Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 15, 2009

Petty Power

Today, five nations in Latin America commemorated 188 years of independence: El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Secretary of State Clinton issued five press releases (one with respect to each country) conveying regards on behalf of the people of the United States.

To the people of El Salvador, she offered “warm wishes and congratulations.” The people of Guatemala got “warm congratulations”—not wishes and congratulations, but still nice. To the people of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, she simply extended “congratulations”—apparently not warm ones.

And to the people of Honduras, she sent neither congratulations (much less warm ones) nor even warm wishes—just “greetings.” And, she noted, “worry and sadness”:

On behalf of the people of the United States, I send greetings to the people of Honduras as they commemorate 188 years of independence. . . . The turmoil and political differences that have [recently] divided Honduras are a source of worry and sadness. I remain hopeful that the spirit of Francisco Morazán, a founder and visionary leader of Honduras, will help return your nation to a democratic path that will unite and inspire, rather than divide and discourage, and rebuild the ties of solidarity that have characterized your relationship with the Americas.

When your Supreme Court enforces your constitution, and your military forces obey their orders, and your Congress virtually unanimously chooses the successor president, and the new head of state is a member of the prior president’s party, and representatives of religious and civil society tell the Organization of American States they support the actions of their government, and the previously scheduled presidential elections will be held on time, in about two months, with international observers welcome, you have—in the view of the Obama administration—abandoned the “democratic path.”

And you can kiss the warm wishes and congratulations about the past 188 years goodbye.

Today, five nations in Latin America commemorated 188 years of independence: El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Secretary of State Clinton issued five press releases (one with respect to each country) conveying regards on behalf of the people of the United States.

To the people of El Salvador, she offered “warm wishes and congratulations.” The people of Guatemala got “warm congratulations”—not wishes and congratulations, but still nice. To the people of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, she simply extended “congratulations”—apparently not warm ones.

And to the people of Honduras, she sent neither congratulations (much less warm ones) nor even warm wishes—just “greetings.” And, she noted, “worry and sadness”:

On behalf of the people of the United States, I send greetings to the people of Honduras as they commemorate 188 years of independence. . . . The turmoil and political differences that have [recently] divided Honduras are a source of worry and sadness. I remain hopeful that the spirit of Francisco Morazán, a founder and visionary leader of Honduras, will help return your nation to a democratic path that will unite and inspire, rather than divide and discourage, and rebuild the ties of solidarity that have characterized your relationship with the Americas.

When your Supreme Court enforces your constitution, and your military forces obey their orders, and your Congress virtually unanimously chooses the successor president, and the new head of state is a member of the prior president’s party, and representatives of religious and civil society tell the Organization of American States they support the actions of their government, and the previously scheduled presidential elections will be held on time, in about two months, with international observers welcome, you have—in the view of the Obama administration—abandoned the “democratic path.”

And you can kiss the warm wishes and congratulations about the past 188 years goodbye.

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Seniors Turn on Obama

The Hill‘s A.P. Stoddard looks at that Washington Post/ABC News poll and finds trouble for the president:

Seniors are abandoning the president and his party in the wake of the contentious healthcare debate. In June, the poll found seniors trusting the president far more than Republicans in Congress — a margin of 62-24 percent. Just three months later the poll found 44 percent of seniors siding with Republicans, compared to 39 percent supporting Obama. Majorities of seniors supported Obama throughout his first months in office, according to the poll, but now his overall approval with seniors stands at 38 percent.

Reconciliation is also a loser, disfavored by more than 70 percent of the respondents. Stoddard notes: “This is the kind of data Democrats must reverse to survive the midterm elections next year. Seniors are the most loyal voting bloc, and they will turn out in droves to vote against the president’s party if they are critical of his policies next year at this time.”

He also cautions that Republicans need “proactive” policies. Perhaps. But in 2006 there was one proactive policy for the Democrats: throw the Republicans out. There will be time for policy development, but the first step in a “wave” election is the decision by voters that the party in power is either abusing its position (i.e., is corrupt) or has mismanaged a major policy issue (e.g., spending, unemployment). Judging from the current batch of polling, that decision-making process is well under way.

The Hill‘s A.P. Stoddard looks at that Washington Post/ABC News poll and finds trouble for the president:

Seniors are abandoning the president and his party in the wake of the contentious healthcare debate. In June, the poll found seniors trusting the president far more than Republicans in Congress — a margin of 62-24 percent. Just three months later the poll found 44 percent of seniors siding with Republicans, compared to 39 percent supporting Obama. Majorities of seniors supported Obama throughout his first months in office, according to the poll, but now his overall approval with seniors stands at 38 percent.

Reconciliation is also a loser, disfavored by more than 70 percent of the respondents. Stoddard notes: “This is the kind of data Democrats must reverse to survive the midterm elections next year. Seniors are the most loyal voting bloc, and they will turn out in droves to vote against the president’s party if they are critical of his policies next year at this time.”

He also cautions that Republicans need “proactive” policies. Perhaps. But in 2006 there was one proactive policy for the Democrats: throw the Republicans out. There will be time for policy development, but the first step in a “wave” election is the decision by voters that the party in power is either abusing its position (i.e., is corrupt) or has mismanaged a major policy issue (e.g., spending, unemployment). Judging from the current batch of polling, that decision-making process is well under way.

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Peace Can’t Be Built on Presidential Hubris

The New York Times returns to one of its favorite hobbyhorses today when it again attempts to shift the blame for the current impasse in the Middle East to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Times editorial, titled “Squandering the Moment,” starts off with the astonishing assertion that the current situation is “the best chance for Middle East peace in nearly a decade.” The piece backs up that dubious premise by saying, “President Obama is committed to serious negotiations and, for now, there is a lull in regional violence.”

But this is, of course, nonsense. There have been lulls before, even during the last violent decade that was marked by Palestinian terrorism directed at Israeli cities and rocket fire on its southern towns and villages. And though the Times‘s editorialists have adopted the self-congratulatory stance of the president and his acolytes, Obama is no more committed to the idea of Middle East peace than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush was. Though liberals are loath to give any credit to the latter, it should be remembered that it was he who first proclaimed America’s support for the concept of a Palestinian state in peaceful coexistence with Israel, though it should be noted that in making that concession, he was no more or less successful than any other American leader in getting the Palestinians to buy into the notion that they could acquire sovereignty in exchange for recognizing the legitimacy of their Israeli neighbors.

And that not inconsiderable point is the crux of the fallacy that forms the basis of not only the Times editorial but also the policies of the Obama administration. The focus on Jewish settlements has served to divert the world’s attention from this fact, but Palestinian rejectionism remains the key issue, as has been proved over and again since Yasir Arafat rejected a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem in July 2000. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas repeated this performance when Ehud Olmert desperately tried last year to make peace. Indeed, the “moderate” Abbas made it clear in interviews with the Western press this year that he wasn’t even inclined to talk to Israel. As Israel has demonstrated time and again, anytime there is an actual partner for peace, the existence of settlements in disputed territories is no impediment to Israeli concessions.

The failure of Obama to cajole America’s Arab allies into even the tamest of confidence-building measures toward Israel stems from the same problem that has little to do with anything Netanyahu does or does not do. The result of several generations of fomenting hate against Israel and Jews in Palestinian society as well as in the wider Arab and Islamic world means that the constituency for peace there is virtually nonexistent.

An understanding of this dismal reality underpins the widespread support within Israel for Netanyahu’s attempt to stand up to Obama while still stating Israel’s willingness to make peace in the unlikely event that the Palestinians change their tune. Unlike American Jews, the majority of whose understanding of the situation is filtered through their partisan loyalties to the Democrats, wishful thinking about the peace process, and an unwillingness to confront the facts about the Palestinians, the vast majority of Israelis have given up their illusions about peace. So when the Times encourages Obama to “prod Mr. Netanyahu toward bolder action by making a direct—and better—case to a skeptical Israeli public on why a settlement freeze and reviving peace talks is in its interest,” it is not only overestimating Obama’s considerable rhetorical powers but also asking Israelis to ignore the inconvenient facts about the Palestinian political culture, which views any recognition of the Jewish state as unacceptable. Whatever their opinions about the value or the wisdom of some settlements might be, the majority of Israelis understand that the argument about a freeze on building in Jerusalem and the areas surrounding it has little to do with the actual prospects for peace. That is why in Israel, Obama is the most unpopular American president in recent memory.

The summit that Obama will host at the meeting of the United Nations this month will lead, as have past attempts by more skillful diplomats than the president, to nothing—simply because a Palestinian people divided between Fatah and Hamas are constitutionally incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state under any circumstances or within any borders. The idea that the presence of Barack Obama in the White House renders this a “moment” that holds an opportunity for peace is nothing but hubris on the part of the president and hero worship on the part of his followers.

The New York Times returns to one of its favorite hobbyhorses today when it again attempts to shift the blame for the current impasse in the Middle East to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Times editorial, titled “Squandering the Moment,” starts off with the astonishing assertion that the current situation is “the best chance for Middle East peace in nearly a decade.” The piece backs up that dubious premise by saying, “President Obama is committed to serious negotiations and, for now, there is a lull in regional violence.”

But this is, of course, nonsense. There have been lulls before, even during the last violent decade that was marked by Palestinian terrorism directed at Israeli cities and rocket fire on its southern towns and villages. And though the Times‘s editorialists have adopted the self-congratulatory stance of the president and his acolytes, Obama is no more committed to the idea of Middle East peace than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush was. Though liberals are loath to give any credit to the latter, it should be remembered that it was he who first proclaimed America’s support for the concept of a Palestinian state in peaceful coexistence with Israel, though it should be noted that in making that concession, he was no more or less successful than any other American leader in getting the Palestinians to buy into the notion that they could acquire sovereignty in exchange for recognizing the legitimacy of their Israeli neighbors.

And that not inconsiderable point is the crux of the fallacy that forms the basis of not only the Times editorial but also the policies of the Obama administration. The focus on Jewish settlements has served to divert the world’s attention from this fact, but Palestinian rejectionism remains the key issue, as has been proved over and again since Yasir Arafat rejected a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem in July 2000. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas repeated this performance when Ehud Olmert desperately tried last year to make peace. Indeed, the “moderate” Abbas made it clear in interviews with the Western press this year that he wasn’t even inclined to talk to Israel. As Israel has demonstrated time and again, anytime there is an actual partner for peace, the existence of settlements in disputed territories is no impediment to Israeli concessions.

The failure of Obama to cajole America’s Arab allies into even the tamest of confidence-building measures toward Israel stems from the same problem that has little to do with anything Netanyahu does or does not do. The result of several generations of fomenting hate against Israel and Jews in Palestinian society as well as in the wider Arab and Islamic world means that the constituency for peace there is virtually nonexistent.

An understanding of this dismal reality underpins the widespread support within Israel for Netanyahu’s attempt to stand up to Obama while still stating Israel’s willingness to make peace in the unlikely event that the Palestinians change their tune. Unlike American Jews, the majority of whose understanding of the situation is filtered through their partisan loyalties to the Democrats, wishful thinking about the peace process, and an unwillingness to confront the facts about the Palestinians, the vast majority of Israelis have given up their illusions about peace. So when the Times encourages Obama to “prod Mr. Netanyahu toward bolder action by making a direct—and better—case to a skeptical Israeli public on why a settlement freeze and reviving peace talks is in its interest,” it is not only overestimating Obama’s considerable rhetorical powers but also asking Israelis to ignore the inconvenient facts about the Palestinian political culture, which views any recognition of the Jewish state as unacceptable. Whatever their opinions about the value or the wisdom of some settlements might be, the majority of Israelis understand that the argument about a freeze on building in Jerusalem and the areas surrounding it has little to do with the actual prospects for peace. That is why in Israel, Obama is the most unpopular American president in recent memory.

The summit that Obama will host at the meeting of the United Nations this month will lead, as have past attempts by more skillful diplomats than the president, to nothing—simply because a Palestinian people divided between Fatah and Hamas are constitutionally incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state under any circumstances or within any borders. The idea that the presence of Barack Obama in the White House renders this a “moment” that holds an opportunity for peace is nothing but hubris on the part of the president and hero worship on the part of his followers.

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Re: Of Course He Will, Unless He Doesn’t

Anthony, I think your handiwork is being pilfered by the White House speechwriting team. Today:

President Obama addresses autoworkers Tuesday at a General Motors plant in Ohio.

Obama also announced the official implementation of tighter auto fuel efficiency standards, a change that advocates herald as necessary to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to address climate change.

President Obama took his economic recovery message on the road Tuesday, defending the controversial auto bailout during an appearance at a General Motors plant in the heart of the struggling Rust Belt.

Now, of course the fuel-efficiency standards are only one of many burdens placed by the government on car companies. And that singled-minded focus on the auto industry really isn’t all that single-minded. It is these very fuel standards, not to mention the raft of other taxes and regulations stuffed into cap-and-trade legislation, that undermine the competitiveness of those workers’ employers. So the president is prepared to do everything he can for the car companies, except when it comes to throwing some bones to the environmentalists.

Anthony, I think your handiwork is being pilfered by the White House speechwriting team. Today:

President Obama addresses autoworkers Tuesday at a General Motors plant in Ohio.

Obama also announced the official implementation of tighter auto fuel efficiency standards, a change that advocates herald as necessary to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to address climate change.

President Obama took his economic recovery message on the road Tuesday, defending the controversial auto bailout during an appearance at a General Motors plant in the heart of the struggling Rust Belt.

Now, of course the fuel-efficiency standards are only one of many burdens placed by the government on car companies. And that singled-minded focus on the auto industry really isn’t all that single-minded. It is these very fuel standards, not to mention the raft of other taxes and regulations stuffed into cap-and-trade legislation, that undermine the competitiveness of those workers’ employers. So the president is prepared to do everything he can for the car companies, except when it comes to throwing some bones to the environmentalists.

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An All-Time Low, Indeed

For the past six years, the Democratic line that Afghanistan was the right war and Iraq the wrong one was so ubiquitous it warped not only the national discussion but also the course of history itself. It affected everything from timetables for troop withdrawal to a presidential election that hinged, in large part, on that very proposition and its implications.

With the Obama presidency, America was in essence to move out of Iraq and into Afghanistan. This was to be a long overdue and self-evidently necessary shift—an indication that we were getting serious about fighting terrorism and placing national security over oil deals, missionary fantasies, military-industrial quid pro quo, Israel’s dirty work, George W. Bush’s Oedipal issues, you name it.

For the fundamental failing of George W. Bush’s presidency, according to this argument, is that Bush—all together, in John Kerry’s 2004 monotone—“dropped the ball in Afghanistan” and got distracted from the real fight.

So, how enthused is this crowd now that America has miraculously righted itself and resumed fighting the worthwhile fight in Afghanistan?

Support for the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time low, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Tuesday morning indicates that 39 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, with 58 percent opposed to the mission.

Support is down from 53 percent in April, marking the lowest level since the start of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The poll suggests that 23 percent of Democrats support the war. That number rises to 39 percent for independents and 62 percent for Republicans.

Twenty-three percent of Democrats? What happened? Isn’t this what they wanted?

Could it be that those who complained about dropping the ball never believed what they were saying? That they only used the line to bash Bush? Is it possible that it was leading Democrats who approached national security dishonestly? That they read the public’s fatigue on Iraq and sought to exploit it for political gains instead of countering it to ensure that America succeeds in all its military endeavors?

Or do they think that the real fight is no longer in Afghanistan? If that’s the case, they need to share with the American people where the central front in the war on terror went. Or maybe they feel that Bush did such a good job in the fight against terrorism that America’s work is done.

Nancy Pelosi put her content-less objection to Afghanistan like this last Thursday: “I don’t think there’s a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress.” Thanks for tracking the public’s sense of defeat, Madame Speaker. We can always count on you to do that.

For the past six years, the Democratic line that Afghanistan was the right war and Iraq the wrong one was so ubiquitous it warped not only the national discussion but also the course of history itself. It affected everything from timetables for troop withdrawal to a presidential election that hinged, in large part, on that very proposition and its implications.

With the Obama presidency, America was in essence to move out of Iraq and into Afghanistan. This was to be a long overdue and self-evidently necessary shift—an indication that we were getting serious about fighting terrorism and placing national security over oil deals, missionary fantasies, military-industrial quid pro quo, Israel’s dirty work, George W. Bush’s Oedipal issues, you name it.

For the fundamental failing of George W. Bush’s presidency, according to this argument, is that Bush—all together, in John Kerry’s 2004 monotone—“dropped the ball in Afghanistan” and got distracted from the real fight.

So, how enthused is this crowd now that America has miraculously righted itself and resumed fighting the worthwhile fight in Afghanistan?

Support for the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time low, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Tuesday morning indicates that 39 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, with 58 percent opposed to the mission.

Support is down from 53 percent in April, marking the lowest level since the start of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The poll suggests that 23 percent of Democrats support the war. That number rises to 39 percent for independents and 62 percent for Republicans.

Twenty-three percent of Democrats? What happened? Isn’t this what they wanted?

Could it be that those who complained about dropping the ball never believed what they were saying? That they only used the line to bash Bush? Is it possible that it was leading Democrats who approached national security dishonestly? That they read the public’s fatigue on Iraq and sought to exploit it for political gains instead of countering it to ensure that America succeeds in all its military endeavors?

Or do they think that the real fight is no longer in Afghanistan? If that’s the case, they need to share with the American people where the central front in the war on terror went. Or maybe they feel that Bush did such a good job in the fight against terrorism that America’s work is done.

Nancy Pelosi put her content-less objection to Afghanistan like this last Thursday: “I don’t think there’s a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress.” Thanks for tracking the public’s sense of defeat, Madame Speaker. We can always count on you to do that.

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OBL Book-Club Project

Ben Smith reports that a letter by a self-styled group of foreign policy ”realists” has been sent to the president in favor of bugging out of Afghanistan. Let it not be said that Osama bin Laden doesn’t choose his book club without a purpose—two of his favorite authors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (you can imagine the OBL endorsement: “Smart read for the anti-America set!” “Don’t let your Israel-hating friends get ahead of you!”), are signatories.

It seems that the signers want the president to focus on al-Qaeda and to stop all this nation-building. Left unsaid is where they would have us take on al-Qaeda. I’m sure bin Laden couldn’t be prouder.

Ben Smith reports that a letter by a self-styled group of foreign policy ”realists” has been sent to the president in favor of bugging out of Afghanistan. Let it not be said that Osama bin Laden doesn’t choose his book club without a purpose—two of his favorite authors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (you can imagine the OBL endorsement: “Smart read for the anti-America set!” “Don’t let your Israel-hating friends get ahead of you!”), are signatories.

It seems that the signers want the president to focus on al-Qaeda and to stop all this nation-building. Left unsaid is where they would have us take on al-Qaeda. I’m sure bin Laden couldn’t be prouder.

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Standing Up for Shareholders

In an extraordinary display of judicial independence, common sense, and respect for the property rights of shareholders, a federal court judge has thrown out a settlement cooked up by Bank of America and the SEC to stick B of A’s shareholders with a $33 million settlement bill. The case stemmed from $3.6 billion in bonuses doled out to Merrill Lynch executives prior to Merrill’s takeover by B of A. The bonuses caused a public furor, and the SEC found that B of A’s November 2008 proxy misled shareholders about whether there would be any bonuses. This report explains:

In a scathing critique, Judge Jed S. Rakoff said the costs of the settlement would essentially be borne by the victims, in this case Bank of America’s shareholders. The SEC had accused Bank of America of failing to adequately disclose plans to allow billions of dollars in bonuses to be paid to Merrill Lynch executives before shareholders were asked to approve a marriage between the two companies.

[. . .]

Rakoff did not only direct his criticism at the SEC. He also attacked Bank of America’s top executives for attempting to shield themselves at the expense of the company’s shareholders.

“This case suggests a rather cynical relationship between the parties: the S.E.C. gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of the Bank of America in a high-profile merger; the Bank’s management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators,” Rakoff wrote in his order. “And all this is done at the expense, not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth.”

The judge wants to know why it shouldn’t be the lawyers who gave faulty advice to B of A or the executives themselves who should bear the brunt of the penalty here. He called “absurd” the proposal that shareholders ought to get the tab for these excesses. It seems as though the judge, unlike the bank and the administration, understands that it’s the shareholders’ money.

The judge’s decision has implications beyond this case. As the Wall Street Journal explained:

Judge Rakoff’s larger point that companies too often dip into the shareholder purse instead of fighting the good court fight is nonetheless true. He noted that this decision might have been “made even easier” for BofA given “the U.S. Government provided [it] with a $40 billion or so ‘bailout.’” What was a “mere $33 million . . . to get rid of a lawsuit?”

The judge had other complaints, but broadly the deal “suggests a rather cynical relationship between the parties: the SEC gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of the Bank of America in a high-profile merger; the Bank’s management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators. And all of this is done at the expense, not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth.” The parties will go to trial in February.

The ruling comes at a propitious time. Obama heads to Wall Street to lecture executives as he schemes to enact ways for penalizing insurance companies. What he fails to appreciate is that we don’t penalize corporations through higher taxes, draconian regulation, and imperious enforcement actions—instead, we harm shareholders, consumers, and employees. At least there is one person in a position of power who understands this. However, that judge’s powers are limited to the cases before him. Let’s hope the lesson he imparted is not.

In an extraordinary display of judicial independence, common sense, and respect for the property rights of shareholders, a federal court judge has thrown out a settlement cooked up by Bank of America and the SEC to stick B of A’s shareholders with a $33 million settlement bill. The case stemmed from $3.6 billion in bonuses doled out to Merrill Lynch executives prior to Merrill’s takeover by B of A. The bonuses caused a public furor, and the SEC found that B of A’s November 2008 proxy misled shareholders about whether there would be any bonuses. This report explains:

In a scathing critique, Judge Jed S. Rakoff said the costs of the settlement would essentially be borne by the victims, in this case Bank of America’s shareholders. The SEC had accused Bank of America of failing to adequately disclose plans to allow billions of dollars in bonuses to be paid to Merrill Lynch executives before shareholders were asked to approve a marriage between the two companies.

[. . .]

Rakoff did not only direct his criticism at the SEC. He also attacked Bank of America’s top executives for attempting to shield themselves at the expense of the company’s shareholders.

“This case suggests a rather cynical relationship between the parties: the S.E.C. gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of the Bank of America in a high-profile merger; the Bank’s management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators,” Rakoff wrote in his order. “And all this is done at the expense, not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth.”

The judge wants to know why it shouldn’t be the lawyers who gave faulty advice to B of A or the executives themselves who should bear the brunt of the penalty here. He called “absurd” the proposal that shareholders ought to get the tab for these excesses. It seems as though the judge, unlike the bank and the administration, understands that it’s the shareholders’ money.

The judge’s decision has implications beyond this case. As the Wall Street Journal explained:

Judge Rakoff’s larger point that companies too often dip into the shareholder purse instead of fighting the good court fight is nonetheless true. He noted that this decision might have been “made even easier” for BofA given “the U.S. Government provided [it] with a $40 billion or so ‘bailout.’” What was a “mere $33 million . . . to get rid of a lawsuit?”

The judge had other complaints, but broadly the deal “suggests a rather cynical relationship between the parties: the SEC gets to claim that it is exposing wrongdoing on the part of the Bank of America in a high-profile merger; the Bank’s management gets to claim that they have been coerced into an onerous settlement by overzealous regulators. And all of this is done at the expense, not only of the shareholders, but also of the truth.” The parties will go to trial in February.

The ruling comes at a propitious time. Obama heads to Wall Street to lecture executives as he schemes to enact ways for penalizing insurance companies. What he fails to appreciate is that we don’t penalize corporations through higher taxes, draconian regulation, and imperious enforcement actions—instead, we harm shareholders, consumers, and employees. At least there is one person in a position of power who understands this. However, that judge’s powers are limited to the cases before him. Let’s hope the lesson he imparted is not.

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Not “Smart” At All

With each new revelation about the Obama administration’s posture toward Iran, further evidence builds for Bret Stephens’s theory that Obama simply isn’t serious about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, preferring either to allow Israel to “handle” it or to deal with a scenario in which we could “contain” Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This report explains that the talks to which we agreed have “no set agenda and or specific goals.” Swell. They’re just going to give us a chance to “question Iran.” (One supposes it will go like this: “Will you give up your nuclear program?” “No.”) This flies in the face of elementary business school principles—make sure your meeting has a purpose—not to mention Diplomacy 101. The mere absence of an agenda signals our lack of seriousness.

And, of course, the administration is already fully aware that Iran is giving us the brush-off. (“U.S. officials voiced frustration that the Iranian document ignored Washington’s demand that Tehran cease enriching uranium and allow inspectors from the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, greater access to its nuclear installations.”) But no matter, we’d like to chat.

More ominous, however, is the suggestion that we are willing to put Iran’s nuclear program on the back burner to pursue grand bargains on other matters:

U.S. officials are eager to gain Iranian cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington also hopes Iran can support the Arab-Israeli peace process by cutting off support for militant groups fighting Israel, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. “I think this is an important first step in the discussion. We hope for the best,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday in Austria. He was attending the annual General Conference of the IAEA.

We will almost certainly not achieve any assistance in those areas either, even as we allow Iran breathing room to continue its nuclear program. To diffuse concern that it is delinquent in its obligations to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, the administration has begun recycling the claim that we have nothing to worry about, nothing at all, for some time:

The U.S. estimates that Iran has produced enough nuclear fuel for one atomic weapon, should it be enriched further into weapons-grade material—though it could take years for Iran to make a nuclear warhead and develop the ability to use it on a missile.

A U.S. intelligence report, released in 2007, alleged that Iran had been experimenting in the weaponization of its nuclear technologies, before allegedly stopping the effort in 2003. The U.N. has been pressing Iran to answer questions about the alleged military dimensions of its nuclear program.

(That 2007 report, which flip-flopped regarding earlier analysis, has been the subject of much criticism.)

Meanwhile, Iranian democracy activists are worried that America is bestowing credibility and legitimacy upon the regime at a time when the mullahs are under attack domestically:

“Our main concern is that any dealings with Tehran must have human-rights issues as the top, formal concern of the international community,” said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

They shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for that to happen. The administration has made it clear just how spineless and unserious it is, and the degree to which, like Scarlett O’Hara, it will worry about its problems “another day.”

With each new revelation about the Obama administration’s posture toward Iran, further evidence builds for Bret Stephens’s theory that Obama simply isn’t serious about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, preferring either to allow Israel to “handle” it or to deal with a scenario in which we could “contain” Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This report explains that the talks to which we agreed have “no set agenda and or specific goals.” Swell. They’re just going to give us a chance to “question Iran.” (One supposes it will go like this: “Will you give up your nuclear program?” “No.”) This flies in the face of elementary business school principles—make sure your meeting has a purpose—not to mention Diplomacy 101. The mere absence of an agenda signals our lack of seriousness.

And, of course, the administration is already fully aware that Iran is giving us the brush-off. (“U.S. officials voiced frustration that the Iranian document ignored Washington’s demand that Tehran cease enriching uranium and allow inspectors from the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, greater access to its nuclear installations.”) But no matter, we’d like to chat.

More ominous, however, is the suggestion that we are willing to put Iran’s nuclear program on the back burner to pursue grand bargains on other matters:

U.S. officials are eager to gain Iranian cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington also hopes Iran can support the Arab-Israeli peace process by cutting off support for militant groups fighting Israel, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. “I think this is an important first step in the discussion. We hope for the best,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday in Austria. He was attending the annual General Conference of the IAEA.

We will almost certainly not achieve any assistance in those areas either, even as we allow Iran breathing room to continue its nuclear program. To diffuse concern that it is delinquent in its obligations to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, the administration has begun recycling the claim that we have nothing to worry about, nothing at all, for some time:

The U.S. estimates that Iran has produced enough nuclear fuel for one atomic weapon, should it be enriched further into weapons-grade material—though it could take years for Iran to make a nuclear warhead and develop the ability to use it on a missile.

A U.S. intelligence report, released in 2007, alleged that Iran had been experimenting in the weaponization of its nuclear technologies, before allegedly stopping the effort in 2003. The U.N. has been pressing Iran to answer questions about the alleged military dimensions of its nuclear program.

(That 2007 report, which flip-flopped regarding earlier analysis, has been the subject of much criticism.)

Meanwhile, Iranian democracy activists are worried that America is bestowing credibility and legitimacy upon the regime at a time when the mullahs are under attack domestically:

“Our main concern is that any dealings with Tehran must have human-rights issues as the top, formal concern of the international community,” said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

They shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for that to happen. The administration has made it clear just how spineless and unserious it is, and the degree to which, like Scarlett O’Hara, it will worry about its problems “another day.”

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Of Course He Will, Unless He Doesn’t

Among the books worth rereading right about now is Joseph Heller’s 1979 comic novel Good as Gold—not for it political vision (which is nonexistent), or even for its literary value (which is wanting), but for its fabulous mimicry of the way daft politicians don’t say what they appear to be saying while saying what they really don’t want you to know.

Heller, best known for his manic tribute to utter futility, Catch-22, here introduces us to Bruce Gold, a minor essayist of ambiguous ideas, a reluctant college professor, and an incessant adulterer who is offered (kinda) a Cabinet position in a Gerald Ford–era White House, which will enable him to quit teaching, divorce his wife, and marry the libidinous scion of a wealthy WASP anti-Semite.

An old college friend, Ralph Newsome, now on the White House staff, is keen on getting Gold just such a position after Gold’s fairly laudatory review of the president’s fairly meaningless book, My Year in the White House, wins the chief executive’s gratitude.

But what would Bruce Gold—a self-described liberal pacifist atheist and only sometimes neo-conservative—actually do in Washington? According to Newsome: Read More

Among the books worth rereading right about now is Joseph Heller’s 1979 comic novel Good as Gold—not for it political vision (which is nonexistent), or even for its literary value (which is wanting), but for its fabulous mimicry of the way daft politicians don’t say what they appear to be saying while saying what they really don’t want you to know.

Heller, best known for his manic tribute to utter futility, Catch-22, here introduces us to Bruce Gold, a minor essayist of ambiguous ideas, a reluctant college professor, and an incessant adulterer who is offered (kinda) a Cabinet position in a Gerald Ford–era White House, which will enable him to quit teaching, divorce his wife, and marry the libidinous scion of a wealthy WASP anti-Semite.

An old college friend, Ralph Newsome, now on the White House staff, is keen on getting Gold just such a position after Gold’s fairly laudatory review of the president’s fairly meaningless book, My Year in the White House, wins the chief executive’s gratitude.

But what would Bruce Gold—a self-described liberal pacifist atheist and only sometimes neo-conservative—actually do in Washington? According to Newsome:

“Anything you want, as long as it’s everything we tell you to say and do in support of our policies, whether you agree with them or not. You’ll have complete freedom … This President doesn’t want yes-men. What we want are independent men of integrity who will agree with all our decisions after we make them. You’ll be entirely on your own … We’ll have to move ahead with this as speedily as possible, although we’ll have to go slowly. At the moment, there’s nothing to be done.”

“I’ll need some time anyway,” Gold volunteered obligingly. “I’ll have to prepare for a leave of absence.”

“Of course. But don’t say anything about it yet. We’ll want to build this up into an important public announcement, although we’ll have to be completely secret … [The president] probably wants you here as soon as you can make the necessary arrangements, although he probably doesn’t want you making any yet. That much is definite.”

“Working as what?” asked Gold.

“As anything you want, Bruce. You can have your choice of anything that’s open that we’re willing to let you have. At the moment, there’s nothing.”

“Ralph, you aren’t really telling me anything. Realistically, how far can I go?”

“To the top,” answered Ralph. “You might even start there. Sometimes we have openings at the top and none at the bottom. I think we can bypass spokesman and senior official and start you higher, unless we can’t. You’re much too famous to be used anonymously, although not many people know who you are.”

Given the dubious résumés of the many czars running around Washington these days, not to mention the tergiversations that comprise the current regime’s domestic and foreign policies, I wondered what a Heller-ific mind would do with today’s headlines, assuming the writer’s politics were such that he or she could appreciate what some of us find so amusing (when we’re not fishing for 50s-era DIY bomb shelters on eBay).

REPORTER: Will the White House finally impose a strict deadline on Iran regarding its nuclear-weapons program?

PRESS SECRETARY: The administration is determined to hold Iran to the deadline previously set, which we just moved to December, unless we extend it further, in which case we may hold talks before the new deadline expires, unless we don’t.

REPORTER: Does the administration see sanctions as a viable option?

PRESS SECRETARY: Viability begins after eight months, unless that would curtail our ability to choose to make it later. But that’s beyond my pay grade. However, viability is not the same as possibility. While sanctions are a definite possibility, we have no intention of imposing them in a viable manner, unless the deadline passes and we don’t extend it, at which point we may call for further discussions about the nature of sanctions, unless that proves impossible.

REPORTER: At what point will the president shut down debate about the public option to push through some kind of health-care legislation this year?

PRESS SECRETARY: President Obama will continue to call for a public option until he stops. It’s much more important that we extend health insurance to everyone, unless we can’t, which would be unfortunate, as we believe more federal spending will cut costs while raising expenses, which would serve to eliminate waste that drives costs, which can only be cut if we impose health-care reform, unless we make everyone sick in the process.

REPORTER: Can the president guarantee there will be no rationing of health care under his reforms?

PRESS SECRETARY: Everyone will receive only the care they otherwise would get somewhere else, unless and until their condition proves unsustainable and thereby threatens care for those not yet sick but who may become so in the future. All necessary care will be made available, but only for those who aren’t sick, which is why we call it insurance. Those who enjoy an inordinate amount of illness, like the dying, may be fined, unless they get better, in which case they’re entitled to all the resources at our disposal.

REPORTER: What about the deficit?

PRESS SECRETARY: The deficit is only an issue if everyone insists on talking about money. If we spend more money than we take in, we will simply take in more money than we spend, at which point we will have to spend more in order to ensure we can keep taking in more money. It’s what I believe is called an algorithm, although don’t quote me on that.

REPORTER: Is the president at all concerned about the outbreak of anti-Semitic vandalism in Venezuela, not to mention Hugo Chavez’s “anti-Zionist” rants?

PRESS SECRETARY: The president would most certainly be concerned if he were aware of it. But since he only knows what he believes, and he believes that Mr. Chavez cannot be anti-Semitic, because he’s a socialist, then there’s no reason to believe he is anything if not concerned. After all, socialism came before anti-Semitism, which began with the invasion of Poland in 1939, while socialism began with the Apostles in the book of the Acts, according to those scholars who went to school in Venezuela.

REPORTER: If within the next few years, Iraq evolves into a relatively peaceful and stable democracy, will the president express regret over not supporting regime change?

PRESS SECRETARY: The president has always supported regime change, as long as everything remained the same. Only the status quo in the international community can guarantee that everything will change in the United States, which inevitably has a ripple effect, causing other countries to follow suit, so long as they don’t blame us, which they inevitably do, which is why it’s best to do nothing, unless that proves a political liability, which is why we’re moving quickly to do less.

REPORTER: Is the administration committed to victory in Afghanistan?

PRESS SECRETARY: Only if we’re certain to lose. If we win, then, as George F. Babbitt used to say, “You broke it, you bought it.” In which case, the war began under someone else’s watch, while the president, then a senator, was looking elsewhere. On the off-chance that we prove victorious, then the president is commander in chief and solely responsible, unless someone else is to blame.

REPORTER: What about increasing troop size?

PRESS SECRETARY: Troop size will increase only if it can be guaranteed that we won’t send any more soldiers overseas. Otherwise, increased fighting will inevitably mean more casualties, which can only result in a diminution in the number of personnel, which would undermine the whole point of increasing troop size.

REPORTER: How did you get this job?

PRESS SECRETARY: I was hired.

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Anti-Obama Wave Builds

In his column in Newsweek, George Will, writing about Barack Obama and health care, says, “His incessant talking cannot combat what it has caused: An increasing number of Americans do not believe that he believes what he says.” Will then catalogs why we have come to this pass. It is a powerfully and persuasively argued case. Will’s piece includes this ominous sign for Democrats:

McConnell notes … that never in his 25 Senate years have Republicans polled close to Democrats when the question is: Which party do you trust most to deal with health care? Until now. Last week’s polling: Democratic Party, 41; Republican Party, 39—a statistical dead heat. On a generic ballot question—which party do you intend to vote for?—the GOP has gone from down 12 points to dead even since November. Independents defected in droves from the GOP in 2006 and 2008, but today only one third of them view Obama’s handling of health care favorably.

The anti-Obama wave continues to build. When it hits shore in the form of elections—starting seven weeks from now, in governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia—I suspect Democrats will incur an awful lot of damage.

In his column in Newsweek, George Will, writing about Barack Obama and health care, says, “His incessant talking cannot combat what it has caused: An increasing number of Americans do not believe that he believes what he says.” Will then catalogs why we have come to this pass. It is a powerfully and persuasively argued case. Will’s piece includes this ominous sign for Democrats:

McConnell notes … that never in his 25 Senate years have Republicans polled close to Democrats when the question is: Which party do you trust most to deal with health care? Until now. Last week’s polling: Democratic Party, 41; Republican Party, 39—a statistical dead heat. On a generic ballot question—which party do you intend to vote for?—the GOP has gone from down 12 points to dead even since November. Independents defected in droves from the GOP in 2006 and 2008, but today only one third of them view Obama’s handling of health care favorably.

The anti-Obama wave continues to build. When it hits shore in the form of elections—starting seven weeks from now, in governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia—I suspect Democrats will incur an awful lot of damage.

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Likely Voters Overwhelmingly Disapprove of ObamaCare

A Zogby International/O’Leary Report poll of 4,200 likely voters has some startling results concerning attitudes toward health-care reform:

Asked if they agree or disagree that the federal government should require all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a fine — a provision favored by Democrats — 70.2 percent said they disagree, and only 18.5 percent agree. The rest are not sure.

A resounding 75 percent of respondents said that taxes should not be raised to fund a government-run health insurance program for Americans who do not have health insurance.

The pollsters stated: “President Obama is promoting a new government agency called the ‘Independent Medicare Advisory Council,’ and some people believe this agency should use its powers to deny payment for procedures it deems unnecessary or futile.”

Critics say such power would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, the pollsters noted, and many consider it a form of healthcare rationing. Nearly 59 percent said they oppose the creation of the council, and just 30.6 percent support it.

Some Republicans have called for provisions allowing Americans to purchase health insurance from providers outside their state as an alternative to Obama’s proposed government-supported “public option” insurance plan. Respondents said they favor such provisions by an overwhelming margin, 82.8 percent to 6.9 percent.

Other findings: 78.5 percent believe tort reform is needed, and 77.3 percent oppose taxing employer-provided health-care benefits.

The numbers are dramatically worse for ObamaCare in this poll than in other polls. Part of the explanation lies in the sample—likely voters seem to hate ObamaCare a lot more than do Americans generally (who may not even be registered to vote). Moreover, getting voters to think about specific aspects of the plan rather than the broad question of whether they like the “House Democrats’ plan” or “the president’s plan” (neither of which yet exist in fixed form) reveals just how averse to a government takeover of health care are those who will head to the polls in 2010. Any lawmaker whose seat is unsafe might want to mull that over.

A Zogby International/O’Leary Report poll of 4,200 likely voters has some startling results concerning attitudes toward health-care reform:

Asked if they agree or disagree that the federal government should require all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a fine — a provision favored by Democrats — 70.2 percent said they disagree, and only 18.5 percent agree. The rest are not sure.

A resounding 75 percent of respondents said that taxes should not be raised to fund a government-run health insurance program for Americans who do not have health insurance.

The pollsters stated: “President Obama is promoting a new government agency called the ‘Independent Medicare Advisory Council,’ and some people believe this agency should use its powers to deny payment for procedures it deems unnecessary or futile.”

Critics say such power would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, the pollsters noted, and many consider it a form of healthcare rationing. Nearly 59 percent said they oppose the creation of the council, and just 30.6 percent support it.

Some Republicans have called for provisions allowing Americans to purchase health insurance from providers outside their state as an alternative to Obama’s proposed government-supported “public option” insurance plan. Respondents said they favor such provisions by an overwhelming margin, 82.8 percent to 6.9 percent.

Other findings: 78.5 percent believe tort reform is needed, and 77.3 percent oppose taxing employer-provided health-care benefits.

The numbers are dramatically worse for ObamaCare in this poll than in other polls. Part of the explanation lies in the sample—likely voters seem to hate ObamaCare a lot more than do Americans generally (who may not even be registered to vote). Moreover, getting voters to think about specific aspects of the plan rather than the broad question of whether they like the “House Democrats’ plan” or “the president’s plan” (neither of which yet exist in fixed form) reveals just how averse to a government takeover of health care are those who will head to the polls in 2010. Any lawmaker whose seat is unsafe might want to mull that over.

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Leave Out the “Panels” Part

Rupert Darwall, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explains:

Rarely has the Atlantic seemed as wide as when America’s health-care debate provoked a near unanimous response from British politicians boasting of the superiority of their country’s National Health Service. Prime Minister Gordon Brown used Twitter to tell the world that the NHS can mean the difference between life and death. His wife added, “we love the NHS.” Opposition leader David Cameron tweeted back that his plans to outspend Labour showed the Conservatives were more committed to the NHS than Labour.

This outbreak of NHS jingoism was brought to an abrupt halt by the Patients Association, an independent charity. In a report, the association presented a catalogue of end-of-life cases that demonstrated, in its words, “a consistent pattern of shocking standards of care.” It provided details of what it described as “appalling treatment,” which could be found across the NHS.

As he notes, the NHS is designed to take fixed resources and determine how ”those resources should be prioritized for those who can benefit most from medical treatment.” It is not surprising then that old people, who use up the most resources in the shortest period of time, are the targets of that prioritization. Darwall argues that the alternative is a market-based system:

The case for ObamaCare, as with the NHS, rests on what might be termed the “lump of health care” fallacy. But in a market-based system triggering one person’s contractual rights to health care does not invalidate someone else’s health policy. Instead, increased demand for health care incentivizes new drugs, new therapies and better ways of delivering health care. Government-administered systems are so slow and clumsy that they turn the lump of health-care fallacy into a reality.

According to the 2002 Wanless report, used by Tony Blair’s government to justify a large tax hike to fund the higher spending, the NHS is late to adopt and slow to diffuse new technology. Still, NHS spending more than doubled to £103 billion in 2009-10 from £40 billion in 1999-2000, equivalent to an average growth rate of over 7% a year after inflation.

The result: well-documented, widespread delays in treatment, overcrowding, and inferior care.

Perhaps then there has been too much emphasis on the “panels” part of the “death panels.” “Panels” suggests an ominous image of individual bureaucrats making case-by-case decisions to pull the plug on this or that patient. They actually won’t need such personalized “care.” The limits on unique treatment options, the artificially induced shortages, the reduced rates for Medicare doctors, and the drug price controls will, by their very nature, impact the elderly and acutely ill most severely. No one need reach out to pull the plug on a specific patient—the patient will simply die waiting for care or in the absence of an approved treatment plan that deviates from the “best” treatment devised by bureaucrats.

Liberals insist there will be no ”panels.” Fine. Let’s leave that out and just talk about death. There will be more of that, as well as elder neglect, just as there is in the NHS if we go down the road of ObamaCare. And if ObamaCare supporters think this is a “scare” tactic, then they will need to explain why patients from other countries are scrambling to get into America’s health-care system.

Rupert Darwall, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explains:

Rarely has the Atlantic seemed as wide as when America’s health-care debate provoked a near unanimous response from British politicians boasting of the superiority of their country’s National Health Service. Prime Minister Gordon Brown used Twitter to tell the world that the NHS can mean the difference between life and death. His wife added, “we love the NHS.” Opposition leader David Cameron tweeted back that his plans to outspend Labour showed the Conservatives were more committed to the NHS than Labour.

This outbreak of NHS jingoism was brought to an abrupt halt by the Patients Association, an independent charity. In a report, the association presented a catalogue of end-of-life cases that demonstrated, in its words, “a consistent pattern of shocking standards of care.” It provided details of what it described as “appalling treatment,” which could be found across the NHS.

As he notes, the NHS is designed to take fixed resources and determine how ”those resources should be prioritized for those who can benefit most from medical treatment.” It is not surprising then that old people, who use up the most resources in the shortest period of time, are the targets of that prioritization. Darwall argues that the alternative is a market-based system:

The case for ObamaCare, as with the NHS, rests on what might be termed the “lump of health care” fallacy. But in a market-based system triggering one person’s contractual rights to health care does not invalidate someone else’s health policy. Instead, increased demand for health care incentivizes new drugs, new therapies and better ways of delivering health care. Government-administered systems are so slow and clumsy that they turn the lump of health-care fallacy into a reality.

According to the 2002 Wanless report, used by Tony Blair’s government to justify a large tax hike to fund the higher spending, the NHS is late to adopt and slow to diffuse new technology. Still, NHS spending more than doubled to £103 billion in 2009-10 from £40 billion in 1999-2000, equivalent to an average growth rate of over 7% a year after inflation.

The result: well-documented, widespread delays in treatment, overcrowding, and inferior care.

Perhaps then there has been too much emphasis on the “panels” part of the “death panels.” “Panels” suggests an ominous image of individual bureaucrats making case-by-case decisions to pull the plug on this or that patient. They actually won’t need such personalized “care.” The limits on unique treatment options, the artificially induced shortages, the reduced rates for Medicare doctors, and the drug price controls will, by their very nature, impact the elderly and acutely ill most severely. No one need reach out to pull the plug on a specific patient—the patient will simply die waiting for care or in the absence of an approved treatment plan that deviates from the “best” treatment devised by bureaucrats.

Liberals insist there will be no ”panels.” Fine. Let’s leave that out and just talk about death. There will be more of that, as well as elder neglect, just as there is in the NHS if we go down the road of ObamaCare. And if ObamaCare supporters think this is a “scare” tactic, then they will need to explain why patients from other countries are scrambling to get into America’s health-care system.

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Oh, That

While Obama devotes most of his energy and time toward health-care reform, the public remains worried, very worried, about the economy. And they aren’t all that pleased with the president’s performance (even allowing for the generous over-sampling of Democrats), according to the Washington Post/ABC poll of Americans:

President Obama himself, who took to Wall Street on Monday to pitch his administration’s plans to overhaul the nation’s financial regulations, also gets a lukewarm 51 percent approval rating on dealing with the economy and an even lower assessment on his handling of the federal budget deficit (39 percent).

Continued high levels of concern about the downturn are taking a toll on the president’s ratings: Among those who say they are concerned about future job losses or pay cuts, Obama’s approval rating on handling the economy has dropped from 62 percent in February to 45 percent now, while it has remained steady among those who are less anxious.

Another key finding: 65 percent of respondents don’t think the stimulus will help the economy. Forty-six percent are worried someone in their house will wind up unemployed, and 53 percent are concerned about hours being cut.

It remains to be seen whether the public mood perks up as GDP ticks upward, albeit tepidly as most economists predict. One supposes that the comfort of knowing that the economy is at least growing again will have some impact on voters. But more likely, Americans won’t feel much better until they see both the deficit and unemployment head downward. Reduction in the former would reassure them—especially independents for whom out-0f-control spending is a top priority—that we have gotten our fiscal house in order and that the government won’t be coming after them with a massive tax hike to plug the revenue gap. As for unemployment, so long as Americans are fretting about losing their jobs, they aren’t likely to view the president as a successful steward of the economy or, more important, increase their household spending. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that either the deficit or unemployment is going to drop anytime soon.

While Obama devotes most of his energy and time toward health-care reform, the public remains worried, very worried, about the economy. And they aren’t all that pleased with the president’s performance (even allowing for the generous over-sampling of Democrats), according to the Washington Post/ABC poll of Americans:

President Obama himself, who took to Wall Street on Monday to pitch his administration’s plans to overhaul the nation’s financial regulations, also gets a lukewarm 51 percent approval rating on dealing with the economy and an even lower assessment on his handling of the federal budget deficit (39 percent).

Continued high levels of concern about the downturn are taking a toll on the president’s ratings: Among those who say they are concerned about future job losses or pay cuts, Obama’s approval rating on handling the economy has dropped from 62 percent in February to 45 percent now, while it has remained steady among those who are less anxious.

Another key finding: 65 percent of respondents don’t think the stimulus will help the economy. Forty-six percent are worried someone in their house will wind up unemployed, and 53 percent are concerned about hours being cut.

It remains to be seen whether the public mood perks up as GDP ticks upward, albeit tepidly as most economists predict. One supposes that the comfort of knowing that the economy is at least growing again will have some impact on voters. But more likely, Americans won’t feel much better until they see both the deficit and unemployment head downward. Reduction in the former would reassure them—especially independents for whom out-0f-control spending is a top priority—that we have gotten our fiscal house in order and that the government won’t be coming after them with a massive tax hike to plug the revenue gap. As for unemployment, so long as Americans are fretting about losing their jobs, they aren’t likely to view the president as a successful steward of the economy or, more important, increase their household spending. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that either the deficit or unemployment is going to drop anytime soon.

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Who Does That Sound Like?

David Brooks, spurred by a radio show that aired the day WWII ended, is nostalgic for an era of “humility.” He explains: “But the most striking feature of the show was its tone of self-effacement and humility. The allies had, on that very day, completed one of the noblest military victories in the history of humanity. And yet there was no chest-beating. Nobody was erecting triumphal arches.” That, he regrets, didn’t last:

But that humility came under attack in the ensuing decades. Self-effacement became identified with conformity and self-repression. A different ethos came to the fore, which the sociologists call “expressive individualism.” Instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation could be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.

[. . .]

Today, immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising, and for the same reasons. To scoop up just a few examples of self-indulgent expression from the past few days, there is Joe Wilson using the House floor as his own private “Crossfire”; there is Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards to give us his opinion that the wrong person won; there is Michael Jordan’s egomaniacal and self-indulgent Hall of Fame speech. Baseball and football games are now so routinely interrupted by self-celebration, you don’t even notice it anymore.

But oddly, there is one very famous figure missing from that lineup who personifies Brooks’s point: Obama. Obama ran an egomaniacal campaign, complete with creepy iconography, Greek Temple stage setting, and promises to lower oceans and heal the planet. Its central “idea” was him—the leader of a New Politics, a transformational figure. Now as president, he, like the athletes Brooks chastises, is a chest beater (“I won”). He too claims to know all (from racial profiling to red/blue pills to the inner workings of the “Muslim world”) and to know it better than others. Unlike the 1945 movie stars whom Brooks praises, there is nothing about Obama that is “understated, self-abnegating, modest and spare.” (We’re not talking about Obama’s views of the country he leads—which is forever required to apologize and atone for sins—but his views of himself and his relationship to his fellow citizens.) Many have remarked on his hubris in the current health-care debate—he alone will permanently fix the health-care system, and he alone is truth-telling.

In observing the larger cultural phenomenon—the journey from modesty to egomania—Brooks concludes:

This isn’t the death of civilization. It’s just the culture in which we live. And from this vantage point, a display of mass modesty, like the kind represented on the V-J Day “Command Performance,” comes as something of a refreshing shock, a glimpse into another world. It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary.

The reverse might be said of the president. Having achieved so little in his career (no great piece of legislation, no business created, no record of military leadership), and having only a failed stimulus plan to point to among his presidential “achievements,” you’d think he would be a bit more modest about his own abilities and a tad more respectful of his fellow citizens. But that’s not his way. In that respect, he’s the perfect exemplar of the disagreeable phenomenon Brooks aptly describes.

David Brooks, spurred by a radio show that aired the day WWII ended, is nostalgic for an era of “humility.” He explains: “But the most striking feature of the show was its tone of self-effacement and humility. The allies had, on that very day, completed one of the noblest military victories in the history of humanity. And yet there was no chest-beating. Nobody was erecting triumphal arches.” That, he regrets, didn’t last:

But that humility came under attack in the ensuing decades. Self-effacement became identified with conformity and self-repression. A different ethos came to the fore, which the sociologists call “expressive individualism.” Instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation could be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.

[. . .]

Today, immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising, and for the same reasons. To scoop up just a few examples of self-indulgent expression from the past few days, there is Joe Wilson using the House floor as his own private “Crossfire”; there is Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards to give us his opinion that the wrong person won; there is Michael Jordan’s egomaniacal and self-indulgent Hall of Fame speech. Baseball and football games are now so routinely interrupted by self-celebration, you don’t even notice it anymore.

But oddly, there is one very famous figure missing from that lineup who personifies Brooks’s point: Obama. Obama ran an egomaniacal campaign, complete with creepy iconography, Greek Temple stage setting, and promises to lower oceans and heal the planet. Its central “idea” was him—the leader of a New Politics, a transformational figure. Now as president, he, like the athletes Brooks chastises, is a chest beater (“I won”). He too claims to know all (from racial profiling to red/blue pills to the inner workings of the “Muslim world”) and to know it better than others. Unlike the 1945 movie stars whom Brooks praises, there is nothing about Obama that is “understated, self-abnegating, modest and spare.” (We’re not talking about Obama’s views of the country he leads—which is forever required to apologize and atone for sins—but his views of himself and his relationship to his fellow citizens.) Many have remarked on his hubris in the current health-care debate—he alone will permanently fix the health-care system, and he alone is truth-telling.

In observing the larger cultural phenomenon—the journey from modesty to egomania—Brooks concludes:

This isn’t the death of civilization. It’s just the culture in which we live. And from this vantage point, a display of mass modesty, like the kind represented on the V-J Day “Command Performance,” comes as something of a refreshing shock, a glimpse into another world. It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary.

The reverse might be said of the president. Having achieved so little in his career (no great piece of legislation, no business created, no record of military leadership), and having only a failed stimulus plan to point to among his presidential “achievements,” you’d think he would be a bit more modest about his own abilities and a tad more respectful of his fellow citizens. But that’s not his way. In that respect, he’s the perfect exemplar of the disagreeable phenomenon Brooks aptly describes.

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Isn’t He Lying?

Tom Bevan notes that no one—not even New York Times columnist Bob Herbert—believes Obama’s claim that he won’t “add one dime” to the deficit with health-care reform. Bevan writes:

Generically speaking, when someone makes a claim that no one believes it’s characterized as a lie. But the difference between wishful thinking and a lie comes down to intent. Because if Obama really believes his claim then it can’t be considered a lie, just as I wouldn’t technically be guilty of lying if I believed in my heart that a greyhound could outrun a cheetah. What I would be guilty of, however, is gross naivete and wishful thinking. So, depending on what you think of Obama’s intent, the best case scenario is that he’s guilty of wishful thinking while the worst case scenario is that he is intentionally being dishonest and misleading the American people about the financials of his health care plan.

But let’s be clear, there isn’t yet out there any health-care plan whereby ”not a dime” would be added to the deficit. None of the Democrats’ plans yet scored by the CBO meet the “not a dime” standard. The White House has not offered one. When you are suggesting a trillion dollars or more in new spending and no equivalent revenue increase, you are, by definition, going to increase the deficit.

This goes beyond wishful thinking. The president can’t give a speech without accusing his opponent of silliness or ”making stuff up.” But the biggest lie—yes it’s a lie—is that the president is going to sign a bill to increase coverage for tens of millions of Americans without raising the deficit. As the Washington Post points out, the Senate is still stumped on how to subsidize people we are going to force to buy insurance without running up the tab on health-care reform. (Think about that again: it turns out it is really expensive to force people to do what they don’t want to do or can’t afford to.) Again, no one has figured out how to pay for the expanded coverage.

However many speeches the president gives and whatever invective he tosses at his critics, the central dilemma in the health-care debate remains this: Obama first pitched health-care reform as a means of reducing the deficit and then as a cost-neutral reform. He gave up on the former claim and should stop making the latter. It simply isn’t true.

Tom Bevan notes that no one—not even New York Times columnist Bob Herbert—believes Obama’s claim that he won’t “add one dime” to the deficit with health-care reform. Bevan writes:

Generically speaking, when someone makes a claim that no one believes it’s characterized as a lie. But the difference between wishful thinking and a lie comes down to intent. Because if Obama really believes his claim then it can’t be considered a lie, just as I wouldn’t technically be guilty of lying if I believed in my heart that a greyhound could outrun a cheetah. What I would be guilty of, however, is gross naivete and wishful thinking. So, depending on what you think of Obama’s intent, the best case scenario is that he’s guilty of wishful thinking while the worst case scenario is that he is intentionally being dishonest and misleading the American people about the financials of his health care plan.

But let’s be clear, there isn’t yet out there any health-care plan whereby ”not a dime” would be added to the deficit. None of the Democrats’ plans yet scored by the CBO meet the “not a dime” standard. The White House has not offered one. When you are suggesting a trillion dollars or more in new spending and no equivalent revenue increase, you are, by definition, going to increase the deficit.

This goes beyond wishful thinking. The president can’t give a speech without accusing his opponent of silliness or ”making stuff up.” But the biggest lie—yes it’s a lie—is that the president is going to sign a bill to increase coverage for tens of millions of Americans without raising the deficit. As the Washington Post points out, the Senate is still stumped on how to subsidize people we are going to force to buy insurance without running up the tab on health-care reform. (Think about that again: it turns out it is really expensive to force people to do what they don’t want to do or can’t afford to.) Again, no one has figured out how to pay for the expanded coverage.

However many speeches the president gives and whatever invective he tosses at his critics, the central dilemma in the health-care debate remains this: Obama first pitched health-care reform as a means of reducing the deficit and then as a cost-neutral reform. He gave up on the former claim and should stop making the latter. It simply isn’t true.

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Always Hope

On the eve of its annual visit to Capitol Hill and the White House, the Orthodox Union (OU) honored Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for George W. Bush, for a lifetime of service to the Jewish community and, more broadly, to the country as a whole through his many years of government service. Abrams, in brief remarks, took on two notions about Israel and the prospects for peace that are both widespread but demonstrably false.

In praising the commitment of the OU to the defense of Israel, Abrams observed that there is one other group whose devotion to Israel, like that of the OU, avoids the ebb and flow of American politics and is founded on faith. That group of course is the evangelical community, whose support for Israel is regularly denigrated by the liberal Jewish community. “But it’s based on their religion!” the liberal Jews complain. Well, Abrams explained, what better reason is there to support Israel? It is, after all, the basis for most Jews’ affinity to Israel. (An interesting fact: only 25 percent of American Jews have been to Israel, a number that, if not already, will soon be exceeded by the number of Christians devoted to Israel who travel regularly to the Jewish state.) So those in the American Jewish community who still view evangelicals with distrust or outright hostility may want to reconsider. There aren’t that many Jews, as Abrams pointed out. We actually need additional supporters for Israel.

But the meat of Abrams’s speech was devoted to American-Israeli relations (which he candidly stated are not good) and the efforts, stretching over multiple administrations, to negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His point was simple: peace will not be achieved at the bargaining table—not at Oslo or Camp David or Annapolis. (The latter example was a frank acknowledgment that the secretary of state and the president for whom Abrams worked were gripped by this same fixation with fruitless peace conferences.)

Peace, he counseled, will not come from the top down, but from the bottom up. Only when Palestinians put aside victimology and take self-governance seriously, cease to rob their own people, build workable institutions, and control terrorism, will there be a true peace. He proposed that the solution may not necessarily be one in which Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace together, but at least in peace—apart. And he suggested a historical model for the Palestinians to follow: Jewish Zionists who came and built a nation before the nation existed, and prepared for the day when full statehood would be achieved. That hope for statehood, as Abrams pointed out,  for decades was not secured with the promise of a fixed time line.

As for Israeli settlements, Abrams rejected the notion that they are the barrier to peace. He reminded the audience that Israel has in the past removed settlements and limited their growth and can do so in the future. The barrier to peace quite simply, he said, is terrorism. He remarked that the difference between having lunch in Jerusalem and in Ramallah is that there are no metal detectors in Ramallah. The terror, Abrams explained, runs only one way.

The attendees at the OU dinner understand and share Abrams’s view. But as to the natural and beneficial alliance with the evangelical community, the majority of Jews plainly do not. It is a tribute to the faith of the evangelical community that the lack of gratitude by the vast majority of American Jews has not inhibited evangelical support for Israel. (After all, they aren’t doing it to be thanked.) And as for the administration’s view of the “peace process,” is there any chance those in the White House will see the light? Well, to paraphrase Abrams (speaking on the prospects for peace more generally), there may not be much of a chance, but there is always hope.

On the eve of its annual visit to Capitol Hill and the White House, the Orthodox Union (OU) honored Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for George W. Bush, for a lifetime of service to the Jewish community and, more broadly, to the country as a whole through his many years of government service. Abrams, in brief remarks, took on two notions about Israel and the prospects for peace that are both widespread but demonstrably false.

In praising the commitment of the OU to the defense of Israel, Abrams observed that there is one other group whose devotion to Israel, like that of the OU, avoids the ebb and flow of American politics and is founded on faith. That group of course is the evangelical community, whose support for Israel is regularly denigrated by the liberal Jewish community. “But it’s based on their religion!” the liberal Jews complain. Well, Abrams explained, what better reason is there to support Israel? It is, after all, the basis for most Jews’ affinity to Israel. (An interesting fact: only 25 percent of American Jews have been to Israel, a number that, if not already, will soon be exceeded by the number of Christians devoted to Israel who travel regularly to the Jewish state.) So those in the American Jewish community who still view evangelicals with distrust or outright hostility may want to reconsider. There aren’t that many Jews, as Abrams pointed out. We actually need additional supporters for Israel.

But the meat of Abrams’s speech was devoted to American-Israeli relations (which he candidly stated are not good) and the efforts, stretching over multiple administrations, to negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His point was simple: peace will not be achieved at the bargaining table—not at Oslo or Camp David or Annapolis. (The latter example was a frank acknowledgment that the secretary of state and the president for whom Abrams worked were gripped by this same fixation with fruitless peace conferences.)

Peace, he counseled, will not come from the top down, but from the bottom up. Only when Palestinians put aside victimology and take self-governance seriously, cease to rob their own people, build workable institutions, and control terrorism, will there be a true peace. He proposed that the solution may not necessarily be one in which Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace together, but at least in peace—apart. And he suggested a historical model for the Palestinians to follow: Jewish Zionists who came and built a nation before the nation existed, and prepared for the day when full statehood would be achieved. That hope for statehood, as Abrams pointed out,  for decades was not secured with the promise of a fixed time line.

As for Israeli settlements, Abrams rejected the notion that they are the barrier to peace. He reminded the audience that Israel has in the past removed settlements and limited their growth and can do so in the future. The barrier to peace quite simply, he said, is terrorism. He remarked that the difference between having lunch in Jerusalem and in Ramallah is that there are no metal detectors in Ramallah. The terror, Abrams explained, runs only one way.

The attendees at the OU dinner understand and share Abrams’s view. But as to the natural and beneficial alliance with the evangelical community, the majority of Jews plainly do not. It is a tribute to the faith of the evangelical community that the lack of gratitude by the vast majority of American Jews has not inhibited evangelical support for Israel. (After all, they aren’t doing it to be thanked.) And as for the administration’s view of the “peace process,” is there any chance those in the White House will see the light? Well, to paraphrase Abrams (speaking on the prospects for peace more generally), there may not be much of a chance, but there is always hope.

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Letting Bibi Do the Dirty Work

Bret Stephens wonders why the U.S. is forcing Israel into a military strike on Iran. The U.S. gave Iran a deadline. The Iranians submitted “a five-page document that was the diplomatic equivalent of a giant kiss-off” and the Obama administration agreed to start talks. Stephens notes:

All this only helps persuade Israel’s skittish leadership that when President Obama calls a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable,” he means it approximately in the same way a parent does when fecklessly reprimanding his misbehaving teenager. That impression is strengthened by Mr. Obama’s decision to drop Iran from the agenda when he chairs a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 24; by Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly opposing military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities; and by Russia’s announcement that it will not support any further sanctions on Iran.

In sum, the conclusion among Israelis is that the Obama administration won’t lift a finger to stop Iran, much less will the “international community.” So Israel has pursued a different strategy, in effect seeking to goad the U.S. into stopping, or at least delaying, an Israeli attack by imposing stiff sanctions and perhaps even launching military strikes of its own.

But despite open discussion of its military options, Israel can’t seem to get Obama to draw a line with Iran or even begin to beat the drum for sanctions. Why? Stephens suggests that this is a plan to turn Israel, in essence, into the bad guys who will strike Iran, thereby sparing Obama from getting his hair mussed. Stephens observes:

It is not in the U.S. interest that Israel be the instrument of Iran’s disarmament. For starters, its ability to do so is iffy: Israeli strategists are quietly putting it about that even a successful attack may have to be repeated a few years down the road as Iran reconstitutes its capacity. For another thing, Iran could respond to such a strike not only against Israel itself, but also U.S. targets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

But most importantly, it is an abdication of a superpower’s responsibility to outsource matters of war and peace to another state, however closely allied. President Obama has now ceded the driver’s seat on Iran policy to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

So this is what passes for “smart” diplomacy: evading our international commitments, shirking our role as leader of the West, setting our ally up to be the fall guy, and advertising to other foes that we lack the will to pursue either economic or military options, even when our own security and that of our allies are at stake. In some sense this is worse than the diplomacy of Jimmy Carter, who lacked an appreciation for the motives of the Soviets until they invaded Afghanistan. The Obama administration understands, it seems, what Iran is up to; it just lacks the spine to do anything about it.

Bret Stephens wonders why the U.S. is forcing Israel into a military strike on Iran. The U.S. gave Iran a deadline. The Iranians submitted “a five-page document that was the diplomatic equivalent of a giant kiss-off” and the Obama administration agreed to start talks. Stephens notes:

All this only helps persuade Israel’s skittish leadership that when President Obama calls a nuclear-armed Iran “unacceptable,” he means it approximately in the same way a parent does when fecklessly reprimanding his misbehaving teenager. That impression is strengthened by Mr. Obama’s decision to drop Iran from the agenda when he chairs a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 24; by Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly opposing military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities; and by Russia’s announcement that it will not support any further sanctions on Iran.

In sum, the conclusion among Israelis is that the Obama administration won’t lift a finger to stop Iran, much less will the “international community.” So Israel has pursued a different strategy, in effect seeking to goad the U.S. into stopping, or at least delaying, an Israeli attack by imposing stiff sanctions and perhaps even launching military strikes of its own.

But despite open discussion of its military options, Israel can’t seem to get Obama to draw a line with Iran or even begin to beat the drum for sanctions. Why? Stephens suggests that this is a plan to turn Israel, in essence, into the bad guys who will strike Iran, thereby sparing Obama from getting his hair mussed. Stephens observes:

It is not in the U.S. interest that Israel be the instrument of Iran’s disarmament. For starters, its ability to do so is iffy: Israeli strategists are quietly putting it about that even a successful attack may have to be repeated a few years down the road as Iran reconstitutes its capacity. For another thing, Iran could respond to such a strike not only against Israel itself, but also U.S. targets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

But most importantly, it is an abdication of a superpower’s responsibility to outsource matters of war and peace to another state, however closely allied. President Obama has now ceded the driver’s seat on Iran policy to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

So this is what passes for “smart” diplomacy: evading our international commitments, shirking our role as leader of the West, setting our ally up to be the fall guy, and advertising to other foes that we lack the will to pursue either economic or military options, even when our own security and that of our allies are at stake. In some sense this is worse than the diplomacy of Jimmy Carter, who lacked an appreciation for the motives of the Soviets until they invaded Afghanistan. The Obama administration understands, it seems, what Iran is up to; it just lacks the spine to do anything about it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

There is good reason to suspect that the Justice Department’s internal probe of the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case will not be all that vigorous. For starters, the head of the office investigating the matter isn’t exactly unbaised when it comes to electing Obama: “So a woman who has given $7,350(!) to the current president and other Democrats is going to be the chief investigator tasked with determining whether the president’s political appointees at Justice (such as Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli) acted unprofessionally when they dismissed this case.” Fox, meet the hen house.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln has more bad poll numbers and faces a tough re-election fight. Supporting the president’s spending plans, it turns out, may be hazardous to the political health of Red State senators.

J Street’s aversion to sanctions on Iran is gaining some attention. As Michael Goldfarb puts it: “J Street is just about the only Jewish organization in America that opposes any and all sanctions on Iran. But it is not clear if they do this out of ideological principle, in collaboration with other anti-Israel groups, or simply to serve as Obama’s ‘blocking back,’ as seems most likely. They will push whatever policy the administration is pushing, and at the moment the administration is trying to stymie the sanctions working their way through Congress. That, of course, would mean that J Street is nothing more than a partisan, Democratic organization trying to provide Jewish cover to an administration that is hostile to Israel — they only stand with the mullahs because Obama stands with the mullahs.”

You can’t make this up: Osama bin Laden’s “reading list” for America (do the book-club meetings take place in a cave?) include Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

The Senate votes to defund ACORN, which Jonah Goldberg dubs a “cosmic comeuppance.”

Rep. Ike Skelton on the two things that can “wreck” America: ” ‘The economy—we go into a deep recession or depression. Number two is Afghanistan and the terrorist threat. They could cause attacks like that again. That’s why we are there—to protect attacks against it,’ Skelton said. Skelton said the president should listen to General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan, who has delivered a report to the president that is expected to request additional [troops] to fight resurgent Taliban extremists.” Skelton isn’t having much luck convincing his Democratic House leaders, however.

Mickey Kaus jokes that it must be an MSM plot to kill ObamaCare—screaming racism, celebrating death panels, and supporting health care for illegal aliens. They actually don’t want to hurt Obama—they just can’t help themselves.

Creigh Deeds tries to pretend that the NRA endorsement of his opponent doesn’t matter. Maybe the Washington Post should have saved its made-up thesis scandal. It seems like Deeds could use a big distraction right about now.

There is good reason to suspect that the Justice Department’s internal probe of the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case will not be all that vigorous. For starters, the head of the office investigating the matter isn’t exactly unbaised when it comes to electing Obama: “So a woman who has given $7,350(!) to the current president and other Democrats is going to be the chief investigator tasked with determining whether the president’s political appointees at Justice (such as Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli) acted unprofessionally when they dismissed this case.” Fox, meet the hen house.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln has more bad poll numbers and faces a tough re-election fight. Supporting the president’s spending plans, it turns out, may be hazardous to the political health of Red State senators.

J Street’s aversion to sanctions on Iran is gaining some attention. As Michael Goldfarb puts it: “J Street is just about the only Jewish organization in America that opposes any and all sanctions on Iran. But it is not clear if they do this out of ideological principle, in collaboration with other anti-Israel groups, or simply to serve as Obama’s ‘blocking back,’ as seems most likely. They will push whatever policy the administration is pushing, and at the moment the administration is trying to stymie the sanctions working their way through Congress. That, of course, would mean that J Street is nothing more than a partisan, Democratic organization trying to provide Jewish cover to an administration that is hostile to Israel — they only stand with the mullahs because Obama stands with the mullahs.”

You can’t make this up: Osama bin Laden’s “reading list” for America (do the book-club meetings take place in a cave?) include Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

The Senate votes to defund ACORN, which Jonah Goldberg dubs a “cosmic comeuppance.”

Rep. Ike Skelton on the two things that can “wreck” America: ” ‘The economy—we go into a deep recession or depression. Number two is Afghanistan and the terrorist threat. They could cause attacks like that again. That’s why we are there—to protect attacks against it,’ Skelton said. Skelton said the president should listen to General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan, who has delivered a report to the president that is expected to request additional [troops] to fight resurgent Taliban extremists.” Skelton isn’t having much luck convincing his Democratic House leaders, however.

Mickey Kaus jokes that it must be an MSM plot to kill ObamaCare—screaming racism, celebrating death panels, and supporting health care for illegal aliens. They actually don’t want to hurt Obama—they just can’t help themselves.

Creigh Deeds tries to pretend that the NRA endorsement of his opponent doesn’t matter. Maybe the Washington Post should have saved its made-up thesis scandal. It seems like Deeds could use a big distraction right about now.

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