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Posts For: December 19, 2009

A Snow Job

Saturday night there had been a promising report. Promising, if you agree with the ever-growing “kill the bill” crowd, which includes everyone but the Democratic congressional leadership and the White House:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led a marathon negotiating session Friday with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in a hectic bid to persuade the last holdout to sign onto the health-care reform bill ahead of a key deadline Saturday morning. . . Nelson left a meeting in Reid’s office, telling reporters, “There’s no deal.”

The sanest statement to come out of Capitol Hill this week had been from Nelson, who declared: “Harry has some time frames he is thinking about. . . But I don’t have a deadline. To me, you have to get it right.” That suggested that Nelson was either a cagey negotiator intent on maximizing his leverage or that he was bent on upsetting the entire apple cart, pushing through the Christmas deadline, and forcing Congress to face the voters. It turns out he was the former.

As morning dawned in snow-blanketed D.C. news reports buzzed that Nelson had come around. Nothing like some Medicaid funding to buy off the Nebraska holdout. The so-called manager’s amendment with the abortion language and nearly four hundred more pages of other decisive language appeared early Saturday morning, but still with no CBO scoring. Aides and activists are scrambling to read and understand the language. It appears as though states will be allowed to opt out of coverage for abortion services (provided they aren’t otherwise legally required to fund abortions). However, taxpayer money will still be used to subsidize those purchasing insurance that covers abortion services in states that don’t opt out. If so, Nelson has abandoned his pro-life allies.

Aside from all the details and the mind-numbing irresponsibility of the entire undertaking, it is the legislative maneuvering which is most striking. The process suggests just how afraid of the voters the Democrats must be. If the timing plays out as planned, a final cloture vote may come in the middle of the night on Monday. Now, if they can’t vote in broad daylight on a weekday after allowing the public to view the bill for a few days, then really, how awful must it be?

UPDATE: Nelson sold out his pro-life allies but Rep. Bart Stupak may not do the same.

Saturday night there had been a promising report. Promising, if you agree with the ever-growing “kill the bill” crowd, which includes everyone but the Democratic congressional leadership and the White House:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led a marathon negotiating session Friday with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in a hectic bid to persuade the last holdout to sign onto the health-care reform bill ahead of a key deadline Saturday morning. . . Nelson left a meeting in Reid’s office, telling reporters, “There’s no deal.”

The sanest statement to come out of Capitol Hill this week had been from Nelson, who declared: “Harry has some time frames he is thinking about. . . But I don’t have a deadline. To me, you have to get it right.” That suggested that Nelson was either a cagey negotiator intent on maximizing his leverage or that he was bent on upsetting the entire apple cart, pushing through the Christmas deadline, and forcing Congress to face the voters. It turns out he was the former.

As morning dawned in snow-blanketed D.C. news reports buzzed that Nelson had come around. Nothing like some Medicaid funding to buy off the Nebraska holdout. The so-called manager’s amendment with the abortion language and nearly four hundred more pages of other decisive language appeared early Saturday morning, but still with no CBO scoring. Aides and activists are scrambling to read and understand the language. It appears as though states will be allowed to opt out of coverage for abortion services (provided they aren’t otherwise legally required to fund abortions). However, taxpayer money will still be used to subsidize those purchasing insurance that covers abortion services in states that don’t opt out. If so, Nelson has abandoned his pro-life allies.

Aside from all the details and the mind-numbing irresponsibility of the entire undertaking, it is the legislative maneuvering which is most striking. The process suggests just how afraid of the voters the Democrats must be. If the timing plays out as planned, a final cloture vote may come in the middle of the night on Monday. Now, if they can’t vote in broad daylight on a weekday after allowing the public to view the bill for a few days, then really, how awful must it be?

UPDATE: Nelson sold out his pro-life allies but Rep. Bart Stupak may not do the same.

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Yawn II: A Dangerous and Inexplicable Boredom

If your Spider Sense told you there was something significant about Friday’s news of Iranian forces taking over an Iraqi oil well – then it’s functioning properly. The U.S. government’s information mechanisms, on the other hand? Not so much. Our officials have given the absurd impression that this is no big deal. Such incidents, we are informed, “occur quite frequently” in the disputed Iran-Iraq border area. (So do a lot of things that we nevertheless bother to warn perpetrators about.) State Department spokesman Robert Wood noted, with an air of giving the correct answer on an oral pop quiz, that the U.S. military was aware of the incident. Then he referred media questions to the Iraqi authorities.

This ineffable performance merits an award for its misleading banality and buck-passing. Given the obviousness of the border incident’s current context, meanwhile – let alone the historical context – real determination is required to ignore it.

The oilfield in question lies in Iraq’s Maysan Province, which has gained fame as the principal geographic corridor between Iran and its insurgent clients in southeastern Iraq. For reasons geographic, commercial, military, and even ethnic, there is nothing random about seizing an oil well in that area. The Iranians wouldn’t be thinking only about oil assets either. In this desolate border territory, an oil well is a major terrain feature: a structure whose control has tactical import.

But, of course, the Iranians are thinking about oil too. Tehran is currently being sidelined from a key event in the region; foreign oil companies were finally awarded contracts last week to develop southern Iraq’s biggest oilfields (map here), and will soon be flooding the country. The huge resulting increase in Iraqi oil traffic and revenues will involve at least some areas Iran claims as its territory. Converging with this development are looming transfers of security responsibility from U.S. forces to the Iraqi army.  The transfers alone would make fresh Iranian maneuvers inevitable. In southeastern Iraq in particular, the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, currently charged with the security of Maysan Province, is scheduled to turn over its headquarters base in Basra to the Iraqis in January 2010. That’s only a few weeks from now.

As Iranian probes increase, the Iraqis won’t always lend clarity to events. Their initial difficulty getting their story straight on the oil-well seizure portends frustrating dramas as our forces draw down, with disputed reports, conflicting official statements, and everyone advancing his pet conspiracy theory. It’s way too early in the drawdown to make “Ask the Iraqis” the answer to every question.

None of this is specifically attributable to Barack Obama being in the Oval Office. But a worsening trend will be the fault of American passivity. We don’t have to have an opinion on the outline of the Iran-Iraq border to affirm pointedly that a peaceful resolution of the border dispute is a U.S. national security concern. We should have done that Friday. If nothing else, we still have over 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. It’s basic self-interest to act like we care what happens there.

If your Spider Sense told you there was something significant about Friday’s news of Iranian forces taking over an Iraqi oil well – then it’s functioning properly. The U.S. government’s information mechanisms, on the other hand? Not so much. Our officials have given the absurd impression that this is no big deal. Such incidents, we are informed, “occur quite frequently” in the disputed Iran-Iraq border area. (So do a lot of things that we nevertheless bother to warn perpetrators about.) State Department spokesman Robert Wood noted, with an air of giving the correct answer on an oral pop quiz, that the U.S. military was aware of the incident. Then he referred media questions to the Iraqi authorities.

This ineffable performance merits an award for its misleading banality and buck-passing. Given the obviousness of the border incident’s current context, meanwhile – let alone the historical context – real determination is required to ignore it.

The oilfield in question lies in Iraq’s Maysan Province, which has gained fame as the principal geographic corridor between Iran and its insurgent clients in southeastern Iraq. For reasons geographic, commercial, military, and even ethnic, there is nothing random about seizing an oil well in that area. The Iranians wouldn’t be thinking only about oil assets either. In this desolate border territory, an oil well is a major terrain feature: a structure whose control has tactical import.

But, of course, the Iranians are thinking about oil too. Tehran is currently being sidelined from a key event in the region; foreign oil companies were finally awarded contracts last week to develop southern Iraq’s biggest oilfields (map here), and will soon be flooding the country. The huge resulting increase in Iraqi oil traffic and revenues will involve at least some areas Iran claims as its territory. Converging with this development are looming transfers of security responsibility from U.S. forces to the Iraqi army.  The transfers alone would make fresh Iranian maneuvers inevitable. In southeastern Iraq in particular, the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, currently charged with the security of Maysan Province, is scheduled to turn over its headquarters base in Basra to the Iraqis in January 2010. That’s only a few weeks from now.

As Iranian probes increase, the Iraqis won’t always lend clarity to events. Their initial difficulty getting their story straight on the oil-well seizure portends frustrating dramas as our forces draw down, with disputed reports, conflicting official statements, and everyone advancing his pet conspiracy theory. It’s way too early in the drawdown to make “Ask the Iraqis” the answer to every question.

None of this is specifically attributable to Barack Obama being in the Oval Office. But a worsening trend will be the fault of American passivity. We don’t have to have an opinion on the outline of the Iran-Iraq border to affirm pointedly that a peaceful resolution of the border dispute is a U.S. national security concern. We should have done that Friday. If nothing else, we still have over 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. It’s basic self-interest to act like we care what happens there.

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‘Tis the Season to Be Obnoxious

Garrison Keillor, one of my least favorite people, has written a column in which he tells “nonbelievers” to butt out of Christmas. He especially objects, it seems, to Christmas songs written by Jewish composers: “And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck.” Dreck is certainly an interesting word choice in this instance.

Some Christmas songs were indeed written by Jewish composers, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas.” (Irving Berlin, just to rub it in, also wrote the most — perhaps only — famous Easter song, “Easter Parade”). Rodgers (who was Jewish) and Hammerstein (who was raised Presbyterian by his Scottish mother) wrote “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” a lovely Christmas song that, inexplicably, never caught on. “Jingle Bells,” however, was written by James Lord Pierpont, who was J. P. Morgan’s uncle. Jewish he wasn’t.

What jerks like Garrison Keillor don’t realize is that the Christian holy day that celebrates the birth of Christ and the utterly secular holiday of presents, Santa Claus, mistletoe, office parties, etc. are completely different. They just happen to both be called Christmas and fall on December 25th. I wrote about this dichotomy for the Wall Street Journal a while back. Jews, of course, often make the same mistake. A few years ago a mother objected to her son going on a class trip to see a dramatization of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, so the whole trip was canceled. Dickens’s famous tale is a ghost story, for heaven’s sake. It has nothing whatever to do with the Christian holy day, but rather with an unhappy old man’s rediscovery of love. Should a class trip to see The Diary of Anne Frank be canceled because the play has a scene in which the family celebrates Hanukah?

Some people love the Christmas season. I’m not one of them. The Garrison Keillors of the world are part of the reason.

Garrison Keillor, one of my least favorite people, has written a column in which he tells “nonbelievers” to butt out of Christmas. He especially objects, it seems, to Christmas songs written by Jewish composers: “And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck.” Dreck is certainly an interesting word choice in this instance.

Some Christmas songs were indeed written by Jewish composers, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas.” (Irving Berlin, just to rub it in, also wrote the most — perhaps only — famous Easter song, “Easter Parade”). Rodgers (who was Jewish) and Hammerstein (who was raised Presbyterian by his Scottish mother) wrote “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” a lovely Christmas song that, inexplicably, never caught on. “Jingle Bells,” however, was written by James Lord Pierpont, who was J. P. Morgan’s uncle. Jewish he wasn’t.

What jerks like Garrison Keillor don’t realize is that the Christian holy day that celebrates the birth of Christ and the utterly secular holiday of presents, Santa Claus, mistletoe, office parties, etc. are completely different. They just happen to both be called Christmas and fall on December 25th. I wrote about this dichotomy for the Wall Street Journal a while back. Jews, of course, often make the same mistake. A few years ago a mother objected to her son going on a class trip to see a dramatization of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, so the whole trip was canceled. Dickens’s famous tale is a ghost story, for heaven’s sake. It has nothing whatever to do with the Christian holy day, but rather with an unhappy old man’s rediscovery of love. Should a class trip to see The Diary of Anne Frank be canceled because the play has a scene in which the family celebrates Hanukah?

Some people love the Christmas season. I’m not one of them. The Garrison Keillors of the world are part of the reason.

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Re: Not an Easy Time for Obama Worshipers

Pete, one feels discomfort watching liberal pundits twist and turn, straining to come up with explanations for the decline in their once beloved Obama’s fortunes. It is embarrassing at times. Jill Lawrence is a case in point. She goes so far as to argue that none of the bad polling is really the Obami’s fault:

So where did they go wrong? What could they have done to avoid what many analysts see as portents of doom for the 2010 House and Senate elections? Probably nothing. In fact, they’d be in even worse shape if they had made different choices.

Really? He’d be in worse shape than if he hadn’t made the choices he made? Frankly, that’s poppycock.  Hard to imagine on foreign policy Obama would be in worse shape if he hadn’t played footsie with the mullahs for a year, engaged in a monumentally stupid settlement freeze gambit in the Middle East, done his best to offend the Brits, yanked missile-defense systems from allies, shoved human rights under the rug, and bowed and scraped before many a monarch. All of those choices have led to widespread criticism from across the political spectrum.

Then there are Obama’s choices on the war on terror. If he hadn’t decided to end enhanced interrogations, go after the CIA, shutter Guantanamo, move the detainees to Illinois, and give KSM a civilian trial, would he really be worse off? The public hates all of these moves, after all.

Then there is the spending binge, the debt accumulation, and the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Had he not delegated the stimulus plan junk-a-thon drafting to Nancy Pelosi and backed a huge energy tax and regulatory bill just when the public was losing patience with global-warming hysteria, would Obama’s poll numbers be lower than they are now? And had he not backed a health-care plan that Americans despise, could he have been worse off? It seems as though Obama’s recent decline in polling has tracked the plunge in support for Obamacare. To borrow a phrase, he’s fallen off the precipice and is now below 50 percent approval in virtually every poll.

Liberal pundits are reluctant to admit that Obama is increasingly unpopular because his extreme liberal agenda is unpopular — and because he’s proven to be a cold and huffy personality. During the campaign and the opening months of the administration, the liberal spinners alternately told us that he wasn’t that liberal or that the policies would neatly fit with the public’s shift leftward. But the public didn’t shift Left. And after telling us that Obama was a “sort of God,” the media cheerleaders are now hard pressed to cheer for a president who has managed to be both ubiquitous and unlikable.

So they spin and contort, disregard available evidence, and suggest that Obama is not really responsible for his own unpopularity. But the excuses are lame, not even George W. Bush can be tagged for Obama’s policy choices and the public has wised up. Most of the country doesn’t seem to buy the notion that it’s all someone else’s fault.

Pete, one feels discomfort watching liberal pundits twist and turn, straining to come up with explanations for the decline in their once beloved Obama’s fortunes. It is embarrassing at times. Jill Lawrence is a case in point. She goes so far as to argue that none of the bad polling is really the Obami’s fault:

So where did they go wrong? What could they have done to avoid what many analysts see as portents of doom for the 2010 House and Senate elections? Probably nothing. In fact, they’d be in even worse shape if they had made different choices.

Really? He’d be in worse shape than if he hadn’t made the choices he made? Frankly, that’s poppycock.  Hard to imagine on foreign policy Obama would be in worse shape if he hadn’t played footsie with the mullahs for a year, engaged in a monumentally stupid settlement freeze gambit in the Middle East, done his best to offend the Brits, yanked missile-defense systems from allies, shoved human rights under the rug, and bowed and scraped before many a monarch. All of those choices have led to widespread criticism from across the political spectrum.

Then there are Obama’s choices on the war on terror. If he hadn’t decided to end enhanced interrogations, go after the CIA, shutter Guantanamo, move the detainees to Illinois, and give KSM a civilian trial, would he really be worse off? The public hates all of these moves, after all.

Then there is the spending binge, the debt accumulation, and the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Had he not delegated the stimulus plan junk-a-thon drafting to Nancy Pelosi and backed a huge energy tax and regulatory bill just when the public was losing patience with global-warming hysteria, would Obama’s poll numbers be lower than they are now? And had he not backed a health-care plan that Americans despise, could he have been worse off? It seems as though Obama’s recent decline in polling has tracked the plunge in support for Obamacare. To borrow a phrase, he’s fallen off the precipice and is now below 50 percent approval in virtually every poll.

Liberal pundits are reluctant to admit that Obama is increasingly unpopular because his extreme liberal agenda is unpopular — and because he’s proven to be a cold and huffy personality. During the campaign and the opening months of the administration, the liberal spinners alternately told us that he wasn’t that liberal or that the policies would neatly fit with the public’s shift leftward. But the public didn’t shift Left. And after telling us that Obama was a “sort of God,” the media cheerleaders are now hard pressed to cheer for a president who has managed to be both ubiquitous and unlikable.

So they spin and contort, disregard available evidence, and suggest that Obama is not really responsible for his own unpopularity. But the excuses are lame, not even George W. Bush can be tagged for Obama’s policy choices and the public has wised up. Most of the country doesn’t seem to buy the notion that it’s all someone else’s fault.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The latest sign of GOP competitiveness and of growing disaffection with Obama: “Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter and Republican challenger Pat Toomey are deadlocked 44-44 percent in Pennsylvania’s marquee 2010 U.S. Senate race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. President Barack Obama’s job approval in this pivotal swing state remains below 50 percent at 49 – 45 percent.” That’s in Pennsylvania.

Three cheers for the status quo: “Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters nationwide say that it would be better to pass no health care reform bill this year instead of passing the plan currently being considered by Congress. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 34% think that passing that bill would be better.”

The president of the Club for Growth mocks the non-binding Copenhagen climate control deal: “Like most Americans, I feared President Obama went to Copenhagen to sign a binding, job-killing, economic suicide pact. I am greatly relieved that the last-minute agreement President Obama negotiated is being widely described as ‘meaningful.’  When politicians call something ‘meaningful,’ that means it isn’t. Without even reading the accord, pro-growth, limited government conservatives today can celebrate the word, ‘meaningful.’  Today that adjective probably saved thirty million jobs.”

The New York Times says the same thing: “Leaders here concluded a climate change deal on Friday that the Obama administration called ‘meaningful’ but that falls short of even the modest expectations for the summit meeting here.”

I think Lou Dobbs has a better shot with Hispanics. From ABC News (not The Onion): “Al-Qaeda Reaches Out to Women.”

James Capretta: “Senator Nelson is clearly uncomfortable with the bill as written. Any fiscal conservative would be. It’s not a close call. As the senator said yesterday, the country would be far better off with a more scaled-back bill. He’s right about that. And it’s in his power to deliver just such a bill. Pushing the discussions into 2010 would not end the health-care debate. It would only make it more likely the Senate voted in the end for something the public — and Nebraskans — would find acceptable.”

MoveOn.org doesn’t think it’s a close call either.

No hope but rather some unwelcome change for poor D.C. school kids: “Democrats in Congress voted to kill the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides 1,700 disadvantaged kids with vouchers worth up to $7,500 per year to attend a private school. On Sunday the Senate approved a spending bill that phases out funding for the five-year-old program. . . President Obama signed the bill Thursday.”

The latest sign of GOP competitiveness and of growing disaffection with Obama: “Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter and Republican challenger Pat Toomey are deadlocked 44-44 percent in Pennsylvania’s marquee 2010 U.S. Senate race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. President Barack Obama’s job approval in this pivotal swing state remains below 50 percent at 49 – 45 percent.” That’s in Pennsylvania.

Three cheers for the status quo: “Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters nationwide say that it would be better to pass no health care reform bill this year instead of passing the plan currently being considered by Congress. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 34% think that passing that bill would be better.”

The president of the Club for Growth mocks the non-binding Copenhagen climate control deal: “Like most Americans, I feared President Obama went to Copenhagen to sign a binding, job-killing, economic suicide pact. I am greatly relieved that the last-minute agreement President Obama negotiated is being widely described as ‘meaningful.’  When politicians call something ‘meaningful,’ that means it isn’t. Without even reading the accord, pro-growth, limited government conservatives today can celebrate the word, ‘meaningful.’  Today that adjective probably saved thirty million jobs.”

The New York Times says the same thing: “Leaders here concluded a climate change deal on Friday that the Obama administration called ‘meaningful’ but that falls short of even the modest expectations for the summit meeting here.”

I think Lou Dobbs has a better shot with Hispanics. From ABC News (not The Onion): “Al-Qaeda Reaches Out to Women.”

James Capretta: “Senator Nelson is clearly uncomfortable with the bill as written. Any fiscal conservative would be. It’s not a close call. As the senator said yesterday, the country would be far better off with a more scaled-back bill. He’s right about that. And it’s in his power to deliver just such a bill. Pushing the discussions into 2010 would not end the health-care debate. It would only make it more likely the Senate voted in the end for something the public — and Nebraskans — would find acceptable.”

MoveOn.org doesn’t think it’s a close call either.

No hope but rather some unwelcome change for poor D.C. school kids: “Democrats in Congress voted to kill the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides 1,700 disadvantaged kids with vouchers worth up to $7,500 per year to attend a private school. On Sunday the Senate approved a spending bill that phases out funding for the five-year-old program. . . President Obama signed the bill Thursday.”

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