Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 20, 2009

Selective Meddling Backfires

If the Obama administration had called out the fanatical Iranian regime for hosing, gassing, and shooting citizens, it would have been arrogant American “meddling.” But telling our ally India what to do about CO2 is  . . . what exactly?

India dismissed suggestions that it accept binding limits on carbon emissions, with a top official Sunday delivering a strong rebuke to overtures from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the two countries to work together to combat climate change.

The rejection of the U.S. proposal was made in the middle of Mrs. Clinton’s first visit to India as secretary of state and came just as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is gearing up to push for a new global pact on climate change.

“There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told Mrs. Clinton and her delegation.

Doesn’t Mr. Ramesh know that the Obama administration doesn’t have to make a CO2 case? Didn’t he hear the inaugural announcement? Obama would “restore science to its rightful place.” What does he want — facts?

Hillary Clinton’s snag in India is a good encapsulation of a number of problems threading their way through the administration’s foreign policy. First, Obama is taking our allies for granted — and cracks are now showing. In all Obama’s travels since taking office, he hasn’t visited India once. During Hillary Clinton’s first trip to East Asia as secretary of state, she blew off India, citing scheduling problems. George W. Bush forged bold energy and trade deals to ensure excellent relations with the emerging subcontinent; if Obama thinks he can coast on that record, he’s in for a surprise.

Second, the administration has an absurd faith in the power of its own PR. India has been wracked by the global financial crisis. Even putting that aside, it’s a country where 42.5 percent of children under five are malnourished. For India, economic dynamism isn’t a luxury; it’s a miracle. Do Obama and Hillary think Indians will hobble their own industry just because the Change Express is sweeping through town yammering about cooperation?

Third, its carbon moratorium is madness. Climate panic is an outgrowth of Western decadence. Pushing it on emerging powers is exactly what the Left means by cultural imperialism (or what it should mean, anyway). If the Obama administration bossed around our enemies with half the energy it puts into bossing around our friends, perhaps the planet wouldn’t look like a rogue nations’ free-for-all right now.

If the Obama administration had called out the fanatical Iranian regime for hosing, gassing, and shooting citizens, it would have been arrogant American “meddling.” But telling our ally India what to do about CO2 is  . . . what exactly?

India dismissed suggestions that it accept binding limits on carbon emissions, with a top official Sunday delivering a strong rebuke to overtures from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the two countries to work together to combat climate change.

The rejection of the U.S. proposal was made in the middle of Mrs. Clinton’s first visit to India as secretary of state and came just as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is gearing up to push for a new global pact on climate change.

“There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told Mrs. Clinton and her delegation.

Doesn’t Mr. Ramesh know that the Obama administration doesn’t have to make a CO2 case? Didn’t he hear the inaugural announcement? Obama would “restore science to its rightful place.” What does he want — facts?

Hillary Clinton’s snag in India is a good encapsulation of a number of problems threading their way through the administration’s foreign policy. First, Obama is taking our allies for granted — and cracks are now showing. In all Obama’s travels since taking office, he hasn’t visited India once. During Hillary Clinton’s first trip to East Asia as secretary of state, she blew off India, citing scheduling problems. George W. Bush forged bold energy and trade deals to ensure excellent relations with the emerging subcontinent; if Obama thinks he can coast on that record, he’s in for a surprise.

Second, the administration has an absurd faith in the power of its own PR. India has been wracked by the global financial crisis. Even putting that aside, it’s a country where 42.5 percent of children under five are malnourished. For India, economic dynamism isn’t a luxury; it’s a miracle. Do Obama and Hillary think Indians will hobble their own industry just because the Change Express is sweeping through town yammering about cooperation?

Third, its carbon moratorium is madness. Climate panic is an outgrowth of Western decadence. Pushing it on emerging powers is exactly what the Left means by cultural imperialism (or what it should mean, anyway). If the Obama administration bossed around our enemies with half the energy it puts into bossing around our friends, perhaps the planet wouldn’t look like a rogue nations’ free-for-all right now.

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More Summer of Obama’s Discontent

When it rains, it pours on Obama. From USA/Gallup’s survey:

The public’s confidence in President Obama’s ability to handle the economy is eroding amid concern about higher federal spending and expanding government power, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds — a development that could complicate his efforts to push a health care plan through Congress in the next few weeks.

In the survey, taken Friday through Sunday, Americans by 49%-47% disapprove of his handling of the economy, and by 44%-50% disapprove of his handling of health care.

His overall approval rating was 55%, the lowest of his young presidency. That puts Obama 10th among the 12 post–World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked 7th.

[. . .]

• 59% say his proposals call for too much government spending.

• 52% say they call for too much expansion of government power.

• Expectations about when the economy will recover are souring. In February, the mean or average prediction for a turnaround was 4.1 years; now it’s 5.5 years.

• There’s limited faith in his economic stimulus package, especially when asked for its likely impact on their own finances. A third predict it will make things better for their families in the long term; a third say it will make things worse.

For Obama, “the trouble is it might make the policies more popular by being associated with him,” says presidential historian H.W. Brands of the University of Texas at Austin. “But it’s almost equally possible that it will make him less popular by linking him with those policies.”

Perhaps, then, if Obama wants health-care reform to pass, he should lay low rather than take the lead. It seems he may be a drag on the cause he holds dearest.

When it rains, it pours on Obama. From USA/Gallup’s survey:

The public’s confidence in President Obama’s ability to handle the economy is eroding amid concern about higher federal spending and expanding government power, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds — a development that could complicate his efforts to push a health care plan through Congress in the next few weeks.

In the survey, taken Friday through Sunday, Americans by 49%-47% disapprove of his handling of the economy, and by 44%-50% disapprove of his handling of health care.

His overall approval rating was 55%, the lowest of his young presidency. That puts Obama 10th among the 12 post–World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked 7th.

[. . .]

• 59% say his proposals call for too much government spending.

• 52% say they call for too much expansion of government power.

• Expectations about when the economy will recover are souring. In February, the mean or average prediction for a turnaround was 4.1 years; now it’s 5.5 years.

• There’s limited faith in his economic stimulus package, especially when asked for its likely impact on their own finances. A third predict it will make things better for their families in the long term; a third say it will make things worse.

For Obama, “the trouble is it might make the policies more popular by being associated with him,” says presidential historian H.W. Brands of the University of Texas at Austin. “But it’s almost equally possible that it will make him less popular by linking him with those policies.”

Perhaps, then, if Obama wants health-care reform to pass, he should lay low rather than take the lead. It seems he may be a drag on the cause he holds dearest.

Read Less

The Significance of 20 Units

After refusing 21 times to stand by the U.S. commitment in the 2004 letter to Israel; after reneging on six years of understandings about the meaning of a “settlement freeze”; after responding to complaints that public disputes with Israel are not conducive to peace by saying that distance from Israel is necessary; and after saying Israel needs some “serious self-reflection” because there has supposedly been “no progress” in eight years, Barack Obama chose last week — in the midst of negotiations about re-defining Israel’s freeze obligation — to enter into still another dispute with Israel: this time by defining half of Jerusalem as a “settlement” in which not even 20 new housing units can be built.

To appreciate the audacity (a better word is probably chutzpah) of Obama’s latest hope, it is necessary to recognize several points:

First, it has been U.S. policy since 1995, when Congress enacted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, that Jerusalem should be “recognized as the capital” of Israel and “remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.”

Second, in his address to a joint session of Congress in 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his views on Jerusalem in terms virtually identical to those he used yesterday with the Israeli cabinet:

Since 1967, under Israeli sovereignty . . . the holy places have been open to worshippers from all three great faiths. . . . For the first time, a single sovereign authority has afforded security and protection to members of every nationality who sought to come to pray there.

There have been efforts to redivide this city by those who claim that peace can come through division — that it can be secured through multiple sovereignties, multiple laws and multiple police forces.

This is a groundless and dangerous assumption, which impels me to declare today: There will never be such a redivision of Jerusalem. Never.

We shall not allow a Berlin Wall to be erected inside Jerusalem. We will not drive out anyone, but neither shall we be driven out of any quarter, any neighborhood, any street of our eternal capital.

Third, the status of Jerusalem is expressly an issue to be addressed in final status negotiations under the Roadmap. It is not an issue for pre-negotiation concessions by Israel in order to get the Palestinians to enter into final status negotiations once again.

Fourth, the fact that Jerusalem is to be the subject of final status negotiations is commonly — and erroneously — assumed to mean Jerusalem is to be divided based on such negotiations. But that is the opposite of what making Jerusalem a “negotiable” issue was intended to mean. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 — the express basis of final status negotiations under the Roadmap — call for Israeli withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories” in exchange for recognized borders that are “secure” (which no one at the time thought meant the 1967 boundaries, with or without “minor adjustments”).

Neither Resolution 242 nor 338 mentions Jerusalem, and the omission was intentional. On March 12, 1980, Arthur J. Goldberg, who was U.S. ambassador to the UN when Resolution 242 was adopted, wrote a letter to the New York Times to “set the record straight”:

Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate. . . . In a number of speeches at the UN in 1967, I repeatedly stated that the armistice lines fixed after 1948 were intended to be temporary.  This, of course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. . . .  I made it clear that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiable and that the armistice lines dividing Jerusalem were no longer viable.  In other words, Jerusalem was not to be divided again.  [Emphasis added]

Barack Obama once supported an undivided Jerusalem. In his June 2008 speech to AIPAC, he said, “Let me be clear . . . [Jerusalem] must remain undivided” — a position he had taken in writing at least twice before. But he retracted that statement a day later and gave a series of increasingly disingenuous explanations for his retraction.

Now he wants all building within the eastern half of Israel’s capital stopped — at least all Jewish building — so he can get the Palestinians to agree to resume final status negotiations, where they will once again demand Jerusalem be divided, this time with implicit U.S. backing from a construction freeze imposed by Obama (or perhaps explicit backing from a U.S. peace plan the administration still appears to be preparing).

In a perceptive article, Elliott Abrams has explained why the Obama “settlement mania” has now created a problem not only for Israel but also for the Abba/Fayyad Palestinian Authority as well. The stakes over the dispute regarding 20 housing units are pretty large.

After refusing 21 times to stand by the U.S. commitment in the 2004 letter to Israel; after reneging on six years of understandings about the meaning of a “settlement freeze”; after responding to complaints that public disputes with Israel are not conducive to peace by saying that distance from Israel is necessary; and after saying Israel needs some “serious self-reflection” because there has supposedly been “no progress” in eight years, Barack Obama chose last week — in the midst of negotiations about re-defining Israel’s freeze obligation — to enter into still another dispute with Israel: this time by defining half of Jerusalem as a “settlement” in which not even 20 new housing units can be built.

To appreciate the audacity (a better word is probably chutzpah) of Obama’s latest hope, it is necessary to recognize several points:

First, it has been U.S. policy since 1995, when Congress enacted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, that Jerusalem should be “recognized as the capital” of Israel and “remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.”

Second, in his address to a joint session of Congress in 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his views on Jerusalem in terms virtually identical to those he used yesterday with the Israeli cabinet:

Since 1967, under Israeli sovereignty . . . the holy places have been open to worshippers from all three great faiths. . . . For the first time, a single sovereign authority has afforded security and protection to members of every nationality who sought to come to pray there.

There have been efforts to redivide this city by those who claim that peace can come through division — that it can be secured through multiple sovereignties, multiple laws and multiple police forces.

This is a groundless and dangerous assumption, which impels me to declare today: There will never be such a redivision of Jerusalem. Never.

We shall not allow a Berlin Wall to be erected inside Jerusalem. We will not drive out anyone, but neither shall we be driven out of any quarter, any neighborhood, any street of our eternal capital.

Third, the status of Jerusalem is expressly an issue to be addressed in final status negotiations under the Roadmap. It is not an issue for pre-negotiation concessions by Israel in order to get the Palestinians to enter into final status negotiations once again.

Fourth, the fact that Jerusalem is to be the subject of final status negotiations is commonly — and erroneously — assumed to mean Jerusalem is to be divided based on such negotiations. But that is the opposite of what making Jerusalem a “negotiable” issue was intended to mean. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 — the express basis of final status negotiations under the Roadmap — call for Israeli withdrawal from an unspecified portion of “territories” in exchange for recognized borders that are “secure” (which no one at the time thought meant the 1967 boundaries, with or without “minor adjustments”).

Neither Resolution 242 nor 338 mentions Jerusalem, and the omission was intentional. On March 12, 1980, Arthur J. Goldberg, who was U.S. ambassador to the UN when Resolution 242 was adopted, wrote a letter to the New York Times to “set the record straight”:

Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate. . . . In a number of speeches at the UN in 1967, I repeatedly stated that the armistice lines fixed after 1948 were intended to be temporary.  This, of course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. . . .  I made it clear that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiable and that the armistice lines dividing Jerusalem were no longer viable.  In other words, Jerusalem was not to be divided again.  [Emphasis added]

Barack Obama once supported an undivided Jerusalem. In his June 2008 speech to AIPAC, he said, “Let me be clear . . . [Jerusalem] must remain undivided” — a position he had taken in writing at least twice before. But he retracted that statement a day later and gave a series of increasingly disingenuous explanations for his retraction.

Now he wants all building within the eastern half of Israel’s capital stopped — at least all Jewish building — so he can get the Palestinians to agree to resume final status negotiations, where they will once again demand Jerusalem be divided, this time with implicit U.S. backing from a construction freeze imposed by Obama (or perhaps explicit backing from a U.S. peace plan the administration still appears to be preparing).

In a perceptive article, Elliott Abrams has explained why the Obama “settlement mania” has now created a problem not only for Israel but also for the Abba/Fayyad Palestinian Authority as well. The stakes over the dispute regarding 20 housing units are pretty large.

Read Less

Unasked Questions

Today’s Boston Globe features an editorial that points out the increasing costs of college education and suggests, as an antidote, that we get private lenders out of the business of offering student loans — and have the government do so directly, instead of simply guaranteeing them.

This article raises some interesting questions — albeit ones the Globe is not asking.

“As tuitions skyrocket, more students are being priced out of a college education.” For years, the cost of college education has, indeed, skyrocketed — well beyond the rate of inflation. Has anyone asked the colleges why their costs keep going up so rapidly? Where is all that money (much of it either taxpayer-guaranteed or coming directly from taxpayers) going?

The Globe also repeats the cliche that spending on education should be seen as an “investment.” The loose definition of an investment is “money spent in hopes of a profitable return.” To cut out the middlemen (the banks that administer the loans, assume the risk, and handle all the paperwork) would be to cut out the “investors.” It is they who are garnering the profits — the tangible ones, that is. The intangible profits, such as the positive externality stemming from a better-educated populace, are captured by the government. If education is supposed to be an investment, why shouldn’t we allow private entities to profit from investing?

The Globe concludes with a truly insipid declaration: “Educational investments should go straight to students.”

That would do no good whatsoever. The “investments” need to go to the people and institutions that provide the services in question — the colleges, trade schools, and so on. The students here are the consumers.

Whether or not the system is “broken” is certainly debatable, but what is certain is that the most fundamental questions are not being asked in this debate — and simply throwing more money at the problem is only going to allow the important questions raised above to fester even longer.

Today’s Boston Globe features an editorial that points out the increasing costs of college education and suggests, as an antidote, that we get private lenders out of the business of offering student loans — and have the government do so directly, instead of simply guaranteeing them.

This article raises some interesting questions — albeit ones the Globe is not asking.

“As tuitions skyrocket, more students are being priced out of a college education.” For years, the cost of college education has, indeed, skyrocketed — well beyond the rate of inflation. Has anyone asked the colleges why their costs keep going up so rapidly? Where is all that money (much of it either taxpayer-guaranteed or coming directly from taxpayers) going?

The Globe also repeats the cliche that spending on education should be seen as an “investment.” The loose definition of an investment is “money spent in hopes of a profitable return.” To cut out the middlemen (the banks that administer the loans, assume the risk, and handle all the paperwork) would be to cut out the “investors.” It is they who are garnering the profits — the tangible ones, that is. The intangible profits, such as the positive externality stemming from a better-educated populace, are captured by the government. If education is supposed to be an investment, why shouldn’t we allow private entities to profit from investing?

The Globe concludes with a truly insipid declaration: “Educational investments should go straight to students.”

That would do no good whatsoever. The “investments” need to go to the people and institutions that provide the services in question — the colleges, trade schools, and so on. The students here are the consumers.

Whether or not the system is “broken” is certainly debatable, but what is certain is that the most fundamental questions are not being asked in this debate — and simply throwing more money at the problem is only going to allow the important questions raised above to fester even longer.

Read Less

Jerusalem Heartburn

We knew it would come to this. Over the weekend, the Obama administration showed just how radical the shift in U.S. policy toward Israel has been. It has demanded that the Israeli government withdraw the municipal approval of a building project in the Eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The land that houses the old, run-down Shepherd Hotel, which is to be replaced by an apartment building, was lawfully purchased by Jews. No matter: That part of town is seen by Washington as a “settlement.”

Today, U.S. officials made it even clearer when they reportedly told both sides that they see no difference between Eastern Jerusalem and rogue settler outposts in the middle of the West Bank. Understandably, the Israeli government has rejected the directive, and some reports suggest that the Israelis may have deliberately leaked the demand, for it plays to Netanyahu’s image as standing tall against American pressure.

Washington has a longstanding tradition of doublespeak when dealing with Jerusalem. On the one hand, Obama himself couldn’t help but declare his commitment (subsequently retracted) to a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty while campaigning for office — and he even promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, which is not the capital by any definition of the term, to Jerusalem.

At the same time, he is not the first presidential candidate to make that promise, nor the first one to forget about it when in office, in the process ignoring the express will of Congress. It’s those pesky State Department folks, you see, who keep advising successive presidents that now is not the right time. For 60 years, Israel’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government have found their seat in Jerusalem, and Israel’s “closest ally” still keeps its embassy by the beach. At least we Jerusalemites don’t have to worry about all those diplomat vehicles taking our precious parking spots.

It gets weirder. As I have pointed out before, the United States does not appear to recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem — West or East. A federal-court ruling earlier this month underscores the simple fact that any American citizen born in Jerusalem, regardless of where he lives, gets a U.S. passport with the country listed as simply “Jerusalem.” U.S. citizens living in Jerusalem cannot get help at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv; they are directed to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, which answers directly to Washington, rather than to the embassy.

Again, this stuff has been going on for a long time. It begins with a fundamental attitude on the part of successive American administrations, really dating back to the 1947 UN partition plan putting the city under “universal” governance. The point is, the reasoning goes, we don’t fully see the logic in giving Israel full sovereignty of Jerusalem. It’s not just about placating the Arabs, although that’s a big part of it; it is, after all, a city of international importance. Why should only Israel have it?

So in the interest of fostering a constructive dialogue with an American diplomatic universe that seems to have no interest whatever in Israel’s position on the subject, I’d like to toss out a few brief reminders.

1. Israel should have Jerusalem, first of all, because it already does. Jews have been a majority of the city consecutively since the middle of the 19th century. There is no issue here of occupation, of a Jewish minority displacing Palestinians in their land. Over the past century and a half, the city was divided for 19 years by an accident of war, split between Israel and Jordan, neither of which occupations having earned international recognition; and then it was reunited.

Thus was born the infamous and irrelevant “Green Line,” something that today exists on maps only. The Jordanians cleansed the eastern city of its Jews and burned down its synagogues. Then the Jews came back in 1967 and gave the city a greater degree of not only economic success but also religious, cultural, and political freedom than it has ever enjoyed under any of the different Muslim, Christian, and pagan regimes that preceded them. Consider, by contrast, the treatment of Jewish holy sites under Palestinian rule: Joseph’s Tomb, for example, was immediately set on fire, as were all the synagogues of the Gaza Strip. At the risk of “prejudicing” the outcome of negotiations through the employment of argument, why on earth should it not be Israel’s?

2. Israel should have Jerusalem because it is more important to Jews than it is to Muslims (or Christians, or anyone else). This may sound vaguely discriminatory or religionist or unpopularly theological or just unfunny, but the fact is that there is a difference between the “most important” holy city and the “third most important” city that is far more than quantitative. This is the geographical heart of biblical Israel, the focus of its golden age of David and Solomon, the political-messianic-metahistorical dream focus of three millennia of Jewish prayer. This is the heart of everything, and that heart beats not on Herzl Boulevard or Jaffa Road by the Central Bus Station but in Eastern Jerusalem, at the site where the First and Second Temples stood for about a thousand years before the glorious Romans burned them down.

3. Israel should have Jerusalem because there is no practical way to divide the city that would satisfy both sides. Never mind the bizarre MTA-subway-style map that would ensue, intertwining all the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in the city. The real problem is that Israelis and Palestinians have totally irreconcilable views as to how such a division would work in practice — a difference so wide as to make the entire endeavor a pipe dream.

Israelis see any separation as similar to the one Israel has with Egypt and Jordan: a full border, with strict crossings and a fundamental divorce of economic life. This is essential to any deal — the entire idea of giving up land in exchange for peace comes with the heavy baggage of decades of terror attacks. But such a separation, we have been told repeatedly, is anathema to the Palestinians themselves, who rely heavily on Israeli jobs for their living and see any real separation a form of “siege” — turning their territory into a “prison.” (If you don’t believe this, ask yourself how the Gazans would react if Israel were to lift the sea and air restrictions on the Strip: Would they say “we are now free” or “we are still under siege”?) This problem is little discussed but will become a deal breaker the moment anyone starts talking seriously about borders or dividing the city.

Jerusalem is not just a consensus issue in Israel but also a deeply personal one. There is no erasing the thousands of years of yearning for Jerusalem in Jewish texts, nor the heart-wrenching failure of Jewish forces to capture East Jerusalem in 1948, nor the national catharsis of its reunification in the Six Day War, nor over four decades of astonishing development and construction and tourism and flourishing of religious life for all faiths since then. The idea that now, suddenly, a new American president, speaking of “settlements,” will change this reality is not simply offensive and alienating to Israelis only but also to Jews the world over. Rather than recognize his failure in the Middle East so far, Obama is exacerbating it. Israelis do not like to be bullied, and this is far more likely to steel the Israeli public’s resolve against American pressure than weaken it.

We knew it would come to this. Over the weekend, the Obama administration showed just how radical the shift in U.S. policy toward Israel has been. It has demanded that the Israeli government withdraw the municipal approval of a building project in the Eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The land that houses the old, run-down Shepherd Hotel, which is to be replaced by an apartment building, was lawfully purchased by Jews. No matter: That part of town is seen by Washington as a “settlement.”

Today, U.S. officials made it even clearer when they reportedly told both sides that they see no difference between Eastern Jerusalem and rogue settler outposts in the middle of the West Bank. Understandably, the Israeli government has rejected the directive, and some reports suggest that the Israelis may have deliberately leaked the demand, for it plays to Netanyahu’s image as standing tall against American pressure.

Washington has a longstanding tradition of doublespeak when dealing with Jerusalem. On the one hand, Obama himself couldn’t help but declare his commitment (subsequently retracted) to a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty while campaigning for office — and he even promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, which is not the capital by any definition of the term, to Jerusalem.

At the same time, he is not the first presidential candidate to make that promise, nor the first one to forget about it when in office, in the process ignoring the express will of Congress. It’s those pesky State Department folks, you see, who keep advising successive presidents that now is not the right time. For 60 years, Israel’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government have found their seat in Jerusalem, and Israel’s “closest ally” still keeps its embassy by the beach. At least we Jerusalemites don’t have to worry about all those diplomat vehicles taking our precious parking spots.

It gets weirder. As I have pointed out before, the United States does not appear to recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem — West or East. A federal-court ruling earlier this month underscores the simple fact that any American citizen born in Jerusalem, regardless of where he lives, gets a U.S. passport with the country listed as simply “Jerusalem.” U.S. citizens living in Jerusalem cannot get help at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv; they are directed to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, which answers directly to Washington, rather than to the embassy.

Again, this stuff has been going on for a long time. It begins with a fundamental attitude on the part of successive American administrations, really dating back to the 1947 UN partition plan putting the city under “universal” governance. The point is, the reasoning goes, we don’t fully see the logic in giving Israel full sovereignty of Jerusalem. It’s not just about placating the Arabs, although that’s a big part of it; it is, after all, a city of international importance. Why should only Israel have it?

So in the interest of fostering a constructive dialogue with an American diplomatic universe that seems to have no interest whatever in Israel’s position on the subject, I’d like to toss out a few brief reminders.

1. Israel should have Jerusalem, first of all, because it already does. Jews have been a majority of the city consecutively since the middle of the 19th century. There is no issue here of occupation, of a Jewish minority displacing Palestinians in their land. Over the past century and a half, the city was divided for 19 years by an accident of war, split between Israel and Jordan, neither of which occupations having earned international recognition; and then it was reunited.

Thus was born the infamous and irrelevant “Green Line,” something that today exists on maps only. The Jordanians cleansed the eastern city of its Jews and burned down its synagogues. Then the Jews came back in 1967 and gave the city a greater degree of not only economic success but also religious, cultural, and political freedom than it has ever enjoyed under any of the different Muslim, Christian, and pagan regimes that preceded them. Consider, by contrast, the treatment of Jewish holy sites under Palestinian rule: Joseph’s Tomb, for example, was immediately set on fire, as were all the synagogues of the Gaza Strip. At the risk of “prejudicing” the outcome of negotiations through the employment of argument, why on earth should it not be Israel’s?

2. Israel should have Jerusalem because it is more important to Jews than it is to Muslims (or Christians, or anyone else). This may sound vaguely discriminatory or religionist or unpopularly theological or just unfunny, but the fact is that there is a difference between the “most important” holy city and the “third most important” city that is far more than quantitative. This is the geographical heart of biblical Israel, the focus of its golden age of David and Solomon, the political-messianic-metahistorical dream focus of three millennia of Jewish prayer. This is the heart of everything, and that heart beats not on Herzl Boulevard or Jaffa Road by the Central Bus Station but in Eastern Jerusalem, at the site where the First and Second Temples stood for about a thousand years before the glorious Romans burned them down.

3. Israel should have Jerusalem because there is no practical way to divide the city that would satisfy both sides. Never mind the bizarre MTA-subway-style map that would ensue, intertwining all the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in the city. The real problem is that Israelis and Palestinians have totally irreconcilable views as to how such a division would work in practice — a difference so wide as to make the entire endeavor a pipe dream.

Israelis see any separation as similar to the one Israel has with Egypt and Jordan: a full border, with strict crossings and a fundamental divorce of economic life. This is essential to any deal — the entire idea of giving up land in exchange for peace comes with the heavy baggage of decades of terror attacks. But such a separation, we have been told repeatedly, is anathema to the Palestinians themselves, who rely heavily on Israeli jobs for their living and see any real separation a form of “siege” — turning their territory into a “prison.” (If you don’t believe this, ask yourself how the Gazans would react if Israel were to lift the sea and air restrictions on the Strip: Would they say “we are now free” or “we are still under siege”?) This problem is little discussed but will become a deal breaker the moment anyone starts talking seriously about borders or dividing the city.

Jerusalem is not just a consensus issue in Israel but also a deeply personal one. There is no erasing the thousands of years of yearning for Jerusalem in Jewish texts, nor the heart-wrenching failure of Jewish forces to capture East Jerusalem in 1948, nor the national catharsis of its reunification in the Six Day War, nor over four decades of astonishing development and construction and tourism and flourishing of religious life for all faiths since then. The idea that now, suddenly, a new American president, speaking of “settlements,” will change this reality is not simply offensive and alienating to Israelis only but also to Jews the world over. Rather than recognize his failure in the Middle East so far, Obama is exacerbating it. Israelis do not like to be bullied, and this is far more likely to steel the Israeli public’s resolve against American pressure than weaken it.

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But … He Was Democratically Elected

Spanish-language media are reporting that in the Honduran Presidential Palace, lately occupied by Manuel Zelaya, criminal investigators have found pre-tabulated “results” for the unconstitutional referendum Zelaya was trying to force in June. In one district, according to computer files seized by authorities, there were to be 550 total ballots cast, with 450 approving Zelaya’s question, 30 voting no, 20 ballots left blank, and 30 ballots nullified. Zelaya’s attempt on the Honduran constitution was modeled on similar processes in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador that have enabled presidents there to remain in office after their constitutionally limited terms ended. (The methodology also invites a disquieting comparison with Ahmadinejad’s in Iran’s June 12 election.)

It should thus be no surprise that talks between Zelaya’s representatives and those of the interim Honduran government of former legislative leader Roberto Micheletti broke down Sunday. The talks, mediated by Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias, were promoted by the U.S. and OAS as a means of resolving the Zelaya situation peacefully. Micheletti and the Honduran Congress maintain that they followed the rule of law in removing Zelaya from office and continue to balk at the provision of Arias’s proposal, which requires admitting Zelaya into a power-sharing arrangement until the election Micheletti intends to hold this fall.

The Obama administration has maintained comparative silence on developments in Honduras since Obama’s initial condemnation of Zelaya’s removal on June 28 and his endorsement the next day as “still president.” Hillary Clinton met with Zelaya on July 7, however, and Robert Gibbs reaffirmed on July 15 that, in the administration’s view, the removal of Zelaya was “not in accordance with democratic principles.”

Perhaps, in part, it was not. Miguel Estrada — a native Honduran and the U.S. constitutional scholar whose federal-bench appointment, by George W. Bush, was stalled by Senate Democrats — concluded in a July 10 editorial that although Zelaya’s removal was performed by the book, it was not correct for the other branches of government to send him out of the country. They should have jailed him in Honduras.

That would almost certainly have been a better tactical, as well as legal, decision. Zelaya threatens to continue his fight and reportedly is asking his labor-union supporters to stage a nationwide strike this Thursday and Friday to herald his planned return to Honduras by the 25th. In Nicaragua, where troops were reportedly assembling at the Honduran border two weeks ago, Daniel Ortega has rejected the deployment of international peacekeeping troops in Honduras and accused Honduras of collaborating with the U.S. in a coup attempt against him — apparently setting up a pretext for intervention. A passive U.S. approach is the main condition needed for Zelaya’s supporters — Chavez, Ortega, Castro — to turn the standoff into a Honduran civil war. But maybe, at the end of it, a victorious Zelaya would at least hold an “election.”

Spanish-language media are reporting that in the Honduran Presidential Palace, lately occupied by Manuel Zelaya, criminal investigators have found pre-tabulated “results” for the unconstitutional referendum Zelaya was trying to force in June. In one district, according to computer files seized by authorities, there were to be 550 total ballots cast, with 450 approving Zelaya’s question, 30 voting no, 20 ballots left blank, and 30 ballots nullified. Zelaya’s attempt on the Honduran constitution was modeled on similar processes in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador that have enabled presidents there to remain in office after their constitutionally limited terms ended. (The methodology also invites a disquieting comparison with Ahmadinejad’s in Iran’s June 12 election.)

It should thus be no surprise that talks between Zelaya’s representatives and those of the interim Honduran government of former legislative leader Roberto Micheletti broke down Sunday. The talks, mediated by Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias, were promoted by the U.S. and OAS as a means of resolving the Zelaya situation peacefully. Micheletti and the Honduran Congress maintain that they followed the rule of law in removing Zelaya from office and continue to balk at the provision of Arias’s proposal, which requires admitting Zelaya into a power-sharing arrangement until the election Micheletti intends to hold this fall.

The Obama administration has maintained comparative silence on developments in Honduras since Obama’s initial condemnation of Zelaya’s removal on June 28 and his endorsement the next day as “still president.” Hillary Clinton met with Zelaya on July 7, however, and Robert Gibbs reaffirmed on July 15 that, in the administration’s view, the removal of Zelaya was “not in accordance with democratic principles.”

Perhaps, in part, it was not. Miguel Estrada — a native Honduran and the U.S. constitutional scholar whose federal-bench appointment, by George W. Bush, was stalled by Senate Democrats — concluded in a July 10 editorial that although Zelaya’s removal was performed by the book, it was not correct for the other branches of government to send him out of the country. They should have jailed him in Honduras.

That would almost certainly have been a better tactical, as well as legal, decision. Zelaya threatens to continue his fight and reportedly is asking his labor-union supporters to stage a nationwide strike this Thursday and Friday to herald his planned return to Honduras by the 25th. In Nicaragua, where troops were reportedly assembling at the Honduran border two weeks ago, Daniel Ortega has rejected the deployment of international peacekeeping troops in Honduras and accused Honduras of collaborating with the U.S. in a coup attempt against him — apparently setting up a pretext for intervention. A passive U.S. approach is the main condition needed for Zelaya’s supporters — Chavez, Ortega, Castro — to turn the standoff into a Honduran civil war. But maybe, at the end of it, a victorious Zelaya would at least hold an “election.”

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Profile In Cowardice

In a must-read piece from the Washington Post, we get an all-too-infrequent glimpse into the horrors of the North Korean work camps. Just a sample:

Eating a diet of mostly corn and salt, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and, as they age, they hunch over at the waist. Most work 12- to 15-hour days until they die of malnutrition-related illnesses, usually around the age of 50. Allowed just one set of clothes, they live and die in rags, without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins.

The camps have never been visited by outsiders, so these accounts cannot be independently verified. But high-resolution satellite photographs, now accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, reveal vast labor camps in the mountains of North Korea. The photographs corroborate survivors’ stories, showing entrances to mines where former prisoners said they worked as slaves, in-camp detention centers where former guards said uncooperative prisoners were tortured to death and parade grounds where former prisoners said they were forced to watch executions.

But nearly as horrifying as the conditions of brutality is the attitude of our own State Department and the Obama administration more generally. Why aren’t we making this a problem, and why has the North Korean despot succeeded in “shov[ing] the issue of human rights off the negotiating table”? Well, here’s the reason:

“Talking to them about the camps is something that has not been possible,” said David Straub, a senior official in the State Department’s office of Korean affairs during the Bush and Clinton years. There have been no such meetings since President Obama took office. “They go nuts when you talk about it,” said Straub, who is now associate director of Korean studies at Stanford University.

Why, we can’t have them go “nuts” now, can we? They might start shooting off rockets, grabbing American journalists, and threatening to develop ICBM rockets. Oh yes, they have done all that already, secure in the knowledge that the American government is too timid, too lacking in moral gumption to do anything about such heinous behavior. And while the U.S. government has been effectively distracted by North Korea’s nuclear bluster, the so-called human rights community has been equally delinquent:

Containing that crisis has monopolized the Obama administration’s dealings with North Korea. The camps, for the time being, are a non-issue. “Unfortunately, until we get a handle on the security threat, we can’t afford to deal with human rights,” said Peter Beck, a former executive director of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

Is there any wonder that North Korea believes it can act with impunity? So long as the U.S. is a profile in cowardice, don’t expect much to change.

In a must-read piece from the Washington Post, we get an all-too-infrequent glimpse into the horrors of the North Korean work camps. Just a sample:

Eating a diet of mostly corn and salt, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and, as they age, they hunch over at the waist. Most work 12- to 15-hour days until they die of malnutrition-related illnesses, usually around the age of 50. Allowed just one set of clothes, they live and die in rags, without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins.

The camps have never been visited by outsiders, so these accounts cannot be independently verified. But high-resolution satellite photographs, now accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, reveal vast labor camps in the mountains of North Korea. The photographs corroborate survivors’ stories, showing entrances to mines where former prisoners said they worked as slaves, in-camp detention centers where former guards said uncooperative prisoners were tortured to death and parade grounds where former prisoners said they were forced to watch executions.

But nearly as horrifying as the conditions of brutality is the attitude of our own State Department and the Obama administration more generally. Why aren’t we making this a problem, and why has the North Korean despot succeeded in “shov[ing] the issue of human rights off the negotiating table”? Well, here’s the reason:

“Talking to them about the camps is something that has not been possible,” said David Straub, a senior official in the State Department’s office of Korean affairs during the Bush and Clinton years. There have been no such meetings since President Obama took office. “They go nuts when you talk about it,” said Straub, who is now associate director of Korean studies at Stanford University.

Why, we can’t have them go “nuts” now, can we? They might start shooting off rockets, grabbing American journalists, and threatening to develop ICBM rockets. Oh yes, they have done all that already, secure in the knowledge that the American government is too timid, too lacking in moral gumption to do anything about such heinous behavior. And while the U.S. government has been effectively distracted by North Korea’s nuclear bluster, the so-called human rights community has been equally delinquent:

Containing that crisis has monopolized the Obama administration’s dealings with North Korea. The camps, for the time being, are a non-issue. “Unfortunately, until we get a handle on the security threat, we can’t afford to deal with human rights,” said Peter Beck, a former executive director of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

Is there any wonder that North Korea believes it can act with impunity? So long as the U.S. is a profile in cowardice, don’t expect much to change.

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Kind of a Compliment

Jack Ross, now blogging at the American Conservative, writes:

This, of course, is sterling proof of the first rule of counter-terrorism — terrorists are sane, rational people, unlike the editors of Commentary magazine.

“Who is Jack Ross?” a friend rhetorically asks. “An old pal of American National Socialist Party leader Bill White and former columnist for neo-Nazi Willis Carto’s newspaper American Free Press.”

Jack Ross, now blogging at the American Conservative, writes:

This, of course, is sterling proof of the first rule of counter-terrorism — terrorists are sane, rational people, unlike the editors of Commentary magazine.

“Who is Jack Ross?” a friend rhetorically asks. “An old pal of American National Socialist Party leader Bill White and former columnist for neo-Nazi Willis Carto’s newspaper American Free Press.”

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Do Obama’s Jewish Backers Have Any Red Lines?

The demand issued to the new Israeli ambassador (and former Commentary contributor) Michael Oren this past weekend spoke volumes about the changing nature of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

For the past few months, Obama’s Jewish supporters have been saying that the dispute between the two countries over settlements is not about the United States trying to harm Israel but rather a case of Washington seeking to stop “illegal settlements” opposed by many Israelis and most American Jews. But the demand issued to Ambassador Oren was not about some illegal hilltop outpost somewhere deep in the West Bank, in territory that most Israelis concede would be part of a future Palestinian state. Instead, the houses going up are in a section of the capital, albeit a neighborhood that prior to June 1967 was occupied by Jordan and, therefore, off-limits to Jews from 1949 to 1967. The 20-unit housing complex is in Sheik Jarrah, a still predominantly Arab neighborhood but one that, as even the New York Times concedes, is also home to foreign consulates and Israeli government buildings.

To Israel’s credit, its reply was quick and to the point:

I would like to re-emphasize that united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged; this means — inter alia — that residents of Jerusalem may purchase apartments in all parts of the city.

The Times article goes on to note that Israeli intelligence has pointed out that Hamas is in the process of buying up property in Jerusalem and that the moderates of Fatah “had set up an intelligence network aimed at preventing Palestinians from selling their property to Israelis.” Earlier this year, a Palestinian was accused of selling real estate to Jews. He was sentenced to death by a Palestinian Authority court.

Anyone who has visited Jerusalem in recent years knows there has been a building boom in Arab neighborhoods. But no foreign government has protested the increase in Arab housing in Jerusalem. Nor does anyone think there is anything wrong about Arabs living in predominantly Jewish areas.

But the Obama administration apparently believes that the prospect of a Jew building a house in his country’s capital is worthy of a diplomatic incident. Let’s be clear about this: It is one thing to oppose building new Jewish towns near Arab towns deep in the West Bank or to question the building of Jewish suburbs near Jerusalem. It is quite another to maintain that Jews may not build or live in parts of their city.

It is a sad fact that no U.S. government has ever formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. But all of them understood that Jerusalem was a separate issue from the dispute over the West Bank and had to be treated delicately, if for no other reason than that the vast majority of Americans supported Israel’s rights in the city. By escalating the dispute over Jerusalem into a major point of disagreement with Israel, the Obama administration has raised the ante in its efforts to pressure Netanyahu’s government. In this case, Obama has overplayed his hand. While Bibi is prepared to bend on some points, no Israeli prime minister would accept such a U.S. fiat over Jerusalem.

This is yet another moment to ask not just the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz but also the legion of Jews who raised money for Obama, vouched for his pro-Israel bona fides, and then gave him three quarters of the Jewish vote last November: Is this what you wanted? Did the majority of Jewish Democrats who are devoted friends of Israel expect that Obama would seek to create a rift between the U.S. and Israel — not about remote West Bank settlements but over Jewish rights in Jerusalem?

If a statement such as this, which is tantamount to a redivision of Jerusalem and a ban on Jewish life in the sections formally occupied by Jordan, is official U.S. policy, and if this policy is acceptable to such friends of Israel, you have to wonder, what is it that they would find unacceptable? Have they no red lines Obama may not tread over? Or is anything he does kosher by definition because he is a popular liberal Democrat whose good intentions toward the Jewish state may not be questioned?

The silence of Jewish Democrats can only hearten those who wish to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance. The question is when will these friends of Israel find their voices.

The demand issued to the new Israeli ambassador (and former Commentary contributor) Michael Oren this past weekend spoke volumes about the changing nature of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

For the past few months, Obama’s Jewish supporters have been saying that the dispute between the two countries over settlements is not about the United States trying to harm Israel but rather a case of Washington seeking to stop “illegal settlements” opposed by many Israelis and most American Jews. But the demand issued to Ambassador Oren was not about some illegal hilltop outpost somewhere deep in the West Bank, in territory that most Israelis concede would be part of a future Palestinian state. Instead, the houses going up are in a section of the capital, albeit a neighborhood that prior to June 1967 was occupied by Jordan and, therefore, off-limits to Jews from 1949 to 1967. The 20-unit housing complex is in Sheik Jarrah, a still predominantly Arab neighborhood but one that, as even the New York Times concedes, is also home to foreign consulates and Israeli government buildings.

To Israel’s credit, its reply was quick and to the point:

I would like to re-emphasize that united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Our sovereignty over it cannot be challenged; this means — inter alia — that residents of Jerusalem may purchase apartments in all parts of the city.

The Times article goes on to note that Israeli intelligence has pointed out that Hamas is in the process of buying up property in Jerusalem and that the moderates of Fatah “had set up an intelligence network aimed at preventing Palestinians from selling their property to Israelis.” Earlier this year, a Palestinian was accused of selling real estate to Jews. He was sentenced to death by a Palestinian Authority court.

Anyone who has visited Jerusalem in recent years knows there has been a building boom in Arab neighborhoods. But no foreign government has protested the increase in Arab housing in Jerusalem. Nor does anyone think there is anything wrong about Arabs living in predominantly Jewish areas.

But the Obama administration apparently believes that the prospect of a Jew building a house in his country’s capital is worthy of a diplomatic incident. Let’s be clear about this: It is one thing to oppose building new Jewish towns near Arab towns deep in the West Bank or to question the building of Jewish suburbs near Jerusalem. It is quite another to maintain that Jews may not build or live in parts of their city.

It is a sad fact that no U.S. government has ever formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. But all of them understood that Jerusalem was a separate issue from the dispute over the West Bank and had to be treated delicately, if for no other reason than that the vast majority of Americans supported Israel’s rights in the city. By escalating the dispute over Jerusalem into a major point of disagreement with Israel, the Obama administration has raised the ante in its efforts to pressure Netanyahu’s government. In this case, Obama has overplayed his hand. While Bibi is prepared to bend on some points, no Israeli prime minister would accept such a U.S. fiat over Jerusalem.

This is yet another moment to ask not just the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz but also the legion of Jews who raised money for Obama, vouched for his pro-Israel bona fides, and then gave him three quarters of the Jewish vote last November: Is this what you wanted? Did the majority of Jewish Democrats who are devoted friends of Israel expect that Obama would seek to create a rift between the U.S. and Israel — not about remote West Bank settlements but over Jewish rights in Jerusalem?

If a statement such as this, which is tantamount to a redivision of Jerusalem and a ban on Jewish life in the sections formally occupied by Jordan, is official U.S. policy, and if this policy is acceptable to such friends of Israel, you have to wonder, what is it that they would find unacceptable? Have they no red lines Obama may not tread over? Or is anything he does kosher by definition because he is a popular liberal Democrat whose good intentions toward the Jewish state may not be questioned?

The silence of Jewish Democrats can only hearten those who wish to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance. The question is when will these friends of Israel find their voices.

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Rationing and Taxes — Who Could Resist?

ObamaCare is now caught in a bind of its supporters’ own making. They want universal care and they want government-run care. But they are also insistent on keeping the measure cost-neutral. The only way to manage all this is to ration health care. And now the administration and its allies are stumbling, trying to explain how they are going to do this without scaring the dickens out of voters and lawmakers. So far, they aren’t doing a very good job of concealing their designs.

Bill Kristol, analyzing Ted Kennedy’s column in Newsweek, gets to what lies at the heart of liberal health care:

The government is going to decide — ahead of time, obviously, since deciding after the fact wouldn’t save any money; and based on certain general criteria, since the government isn’t going to review each individual case — what kinds of hospital readmissions for the elderly are “unnecessary” and what kinds aren’t. And it’s going to set up a system “to reward hospitals and doctors for preventing” the unnecessary ones. That is, the government will reward hospitals and doctors for denying care they now provide, care the government will now deem “unnecessary.”

And Peter Orszag, in one of his least coherent outings, got caught on exactly the same point in this exchange on Fox New Sunday with Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: The president says no rationing of health care costs, but you’ve mentioned a couple of times he wants this commission of doctors and medical experts to oversee medical practices.

In the end, aren’t they going to be telling private and public insurers what treatments are allowed and what treatments aren’t?

ORSZAG: This is the biggest canard that is floating throughout this debate. The fact of the matter is right now politicians and insurance companies are making decisions. We’re saying we want doctors to be making decisions. And I think that will lead to a higher-quality, lower-cost system over time.

WALLACE: But when you say they’re making decisions, they would be saying, “You can have this treatment. You can’t have this treatment.”

ORSZAG: Do you think that politicians are currently rationing care? Are insurance companies currently rationing care? There is no set of decisions that this commission would have that is not currently resting with either members of Congress or insurance companies.

WALLACE: So they would be rationing care.

ORSZAG: No, I — because I don’t think we’re rationing care today. And similarly, they would not be in the future.

What they would be doing is setting reimbursement rates and moving towards a higher quality system.

Got that? On one hand, he says that “right now politicians and insurance companies are making decisions.” But then he insists: “I — because I don’t think we’re rationing care today. And similarly, they would not be in the future.” This is doublespeak, of course.

When Orszag acknowledges that the current bill isn’t cost neutral because it is not slashing Medicare payments (i.e., not restricting care) and the way to achieve cost neutrality would be through setting up “an independent commission to help bring down costs over the long haul,” he is talking about limiting care. We know how this works whenever government-run health care is forced to wring costs out of a system.

There is an irony to this. HMOs — impersonal bureaucracies that squeeze care and hold down costs — used to be the bane of liberals. These were the “bad guys” who denied care, thought up excuses not to spend money, and stood between patients and doctors. Now liberals want to turn the entire health-care system into one big HMO.

As Americans become aware of the scheme, this will seem less and less attractive. If we are going to hike marginal tax rates above 50% and whack small business in the middle of a recession, shouldn’t we get something better than what Kennedy, Orszag, and Obama are peddling? It seems the “perfect” plan to simultaneously hobble our economy and our health care. And, really, who is in favor of that?

ObamaCare is now caught in a bind of its supporters’ own making. They want universal care and they want government-run care. But they are also insistent on keeping the measure cost-neutral. The only way to manage all this is to ration health care. And now the administration and its allies are stumbling, trying to explain how they are going to do this without scaring the dickens out of voters and lawmakers. So far, they aren’t doing a very good job of concealing their designs.

Bill Kristol, analyzing Ted Kennedy’s column in Newsweek, gets to what lies at the heart of liberal health care:

The government is going to decide — ahead of time, obviously, since deciding after the fact wouldn’t save any money; and based on certain general criteria, since the government isn’t going to review each individual case — what kinds of hospital readmissions for the elderly are “unnecessary” and what kinds aren’t. And it’s going to set up a system “to reward hospitals and doctors for preventing” the unnecessary ones. That is, the government will reward hospitals and doctors for denying care they now provide, care the government will now deem “unnecessary.”

And Peter Orszag, in one of his least coherent outings, got caught on exactly the same point in this exchange on Fox New Sunday with Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: The president says no rationing of health care costs, but you’ve mentioned a couple of times he wants this commission of doctors and medical experts to oversee medical practices.

In the end, aren’t they going to be telling private and public insurers what treatments are allowed and what treatments aren’t?

ORSZAG: This is the biggest canard that is floating throughout this debate. The fact of the matter is right now politicians and insurance companies are making decisions. We’re saying we want doctors to be making decisions. And I think that will lead to a higher-quality, lower-cost system over time.

WALLACE: But when you say they’re making decisions, they would be saying, “You can have this treatment. You can’t have this treatment.”

ORSZAG: Do you think that politicians are currently rationing care? Are insurance companies currently rationing care? There is no set of decisions that this commission would have that is not currently resting with either members of Congress or insurance companies.

WALLACE: So they would be rationing care.

ORSZAG: No, I — because I don’t think we’re rationing care today. And similarly, they would not be in the future.

What they would be doing is setting reimbursement rates and moving towards a higher quality system.

Got that? On one hand, he says that “right now politicians and insurance companies are making decisions.” But then he insists: “I — because I don’t think we’re rationing care today. And similarly, they would not be in the future.” This is doublespeak, of course.

When Orszag acknowledges that the current bill isn’t cost neutral because it is not slashing Medicare payments (i.e., not restricting care) and the way to achieve cost neutrality would be through setting up “an independent commission to help bring down costs over the long haul,” he is talking about limiting care. We know how this works whenever government-run health care is forced to wring costs out of a system.

There is an irony to this. HMOs — impersonal bureaucracies that squeeze care and hold down costs — used to be the bane of liberals. These were the “bad guys” who denied care, thought up excuses not to spend money, and stood between patients and doctors. Now liberals want to turn the entire health-care system into one big HMO.

As Americans become aware of the scheme, this will seem less and less attractive. If we are going to hike marginal tax rates above 50% and whack small business in the middle of a recession, shouldn’t we get something better than what Kennedy, Orszag, and Obama are peddling? It seems the “perfect” plan to simultaneously hobble our economy and our health care. And, really, who is in favor of that?

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Makili Goes at It Alone

How worried should we be about reports such as this and this in the Washington Post about how restricted U.S. troops have become in Iraq? One article reports on how U.S. troops, worried about an insurgent plot to mortar their bases, were not allowed to operate in the neighborhood where the attack was supposed to happen — the Iraqis insisted on handling the issue themselves. This is part of a broader Iraqi initiative to take U.S. forces off the streets that is raising concerns among some Americans over being denied the authority to protect their own forces. The other Post article contains this quote:

The Iraqi order runs “contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations,” Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Washington Post. “Maybe something was ‘lost in translation,’” Bolger wrote. “We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I’m sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be.”

He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis. “This is a broad right and it demands that we patrol, raid and secure routes as necessary to keep our forces safe,” he wrote. “We’ll do that, preferably partnered.”

I would say the Iraqi attitude is cause for concern — but not too much concern. At least not yet. Prime Minister Maliki continues to cater to nationalist sentiment, but he is enough of a realist not to simply kick out all 130,000 U.S. troops. He knows that the situation is still unstable and that U.S. help remains essential as Iraq continues to improve the capacity of its own security forces. But for better or worse, the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush administration allows him to call the shots on the ground.

The good news is that Maliki has allowed American troops to continue working with Iraqi special-operations units to target hard-core extremists — both Shia and Sunni. Those kinds of operations occur in the dark — literally. They are easy to shield from ordinary Iraqis. What Maliki doesn’t want to see is a heavy U.S. “footprint” on the ground that will allow his critics to claim that their country is still “occupied.”

Fair enough. It’s in our interest, too, to build up the Iraqi government as a strong independent force with the confidence of its own people. As long as Iraqi Security Forces continue to improve (and they are worlds better today than they were just a few years ago), this development shouldn’t cause too much of a problem. A further bit of good news is that, while the frequency of attacks in Iraq is still higher than in Afghanistan, it is much lower than a few years ago, and the trend has not changed much over the past seven months. In other words, notwithstanding a few high-profile attacks, there has not been a big increase in violence since most U.S. troops moved out of the cities, a process completed on June 30.

Whatever restrictions are placed on their operations, the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq creates some room for short-term confidence. There is only so much that can go wrong with that many Americans in the general vicinity — and odds are that if the situation starts to spiral out of control, those troops would be invited in to help stabilize matters. The real danger will come over the next year as the level of U.S. forces is due to fall to 50,000. Our troops are supposed to leave Iraq altogether by the end of 2011.

Until now, I thought those deadlines might get adjusted or ignored. But having seen how assiduously Maliki has behaved in implementing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities, I now think that there will be few if any American troops in Iraq by 2012. On its face, that doesn’t sound so alarming — after all, by then the U.S. troop presence in Iraq would have lasted almost nine years. Surely that should be enough time, right? Not necessarily. Consider the fact that foreign troops still remain stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia. It’s been 14 years since the end of the Bosnia war and 10 years since the end of the Kosovo war, but there is still a general expectation that if the peacekeepers leave, the violence could resume.

The situation in Iraq isn’t exactly identical, but there, too, U.S. forces serve as a vital buffer between deeply suspicious sectarian and religious groups that only recently were killing one another on a massive scale (and still continue to kill each other on a smaller scale). For Iraqis to have confidence in the future of their country, they will need the presence of foreign peacekeepers for many years to come. I only hope that Iraqi leaders realize that and are willing to act on that belief rather than simply cater to the most knee-jerk nationalist sentiment.

How worried should we be about reports such as this and this in the Washington Post about how restricted U.S. troops have become in Iraq? One article reports on how U.S. troops, worried about an insurgent plot to mortar their bases, were not allowed to operate in the neighborhood where the attack was supposed to happen — the Iraqis insisted on handling the issue themselves. This is part of a broader Iraqi initiative to take U.S. forces off the streets that is raising concerns among some Americans over being denied the authority to protect their own forces. The other Post article contains this quote:

The Iraqi order runs “contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations,” Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Washington Post. “Maybe something was ‘lost in translation,’” Bolger wrote. “We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I’m sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be.”

He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis. “This is a broad right and it demands that we patrol, raid and secure routes as necessary to keep our forces safe,” he wrote. “We’ll do that, preferably partnered.”

I would say the Iraqi attitude is cause for concern — but not too much concern. At least not yet. Prime Minister Maliki continues to cater to nationalist sentiment, but he is enough of a realist not to simply kick out all 130,000 U.S. troops. He knows that the situation is still unstable and that U.S. help remains essential as Iraq continues to improve the capacity of its own security forces. But for better or worse, the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush administration allows him to call the shots on the ground.

The good news is that Maliki has allowed American troops to continue working with Iraqi special-operations units to target hard-core extremists — both Shia and Sunni. Those kinds of operations occur in the dark — literally. They are easy to shield from ordinary Iraqis. What Maliki doesn’t want to see is a heavy U.S. “footprint” on the ground that will allow his critics to claim that their country is still “occupied.”

Fair enough. It’s in our interest, too, to build up the Iraqi government as a strong independent force with the confidence of its own people. As long as Iraqi Security Forces continue to improve (and they are worlds better today than they were just a few years ago), this development shouldn’t cause too much of a problem. A further bit of good news is that, while the frequency of attacks in Iraq is still higher than in Afghanistan, it is much lower than a few years ago, and the trend has not changed much over the past seven months. In other words, notwithstanding a few high-profile attacks, there has not been a big increase in violence since most U.S. troops moved out of the cities, a process completed on June 30.

Whatever restrictions are placed on their operations, the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq creates some room for short-term confidence. There is only so much that can go wrong with that many Americans in the general vicinity — and odds are that if the situation starts to spiral out of control, those troops would be invited in to help stabilize matters. The real danger will come over the next year as the level of U.S. forces is due to fall to 50,000. Our troops are supposed to leave Iraq altogether by the end of 2011.

Until now, I thought those deadlines might get adjusted or ignored. But having seen how assiduously Maliki has behaved in implementing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities, I now think that there will be few if any American troops in Iraq by 2012. On its face, that doesn’t sound so alarming — after all, by then the U.S. troop presence in Iraq would have lasted almost nine years. Surely that should be enough time, right? Not necessarily. Consider the fact that foreign troops still remain stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia. It’s been 14 years since the end of the Bosnia war and 10 years since the end of the Kosovo war, but there is still a general expectation that if the peacekeepers leave, the violence could resume.

The situation in Iraq isn’t exactly identical, but there, too, U.S. forces serve as a vital buffer between deeply suspicious sectarian and religious groups that only recently were killing one another on a massive scale (and still continue to kill each other on a smaller scale). For Iraqis to have confidence in the future of their country, they will need the presence of foreign peacekeepers for many years to come. I only hope that Iraqi leaders realize that and are willing to act on that belief rather than simply cater to the most knee-jerk nationalist sentiment.

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They Have Not Put Away “Childish” Things

While health care is plainly the Number One story of the week, we should not lose sight of the Democrats’ shenanigans over national security. Marc Thiessen, picking over a story in the Washington Post, confirms what Dick Cheney and many conservatives have long argued  — that enhanced interrogation techniques produced identifiable and clear results, specifically allowing for the capture of al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla. It turns out that Abu Zubaydah, who was subjected to such techniques, was a “font of information,” just as Cheney and others had claimed. Thiessen concludes:

The bottom line is that today’s story in the Post proves that (1) the original Post assertion that “not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions” is flat wrong — the Padilla plot was broken up because of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques; and (2) [former FBI agent] Ali Soufan’s assertion that he got this information before the implementation of enhanced interrogation techniques is false.

And that brings us back to the Obama administration’s hide-the-ball selective disclosure concerning Bush-era interrogation techniques. Their excised document release can now be seen as a dishonest attempt to conceal the Bush administration’s successful efforts in the war on terror and to prop up their own moral grandstanding. Only by concealing the facts from the American people could they pull this off.  And in this, they seriously underestimated the push-back they would receive.

While we are talking about grandstanding, the Obama administration is only outdone by the House Democratic leadership, which has now dropped any pretense of playing a constructive role in overseeing the intelligence apparatus in the war on terror. No, they are spending their time these days carrying water for Nancy Pelosi. In a strikingly blunt op-ed, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the head Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, calls out the Democrats for politicizing the committee and for dereliction of duty. He goes after the Democrats for their latest gambit — the allegation that Cheney ordered the CIA not to brief Congress on a plan to assassinate al-Qaeda targets:

CIA Director Panetta refused to back the allegation that Cheney gave such an order. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden flatly denied that he’d ever been instructed not to brief Congress. Now Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has also distanced himself from these over-the-top allegations by House Democrats.There’s also been a flurry of bizarre letters from House Intelligence Committee members about this matter suggesting that Democrats are no longer interested in bipartisan oversight of intelligence. One was slipped under a Republican staff member’s door after business hours. I first learned about it from the news media.

[. . .]

These new allegations, letters and calls for investigations are part of a strategy by Democrats to attack intelligence personnel and agencies. Why? To protect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who is in hot water over her May 14 comments that the CIA “lies all the time” and misled her about enhanced interrogation of terrorist suspects.A major consequence of this Democratic effort to politicize intelligence is that the House Intelligence Committee has essentially stopped doing meaningful work. The 2010 intelligence-authorization bill was so poorly drafted (and loaded with language to protect Pelosi) that President Obama threatened a veto, forcing Democratic leaders to pull the bill from consideration this month.

[. . .]

The full committee also has failed to meaningfully act on numerous calls by Republicans to conduct an investigation of the findings of a fall 2008 CIA Inspector General report that exhaustively substantiated claims (as opposed to the speaker’s hollow, contradicted assertions) that the agency misled Congress about a 2001 shoot-down of a civilian airplane over Peru in 2001 which killed two Americans.

Disarray by House Democrats on intelligence oversight is seriously damaging the morale of US intelligence officers and their ability to do their jobs. How can Democrats claim they are serious about national security when they are exploiting intelligence and attacking intelligence professionals for political advantage?

What we take away from all this is the abject lack of seriousness both in the administration and in Congress concerning national security. They are obsessed with scoring points against an administration that left six months ago and focusing their energies not on enhancing our intelligence gathering but on posturing to their base. They have, it seems, forgotten we are at war. Their battles are against long-departed government officials, the very ones who, as it turns out, kept us safe from the threats the current crew is ignoring. There are few parallels for the irresponsible conduct we have seen. As the American people learn more, their distrust of Pelosi (already evident in poll after poll) may soon turn to disgust — and then to anger at a Congress and administration lacking in the maturity we expect from our leaders, most especially in a time of war.

While health care is plainly the Number One story of the week, we should not lose sight of the Democrats’ shenanigans over national security. Marc Thiessen, picking over a story in the Washington Post, confirms what Dick Cheney and many conservatives have long argued  — that enhanced interrogation techniques produced identifiable and clear results, specifically allowing for the capture of al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla. It turns out that Abu Zubaydah, who was subjected to such techniques, was a “font of information,” just as Cheney and others had claimed. Thiessen concludes:

The bottom line is that today’s story in the Post proves that (1) the original Post assertion that “not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions” is flat wrong — the Padilla plot was broken up because of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques; and (2) [former FBI agent] Ali Soufan’s assertion that he got this information before the implementation of enhanced interrogation techniques is false.

And that brings us back to the Obama administration’s hide-the-ball selective disclosure concerning Bush-era interrogation techniques. Their excised document release can now be seen as a dishonest attempt to conceal the Bush administration’s successful efforts in the war on terror and to prop up their own moral grandstanding. Only by concealing the facts from the American people could they pull this off.  And in this, they seriously underestimated the push-back they would receive.

While we are talking about grandstanding, the Obama administration is only outdone by the House Democratic leadership, which has now dropped any pretense of playing a constructive role in overseeing the intelligence apparatus in the war on terror. No, they are spending their time these days carrying water for Nancy Pelosi. In a strikingly blunt op-ed, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the head Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, calls out the Democrats for politicizing the committee and for dereliction of duty. He goes after the Democrats for their latest gambit — the allegation that Cheney ordered the CIA not to brief Congress on a plan to assassinate al-Qaeda targets:

CIA Director Panetta refused to back the allegation that Cheney gave such an order. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden flatly denied that he’d ever been instructed not to brief Congress. Now Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has also distanced himself from these over-the-top allegations by House Democrats.There’s also been a flurry of bizarre letters from House Intelligence Committee members about this matter suggesting that Democrats are no longer interested in bipartisan oversight of intelligence. One was slipped under a Republican staff member’s door after business hours. I first learned about it from the news media.

[. . .]

These new allegations, letters and calls for investigations are part of a strategy by Democrats to attack intelligence personnel and agencies. Why? To protect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who is in hot water over her May 14 comments that the CIA “lies all the time” and misled her about enhanced interrogation of terrorist suspects.A major consequence of this Democratic effort to politicize intelligence is that the House Intelligence Committee has essentially stopped doing meaningful work. The 2010 intelligence-authorization bill was so poorly drafted (and loaded with language to protect Pelosi) that President Obama threatened a veto, forcing Democratic leaders to pull the bill from consideration this month.

[. . .]

The full committee also has failed to meaningfully act on numerous calls by Republicans to conduct an investigation of the findings of a fall 2008 CIA Inspector General report that exhaustively substantiated claims (as opposed to the speaker’s hollow, contradicted assertions) that the agency misled Congress about a 2001 shoot-down of a civilian airplane over Peru in 2001 which killed two Americans.

Disarray by House Democrats on intelligence oversight is seriously damaging the morale of US intelligence officers and their ability to do their jobs. How can Democrats claim they are serious about national security when they are exploiting intelligence and attacking intelligence professionals for political advantage?

What we take away from all this is the abject lack of seriousness both in the administration and in Congress concerning national security. They are obsessed with scoring points against an administration that left six months ago and focusing their energies not on enhancing our intelligence gathering but on posturing to their base. They have, it seems, forgotten we are at war. Their battles are against long-departed government officials, the very ones who, as it turns out, kept us safe from the threats the current crew is ignoring. There are few parallels for the irresponsible conduct we have seen. As the American people learn more, their distrust of Pelosi (already evident in poll after poll) may soon turn to disgust — and then to anger at a Congress and administration lacking in the maturity we expect from our leaders, most especially in a time of war.

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Re: Obama’s Summer of Discontent

Pete, your cogent take is yet again corroborated, this time by the Washington Post-ABC News poll. What we see is an across-the-board erosion in not just the public’s overall approval of Obama’s performance, but in confidence in his ability to manage every significant domestic item on his agenda. The Post explains:

Heading into a critical period in the debate over health-care reform, public approval of President Obama’s stewardship on the issue has dropped below the 50 percent threshold for the first time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Obama’s approval ratings on other front-burner issues, such as the economy and the federal budget deficit, have also slipped over the summer, as rising concern about spending and continuing worries about the economy combine to challenge his administration. Barely more than half approve of the way he is handling unemployment, which now tops 10 percent in 15 states and the District.

The president’s overall approval rating remains higher than his marks on particular domestic issues, with 59 percent giving him positive reviews and 37 percent disapproving. But this is the first time in his presidency that Obama has fallen under 60 percent in Post-ABC polling, and the rating is six percentage points lower than it was a month ago.

The underlying figures are startling. Confidence in his ability to handle health care has plunged from 57 percent to 49 percent, while disapproval has jumped from 29 percent to 44 percent. On the deficit, respondents disapprove by a 49 percent to 43 percent margin. And it appears that Obama’s embrace of tax and spending policies has not gone over well:

Nearly a quarter of moderate and conservative Democrats (22 percent) now see Obama as an “old-style tax-and-spend Democrat,” up from 4 percent in March. Among all Americans, 52 percent consider Obama a “new-style Democrat who will be careful with the public’s money.” That is down from 58 percent a month ago and 62 percent in March, to about where President Bill Clinton was on that question in the summer of 1993.

Concerns about the federal account balance are also reflected in views about another round of stimulus spending. In the new poll, more than six in 10 oppose spending beyond the $787 billion already allocated to boost the economy. Most Democrats support more spending; big majorities of Republicans and independents are against the idea.

Support for new spending is tempered by flagging confidence on Obama’s plan for the economy. Fifty-six percent are confident that his programs will reap benefits, but that is down from 64 percent in March and from 72 percent just before he took office six months ago. More now say they have no confidence in the plan than say they are very confident it will work. Among independents and Republicans, confidence has decreased by 20 or more points; it has dropped seven points among Democrats.

Higher income Americans, who made up a key part of Obama’s coalition, have figured out health care is going to be paid by them if Obama has his way. Accordingly, the poll shows that “those with incomes above $50,000 now are split evenly between Obama and Republicans on dealing with health care. In June, they favored Obama by a 21-point margin.”

Moreover, the poll sampled all adults, not merely voters or even likely voters in 2010. It is quite possible that among actual voters Obama’s numbers are far worse.

Why does all of this matter? At the time in which Obama is thrusting himself forward to “sell” government-centric health care, his credibility on that on other issues is skidding. Furthermore, lawmakers can read these numbers too. They understand that the public is losing faith in a government-run health-care scheme and in the massive tax plan that would be needed to fund it. There is a reason lawmakers of both parties are openly challenging Obama’s timetable and vision for a massive health-care reform effort.

Meanwhile, the administration appears to be panicking, resorting to every trick in the book to stem the tide of discontent over its leftward drift. The A.P. reports:

The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today’s bleak landscape.

The administration’s annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama’s budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update — usually scheduled for mid-July — has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

But this sort of sleight of hand rarely works, and in this case, Hourse Minority Leade Boehner is already going ballistic, arguing that the Obama administration is trying to “hide the fact that the policies of this Administration have buried our children and grandchildren under historic debt.”

If all that isn’t sobering enough for Obama-philes, there is this jaw-dropper from Rasmussen: in a potential 2012 presidential election match-up, Mitt Romney ties Obama at 45% and beats Obama among unaffiliated voters by 48% to 41%. Well, it’s very early but still. Wow.

Whether Obama, who possesses admirable oratorical skills, can own up to the fiscal train-wreck he is presiding over and reverse his slide in the polls, remains to be seen. But it may be that the problem is not Obama personally, nor a deficit in rhetorical skills. It may frankly be that Americans didn’t vote for a leftward lurch in their government and now are registering their extreme discomfort with a president who is trying to pull off one of the most audacious bait-and-switch political maneuvers in recent memory.

Pete, your cogent take is yet again corroborated, this time by the Washington Post-ABC News poll. What we see is an across-the-board erosion in not just the public’s overall approval of Obama’s performance, but in confidence in his ability to manage every significant domestic item on his agenda. The Post explains:

Heading into a critical period in the debate over health-care reform, public approval of President Obama’s stewardship on the issue has dropped below the 50 percent threshold for the first time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Obama’s approval ratings on other front-burner issues, such as the economy and the federal budget deficit, have also slipped over the summer, as rising concern about spending and continuing worries about the economy combine to challenge his administration. Barely more than half approve of the way he is handling unemployment, which now tops 10 percent in 15 states and the District.

The president’s overall approval rating remains higher than his marks on particular domestic issues, with 59 percent giving him positive reviews and 37 percent disapproving. But this is the first time in his presidency that Obama has fallen under 60 percent in Post-ABC polling, and the rating is six percentage points lower than it was a month ago.

The underlying figures are startling. Confidence in his ability to handle health care has plunged from 57 percent to 49 percent, while disapproval has jumped from 29 percent to 44 percent. On the deficit, respondents disapprove by a 49 percent to 43 percent margin. And it appears that Obama’s embrace of tax and spending policies has not gone over well:

Nearly a quarter of moderate and conservative Democrats (22 percent) now see Obama as an “old-style tax-and-spend Democrat,” up from 4 percent in March. Among all Americans, 52 percent consider Obama a “new-style Democrat who will be careful with the public’s money.” That is down from 58 percent a month ago and 62 percent in March, to about where President Bill Clinton was on that question in the summer of 1993.

Concerns about the federal account balance are also reflected in views about another round of stimulus spending. In the new poll, more than six in 10 oppose spending beyond the $787 billion already allocated to boost the economy. Most Democrats support more spending; big majorities of Republicans and independents are against the idea.

Support for new spending is tempered by flagging confidence on Obama’s plan for the economy. Fifty-six percent are confident that his programs will reap benefits, but that is down from 64 percent in March and from 72 percent just before he took office six months ago. More now say they have no confidence in the plan than say they are very confident it will work. Among independents and Republicans, confidence has decreased by 20 or more points; it has dropped seven points among Democrats.

Higher income Americans, who made up a key part of Obama’s coalition, have figured out health care is going to be paid by them if Obama has his way. Accordingly, the poll shows that “those with incomes above $50,000 now are split evenly between Obama and Republicans on dealing with health care. In June, they favored Obama by a 21-point margin.”

Moreover, the poll sampled all adults, not merely voters or even likely voters in 2010. It is quite possible that among actual voters Obama’s numbers are far worse.

Why does all of this matter? At the time in which Obama is thrusting himself forward to “sell” government-centric health care, his credibility on that on other issues is skidding. Furthermore, lawmakers can read these numbers too. They understand that the public is losing faith in a government-run health-care scheme and in the massive tax plan that would be needed to fund it. There is a reason lawmakers of both parties are openly challenging Obama’s timetable and vision for a massive health-care reform effort.

Meanwhile, the administration appears to be panicking, resorting to every trick in the book to stem the tide of discontent over its leftward drift. The A.P. reports:

The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today’s bleak landscape.

The administration’s annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama’s budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update — usually scheduled for mid-July — has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

But this sort of sleight of hand rarely works, and in this case, Hourse Minority Leade Boehner is already going ballistic, arguing that the Obama administration is trying to “hide the fact that the policies of this Administration have buried our children and grandchildren under historic debt.”

If all that isn’t sobering enough for Obama-philes, there is this jaw-dropper from Rasmussen: in a potential 2012 presidential election match-up, Mitt Romney ties Obama at 45% and beats Obama among unaffiliated voters by 48% to 41%. Well, it’s very early but still. Wow.

Whether Obama, who possesses admirable oratorical skills, can own up to the fiscal train-wreck he is presiding over and reverse his slide in the polls, remains to be seen. But it may be that the problem is not Obama personally, nor a deficit in rhetorical skills. It may frankly be that Americans didn’t vote for a leftward lurch in their government and now are registering their extreme discomfort with a president who is trying to pull off one of the most audacious bait-and-switch political maneuvers in recent memory.

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A Misguided Senate Vote Limits Drug Competition

With Congress and the president trying desperately to find ways to fund health-care reform, a Senate committee last week rejected an approach that would have cut costs the old-fashioned way: through private-sector competition.

Instead, in a 16-7 vote on July 13, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee decided to grant lucrative biologic drugs 12 years of insulation against competitors. Such a lengthy period was opposed by the Obama Administration and a wide variety of organizations, ranging from generally liberal groups like the AARP, AFL-CIO, and Consumers Union, to conservative ones like the Council of Citizens Against Government Waste, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Dick Armey’s Freedom Works.

The bill will face opposition in the House and the full Senate, but if it passes, few if any drug companies are likely to develop generics to compete with patented biotech drugs, or “biologics,” as they are called.
Biologics, which are made from living tissues and microorganisms, are playing a growing role in fighting disease.

In 2007, Americans spent $40 billion — or about one in every seven dollars spent on prescription drugs — on biologic medicines, including blockbusters such as Avastin for colon cancer and Lantus for diabetes. Like conventional, or “small-molecule,” drugs, biologics are protected by patents for 20 years after their invention. But when the patent on a biologic expires, the Food & Drug Administration provides no efficient pathway for generic-style competitors — in this case called “biogenerics.”

With patents on the majority of the leading biologics set to expire by 2015, Congress wants to establish a process that can bring biosimilars to market, but many of the big pharmaceutical companies are resisting. On July 13, the Senate’s health panel supported the companies’ position, scoring, as Reuters put it, “a major victory for biotech drugmakers such as Amgen Inc. and Roche Holding AG.” The vote flew in the face of a FTC report last month, which found that a “12-to-14-year regulatory exclusivity period is too long” and “unnecessary to promote innovation.”

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

With Congress and the president trying desperately to find ways to fund health-care reform, a Senate committee last week rejected an approach that would have cut costs the old-fashioned way: through private-sector competition.

Instead, in a 16-7 vote on July 13, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee decided to grant lucrative biologic drugs 12 years of insulation against competitors. Such a lengthy period was opposed by the Obama Administration and a wide variety of organizations, ranging from generally liberal groups like the AARP, AFL-CIO, and Consumers Union, to conservative ones like the Council of Citizens Against Government Waste, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Dick Armey’s Freedom Works.

The bill will face opposition in the House and the full Senate, but if it passes, few if any drug companies are likely to develop generics to compete with patented biotech drugs, or “biologics,” as they are called.
Biologics, which are made from living tissues and microorganisms, are playing a growing role in fighting disease.

In 2007, Americans spent $40 billion — or about one in every seven dollars spent on prescription drugs — on biologic medicines, including blockbusters such as Avastin for colon cancer and Lantus for diabetes. Like conventional, or “small-molecule,” drugs, biologics are protected by patents for 20 years after their invention. But when the patent on a biologic expires, the Food & Drug Administration provides no efficient pathway for generic-style competitors — in this case called “biogenerics.”

With patents on the majority of the leading biologics set to expire by 2015, Congress wants to establish a process that can bring biosimilars to market, but many of the big pharmaceutical companies are resisting. On July 13, the Senate’s health panel supported the companies’ position, scoring, as Reuters put it, “a major victory for biotech drugmakers such as Amgen Inc. and Roche Holding AG.” The vote flew in the face of a FTC report last month, which found that a “12-to-14-year regulatory exclusivity period is too long” and “unnecessary to promote innovation.”

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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It Takes a Thief?

Obama’s first “Car Czar” didn’t work out. Mr. Steven Rattner has resigned, and his replacement has already been named. Ron Bloom is the new boss and, unlike his predecessor, he has quite a bit of experience under his belt — he’s a lifetime union lawyer.

Hmm… unions (in theory, at least) represent workers. Obama’s point man in the car industry (in which the government practically owns two of the Big Three) is someone who has spent his life working on behalf of unions. Why does the phrase “workers’ control over the means of production” come to mind?

This could all be just paranoia, of course. Ron Bloom’s long experience with unions might just mean he is best qualified to wring concessions out of them. He could be the ideal “honest broker” to assist management in getting these companies back on track. Recruiting him could turn out to be a revolutionary move by the Obama administration. After all, Joe Kennedy did a superb job at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Only Nixon could go to China. Sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief.

Obama’s first “Car Czar” didn’t work out. Mr. Steven Rattner has resigned, and his replacement has already been named. Ron Bloom is the new boss and, unlike his predecessor, he has quite a bit of experience under his belt — he’s a lifetime union lawyer.

Hmm… unions (in theory, at least) represent workers. Obama’s point man in the car industry (in which the government practically owns two of the Big Three) is someone who has spent his life working on behalf of unions. Why does the phrase “workers’ control over the means of production” come to mind?

This could all be just paranoia, of course. Ron Bloom’s long experience with unions might just mean he is best qualified to wring concessions out of them. He could be the ideal “honest broker” to assist management in getting these companies back on track. Recruiting him could turn out to be a revolutionary move by the Obama administration. After all, Joe Kennedy did a superb job at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Only Nixon could go to China. Sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief.

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You Mean He’s Going to Raise Our Taxes?

As soon as Obama embarked on his soak-the-rich, grow the deficit, anti-growth policies, one could see the potential for fissures within his coalition of support. And sure enough, it turns out that rich Democrats don’t like his policies. Jonathan Weisman reports:

A group of Democrats elected in recent years from some of the country’s richest congressional districts have emerged as a stumbling block to raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for President Barack Obama’s ambitious health-care overhaul just as the plan has begun to meet increasing resistance over its cost.

[. . .]

“There could come a time,” said Rep. Michael McMahon, a freshman Democrat from New York City’s borough of Staten Island, when Democrats are in open rebellion. “We will certainly see in the next few weeks where we are going.”

Election gains in some of these affluent regions have helped give Democrats big majorities in the House and Senate. Of the 25 richest districts, 14 are represented by Democrats, according to Congressional Quarterly. In 1995, Democrats represented just five of those districts.

Recently elected Democrats from higher-income areas also have been cautious about legislation that would make it easier for labor unions to organize, and about legislation imposing tough new rules on banks. Republicans have savaged the new Democrats for supporting legislation to stem global warming by capping greenhouse-gas emissions, then forcing polluters to purchase and trade emissions credits — a “cap and tax,” the GOP says.

And then we have the planned repeal of the Bush tax cuts. None of this is very attractive to upper-income professionals and entrepreneurs — the very people Obama swept into his coalition with visions of change, reform, non-ideological governance, and “smart” policy. There really isn’t anything for them in the Obama agenda.

But that is true of young voters as well. Government-run health care with a requirement that young, healthy twenty-somethings now have to go buy health insurance? A sewer of corruption still in Congress. A take-over of ailing car companies. Is this the cutting-edge candidate they wanted? And then there is the job market – the worst in a generation. Now that we are past “hope” and “change” there isn’t very much for young voters, especially if they spend any time thinking of the massive debt being loaded onto their shoulders.

There are always tensions within any political coalition. But with Obama, the gap between reality (standard tax-and-spend liberalism) and campaign image (New Age reformer) is greater than most. If Obama continues on with his government-centric, high-tax agenda, those who voted for something else may drift away, or worse for Obama, vote Republican in 2010 in order to impose some balance to the president’s left-wing policies. In the end, most voters do vote their economic interests. And so long as Obama savages those many voters who put him in office, he runs the risk they will bolt.

As soon as Obama embarked on his soak-the-rich, grow the deficit, anti-growth policies, one could see the potential for fissures within his coalition of support. And sure enough, it turns out that rich Democrats don’t like his policies. Jonathan Weisman reports:

A group of Democrats elected in recent years from some of the country’s richest congressional districts have emerged as a stumbling block to raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for President Barack Obama’s ambitious health-care overhaul just as the plan has begun to meet increasing resistance over its cost.

[. . .]

“There could come a time,” said Rep. Michael McMahon, a freshman Democrat from New York City’s borough of Staten Island, when Democrats are in open rebellion. “We will certainly see in the next few weeks where we are going.”

Election gains in some of these affluent regions have helped give Democrats big majorities in the House and Senate. Of the 25 richest districts, 14 are represented by Democrats, according to Congressional Quarterly. In 1995, Democrats represented just five of those districts.

Recently elected Democrats from higher-income areas also have been cautious about legislation that would make it easier for labor unions to organize, and about legislation imposing tough new rules on banks. Republicans have savaged the new Democrats for supporting legislation to stem global warming by capping greenhouse-gas emissions, then forcing polluters to purchase and trade emissions credits — a “cap and tax,” the GOP says.

And then we have the planned repeal of the Bush tax cuts. None of this is very attractive to upper-income professionals and entrepreneurs — the very people Obama swept into his coalition with visions of change, reform, non-ideological governance, and “smart” policy. There really isn’t anything for them in the Obama agenda.

But that is true of young voters as well. Government-run health care with a requirement that young, healthy twenty-somethings now have to go buy health insurance? A sewer of corruption still in Congress. A take-over of ailing car companies. Is this the cutting-edge candidate they wanted? And then there is the job market – the worst in a generation. Now that we are past “hope” and “change” there isn’t very much for young voters, especially if they spend any time thinking of the massive debt being loaded onto their shoulders.

There are always tensions within any political coalition. But with Obama, the gap between reality (standard tax-and-spend liberalism) and campaign image (New Age reformer) is greater than most. If Obama continues on with his government-centric, high-tax agenda, those who voted for something else may drift away, or worse for Obama, vote Republican in 2010 in order to impose some balance to the president’s left-wing policies. In the end, most voters do vote their economic interests. And so long as Obama savages those many voters who put him in office, he runs the risk they will bolt.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

So much for the Obama “temperament.” His health-care plan hits the skids and no more Mr. Cool. The result is “a new sense of uncertainty and strain, and a growing murmur among Democrats in Washington nervous about the White House’s tactics, and a rising tide of concern in the states as local Democratic parties eye midterm elections that are traditionally a challenge for a new president.”And you can pretty much forget that August deadline.

Maybe it won’t be ObamaCare but Blue Dog/GOP Care: “Some centrist House Democrats have reached out to Republicans to explore breaking with their party leadership on healthcare and crafting a reform bill with the rival GOP, one congressman claimed Saturday.” By Sunday, the Blue Dog leader was sounding defensive, warning Republicans not to count on them blocking health-care reform. But they sure are blocking the Obama-Pelosi version of it.

The governors don’t like it either: “The nation’s governors, Democrats as well as Republicans, voiced deep concern Sunday about the shape of the health care bill emerging from Congress, fearing that the federal government is about to hand them expensive new Medicaid obligations without providing the money to pay for them.”

Mickey Kaus on what to call mandatory arbitration that still remains on Big Labor’s agenda: “How about ‘federal pay determination’? Keep in mind that not only does the apparent ‘compromise’ propose abandoning the hoary idea that wages should be set in the marketplace, it also abandons the New Deal’s substitute idea that wages should be set in labor contest where unions threaten to use their strike power and management threatens to survive a strike. Unions seem to have given up strikes. Instead they want to authorize an official–maybe even an actual federal bureaucrat–to simply swoop down and impose what would undoubtedly be a wage increase. That’s more akin to FDR’s notorious, failed National Recovery Act–except the NRA at least let industries set their own rigid wage scales.”

Stuart Taylor really wants to like Sonia Sotomayor. But he is left with “doubts about the sincerity of Sotomayor’s testimony,” including “her dismissive rejection last year of the reverse-discrimination lawsuit by firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who had done well on qualification tests but were denied promotions because blacks had not done well. That — like some of her pre-judicial work — suggests an agenda of extending and perpetuating de facto racial quotas.” Then there is her involvement in the “left-activist” PRLDEF and her “less-than-brilliant legal mind.”

The Washington Post editors think she lied: “Judge Sotomayor’s attempts to explain away and distance herself from that statement were unconvincing and at times uncomfortably close to disingenuous, especially when she argued that her reason for raising questions about gender or race was to warn against injecting personal biases into the judicial process. Her repeated and lengthy speeches on the matter do not support that interpretation.” But they still support her confirmation. Huh?

India tells Hillary Clinton to buzz off: “India on Sunday night rebuffed an appeal by Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, to embrace a low-carbon future in which the two countries would work together to devise new ways of consuming and producing energy.” And Midwestern senators are supposed to tell their constituents they have to pay higher energy bills while India’s economy roars ahead? Hmm.

Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration are trying once again to attack the CIA and Dick Cheney, this time over alleged failure to brief Congress about a newer operation program to target terrorist leaders. The Democratic rule book: “One: We in the Obama administration get to choose to release only what is politically opportune to release. Two: We in Congress investigate only what and when it’s politically opportune to investigate. Three: As a matter of policy, we apparently shouldn’t try too hard to kill al Qaeda leaders (except if it can be done by aerial attacks). And four: We in Congress don’t need to keep classified programs secret once we’re briefed on them.”

And two big problems for them – Admiral Dennis Blair isn’t buying their line and the last time they tried a half-baked attack on the Bush administration they lost the battle when Cheney pulled out his secret weapon (the facts).

Why is the Obama administration against “saving or creating” jobs? “The Senate is kicking off next week with one of the most contentious issues engulfing the fiscal 2010 defense policy bill: whether to include money for more F-22 fighter jets and ultimately draw a presidential veto. . . Several unions, such as the Steelworkers Union and the Machinists Union, have been up on Capitol Hill lobbying in favor of more F-22s. But the weekend could also serve as a ripe time for the Obama administration to cajole undecided Democratic senators into supporting the Levin-McCain amendment that would strip the funding.”

Near the top of the list of inexplicable Obama foreign policy moves is Obama’s siding with Hugo Chavez against the Honduran Congress, which “moved to defend the country’s constitution by relieving Mr. Zelaya of his presidential duties.” The U.S. apparently jumped when Chavez made a “personal plea” to the Obama administration. As Mary Anatasia O’Grady notes, “[I]t raises serious questions about the signals that President Barack Obama is sending to the hemisphere’s most dangerous dictator.”

So much for the Obama “temperament.” His health-care plan hits the skids and no more Mr. Cool. The result is “a new sense of uncertainty and strain, and a growing murmur among Democrats in Washington nervous about the White House’s tactics, and a rising tide of concern in the states as local Democratic parties eye midterm elections that are traditionally a challenge for a new president.”And you can pretty much forget that August deadline.

Maybe it won’t be ObamaCare but Blue Dog/GOP Care: “Some centrist House Democrats have reached out to Republicans to explore breaking with their party leadership on healthcare and crafting a reform bill with the rival GOP, one congressman claimed Saturday.” By Sunday, the Blue Dog leader was sounding defensive, warning Republicans not to count on them blocking health-care reform. But they sure are blocking the Obama-Pelosi version of it.

The governors don’t like it either: “The nation’s governors, Democrats as well as Republicans, voiced deep concern Sunday about the shape of the health care bill emerging from Congress, fearing that the federal government is about to hand them expensive new Medicaid obligations without providing the money to pay for them.”

Mickey Kaus on what to call mandatory arbitration that still remains on Big Labor’s agenda: “How about ‘federal pay determination’? Keep in mind that not only does the apparent ‘compromise’ propose abandoning the hoary idea that wages should be set in the marketplace, it also abandons the New Deal’s substitute idea that wages should be set in labor contest where unions threaten to use their strike power and management threatens to survive a strike. Unions seem to have given up strikes. Instead they want to authorize an official–maybe even an actual federal bureaucrat–to simply swoop down and impose what would undoubtedly be a wage increase. That’s more akin to FDR’s notorious, failed National Recovery Act–except the NRA at least let industries set their own rigid wage scales.”

Stuart Taylor really wants to like Sonia Sotomayor. But he is left with “doubts about the sincerity of Sotomayor’s testimony,” including “her dismissive rejection last year of the reverse-discrimination lawsuit by firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who had done well on qualification tests but were denied promotions because blacks had not done well. That — like some of her pre-judicial work — suggests an agenda of extending and perpetuating de facto racial quotas.” Then there is her involvement in the “left-activist” PRLDEF and her “less-than-brilliant legal mind.”

The Washington Post editors think she lied: “Judge Sotomayor’s attempts to explain away and distance herself from that statement were unconvincing and at times uncomfortably close to disingenuous, especially when she argued that her reason for raising questions about gender or race was to warn against injecting personal biases into the judicial process. Her repeated and lengthy speeches on the matter do not support that interpretation.” But they still support her confirmation. Huh?

India tells Hillary Clinton to buzz off: “India on Sunday night rebuffed an appeal by Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, to embrace a low-carbon future in which the two countries would work together to devise new ways of consuming and producing energy.” And Midwestern senators are supposed to tell their constituents they have to pay higher energy bills while India’s economy roars ahead? Hmm.

Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration are trying once again to attack the CIA and Dick Cheney, this time over alleged failure to brief Congress about a newer operation program to target terrorist leaders. The Democratic rule book: “One: We in the Obama administration get to choose to release only what is politically opportune to release. Two: We in Congress investigate only what and when it’s politically opportune to investigate. Three: As a matter of policy, we apparently shouldn’t try too hard to kill al Qaeda leaders (except if it can be done by aerial attacks). And four: We in Congress don’t need to keep classified programs secret once we’re briefed on them.”

And two big problems for them – Admiral Dennis Blair isn’t buying their line and the last time they tried a half-baked attack on the Bush administration they lost the battle when Cheney pulled out his secret weapon (the facts).

Why is the Obama administration against “saving or creating” jobs? “The Senate is kicking off next week with one of the most contentious issues engulfing the fiscal 2010 defense policy bill: whether to include money for more F-22 fighter jets and ultimately draw a presidential veto. . . Several unions, such as the Steelworkers Union and the Machinists Union, have been up on Capitol Hill lobbying in favor of more F-22s. But the weekend could also serve as a ripe time for the Obama administration to cajole undecided Democratic senators into supporting the Levin-McCain amendment that would strip the funding.”

Near the top of the list of inexplicable Obama foreign policy moves is Obama’s siding with Hugo Chavez against the Honduran Congress, which “moved to defend the country’s constitution by relieving Mr. Zelaya of his presidential duties.” The U.S. apparently jumped when Chavez made a “personal plea” to the Obama administration. As Mary Anatasia O’Grady notes, “[I]t raises serious questions about the signals that President Barack Obama is sending to the hemisphere’s most dangerous dictator.”

Read Less




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