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” dilemma.

But Kaus is right that employers face, not only on this front but from a myriad of potential statutory and common law claims, a legal minefield in hiring, firing, and promoting employees. We should be concerned about the adverse impact — on the economy as a whole and on those employees lacking civil rights advocates to cajole employers on their behalf. The ultimate solution is both to revisit disparate impact jurisprudence and reform the civil litigation rules. Oh — and shining a bright light on the intimidation by the likes of PRLDEF, MALDEF, La Raza, and the NAACP is a useful endeavor as well. If employers actually do fear being caught between contradictory discriminatory claims, they would be wise to do their utmost to expose and combat the kind of racial hucksterism that Justice Alito so aptly described in Ricci.

Mickey Kaus wonders whether employers after Ricci are caught in a tough spot when they juggle the risks of a disparate treatment lawsuit (e.g., throw out the test that minorities fail, thereby penalizing whites) and a disparate impact lawsuit (from aggrieved minorities if they stick with test results). The real answer, as Justice Scalia suggests, is to revisit the very constitutionality of the entire disparate impact jurisprudence. But in the short run there are two answers.

First, other than providing sanctions and instituting some “loser pay” reforms, employers will just have to buck up and defend nuisance suits when they refuse to discriminate by putting their finger on the scale to favor minorities with boisterous special interest groups behind them. Employers in the 1960’s also complained that customers wouldn’t frequent integrated restaurants. But we don’t buy the whole “people will make a fuss” defense. We have rejected in “customer preference” cases for years the notion that overt discrimination is permitted because the economic consequences of avoiding discrimination may be very steep.

Second, employers can and do “validate” these tests and provide themselves with more than enough data with which to defend the disparate impact suits. Again they still might be sued, but if they construct appropriate tests and defend the results, they shouldn’t face a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” dilemma.

But Kaus is right that employers face, not only on this front but from a myriad of potential statutory and common law claims, a legal minefield in hiring, firing, and promoting employees. We should be concerned about the adverse impact — on the economy as a whole and on those employees lacking civil rights advocates to cajole employers on their behalf. The ultimate solution is both to revisit disparate impact jurisprudence and reform the civil litigation rules. Oh — and shining a bright light on the intimidation by the likes of PRLDEF, MALDEF, La Raza, and the NAACP is a useful endeavor as well. If employers actually do fear being caught between contradictory discriminatory claims, they would be wise to do their utmost to expose and combat the kind of racial hucksterism that Justice Alito so aptly described in Ricci.

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Re: Martians and Venusians

One of the most interesting things about hiking in a desert with two friends and a limited water supply is that at a certain point early on, one of the hikers becomes the Watcher of the Water, constantly warning the others about not drinking too much. At some point, however, that person gets sick of the role. Suddenly left without the constant warning and the confidence that somebody’s making sure the water lasts, inevitably one of the other hikers takes on the role as principal water griper. It’s an intuitive response to genuine danger.
Something similar may be happening between the U.S. and Europe.

Emanuele is clearly on to something, and the developments since his post have only made clearer the role-reversal. Today there are reports indicating that the U.S. is actively blocking tough financial sanctions against Iran in the upcoming G8 summit requested by the Europeans.
Americans are unaccustomed to the decline of empire, but we might be seeing signs of a broad-scale correction of a fairly radical distortion that dates to the Cold War — an abandonment of the U.S.’s long-held role as Watcher of the Water. Americans have long bristled at the fact that it is they who provided the muscle to deter the Soviets, while the Europeans benefited from American investment in the problem, and had the luxury to advocate more universalist, passive, and peace-seeking ideologies. But from an American perspective, there was no choice back then: The Soviet nukes where every bit as much a threat to the U.S. as to Europe.

Today, however, Iran is not aiming ICBMs at the U.S., and the Europeans are far more at risk from an Iranian bomb than are the Americans. What the new American administration calls “engagement” may be little more than a form of strategic disengagement, a way of saying that an Iranian bomb is simply not their problem. With the protective big brother nowhere to be seen, many Europeans realize that it may actually be up to them to stop the bomb.

Is this the beginning of a new era, a kind of strategic American isolationism under the guise of peacemaking, a fundamental shifting of the clash of civilizations? Here in Israel, we sure feel that way. (If today’s Israeli naval maneuvers are any indication, Israel may indeed be taking steps to “go it alone.”) Maybe Europeans are starting to sense it as well.

One of the most interesting things about hiking in a desert with two friends and a limited water supply is that at a certain point early on, one of the hikers becomes the Watcher of the Water, constantly warning the others about not drinking too much. At some point, however, that person gets sick of the role. Suddenly left without the constant warning and the confidence that somebody’s making sure the water lasts, inevitably one of the other hikers takes on the role as principal water griper. It’s an intuitive response to genuine danger.
Something similar may be happening between the U.S. and Europe.

Emanuele is clearly on to something, and the developments since his post have only made clearer the role-reversal. Today there are reports indicating that the U.S. is actively blocking tough financial sanctions against Iran in the upcoming G8 summit requested by the Europeans.
Americans are unaccustomed to the decline of empire, but we might be seeing signs of a broad-scale correction of a fairly radical distortion that dates to the Cold War — an abandonment of the U.S.’s long-held role as Watcher of the Water. Americans have long bristled at the fact that it is they who provided the muscle to deter the Soviets, while the Europeans benefited from American investment in the problem, and had the luxury to advocate more universalist, passive, and peace-seeking ideologies. But from an American perspective, there was no choice back then: The Soviet nukes where every bit as much a threat to the U.S. as to Europe.

Today, however, Iran is not aiming ICBMs at the U.S., and the Europeans are far more at risk from an Iranian bomb than are the Americans. What the new American administration calls “engagement” may be little more than a form of strategic disengagement, a way of saying that an Iranian bomb is simply not their problem. With the protective big brother nowhere to be seen, many Europeans realize that it may actually be up to them to stop the bomb.

Is this the beginning of a new era, a kind of strategic American isolationism under the guise of peacemaking, a fundamental shifting of the clash of civilizations? Here in Israel, we sure feel that way. (If today’s Israeli naval maneuvers are any indication, Israel may indeed be taking steps to “go it alone.”) Maybe Europeans are starting to sense it as well.

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Obama, Lincoln, and Carter

Sean Wilentz’s cover story in the New Republic reviews seven recent books on Abraham Lincoln and reflects on the “almost cultish enthusiasm” for comparing Barack Obama (who has been president for little more than five months) to the greatest president in American history.

The intellectuals’ rapture over Obama, their eagerness to align him with their beatified Lincoln, has grown out of a deep hunger for a liberal savior . . . . Although Obama’s supporters at times likened him to the two Kennedys, and at times to FDR, the comparisons always came back to Lincoln — with the tall, skinny, well-spoken Great Emancipator from Illinois serving as the spiritual forebear of the tall, skinny, well-spoken great liberal hope from Illinois.

Wilentz writes it is natural that electing an African-American president brings Lincoln to mind, but that “the hunger pangs of some liberals have caused them to hallucinate.”

Obama’s legendary announcement in Springfield was the purest political stagecraft, but it was happily regarded as a kind of message from history. . . . One hears that the rhetoric that carried Obama to the White House is Lincolnesque, which it most certainly is not, either in its imagery or its prosody. One hears even that Obama is not just an extremely talented and promising new president but, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes, that he is “destined” — destined! — “to be thought of as Lincoln’s direct heir.”

Wilentz further notes the irony of Obama obtaining the Democratic nomination by manipulation of caucus rules in early states and later obtaining the backing of the “super delegates,” and then winning the presidency in part through a massive funding advantage over the Republican candidate.  There is “something, well, rich about the candidate beloved by the good-government reformers relying on the party insiders to get nominated and rejecting public financing in order to get elected.”

Five months into his presidency, it is increasingly apparent that Obama is the heir not of Lincoln, but of another president who initially inspired high hopes with his intelligence (he graduated from Annapolis and worked on nuclear physics with Admiral Rickover) and literary skills (he was the author of a well-received autobiography with the audacious title “Why Not the Best?”), but who lacked experience (serving only one term as a governor before becoming president), and who fundamentally misread the country’s Communist and Islamic adversaries.

As Obama heads off to Russia without his secretary of state, and Iran’s fists remain clenched despite videos and speeches, even liberal historians are starting to hedge their bets.

Sean Wilentz’s cover story in the New Republic reviews seven recent books on Abraham Lincoln and reflects on the “almost cultish enthusiasm” for comparing Barack Obama (who has been president for little more than five months) to the greatest president in American history.

The intellectuals’ rapture over Obama, their eagerness to align him with their beatified Lincoln, has grown out of a deep hunger for a liberal savior . . . . Although Obama’s supporters at times likened him to the two Kennedys, and at times to FDR, the comparisons always came back to Lincoln — with the tall, skinny, well-spoken Great Emancipator from Illinois serving as the spiritual forebear of the tall, skinny, well-spoken great liberal hope from Illinois.

Wilentz writes it is natural that electing an African-American president brings Lincoln to mind, but that “the hunger pangs of some liberals have caused them to hallucinate.”

Obama’s legendary announcement in Springfield was the purest political stagecraft, but it was happily regarded as a kind of message from history. . . . One hears that the rhetoric that carried Obama to the White House is Lincolnesque, which it most certainly is not, either in its imagery or its prosody. One hears even that Obama is not just an extremely talented and promising new president but, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes, that he is “destined” — destined! — “to be thought of as Lincoln’s direct heir.”

Wilentz further notes the irony of Obama obtaining the Democratic nomination by manipulation of caucus rules in early states and later obtaining the backing of the “super delegates,” and then winning the presidency in part through a massive funding advantage over the Republican candidate.  There is “something, well, rich about the candidate beloved by the good-government reformers relying on the party insiders to get nominated and rejecting public financing in order to get elected.”

Five months into his presidency, it is increasingly apparent that Obama is the heir not of Lincoln, but of another president who initially inspired high hopes with his intelligence (he graduated from Annapolis and worked on nuclear physics with Admiral Rickover) and literary skills (he was the author of a well-received autobiography with the audacious title “Why Not the Best?”), but who lacked experience (serving only one term as a governor before becoming president), and who fundamentally misread the country’s Communist and Islamic adversaries.

As Obama heads off to Russia without his secretary of state, and Iran’s fists remain clenched despite videos and speeches, even liberal historians are starting to hedge their bets.

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Not Enough Mea Culpas for Ron Kampeas?

The Washington bureau chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, has posted a screed against neoconservatives on that organization’s web site. “For eight years we in Washington lived in a bizarro world where the most obvious conclusions were not just ignored, but mocked, actively suppressed and made akin to treason,” he said. Now, “neoconservatives are losing,” because of “their failure, or their abject inability, to say ‘I was wrong.'” He writes, “The Bush administration had not merely an aversion but a psychotic fear of saying ‘We wuz wrong.'”

If anything is “bizarro,” it is Mr. Kampeas’s own accusation. There are at least two significant cases where President Bush himself admitted he was wrong. One was his speech on the surge, in which he said, “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq…Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed.” Oh, and the president also ousted his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, (after such “neoconservatives” such as Max Boot and William Kristol had called for him to do so) to underscore the point.

On Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Saddam’s own denials of whose existence appear to be Mr. Kampeas’s jumping-off point as unquestionable fact, Mr. Bush also acknowledged error. “Much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong,” Mr. Bush said. “As president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I’m also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities.”

On the WMD question, Mr. Kampeas apparently puts more faith in Saddam’s denials to the FBI under interrogation, as reported by the Washington Post, than in the assertions I reported by Moshe Yaalon and by Ariel Sharon that Saddam’s chemical weapons were transported to Syria before the war. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s web site reports that the wire service is funded by some of the largest Jewish charities, including the United Jewish Communities, Hadassah, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, all of which do much valuable work, as does the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. You have to wonder whether they really want to publish this sort of stuff, or employ a Washington bureau chief who thinks it.

The Washington bureau chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, has posted a screed against neoconservatives on that organization’s web site. “For eight years we in Washington lived in a bizarro world where the most obvious conclusions were not just ignored, but mocked, actively suppressed and made akin to treason,” he said. Now, “neoconservatives are losing,” because of “their failure, or their abject inability, to say ‘I was wrong.'” He writes, “The Bush administration had not merely an aversion but a psychotic fear of saying ‘We wuz wrong.'”

If anything is “bizarro,” it is Mr. Kampeas’s own accusation. There are at least two significant cases where President Bush himself admitted he was wrong. One was his speech on the surge, in which he said, “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq…Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed.” Oh, and the president also ousted his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, (after such “neoconservatives” such as Max Boot and William Kristol had called for him to do so) to underscore the point.

On Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Saddam’s own denials of whose existence appear to be Mr. Kampeas’s jumping-off point as unquestionable fact, Mr. Bush also acknowledged error. “Much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong,” Mr. Bush said. “As president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I’m also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities.”

On the WMD question, Mr. Kampeas apparently puts more faith in Saddam’s denials to the FBI under interrogation, as reported by the Washington Post, than in the assertions I reported by Moshe Yaalon and by Ariel Sharon that Saddam’s chemical weapons were transported to Syria before the war. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s web site reports that the wire service is funded by some of the largest Jewish charities, including the United Jewish Communities, Hadassah, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, all of which do much valuable work, as does the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. You have to wonder whether they really want to publish this sort of stuff, or employ a Washington bureau chief who thinks it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even before the jobs numbers: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Thursday shows that 33% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-five percent (35%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -2. . . . Overall, 53% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance so far.”

And it’s not only Rasmussen.

The markets have figured out Obama’s economic plans: “U.S. stocks made a sharp retreat Thursday, with losses steepening after the New York Stock Exchange extended the trading session by 15 minutes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 registered their third straight weekly loss, the longest weekly losing streak since early March, when stocks began their four-month rally. The Dow average closed down 214.3 points, or 2.5%, at 8,289.8.”

Meanwhile, Israelis like Netanyahu just fine according to a poll after his first 100 days.

A “card check” bill might not be coming after July 4 after all.

Voters are not waiting around to see what he does: they already don’t like Al Franken. His favorable/unfavorable rating is 34-44%. Well, still better than the Governor of New Jersey.

Gerald Seib joins those who have noticed all “the ways the world has conspired to help Mr. Romney.” Well, only if the Republicans actually want someone with economic expertise, knowledge of the automobile industry, experience running a presidential campaign, “air miles and shoe leather .  .  . invest[ed] to help fellow Republicans,” a polished TV presence, and no hint of scandal.

On the Washington Post access scandal I agree entirely with Ezra Klein: “From every angle, it’s dirty: It compromises us with the government officials we should be covering but who are doing us a financial favor by participating. It compromises us with the lobbyists we should be covering but who are now funding our business in return for access to the newsroom and the administration. There’s literally no way to look at it that doesn’t leave us in a terribly unethical position.”

And with Christine Pelosi too: “The Washington Post Salongate is yet another example of hypocrisy: after complaining in editorials and exposes about special interests silencing the public interest, the Post perpetuated the same behavior. They should liveblog their salons and charge sponsors just like any other conference.” And disclose the invite list so we can tell with whom the Post is in bed.

Maybe Bill can headline one for Joe Sestak also: “The Obama White House and Sen. Charles Schumer have worked diligently to try to clear the Democratic primary field for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. in the Empire State, but to no avail. And Bill Clinton appears to be complicating matters by headlining a fundraiser for Gillibrand foe Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) in Manhattan on July 20.”

As we suspected, the Republicans are raising a fuss over the delay in turning over Sotomayor’s PRLDEF documents: “A spokesman for Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions says documents provided by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund show that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor played a ‘deeper than previously thought’ role in controversial positions taken by the PRLDEF. And Sessions’ office says the White House and PRLDEF have still not turned over all the material requested by the Senate Judiciary Committee for Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing.”

Michael Gerson reminds us on Iraq: “This is one of the most extraordinary reversals of fortune in the history of American warfare. In 2006 and 2007 — after years of rising violence and disappointed expectations — much of the public and Congress had concluded, as Sen. Harry Reid did, that ‘this war is lost.’ Some, such as then-Sen. Barack Obama, recommended an almost immediate American withdrawal.” But we thankfully neither of them controlled U.S. Iraq policy at the time. As Gerson notes, “[W]e did not fail. Our military adapted. Our leaders and country persevered.”

Even before the jobs numbers: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Thursday shows that 33% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-five percent (35%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -2. . . . Overall, 53% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance so far.”

And it’s not only Rasmussen.

The markets have figured out Obama’s economic plans: “U.S. stocks made a sharp retreat Thursday, with losses steepening after the New York Stock Exchange extended the trading session by 15 minutes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 registered their third straight weekly loss, the longest weekly losing streak since early March, when stocks began their four-month rally. The Dow average closed down 214.3 points, or 2.5%, at 8,289.8.”

Meanwhile, Israelis like Netanyahu just fine according to a poll after his first 100 days.

A “card check” bill might not be coming after July 4 after all.

Voters are not waiting around to see what he does: they already don’t like Al Franken. His favorable/unfavorable rating is 34-44%. Well, still better than the Governor of New Jersey.

Gerald Seib joins those who have noticed all “the ways the world has conspired to help Mr. Romney.” Well, only if the Republicans actually want someone with economic expertise, knowledge of the automobile industry, experience running a presidential campaign, “air miles and shoe leather .  .  . invest[ed] to help fellow Republicans,” a polished TV presence, and no hint of scandal.

On the Washington Post access scandal I agree entirely with Ezra Klein: “From every angle, it’s dirty: It compromises us with the government officials we should be covering but who are doing us a financial favor by participating. It compromises us with the lobbyists we should be covering but who are now funding our business in return for access to the newsroom and the administration. There’s literally no way to look at it that doesn’t leave us in a terribly unethical position.”

And with Christine Pelosi too: “The Washington Post Salongate is yet another example of hypocrisy: after complaining in editorials and exposes about special interests silencing the public interest, the Post perpetuated the same behavior. They should liveblog their salons and charge sponsors just like any other conference.” And disclose the invite list so we can tell with whom the Post is in bed.

Maybe Bill can headline one for Joe Sestak also: “The Obama White House and Sen. Charles Schumer have worked diligently to try to clear the Democratic primary field for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. in the Empire State, but to no avail. And Bill Clinton appears to be complicating matters by headlining a fundraiser for Gillibrand foe Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) in Manhattan on July 20.”

As we suspected, the Republicans are raising a fuss over the delay in turning over Sotomayor’s PRLDEF documents: “A spokesman for Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions says documents provided by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund show that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor played a ‘deeper than previously thought’ role in controversial positions taken by the PRLDEF. And Sessions’ office says the White House and PRLDEF have still not turned over all the material requested by the Senate Judiciary Committee for Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing.”

Michael Gerson reminds us on Iraq: “This is one of the most extraordinary reversals of fortune in the history of American warfare. In 2006 and 2007 — after years of rising violence and disappointed expectations — much of the public and Congress had concluded, as Sen. Harry Reid did, that ‘this war is lost.’ Some, such as then-Sen. Barack Obama, recommended an almost immediate American withdrawal.” But we thankfully neither of them controlled U.S. Iraq policy at the time. As Gerson notes, “[W]e did not fail. Our military adapted. Our leaders and country persevered.”

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Obama, Russia, and Iran

Sens. Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham sent a letter to the president on his upcoming trip to Russia. It reads in part:

As you travel to Russia next week we strongly urge you to put preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability as the top priority in your discussions with Russia’s leadership.  Negotiations over bilateral arms control, missile defense in Europe, civilian nuclear cooperation, WTO accession and other issues in the U.S.-Russian relationship must be conducted with an eye towards Russian policy on Iran.  We believe that the United States should not make unilateral gestures without specific understandings that Moscow will support tougher measures against Iran if Tehran does not soon suspend its enrichment program….

Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is and must remain a top foreign policy objective of the United States.  Given the unfolding events in Iran following its presidential elections, when and if engagement with Tehran can happen is an open question.  Meanwhile Iran’s nuclear program continues.  Our ability to impact that program will increase if Russia signals its support for tougher measures against Iran.

It is odd and a bit sad that a bipartisan group of senators would feel compelled to write a letter to the president telling him not to take the eye off the ball on what is arguably the principal national security challenge we face. It would be as if a bipartisan group wrote to Ronald Reagan pleading with him not to forget the Cold War when he met with Gorbachev.

But they are right to be concerned over Obama not being very concerned. Aside from grudgingly offering a few crumbs of rhetorical support for the protesters after days and days of paralysis, he has again gone mute on Iran. One senses he’s simply hoping the whole “protest thing” will just blow over so he can go back to working on the Grand Bargain with the mullahs.

This trip will show us wheher president is still on the “Not George W. Bush!” tour and is loath to insist that other nations recognize our legitimate national security interests. He’s more than willing to talk about limiting American industrial output to placate global-warming alarmists and he is reluctant to dictate to others (with the exception of Israel. of course). But he’s not one to require others to conform or alter their behavior to further our fundamental interests. Alas, one suspects a “you are on our team” reminder would not make much difference. Nor, I fear, will the “remember the Iranian nuclear threat” plea.

Sens. Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham sent a letter to the president on his upcoming trip to Russia. It reads in part:

As you travel to Russia next week we strongly urge you to put preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability as the top priority in your discussions with Russia’s leadership.  Negotiations over bilateral arms control, missile defense in Europe, civilian nuclear cooperation, WTO accession and other issues in the U.S.-Russian relationship must be conducted with an eye towards Russian policy on Iran.  We believe that the United States should not make unilateral gestures without specific understandings that Moscow will support tougher measures against Iran if Tehran does not soon suspend its enrichment program….

Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is and must remain a top foreign policy objective of the United States.  Given the unfolding events in Iran following its presidential elections, when and if engagement with Tehran can happen is an open question.  Meanwhile Iran’s nuclear program continues.  Our ability to impact that program will increase if Russia signals its support for tougher measures against Iran.

It is odd and a bit sad that a bipartisan group of senators would feel compelled to write a letter to the president telling him not to take the eye off the ball on what is arguably the principal national security challenge we face. It would be as if a bipartisan group wrote to Ronald Reagan pleading with him not to forget the Cold War when he met with Gorbachev.

But they are right to be concerned over Obama not being very concerned. Aside from grudgingly offering a few crumbs of rhetorical support for the protesters after days and days of paralysis, he has again gone mute on Iran. One senses he’s simply hoping the whole “protest thing” will just blow over so he can go back to working on the Grand Bargain with the mullahs.

This trip will show us wheher president is still on the “Not George W. Bush!” tour and is loath to insist that other nations recognize our legitimate national security interests. He’s more than willing to talk about limiting American industrial output to placate global-warming alarmists and he is reluctant to dictate to others (with the exception of Israel. of course). But he’s not one to require others to conform or alter their behavior to further our fundamental interests. Alas, one suspects a “you are on our team” reminder would not make much difference. Nor, I fear, will the “remember the Iranian nuclear threat” plea.

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Biden “In Charge” of Iraq Policy

Well, Vice President Joe Biden—recently put “in charge” of Iraq policy—has just completed his first survey of his new domain. And he was warmly welcomed.

It’s almost as if those who received the Vice President were unaware of his previous stances on events in that nation.

Biden, while in the Senate, voted against the first Gulf War, back in 1991. He balanced that out by voting for the second one, in 2002. And at one point, managed to unite nearly all Iraqis—in opposing his plan to partition the nation into three states. He also publicly and vocally opposed the “surge” strategy of last year.

Perhaps Obama chose to put Biden in charge under the theory that he simply can’t be wrong any more—he’s used up all the possible errors. Or he thinks that things are going so well, even Biden can’t mess them up. Or he knows that things are about to go south, and wants someone he can shift the blame to.

Well, Vice President Joe Biden—recently put “in charge” of Iraq policy—has just completed his first survey of his new domain. And he was warmly welcomed.

It’s almost as if those who received the Vice President were unaware of his previous stances on events in that nation.

Biden, while in the Senate, voted against the first Gulf War, back in 1991. He balanced that out by voting for the second one, in 2002. And at one point, managed to unite nearly all Iraqis—in opposing his plan to partition the nation into three states. He also publicly and vocally opposed the “surge” strategy of last year.

Perhaps Obama chose to put Biden in charge under the theory that he simply can’t be wrong any more—he’s used up all the possible errors. Or he thinks that things are going so well, even Biden can’t mess them up. Or he knows that things are about to go south, and wants someone he can shift the blame to.

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Gibbs-erish

Such is the lot of the White House press secretary that he will stick to the White House line, no matter how dumb it sounds. Robbert Gibbs was up at bat on Thursday and went down swinging. In the process he pointed out just how untenable the White House spin is. The Hill reported:

Despite losing almost a half-million jobs in June, the economy is showing signs of recovery, the White House said Thursday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president joins the American people in being “impatient for results” as Republicans are howling that Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan has done nothing to halt job losses.

“There’s a sense that beginnings of stabilization are taking hold, and hopefully the worst job loss is behind us,” Gibbs said, adding the president was “deeply disappointed by the continued job loss” as the national unemployment rate moved up to 9.5 percent.

Gibbs said he “absolutely” believes that number is “definitely headed to 10 percent.”

[. . .]

Under intense fire from Republicans who have questioned from the beginning whether the stimulus plan would work, Gibbs said flatly Thursday that “the stimulus plan is working.”

We are recovering. But unemployment is getting worse. And the stimulus is definitely working. Got it? It sounds like they haven’t a clue what to do and don’t want to admit they have been concocting a disaster. And we shouldn’t pick on Gibbs. The president and the rest of the administration are no better:

President Obama on Wednesday told a town-hall meeting that the stimulus has “done its job.” But Mr. [Jared] Bernstein on Thursday offered a more cautious view. Monthly job losses aren’t as bad as they were from December to March, when payrolls were trimmed by more than 600,000, Mr. Bernstein said. “That’s not a success story — mission not accomplished,” he said on Fox Business Channel, but “the worst is behind us.”

Except that unemployment is going to ten percent.

It is quite reminiscent of the White House predicament on Iraq before the successful implementation of the surge. In both cases, the White House’s denial of reality and double talk only contribute to the sense that the president is cut off from reality and too stubborn to change course. To his credit, George W. Bush did recognize it wasn’t working and turned things around. Will Obama? Well, first he would have to admit that what he’s tried so far hasn’t “done its job.”

Such is the lot of the White House press secretary that he will stick to the White House line, no matter how dumb it sounds. Robbert Gibbs was up at bat on Thursday and went down swinging. In the process he pointed out just how untenable the White House spin is. The Hill reported:

Despite losing almost a half-million jobs in June, the economy is showing signs of recovery, the White House said Thursday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president joins the American people in being “impatient for results” as Republicans are howling that Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan has done nothing to halt job losses.

“There’s a sense that beginnings of stabilization are taking hold, and hopefully the worst job loss is behind us,” Gibbs said, adding the president was “deeply disappointed by the continued job loss” as the national unemployment rate moved up to 9.5 percent.

Gibbs said he “absolutely” believes that number is “definitely headed to 10 percent.”

[. . .]

Under intense fire from Republicans who have questioned from the beginning whether the stimulus plan would work, Gibbs said flatly Thursday that “the stimulus plan is working.”

We are recovering. But unemployment is getting worse. And the stimulus is definitely working. Got it? It sounds like they haven’t a clue what to do and don’t want to admit they have been concocting a disaster. And we shouldn’t pick on Gibbs. The president and the rest of the administration are no better:

President Obama on Wednesday told a town-hall meeting that the stimulus has “done its job.” But Mr. [Jared] Bernstein on Thursday offered a more cautious view. Monthly job losses aren’t as bad as they were from December to March, when payrolls were trimmed by more than 600,000, Mr. Bernstein said. “That’s not a success story — mission not accomplished,” he said on Fox Business Channel, but “the worst is behind us.”

Except that unemployment is going to ten percent.

It is quite reminiscent of the White House predicament on Iraq before the successful implementation of the surge. In both cases, the White House’s denial of reality and double talk only contribute to the sense that the president is cut off from reality and too stubborn to change course. To his credit, George W. Bush did recognize it wasn’t working and turned things around. Will Obama? Well, first he would have to admit that what he’s tried so far hasn’t “done its job.”

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Health Care and Small Business

Congress and the public are reeling from sticker shock over the cost of health care. So what can they do? Well, cover less people and then bring the cost down. But wait. We’re going to turn our health-care system inside out to cover only a fraction of the uninsured?  

It looks that way:

Senate Democrats and President Obama, trying to assuage fears about the cost of health reform, yesterday touted new estimates that put the price tag for one bill at $611 billion over the next decade. But the measure drafted by the Senate health committee falls far short of Obama’s goal of providing insurance to virtually every American. Analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released in a letter yesterday, shows that it would cover just 39 percent of uninsured Americans in 2019 — or about 21 million of the 54 million people expected to lack coverage if no change is made.

In some sense, this seems worse than biting the bullet to cover the vast majority of the uninsured. After all, we started from the premise that the great problem here was “cost-shifting” from the uninsured to those who are insured. But if we are going to be left with more than 30 million uninsured, we won’t have addressed that issue—or the social-welfare goal of providing universal coverage. And really, can’t they come up with a cheaper way to cover less than 40% of the uninsured?

There is bipartisan disdain for this approach:

Republicans pounced on the figure, and even many Democrats complained that it was far too high a price for such little improvement. Committee staffers reworked the bill—and added a new provision requiring most employers to contribute to the cost of health insurance—to arrive at the lower estimate. Under the new proposal, any business with more than 25 workers would be required to offer coverage or pay a $750 penalty per employee.

Care to guess how many small businesses will keep their headcount at 24? Lots.

None of this suggests there is much consideration shown for how all this will play out in the real economy and in the arena of public opinion. When you consider that we are now bleeding jobs, think for a moment how monumentally silly is a health-care plan that encourages every small business to keep its payroll low.

Congress and the public are reeling from sticker shock over the cost of health care. So what can they do? Well, cover less people and then bring the cost down. But wait. We’re going to turn our health-care system inside out to cover only a fraction of the uninsured?  

It looks that way:

Senate Democrats and President Obama, trying to assuage fears about the cost of health reform, yesterday touted new estimates that put the price tag for one bill at $611 billion over the next decade. But the measure drafted by the Senate health committee falls far short of Obama’s goal of providing insurance to virtually every American. Analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, released in a letter yesterday, shows that it would cover just 39 percent of uninsured Americans in 2019 — or about 21 million of the 54 million people expected to lack coverage if no change is made.

In some sense, this seems worse than biting the bullet to cover the vast majority of the uninsured. After all, we started from the premise that the great problem here was “cost-shifting” from the uninsured to those who are insured. But if we are going to be left with more than 30 million uninsured, we won’t have addressed that issue—or the social-welfare goal of providing universal coverage. And really, can’t they come up with a cheaper way to cover less than 40% of the uninsured?

There is bipartisan disdain for this approach:

Republicans pounced on the figure, and even many Democrats complained that it was far too high a price for such little improvement. Committee staffers reworked the bill—and added a new provision requiring most employers to contribute to the cost of health insurance—to arrive at the lower estimate. Under the new proposal, any business with more than 25 workers would be required to offer coverage or pay a $750 penalty per employee.

Care to guess how many small businesses will keep their headcount at 24? Lots.

None of this suggests there is much consideration shown for how all this will play out in the real economy and in the arena of public opinion. When you consider that we are now bleeding jobs, think for a moment how monumentally silly is a health-care plan that encourages every small business to keep its payroll low.

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