Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 11, 2009

A Festival of Light and Freedom

For many Americans, the festival of Chanukah, which begins at sundown tonight, is a blue-tinseled version of Christmas as they participate in the consumer frenzy of the holiday season in a somewhat futile attempt to compete with the appeal of the latter. Some have even merged the two into a hybrid celebration they call “Chrismakah,” in which both Judaism and Christianity are given short shrift.

Equally unappealing is the way that some on the Left have drafted the Festival of Light into the ranks of the environmental movement by attempting to make it a “green” holiday, in which energy conservation and the usual hysteria about global warming are the keynotes. One group pushing such a concept is the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. It takes the traditional story of the miracle of the one-day supply of oil in the holy Temple in Jerusalem that lasted for eight days as a metaphor for the Copenhagen climate agenda.

Though the tension between the parochial aspects of the faith and its more universalist tendencies is as old as Judaism itself, Chanukah is not an empty metaphor into which other narratives or unrelated themes — whether praiseworthy or not — can be poured at will. Far from being a Jewish version of “goodwill toward men” or some trendy contemporary cause, the original story of Chanukah is about something very different: the refusal of a people to bow down to the idols of the popular culture of their day — their resolve to remain separate and faithful to their own traditions. Even more to the point, Chanukah is the story of a particularly bloody Jewish civil war whose outcome has stood ever since as a warning against the perils of discarding faith and freedom to fit it with more popular ideological movements. This is a lesson that applied to the Maccabees, who sought to resist the pull of Hellenism more than 2,000 years ago, as well as to those fighting back against the siren song of totalitarian ideas in the last century.

As such, and as much as the specific religious message of the holiday ought to resonate with Jews, this element of faithfulness and resistance against the pull of both fashion and conventional wisdom is one that can inspire everyone, no matter what their faith or origin. Happy Chanukah!

For many Americans, the festival of Chanukah, which begins at sundown tonight, is a blue-tinseled version of Christmas as they participate in the consumer frenzy of the holiday season in a somewhat futile attempt to compete with the appeal of the latter. Some have even merged the two into a hybrid celebration they call “Chrismakah,” in which both Judaism and Christianity are given short shrift.

Equally unappealing is the way that some on the Left have drafted the Festival of Light into the ranks of the environmental movement by attempting to make it a “green” holiday, in which energy conservation and the usual hysteria about global warming are the keynotes. One group pushing such a concept is the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. It takes the traditional story of the miracle of the one-day supply of oil in the holy Temple in Jerusalem that lasted for eight days as a metaphor for the Copenhagen climate agenda.

Though the tension between the parochial aspects of the faith and its more universalist tendencies is as old as Judaism itself, Chanukah is not an empty metaphor into which other narratives or unrelated themes — whether praiseworthy or not — can be poured at will. Far from being a Jewish version of “goodwill toward men” or some trendy contemporary cause, the original story of Chanukah is about something very different: the refusal of a people to bow down to the idols of the popular culture of their day — their resolve to remain separate and faithful to their own traditions. Even more to the point, Chanukah is the story of a particularly bloody Jewish civil war whose outcome has stood ever since as a warning against the perils of discarding faith and freedom to fit it with more popular ideological movements. This is a lesson that applied to the Maccabees, who sought to resist the pull of Hellenism more than 2,000 years ago, as well as to those fighting back against the siren song of totalitarian ideas in the last century.

As such, and as much as the specific religious message of the holiday ought to resonate with Jews, this element of faithfulness and resistance against the pull of both fashion and conventional wisdom is one that can inspire everyone, no matter what their faith or origin. Happy Chanukah!

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A Tale of Three Obama Speeches

After listening to President Obama’s last two major speeches—his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance in Oslo and his announcement at West Point of a renewed commitment to fighting the war in Afghanistan—many of his leftist supporters are a bit confused. Perhaps the most understandable was the response from Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt, who suggested that everyone just ignore the Oslo speech and hope that its admirable defense of American power will have no influence on the president’s future decisions. While there was much to quibble about in both of these speeches—his foolish announcement of an exit date before buildup in Afghanistan and his blind faith in the value of diplomacy with North Korea and Iran—there can be no denying that after nearly a year in office, Obama seems to be waking up to the fact that his duties as commander in chief require him to face up to the facts of life in a dangerous world. And that has to be something that people like Walt and the members of the Nobel Peace Prize committee can’t be happy about.

In analyzing Obama’s Oslo oration, it is most useful to contrast it with the speech he gave to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo in June. That paean to moral equivalence seemed to win him his Nobel in that it appeared to promise that his administration would be unwilling to see a world where “evil” existed and must be fought. In Oslo, he spoke out about the need for a foreign policy in which human rights and democracy—heretofore supposedly only the obsession of dread neoconservatives—was integral to our national goals. In Cairo, such talk was conspicuously absent.

One can also well imagine how disappointed Obama’s Norwegian hosts were when they heard him speak of the necessity of using American military power in just wars like the one the United States is fighting in Afghanistan. Nor could they have been prepared for his frank avowal that American military power not only conquered fascism in World War II but also largely kept the peace since then. This was, as others have noted, exactly the sort of thing George W. Bush often said during his presidency and often earned him the jeers of the European Left, which cheered Obama’s Cairo speech and its promise of a “post-American” foreign policy.

We ought not to ignore the flaws in Obama’s recent pronouncements, nor his propensity to curry favor among those who hate the country that elected him. But it may well be that the story of his time in office will be determined by the outcome of the ongoing battle between those in his administration who see the world from the point of the view of the Cairo speech and those who see it as enunciated in West Point and Oslo. If so, then hope is possible that as events lead us inevitably toward further confrontations with Iran, Obama will come to realize that engagement must be replaced with action. As his dithering on Iran illustrates, there is still plenty of reason to doubt Obama’s ability to come to the right conclusions about the hard choices facing America. But slowly and perhaps against his will, Barack Obama may have come to realize that as president, he must face up to America’s foreign-policy challenges with the same responses that earned his predecessor the hatred of the leftist elites.

After listening to President Obama’s last two major speeches—his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance in Oslo and his announcement at West Point of a renewed commitment to fighting the war in Afghanistan—many of his leftist supporters are a bit confused. Perhaps the most understandable was the response from Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt, who suggested that everyone just ignore the Oslo speech and hope that its admirable defense of American power will have no influence on the president’s future decisions. While there was much to quibble about in both of these speeches—his foolish announcement of an exit date before buildup in Afghanistan and his blind faith in the value of diplomacy with North Korea and Iran—there can be no denying that after nearly a year in office, Obama seems to be waking up to the fact that his duties as commander in chief require him to face up to the facts of life in a dangerous world. And that has to be something that people like Walt and the members of the Nobel Peace Prize committee can’t be happy about.

In analyzing Obama’s Oslo oration, it is most useful to contrast it with the speech he gave to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo in June. That paean to moral equivalence seemed to win him his Nobel in that it appeared to promise that his administration would be unwilling to see a world where “evil” existed and must be fought. In Oslo, he spoke out about the need for a foreign policy in which human rights and democracy—heretofore supposedly only the obsession of dread neoconservatives—was integral to our national goals. In Cairo, such talk was conspicuously absent.

One can also well imagine how disappointed Obama’s Norwegian hosts were when they heard him speak of the necessity of using American military power in just wars like the one the United States is fighting in Afghanistan. Nor could they have been prepared for his frank avowal that American military power not only conquered fascism in World War II but also largely kept the peace since then. This was, as others have noted, exactly the sort of thing George W. Bush often said during his presidency and often earned him the jeers of the European Left, which cheered Obama’s Cairo speech and its promise of a “post-American” foreign policy.

We ought not to ignore the flaws in Obama’s recent pronouncements, nor his propensity to curry favor among those who hate the country that elected him. But it may well be that the story of his time in office will be determined by the outcome of the ongoing battle between those in his administration who see the world from the point of the view of the Cairo speech and those who see it as enunciated in West Point and Oslo. If so, then hope is possible that as events lead us inevitably toward further confrontations with Iran, Obama will come to realize that engagement must be replaced with action. As his dithering on Iran illustrates, there is still plenty of reason to doubt Obama’s ability to come to the right conclusions about the hard choices facing America. But slowly and perhaps against his will, Barack Obama may have come to realize that as president, he must face up to America’s foreign-policy challenges with the same responses that earned his predecessor the hatred of the leftist elites.

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Andrew Roberts: On Iran, Israel Must Emulate Nelson and Churchill

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

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Let’s Count the Ways

Sen. Harry Reid’s attempt to salvage ObamaCare and his own political career depends on nobody noticing that his Medicare buy-in scheme is the worst of all worlds. But doctors and hospital groups have figured it out, and they are opposed. Citing a New York Times article, Tevi Troy points out that it is really not a good deal for those purported beneficiaries (provided they can still find doctors willing to take Medicare rates):

A family earning $54,000 — a little more than the median household income — that wanted to buy the nationwide Blue Cross Blue Shield policy through the [Federal Employees Health Benefits Program]-like mechanism, would have monthly premiums over $825.  And buying into Medicare would cost $7,600 for an individual or $15,200 for a couple.  In fact, according to former Medicare trustee Marilyn Moon, private health-plan premiums could be cheaper than Medicare’s.

Older voters may not understand all the particulars, but they have figured out it is a bad deal. Resurgent Republic’s poll reveals that “voters 55 and older opposed health care reform being debated by congress by 48-39%, with intensity running strongly against the legislation’s proponents (40% strongly opposed versus 25% strongly support).” And unlike the AARP, which seems to have dozed off at the wheel, over 80 percent of seniors oppose the cuts in Medicare by over $400 billion. And these are the people who vote reliably even in non-presidential election years. Overall, support for ObamaCare is cratering.

If the general public, seniors, the New York Times, doctors, and hospitals can figure out what a rotten deal this is, can the senators? Perhaps they don’t care and think indifference to the voters and to common sense will be rewarded at the polls in 2010. But if so, they must think the voters very dim.

Sen. Harry Reid’s attempt to salvage ObamaCare and his own political career depends on nobody noticing that his Medicare buy-in scheme is the worst of all worlds. But doctors and hospital groups have figured it out, and they are opposed. Citing a New York Times article, Tevi Troy points out that it is really not a good deal for those purported beneficiaries (provided they can still find doctors willing to take Medicare rates):

A family earning $54,000 — a little more than the median household income — that wanted to buy the nationwide Blue Cross Blue Shield policy through the [Federal Employees Health Benefits Program]-like mechanism, would have monthly premiums over $825.  And buying into Medicare would cost $7,600 for an individual or $15,200 for a couple.  In fact, according to former Medicare trustee Marilyn Moon, private health-plan premiums could be cheaper than Medicare’s.

Older voters may not understand all the particulars, but they have figured out it is a bad deal. Resurgent Republic’s poll reveals that “voters 55 and older opposed health care reform being debated by congress by 48-39%, with intensity running strongly against the legislation’s proponents (40% strongly opposed versus 25% strongly support).” And unlike the AARP, which seems to have dozed off at the wheel, over 80 percent of seniors oppose the cuts in Medicare by over $400 billion. And these are the people who vote reliably even in non-presidential election years. Overall, support for ObamaCare is cratering.

If the general public, seniors, the New York Times, doctors, and hospitals can figure out what a rotten deal this is, can the senators? Perhaps they don’t care and think indifference to the voters and to common sense will be rewarded at the polls in 2010. But if so, they must think the voters very dim.

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Doomed if They Do, Doomed if They Don’t?

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein pours through the data and concludes “a difficult 2010 election for Democrats could turn catastrophic.” My own view is that if Democrats pass health-care legislation — and the most recent CNN poll shows that only 36 percent favor the Senate bill, while 61 percent oppose it (79 percent said the bill would increase the deficit, and 85 percent said the bill would increase their taxes) — it will make that outcome more, not less, likely.

ObamaCare is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation we have seen in quite a long time; it borders on being radioactive. It also happens to be what Democrats, including Obama, are pinning their political hopes to. It is an amazing predicament Democrats find themselves in: they will suffer if they don’t pass health-care legislation; and they may well suffer more if they do.

The heady days of early 2009 have given way to deep concern as Democrats look to 2010. As some of us warned when the president took office and Obama was viewed as a demigod by many in the political class, governing is harder than campaigning. But we didn’t imagine it would be quite this hard quite this soon.

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein pours through the data and concludes “a difficult 2010 election for Democrats could turn catastrophic.” My own view is that if Democrats pass health-care legislation — and the most recent CNN poll shows that only 36 percent favor the Senate bill, while 61 percent oppose it (79 percent said the bill would increase the deficit, and 85 percent said the bill would increase their taxes) — it will make that outcome more, not less, likely.

ObamaCare is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation we have seen in quite a long time; it borders on being radioactive. It also happens to be what Democrats, including Obama, are pinning their political hopes to. It is an amazing predicament Democrats find themselves in: they will suffer if they don’t pass health-care legislation; and they may well suffer more if they do.

The heady days of early 2009 have given way to deep concern as Democrats look to 2010. As some of us warned when the president took office and Obama was viewed as a demigod by many in the political class, governing is harder than campaigning. But we didn’t imagine it would be quite this hard quite this soon.

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It’ll Have to Be Worse Before the Swamp Is Drained

Politico reports that a “wave of ethics problems for Capitol Hill Democrats makes GOP strategists optimistic that they can do to Democrats what was done to Republicans in 2006: paint a picture of a majority party corrupted by its own power.” Rep. Charlie Rangel’s ethics probe is ongoing; Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson has been accused of using his post to try to wring campaign donations out of the credit-card industry; the Justice Department is still rummaging around in the lobbying scandal surrounding the PMA Group, which threatens to ensnare Reps. Jack Murtha, James Moran, and Pete Visclosky, among others; and in the Senate, Max Baucus’s girlfriend scandal is growing while Sen. Roland Burris got slapped on the wrist for lying about his contacts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

All in all, it’s quite a track record. In and of themselves, scandals don’t usually take down a majority party, but we saw in 1994 and 2006 how the corruption issue played a significant role. The incumbent party must play defense, its supporters are a bit down in the dumps, and challengers get to play the “Washington outsider” card. And in this case, the Democrats will have Nancy Pelosi’s words hung around their necks:

“Thanks to Nancy Pelosi’s lapses in judgment, the rap sheet on the Democratic-led Congress is getting longer by the day,” said Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “When the speaker promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ she probably didn’t think she’d be fighting off hypocrisy charges four years later heading into the 2010 elections.”

The Democrats could, of course, throw the miscreants overboard and at the very least take away key committee chairmanships while the matters are investigated. But they seem to show no interest in doing that. I suppose the congressional generic poll numbers will have to get even worse before that happens.

Politico reports that a “wave of ethics problems for Capitol Hill Democrats makes GOP strategists optimistic that they can do to Democrats what was done to Republicans in 2006: paint a picture of a majority party corrupted by its own power.” Rep. Charlie Rangel’s ethics probe is ongoing; Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson has been accused of using his post to try to wring campaign donations out of the credit-card industry; the Justice Department is still rummaging around in the lobbying scandal surrounding the PMA Group, which threatens to ensnare Reps. Jack Murtha, James Moran, and Pete Visclosky, among others; and in the Senate, Max Baucus’s girlfriend scandal is growing while Sen. Roland Burris got slapped on the wrist for lying about his contacts with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

All in all, it’s quite a track record. In and of themselves, scandals don’t usually take down a majority party, but we saw in 1994 and 2006 how the corruption issue played a significant role. The incumbent party must play defense, its supporters are a bit down in the dumps, and challengers get to play the “Washington outsider” card. And in this case, the Democrats will have Nancy Pelosi’s words hung around their necks:

“Thanks to Nancy Pelosi’s lapses in judgment, the rap sheet on the Democratic-led Congress is getting longer by the day,” said Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “When the speaker promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ she probably didn’t think she’d be fighting off hypocrisy charges four years later heading into the 2010 elections.”

The Democrats could, of course, throw the miscreants overboard and at the very least take away key committee chairmanships while the matters are investigated. But they seem to show no interest in doing that. I suppose the congressional generic poll numbers will have to get even worse before that happens.

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RE: Painful Changes in the Publishing Industry

I certainly agree with Max that the publishing industry is undergoing wrenching changes thanks to the technological revolution in the midst of which we live. I don’t quite go back to the flatbed press, but I can remember as a hot-out-of-college, $90-a-week (gross!) production editor that books were still being set by linotype machines (“hot metal,” in publishing lingo). The shift to computer setting was bemoaned by many as the sure death of really high-quality printing standards. It caused no such thing, of course, and, indeed, allowed far more freedom in design than had been possible before, not to mention such seeming miracles as changing the typeface in galleys at the press of a button.

The acquisition of many first-line publishing houses by media conglomerates was also predicted to cause the end of the intimate, nurturing, career-long relationships between editors and authors. But actually, what did that was probably the end of the slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts that once were — eventually — read by the most junior editors and now are deposited in the nearest wastebasket) and the emergence of literary agents as the gatekeepers of publishing.

Now we have the Internet driving local bookstores out of business and the emergence of e-books. I bought a Kindle to take to China last summer and loved it. No lugging around 10 or 12 books anymore on long trips (and no difficulty breathing while reading a 1,000-page book in bed either). E-books are still in a quite primitive state of development and will certainly evolve rapidly and become much more user-friendly, flexible, and content rich. But e-books won’t replace regular books, I’m sure, although they might in the case of here-today-gone-tomorrow mysteries, “romance fiction,” and such.

Books are beautiful objects, and I can’t imagine not being able to hold them, feel them, admire them — even smell them — for the sheer pleasure of doing so. (I might be biased: I’m sitting in my office surrounded by a few thousand of them.) And as I’m sure anyone who has ever had the experience will testify, holding in your hand for the first time a book that you, yourself, have written is a glorious moment indeed. Read More

I certainly agree with Max that the publishing industry is undergoing wrenching changes thanks to the technological revolution in the midst of which we live. I don’t quite go back to the flatbed press, but I can remember as a hot-out-of-college, $90-a-week (gross!) production editor that books were still being set by linotype machines (“hot metal,” in publishing lingo). The shift to computer setting was bemoaned by many as the sure death of really high-quality printing standards. It caused no such thing, of course, and, indeed, allowed far more freedom in design than had been possible before, not to mention such seeming miracles as changing the typeface in galleys at the press of a button.

The acquisition of many first-line publishing houses by media conglomerates was also predicted to cause the end of the intimate, nurturing, career-long relationships between editors and authors. But actually, what did that was probably the end of the slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts that once were — eventually — read by the most junior editors and now are deposited in the nearest wastebasket) and the emergence of literary agents as the gatekeepers of publishing.

Now we have the Internet driving local bookstores out of business and the emergence of e-books. I bought a Kindle to take to China last summer and loved it. No lugging around 10 or 12 books anymore on long trips (and no difficulty breathing while reading a 1,000-page book in bed either). E-books are still in a quite primitive state of development and will certainly evolve rapidly and become much more user-friendly, flexible, and content rich. But e-books won’t replace regular books, I’m sure, although they might in the case of here-today-gone-tomorrow mysteries, “romance fiction,” and such.

Books are beautiful objects, and I can’t imagine not being able to hold them, feel them, admire them — even smell them — for the sheer pleasure of doing so. (I might be biased: I’m sitting in my office surrounded by a few thousand of them.) And as I’m sure anyone who has ever had the experience will testify, holding in your hand for the first time a book that you, yourself, have written is a glorious moment indeed.

E-books will, to be sure, change the economics of publishing profoundly. But I’m not sure I agree with Max that they will adversely impact those economics. They might liberate them. He writes,

But the pricing structure of e-books — with most new titles going for less than $10 — severely undercuts the economics that have traditionally underpinned the industry. If books no longer sell for $15 or $20 or more in hardcover, there will not be much left over to support editors, publishers, publicists, designers, and all the rest.

E-books sell for much less, to be sure, but they also cost much less to produce and handle. There’s no PPB (printing, paper, and binding) costs, no shipping costs, no warehousing costs (a major expense, and the reason so many books go out of print so quickly). And there are no returns. In the weird economics of traditional publishing, as long as the title is still in print and the books are in good condition, bookstores can always return them to a publisher for a full refund. As Alfred A. Knopf famously explained, publishing is a matter of “gone today, here tomorrow.” That’s why publishers withhold an allowance for returns when sending out royalties (the allowance, purely coincidentally, of course, often amounts to exactly what the publisher would otherwise have owed the author). Returns can be ruinous if a publisher badly misjudges the first printing.

It will be interesting to see if the arrival of e-books as a major part of book publishing will force a new financial relationship between authors and publishers. The traditional publishing contract calls for an advance against royalties, and the royalties are set at 10 percent of the retail price (on the inside of the front flap) on the first 5,000 copies, 12 1/2 percent on the next 5,000 copies, and 15 percent thereafter. These percentages and numbers are set in stone and have been, I think, since Gutenberg. They are the same for a first-time author of an experimental novel and for the tell-all memoirs of a major and scandal-ridden celebrity with a first printing of 2 million.

The obvious difference in market power is accounted for with the advance. The experimental novelist would be lucky to get $5,000. The scandalous celebrity might get $10 million. Something like 90 percent of advances never “earn out.” In other words, the author is actually paid a far higher percentage of the retail price than what the contract actually calls for. I have asked many editors why this system has to be, why the contractual royalty percentages have to be as they are. They have always looked at me as if I had asked why the sun has to rise in the east.

Publishing has always been and always will be, I suspect, like Broadway, a “fabulous invalid.” Broadway is always dying, but as Oscar Hammerstein II wrote,

Actors keeping acting,
And plays keep attracting,
And seats are not easy to buy.
And year after year
There is something to cheer –
Why the hell don’t
you lie down and die?

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It’s the Coherence

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach – incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach – incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

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What Deciders Must Do

Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, knows a thing or two about surges. He writes in support of Obama’s Afghanistan surge and urges bipartisan support for the plan. First, he must console and assure conservatives that Obama’s 18-month deadline is meaningless: “The president and his national security team have said there is no arbitrary withdrawal schedule or exit date.” Well, at least the security team has said it. He quotes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who’ve spent the past week reiterating this point. And Hadley retraces the significant troop increases authorized under the Bush administration, which has been maligned as blocking or ignoring commanders’ requests.

But his central point is simple:

It will take time and great effort, but we can succeed by convincing friends, foes and our own forces that we are committed to success and will not fail; motivating and enabling the Afghan government and people to accept greater responsibility for their future; and helping Pakistan in its effort to put down its own Taliban threat and control its territory. The last goal is paramount. A destabilized Pakistan would threaten regional stability and ensure that Afghanistan could not be stabilized. Success will depend on proving to Pakistan that it has an enduring partner in the United States. Our strategy can succeed in Afghanistan if we are committed to succeeding, not just getting out.

Hadley’s advice is a not-so-subtle prodding of the president. A successful counterinsurgency is as much about “motivating and enabling” our allies and intimidating our foes as it is about getting the troop numbers right. Also essential to victory is the projection of staying power. And frankly, Obama has been rather mute since the West Point Speech, allowing his advisers to do the clean-up work on a speech that has been seen, by both supporters and critics, as a weak effort in defense of an essential policy.

It seems that Obama’s task is to convince our allies that he is every much committed to victory, yes victory, and to staying put until the job is done, as was his predecessor in Iraq. Obama has adopted the “surge” terminology; now he must demonstrate the determination that will ensure its success. It can’t be delegated to his advisers, and it can’t be hedged. It must be unequivocal and without regard to the sensibilities of former political soul mates on the Left. That, after all, is what commanders in chief must do.

Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, knows a thing or two about surges. He writes in support of Obama’s Afghanistan surge and urges bipartisan support for the plan. First, he must console and assure conservatives that Obama’s 18-month deadline is meaningless: “The president and his national security team have said there is no arbitrary withdrawal schedule or exit date.” Well, at least the security team has said it. He quotes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who’ve spent the past week reiterating this point. And Hadley retraces the significant troop increases authorized under the Bush administration, which has been maligned as blocking or ignoring commanders’ requests.

But his central point is simple:

It will take time and great effort, but we can succeed by convincing friends, foes and our own forces that we are committed to success and will not fail; motivating and enabling the Afghan government and people to accept greater responsibility for their future; and helping Pakistan in its effort to put down its own Taliban threat and control its territory. The last goal is paramount. A destabilized Pakistan would threaten regional stability and ensure that Afghanistan could not be stabilized. Success will depend on proving to Pakistan that it has an enduring partner in the United States. Our strategy can succeed in Afghanistan if we are committed to succeeding, not just getting out.

Hadley’s advice is a not-so-subtle prodding of the president. A successful counterinsurgency is as much about “motivating and enabling” our allies and intimidating our foes as it is about getting the troop numbers right. Also essential to victory is the projection of staying power. And frankly, Obama has been rather mute since the West Point Speech, allowing his advisers to do the clean-up work on a speech that has been seen, by both supporters and critics, as a weak effort in defense of an essential policy.

It seems that Obama’s task is to convince our allies that he is every much committed to victory, yes victory, and to staying put until the job is done, as was his predecessor in Iraq. Obama has adopted the “surge” terminology; now he must demonstrate the determination that will ensure its success. It can’t be delegated to his advisers, and it can’t be hedged. It must be unequivocal and without regard to the sensibilities of former political soul mates on the Left. That, after all, is what commanders in chief must do.

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Thanks, Mr. President

The first year of the Obama administration has been a demonstration of the unworkability of the Left’s domestic agenda. In this regard, Obama has done an immense favor to the conservative movement, which was wheezing ideologically and declining politically just a year ago.

The Obami have proved once again that Keynesian spending schemes don’t “create” jobs. Their ultra-Leftist agenda has fanned the public’s intolerance for massive government spending. And by pushing government-centric reform, they have seen a substantial majority coalesce in opposition to a takeover of health care. Obama has been reduced to pleading at the Brookings Institute for tax cuts, albeit tiny ones, and arguing that he really does understand where the jobs come from. (“Job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators: businesses across America.”) He hasn’t given up on his big-government power grabs on carbon emissions or on health care yet, but he’s gone a long way to demonstrating how unpopular those ideas are and how inept at job and wealth creation the federal government is.

Moreover, Obama has few excuses. Democrats have been in control of all the levers of power and enjoy a compliant media. Yet still, even in a recession that they convinced themselves would discredit free-market capitalism, they were unable to convince the public, let alone governing majorities in the House and Senate, of the wisdom of the Left’s agenda. Card check? Nope. Cap-and-trade? Not unless the EPA can blackmail Congress. A government takeover of health care? Not unless Harry Reid hypnotizes 59 of his colleagues. We’ve gotten to December and virtually none of the Left’s agenda has been enacted. Who’d have imagined it?

The poll numbers in survey after survey reflect a sea change in public opinion away from the Democrats and their liberal agenda. Conservative critiques of the Obama agenda are resonating with independent voters, and a deep skepticism about government’s ability to micromanage complex problems, from carbon emissions to health care, has set in. That’s a remarkable achievement, something that left to their own devices, conservatives may not have been able to achieve on their own.

Obama may still get some version of health-care “reform,” and as the economy revives, however sluggishly, he may recover lost ground with wary independent voters. But along the way, he will have proved that his undiluted ultra-liberal agenda turned out to be economically unsuccessful and politically unpopular. He has in that regard been a boon to the conservative movement.

The first year of the Obama administration has been a demonstration of the unworkability of the Left’s domestic agenda. In this regard, Obama has done an immense favor to the conservative movement, which was wheezing ideologically and declining politically just a year ago.

The Obami have proved once again that Keynesian spending schemes don’t “create” jobs. Their ultra-Leftist agenda has fanned the public’s intolerance for massive government spending. And by pushing government-centric reform, they have seen a substantial majority coalesce in opposition to a takeover of health care. Obama has been reduced to pleading at the Brookings Institute for tax cuts, albeit tiny ones, and arguing that he really does understand where the jobs come from. (“Job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators: businesses across America.”) He hasn’t given up on his big-government power grabs on carbon emissions or on health care yet, but he’s gone a long way to demonstrating how unpopular those ideas are and how inept at job and wealth creation the federal government is.

Moreover, Obama has few excuses. Democrats have been in control of all the levers of power and enjoy a compliant media. Yet still, even in a recession that they convinced themselves would discredit free-market capitalism, they were unable to convince the public, let alone governing majorities in the House and Senate, of the wisdom of the Left’s agenda. Card check? Nope. Cap-and-trade? Not unless the EPA can blackmail Congress. A government takeover of health care? Not unless Harry Reid hypnotizes 59 of his colleagues. We’ve gotten to December and virtually none of the Left’s agenda has been enacted. Who’d have imagined it?

The poll numbers in survey after survey reflect a sea change in public opinion away from the Democrats and their liberal agenda. Conservative critiques of the Obama agenda are resonating with independent voters, and a deep skepticism about government’s ability to micromanage complex problems, from carbon emissions to health care, has set in. That’s a remarkable achievement, something that left to their own devices, conservatives may not have been able to achieve on their own.

Obama may still get some version of health-care “reform,” and as the economy revives, however sluggishly, he may recover lost ground with wary independent voters. But along the way, he will have proved that his undiluted ultra-liberal agenda turned out to be economically unsuccessful and politically unpopular. He has in that regard been a boon to the conservative movement.

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A Bill to Foster True Peace

Israel took a step this week toward improving its long-term prospects for peace and security, when the Knesset voted by a large majority (68-22) to advance a bill creating a ratification procedure for ceding sovereign Israeli territory.

Incredibly, Israeli law currently requires no ratification process — even a Knesset vote — for most territorial concessions. In practice, governments have always sought Knesset approval, but legally, cabinet approval is enough. And because no law requires otherwise, even the slimmest Knesset majority is deemed sufficient: the Oslo 2 agreement, for instance, passed 61-59.

The current bill would require approval by either a two-thirds Knesset majority (80 MKs) or a simple majority in a national referendum. It has therefore sparked howls of outrage from the Left, which charges that this requirement would preclude any agreement with either the Palestinians or Syria.

That is obvious nonsense: more than 80 MKs supported the peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, so the hurdle clearly isn’t insurmountable.

Nevertheless, several withdrawals have failed to muster that level of Knesset support, including the first and second Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza (whether they would have passed a referendum is unknowable). And that is precisely the point: because only agreements with clear benefits and demonstrable chances of success would be able to pass, a stringent ratification procedure could save Israel from disastrous deals.

The Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, which did pass the proposed hurdle, have in fact proved beneficial. Both countries maintain a cold peace and often work against Israel in international forums, but nevertheless, both have given Israelis what they most wanted: no more war, and no more cross-border terror.

The Oslo accords and the disengagement, in contrast, were security disasters. In the first 30 months after Oslo 1, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade. In the second intifada, Palestinian terror claimed more Israeli victims than it had in the preceding 53 years. And since the disengagement, southern Israel has endured almost 6,000 rocket and mortar strikes.

Nor are these results coincidental. The Egyptian and Jordanian accords received such widespread support precisely because there was strong evidence that they would succeed: Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem demonstrated a real desire for peace; Jordan had proved the same via a decades-long cease-fire. In contrast, there was very little evidence of a true Palestinian desire for peace. And while the plea to “give peace a chance” evidently suffices to muster a simple Knesset majority for just about anything, a two-thirds majority is hard to secure without evidence that peace is, in fact, likely to result.

Regrettably, the current bill would have prevented neither Oslo nor the disengagement: it applies only to territory that Israel has formally annexed (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), whereas it ought to cover all territorial concessions. But even in its current form, it would help prevent similarly disastrous final-status deals with either the Palestinians or Syria. Its enactment would therefore be an important step toward achieving real peace and security for Israel.

Israel took a step this week toward improving its long-term prospects for peace and security, when the Knesset voted by a large majority (68-22) to advance a bill creating a ratification procedure for ceding sovereign Israeli territory.

Incredibly, Israeli law currently requires no ratification process — even a Knesset vote — for most territorial concessions. In practice, governments have always sought Knesset approval, but legally, cabinet approval is enough. And because no law requires otherwise, even the slimmest Knesset majority is deemed sufficient: the Oslo 2 agreement, for instance, passed 61-59.

The current bill would require approval by either a two-thirds Knesset majority (80 MKs) or a simple majority in a national referendum. It has therefore sparked howls of outrage from the Left, which charges that this requirement would preclude any agreement with either the Palestinians or Syria.

That is obvious nonsense: more than 80 MKs supported the peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, so the hurdle clearly isn’t insurmountable.

Nevertheless, several withdrawals have failed to muster that level of Knesset support, including the first and second Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza (whether they would have passed a referendum is unknowable). And that is precisely the point: because only agreements with clear benefits and demonstrable chances of success would be able to pass, a stringent ratification procedure could save Israel from disastrous deals.

The Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, which did pass the proposed hurdle, have in fact proved beneficial. Both countries maintain a cold peace and often work against Israel in international forums, but nevertheless, both have given Israelis what they most wanted: no more war, and no more cross-border terror.

The Oslo accords and the disengagement, in contrast, were security disasters. In the first 30 months after Oslo 1, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade. In the second intifada, Palestinian terror claimed more Israeli victims than it had in the preceding 53 years. And since the disengagement, southern Israel has endured almost 6,000 rocket and mortar strikes.

Nor are these results coincidental. The Egyptian and Jordanian accords received such widespread support precisely because there was strong evidence that they would succeed: Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem demonstrated a real desire for peace; Jordan had proved the same via a decades-long cease-fire. In contrast, there was very little evidence of a true Palestinian desire for peace. And while the plea to “give peace a chance” evidently suffices to muster a simple Knesset majority for just about anything, a two-thirds majority is hard to secure without evidence that peace is, in fact, likely to result.

Regrettably, the current bill would have prevented neither Oslo nor the disengagement: it applies only to territory that Israel has formally annexed (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), whereas it ought to cover all territorial concessions. But even in its current form, it would help prevent similarly disastrous final-status deals with either the Palestinians or Syria. Its enactment would therefore be an important step toward achieving real peace and security for Israel.

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Not Quick Enough

Quicker than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would like, the truth is seeping out about his Medicare switch-and-bait scheme. Remove one version of a public option and slip in the ultimate public option — government-run Medicare. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors explain:

Mr. Reid’s buy-in simply cuts out the middle man. Why go to the trouble of creating a new plan like Medicare when Medicare itself is already handy? A buy-in is an old chestnut of single-payer advocate Pete Stark, and it’s the political strategy liberals have tried since the Great Society: Ratchet down the enrollment age for Medicare, boost the income limits to qualify for Medicaid, and soon health care for the entire middle class becomes a taxpayer commitment.

But of course Medicare is already going broke, and doctors are already shortchanged by chintzy reimbursement rates. This creaky ship is expected to take on millions of new patients, many of whom will be among the sickest, as those who don’t or can’t get insurance elsewhere seek refuge in Medicare.

This mad-cap dash for a plan, any plan, that can garner 60 votes depends on no one paying much attention or heed to what’s in it. Unfortunately for Reid, editorial pages, moderate senators, and the public are starting to wake up. (“The latest polls show public support for the Senate plan falling into the mid-30%-range. The remaining supporters must not be paying attention.”) It seems that Reid was not quite adept or fast enough to induce a lemming-like stampede to embrace what certainly is the lamest attempt at health-care “reform” yet. In a year in which we’ve seen some ill-conceived ideas, that’s saying something.

Quicker than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would like, the truth is seeping out about his Medicare switch-and-bait scheme. Remove one version of a public option and slip in the ultimate public option — government-run Medicare. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors explain:

Mr. Reid’s buy-in simply cuts out the middle man. Why go to the trouble of creating a new plan like Medicare when Medicare itself is already handy? A buy-in is an old chestnut of single-payer advocate Pete Stark, and it’s the political strategy liberals have tried since the Great Society: Ratchet down the enrollment age for Medicare, boost the income limits to qualify for Medicaid, and soon health care for the entire middle class becomes a taxpayer commitment.

But of course Medicare is already going broke, and doctors are already shortchanged by chintzy reimbursement rates. This creaky ship is expected to take on millions of new patients, many of whom will be among the sickest, as those who don’t or can’t get insurance elsewhere seek refuge in Medicare.

This mad-cap dash for a plan, any plan, that can garner 60 votes depends on no one paying much attention or heed to what’s in it. Unfortunately for Reid, editorial pages, moderate senators, and the public are starting to wake up. (“The latest polls show public support for the Senate plan falling into the mid-30%-range. The remaining supporters must not be paying attention.”) It seems that Reid was not quite adept or fast enough to induce a lemming-like stampede to embrace what certainly is the lamest attempt at health-care “reform” yet. In a year in which we’ve seen some ill-conceived ideas, that’s saying something.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald catches Obama going neocon and observes: “As evil is now part of Barack Obama’s war lexicon, he must make this point, and he must speak of victory. For once evil is invoked, compromise is off the table. Evil demands defeat.”

Harry Reid’s Medicare “deal” may be falling apart: “Senate moderates who are the linchpin to passing a health care reform bill raised fresh worries Thursday about a proposed Medicare expansion, complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of putting together a filibuster-proof majority for the legislation in the coming days.”

There is “quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.” It seems that saying no to bad policies is a good strategy after all.

The assistant attorney general for civil rights smears the Justice Department attorneys who were on the trial team in the New Black Panther Party voter case. This is not a smart thing to do while subpoenas seek these same attorneys’ testimony about political interference by Obama appointees.

Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren slams J Street: “This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion. … But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke. … I think it’s very important that you be up-front with them and say why these policies are outside the mainstream and why they are inimical to Israel’s fundamental interests.”

Kentucky Democrats blame a loss in a state-legislature race on the national political environment: “Notably, the GOP focused the race on the Democrats’ healthcare proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Charles Krauthammer explains the “shakedown” in Copenhagen: “Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”

Kim Strassel thinks the EPA’s threat to regulate carbon emissions by bureaucratic fiat blew up in the Obami’s faces: “At least some congressional Democrats view this as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year’s election. Mr. Obama may emerge from Copenhagen with some sort of ‘deal.’ But his real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder.”

COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald catches Obama going neocon and observes: “As evil is now part of Barack Obama’s war lexicon, he must make this point, and he must speak of victory. For once evil is invoked, compromise is off the table. Evil demands defeat.”

Harry Reid’s Medicare “deal” may be falling apart: “Senate moderates who are the linchpin to passing a health care reform bill raised fresh worries Thursday about a proposed Medicare expansion, complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of putting together a filibuster-proof majority for the legislation in the coming days.”

There is “quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.” It seems that saying no to bad policies is a good strategy after all.

The assistant attorney general for civil rights smears the Justice Department attorneys who were on the trial team in the New Black Panther Party voter case. This is not a smart thing to do while subpoenas seek these same attorneys’ testimony about political interference by Obama appointees.

Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren slams J Street: “This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion. … But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke. … I think it’s very important that you be up-front with them and say why these policies are outside the mainstream and why they are inimical to Israel’s fundamental interests.”

Kentucky Democrats blame a loss in a state-legislature race on the national political environment: “Notably, the GOP focused the race on the Democrats’ healthcare proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Charles Krauthammer explains the “shakedown” in Copenhagen: “Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”

Kim Strassel thinks the EPA’s threat to regulate carbon emissions by bureaucratic fiat blew up in the Obami’s faces: “At least some congressional Democrats view this as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year’s election. Mr. Obama may emerge from Copenhagen with some sort of ‘deal.’ But his real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder.”

Read Less




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