Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 22, 2009

Is It Popular Yet?

The Democrats are convinced that ObamaCare will be their ticket to political survival, the only way of avoiding a 2010 wipeout. So far, it doesn’t look that way. From Rasmussen: “Republican candidates now have an eight-point lead over Democrats, their biggest lead of the year, in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.” And the president?

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-six percent (46%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President. … Overall, 44% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. Fifty-six percent (56%) now disapprove.

To top it off, Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith leaves the 258-seat Democratic majority to join the “party of no.” His reason? Health care. Honest. He says that “he can no longer align himself ‘with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy and drives us further and further into debt.’ ” Will there be others?

More important, there will be a conference committee and final votes in the House and most likely the Senate (unless the unaltered Senate bill can be jammed down the throats of the House members). In a week or so, this could look like a political debacle. But it’s an avoidable one. And congressmen and senators don’t need to do something as dramatic as leaving their party. They can simply vote no.

The Democrats are convinced that ObamaCare will be their ticket to political survival, the only way of avoiding a 2010 wipeout. So far, it doesn’t look that way. From Rasmussen: “Republican candidates now have an eight-point lead over Democrats, their biggest lead of the year, in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.” And the president?

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-six percent (46%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President. … Overall, 44% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. Fifty-six percent (56%) now disapprove.

To top it off, Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith leaves the 258-seat Democratic majority to join the “party of no.” His reason? Health care. Honest. He says that “he can no longer align himself ‘with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy and drives us further and further into debt.’ ” Will there be others?

More important, there will be a conference committee and final votes in the House and most likely the Senate (unless the unaltered Senate bill can be jammed down the throats of the House members). In a week or so, this could look like a political debacle. But it’s an avoidable one. And congressmen and senators don’t need to do something as dramatic as leaving their party. They can simply vote no.

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No Chair When the Music Stops

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed doubt and concern on Monday about the Senate health-care reform bill. National media haven’t given this nearly the coverage they awarded his expressions of support for the overall ObamaCare effort in July and October. But under the mainstream media’s radar, the Governator was going soft on the Democrats’ health-care reform as early as last week, and the reason for his shifting posture is the cost to California.

Schwarzenegger’s prior attempt at health-care reform in California makes a superb cautionary tale. The 2006 proposal, advanced by Democrats in Sacramento and substantially endorsed by the governor, was eerily similar to the U.S. Senate bill to be voted on this week. It incorporated an individual mandate to purchase health insurance; increased employer costs through either insurance premiums for workers or a tax penalty; vague and open-ended bureaucratic measures to control costs; expanded enrollment in Medicaid/Medi-Cal; and subsidies to those with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level who would be required by law to buy insurance.

There was no question this plan would cost more. Even friendly analysts concluded that it would add between $6.8 and $9.4 billion in state costs, while causing private health expenses to rise by 9.9 percent per year and employer costs to rise by 8.8 percent per year. California, the analysts pointed out, has 12 times as many “uninsured workers under 65” as Massachusetts; the Bay State’s solutions would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers in the Golden State.

Yet, until the housing-market collapse stopped California’s decade-long spending spree in its tracks, state Democrats were pushing their health-care reform proposal vigorously — with the support of the Republican governor. A CATO Institute analysis pinpointed why: the state Democrats’ plan relied heavily on federal matching funds. A bit of comically transparent budgetary sleight-of-hand would have enabled California to shift most of its additional costs to the other 49 states.

The bill in the U.S. Senate this month, however, will impose on California all the inevitable costs of mandating universal “insurance coverage” in California, and then some. California doesn’t have the advantage of recalcitrant Democratic senators whose votes need to be bought with Medicaid-funding relief, as Ben Nelson’s (NE) and Mary Landrieu’s (LA) were. California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are some of the “safest” party-line voters in Congress. The result is a case of unpleasant consequences that must be humorous to those who don’t live in the Golden State.

The game of “musical health care costs” is only just starting across America. Senators Nelson and Landrieu think they have already grabbed their states’ seats for when the music stops. But the impact on the states — especially an unequal impact — may well be the spike on which the Democrats’ plan is ultimately impaled. Federalism, uniquely strong in America, has not yet had its say on this topic.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed doubt and concern on Monday about the Senate health-care reform bill. National media haven’t given this nearly the coverage they awarded his expressions of support for the overall ObamaCare effort in July and October. But under the mainstream media’s radar, the Governator was going soft on the Democrats’ health-care reform as early as last week, and the reason for his shifting posture is the cost to California.

Schwarzenegger’s prior attempt at health-care reform in California makes a superb cautionary tale. The 2006 proposal, advanced by Democrats in Sacramento and substantially endorsed by the governor, was eerily similar to the U.S. Senate bill to be voted on this week. It incorporated an individual mandate to purchase health insurance; increased employer costs through either insurance premiums for workers or a tax penalty; vague and open-ended bureaucratic measures to control costs; expanded enrollment in Medicaid/Medi-Cal; and subsidies to those with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level who would be required by law to buy insurance.

There was no question this plan would cost more. Even friendly analysts concluded that it would add between $6.8 and $9.4 billion in state costs, while causing private health expenses to rise by 9.9 percent per year and employer costs to rise by 8.8 percent per year. California, the analysts pointed out, has 12 times as many “uninsured workers under 65” as Massachusetts; the Bay State’s solutions would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers in the Golden State.

Yet, until the housing-market collapse stopped California’s decade-long spending spree in its tracks, state Democrats were pushing their health-care reform proposal vigorously — with the support of the Republican governor. A CATO Institute analysis pinpointed why: the state Democrats’ plan relied heavily on federal matching funds. A bit of comically transparent budgetary sleight-of-hand would have enabled California to shift most of its additional costs to the other 49 states.

The bill in the U.S. Senate this month, however, will impose on California all the inevitable costs of mandating universal “insurance coverage” in California, and then some. California doesn’t have the advantage of recalcitrant Democratic senators whose votes need to be bought with Medicaid-funding relief, as Ben Nelson’s (NE) and Mary Landrieu’s (LA) were. California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are some of the “safest” party-line voters in Congress. The result is a case of unpleasant consequences that must be humorous to those who don’t live in the Golden State.

The game of “musical health care costs” is only just starting across America. Senators Nelson and Landrieu think they have already grabbed their states’ seats for when the music stops. But the impact on the states — especially an unequal impact — may well be the spike on which the Democrats’ plan is ultimately impaled. Federalism, uniquely strong in America, has not yet had its say on this topic.

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Constitution? This Is Health Care!

In his final floor speech before the middle-of-the-night cloture vote, Sen. Mitch McConnell declared, “It’s now clear the majority is willing to do anything to jam through a 2000-page bill before the American people or any of us has had a chance to read it — including changing the rules in the middle of the game.” And as we now comb through those 2,000 pages, it appears that “anything” is not limited to “anything the Constitution allows” or “anything that Congress has ever tried before.”

A case in point is the apparent effort by Senate Democrats to prevent future Congresses from pulling the plug on the noxious death panels … er … the Medicare Advisory Board, without a super-duper majority vote. Sen. Jim DeMint has pointed out that through a mere rule change, the Senate Democrats are trying to impose a 67-vote requirement, which will be nearly impossible to achieve, of course, to knock out the panels in a future Congress. So if for example the controversial mammogram guideline is enacted by the Medicare Advisory Board along with other “effectiveness” measures, there will be little a future Congress can do about it.

A Republican Senate adviser says: “The bill changes some Senate rules to say we can’t vote in a future Congress to repeal the IMAB (death panels). A Senate rules change would require 67 votes for cloture on the bill, but [Senate] parliamentarian decided its a “procedural change” not a “rules change” so they only need 60. … [It makes] no sense.” He says it is still possible to “find a way to kill the death panels even though the bill changes the rules to say we can’t (maybe deny them funding would work, we could change the Senate rule it creates in a later Congress with a 67 senator vote), but it’s clear the health bill changes Senate rules and needs 67 votes for cloture.” We are apparently in a Brave New World of making up Senate rules. The adviser remarks that Senate parliamentarian Alan S. Frumin “seems to be in Reid’s back pocket and is making stuff up to save the bill.”

In a brief survey of other Senate offices and some legal gurus, the initial reaction was the same: “One Congress can’t bind another.” It is at the very least dubious constitutionally and unseemly in the extreme. This is legislative bullying at its worst — rushed, nontransparent, with an anything-will-fly attitude. Once the public gets a whiff of this and the other shenanigans, one can imagine that their already negative reaction to the bill (the latest poll shows that the public disapproves by a 56 to 36 percent margin, and 72 percent don’t want any public money going to subsidize abortions) may turn to rage.

 
 

In his final floor speech before the middle-of-the-night cloture vote, Sen. Mitch McConnell declared, “It’s now clear the majority is willing to do anything to jam through a 2000-page bill before the American people or any of us has had a chance to read it — including changing the rules in the middle of the game.” And as we now comb through those 2,000 pages, it appears that “anything” is not limited to “anything the Constitution allows” or “anything that Congress has ever tried before.”

A case in point is the apparent effort by Senate Democrats to prevent future Congresses from pulling the plug on the noxious death panels … er … the Medicare Advisory Board, without a super-duper majority vote. Sen. Jim DeMint has pointed out that through a mere rule change, the Senate Democrats are trying to impose a 67-vote requirement, which will be nearly impossible to achieve, of course, to knock out the panels in a future Congress. So if for example the controversial mammogram guideline is enacted by the Medicare Advisory Board along with other “effectiveness” measures, there will be little a future Congress can do about it.

A Republican Senate adviser says: “The bill changes some Senate rules to say we can’t vote in a future Congress to repeal the IMAB (death panels). A Senate rules change would require 67 votes for cloture on the bill, but [Senate] parliamentarian decided its a “procedural change” not a “rules change” so they only need 60. … [It makes] no sense.” He says it is still possible to “find a way to kill the death panels even though the bill changes the rules to say we can’t (maybe deny them funding would work, we could change the Senate rule it creates in a later Congress with a 67 senator vote), but it’s clear the health bill changes Senate rules and needs 67 votes for cloture.” We are apparently in a Brave New World of making up Senate rules. The adviser remarks that Senate parliamentarian Alan S. Frumin “seems to be in Reid’s back pocket and is making stuff up to save the bill.”

In a brief survey of other Senate offices and some legal gurus, the initial reaction was the same: “One Congress can’t bind another.” It is at the very least dubious constitutionally and unseemly in the extreme. This is legislative bullying at its worst — rushed, nontransparent, with an anything-will-fly attitude. Once the public gets a whiff of this and the other shenanigans, one can imagine that their already negative reaction to the bill (the latest poll shows that the public disapproves by a 56 to 36 percent margin, and 72 percent don’t want any public money going to subsidize abortions) may turn to rage.

 
 

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Palestinians See Netanyahu as a “Man of His Word”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

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A Slice, and Only a Slice, of Reality in the Afghan National Army

YouTube has posted this clip about the Afghan army, which was made by Guardian Films, an affiliate of the ultra-left-wing Guardian newspaper in Britain. It is generating considerable chatter in the blogosphere because it presents a dire picture of the state of the Afghan National Army training as seen through the eyes of a Marine Embedded Training Team. As one Marine says: “You walk into a whole squad of ANA smoking hashish. They don’t understand that the use of drugs — it affects the way that they accomplish their mission. Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear.” This has become, predictably, fodder for opponents of the war effort to claim that General McChrystal’s mission is hopeless.

A little perspective is in order. Similar videos could have been made about the Iraqi army a few years ago, or even certain Iraqi units today. Nevertheless the Iraqis have come a long way toward taking charge of their own security, and there is no reason the Afghans cannot make similar progress. In fact, some units of the Afghan National Army are already far along. Many of their soldiers show commendable courage in taking on the Taliban without the kind of equipment or support that U.S. troops take for granted. The unit featured in the video clip was undoubtedly suffering from lack of good leadership — a real problem but hardly unfixable. It simply requires time, training, and mentoring to improve the quality of the Afghan army.

It is also important that we not hold the Afghans to impossible standards. The Marines in the video are clearly disgusted by the idea of soldiers smoking hash before going on a combat patrol. They should realize that the current sobriety of the U.S. armed forces is the exception, not the norm. Throughout history — including American history — most soldiers have partaken of intoxicating spirits on campaign (remember the rum ration?), and no doubt many were drunk or half drunk or at any rate a little tipsy when going into battle. I imagine that, being Muslims, most of these ANA soldiers don’t drink; hash is their version of the rum ration.

It’s not ideal, but it’s not exactly unprecedented, and not a reason to write them off as hopeless. I would bet plenty of Taliban are stoned when they go into battle too; certainly that was true of many insurgents in Iraq. The difference is that they don’t allow Western journalists to film them toking up.

We can’t expect many Third World militaries to meet the standards of the 21st century U.S. armed forces. Heck, even many American soldiers don’t meet the high standards that are demanded of them. Anyone who has spent any time in the field knows that booze, while prohibited, is pretty common on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. So are other rules infractions, including those regarding “fraternization” (i.e., sexual relations). And while the average quality of American units is extraordinarily high, a few are deeply troubled and could be subject to a Guardian exposé of their own.

In sum, the Guardian clip presents a slice of reality, not all of reality. It should not be dismissed, nor should it be given the last word. Until now, the U.S. and its allies have not made a really intensive effort to improve the quality and size of the Afghan security forces — certainly not on the scale of our efforts in Iraq. Such an effort is just now getting under way. For instance, salaries are just now being raised to pay Afghan soldiers wages comparable to those of the Taliban. Let us reserve judgment for a few years and see how the Afghan army does then.

YouTube has posted this clip about the Afghan army, which was made by Guardian Films, an affiliate of the ultra-left-wing Guardian newspaper in Britain. It is generating considerable chatter in the blogosphere because it presents a dire picture of the state of the Afghan National Army training as seen through the eyes of a Marine Embedded Training Team. As one Marine says: “You walk into a whole squad of ANA smoking hashish. They don’t understand that the use of drugs — it affects the way that they accomplish their mission. Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear.” This has become, predictably, fodder for opponents of the war effort to claim that General McChrystal’s mission is hopeless.

A little perspective is in order. Similar videos could have been made about the Iraqi army a few years ago, or even certain Iraqi units today. Nevertheless the Iraqis have come a long way toward taking charge of their own security, and there is no reason the Afghans cannot make similar progress. In fact, some units of the Afghan National Army are already far along. Many of their soldiers show commendable courage in taking on the Taliban without the kind of equipment or support that U.S. troops take for granted. The unit featured in the video clip was undoubtedly suffering from lack of good leadership — a real problem but hardly unfixable. It simply requires time, training, and mentoring to improve the quality of the Afghan army.

It is also important that we not hold the Afghans to impossible standards. The Marines in the video are clearly disgusted by the idea of soldiers smoking hash before going on a combat patrol. They should realize that the current sobriety of the U.S. armed forces is the exception, not the norm. Throughout history — including American history — most soldiers have partaken of intoxicating spirits on campaign (remember the rum ration?), and no doubt many were drunk or half drunk or at any rate a little tipsy when going into battle. I imagine that, being Muslims, most of these ANA soldiers don’t drink; hash is their version of the rum ration.

It’s not ideal, but it’s not exactly unprecedented, and not a reason to write them off as hopeless. I would bet plenty of Taliban are stoned when they go into battle too; certainly that was true of many insurgents in Iraq. The difference is that they don’t allow Western journalists to film them toking up.

We can’t expect many Third World militaries to meet the standards of the 21st century U.S. armed forces. Heck, even many American soldiers don’t meet the high standards that are demanded of them. Anyone who has spent any time in the field knows that booze, while prohibited, is pretty common on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. So are other rules infractions, including those regarding “fraternization” (i.e., sexual relations). And while the average quality of American units is extraordinarily high, a few are deeply troubled and could be subject to a Guardian exposé of their own.

In sum, the Guardian clip presents a slice of reality, not all of reality. It should not be dismissed, nor should it be given the last word. Until now, the U.S. and its allies have not made a really intensive effort to improve the quality and size of the Afghan security forces — certainly not on the scale of our efforts in Iraq. Such an effort is just now getting under way. For instance, salaries are just now being raised to pay Afghan soldiers wages comparable to those of the Taliban. Let us reserve judgment for a few years and see how the Afghan army does then.

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The Black Panther Case’s January Deadlines

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, I am informed, will be moving forward on two fronts with its investigation of the dismissal by the Obama Justice Department of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. Responses to the commission’s document requests and interrogatories are due on January 11. On January 15, the commission will meet and is expected to vote to schedule a February hearing in which it can begin to gather evidence and attempt to unearth what occurred behind the shuttered doors of the Obama Justice Department. At a hearing, one can expect witness testimony about the underlying incident, which took place on Election Day 2008 in Philadelphia; there will also be evidence presented concerning the intervention of Obama political appointees — at least to the extent that the Obama DOJ has complied with the written discovery requests.

As for the depositions of DOJ employees, sources tell me that unless an accommodation can quickly be reached with the Justice Department, the depositions will be reset in January. And those subpoenaed employees may then have ample opportunity to, if they desire, go to court seeking clarification as to whether a DOJ regulation invoked by the Obama administration to block their appearance (but which appears to apply to court proceedings, not to those of an independent body like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) bars their compliance with a subpoena issued pursuant to the commission’s statutory authority.

Meanwhile, Congress may also have something to say in January. The resolution of inquiry introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf has a clock ticking. The House Judiciary Committee must consider the resolution that calls for the Justice Department to provide information to Congress concerning the dismissal of the case. A Wolf adviser informed me: “We suspect that it will either be the last week of January or first week of February — they have 14 legislative days to consider, so it depends on the House schedule for January.” If the requisite number of committee members demand it, there will be a roll-call vote. Wolf’s adviser observed, “I suspect that the committee Republicans will call for and receive a roll-call vote.” We can expect that Democrats will vote it down on a straight party-line vote, but the debate is likely to be informative and provide the first chance for Congress to exercise any oversight responsibility in a serious matter of voter intimidation.

The mystery, however, continues for now: why did the Justice Department yank the case, and what is it now trying to hide? We may finally get some preliminary answers in January.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, I am informed, will be moving forward on two fronts with its investigation of the dismissal by the Obama Justice Department of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. Responses to the commission’s document requests and interrogatories are due on January 11. On January 15, the commission will meet and is expected to vote to schedule a February hearing in which it can begin to gather evidence and attempt to unearth what occurred behind the shuttered doors of the Obama Justice Department. At a hearing, one can expect witness testimony about the underlying incident, which took place on Election Day 2008 in Philadelphia; there will also be evidence presented concerning the intervention of Obama political appointees — at least to the extent that the Obama DOJ has complied with the written discovery requests.

As for the depositions of DOJ employees, sources tell me that unless an accommodation can quickly be reached with the Justice Department, the depositions will be reset in January. And those subpoenaed employees may then have ample opportunity to, if they desire, go to court seeking clarification as to whether a DOJ regulation invoked by the Obama administration to block their appearance (but which appears to apply to court proceedings, not to those of an independent body like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) bars their compliance with a subpoena issued pursuant to the commission’s statutory authority.

Meanwhile, Congress may also have something to say in January. The resolution of inquiry introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf has a clock ticking. The House Judiciary Committee must consider the resolution that calls for the Justice Department to provide information to Congress concerning the dismissal of the case. A Wolf adviser informed me: “We suspect that it will either be the last week of January or first week of February — they have 14 legislative days to consider, so it depends on the House schedule for January.” If the requisite number of committee members demand it, there will be a roll-call vote. Wolf’s adviser observed, “I suspect that the committee Republicans will call for and receive a roll-call vote.” We can expect that Democrats will vote it down on a straight party-line vote, but the debate is likely to be informative and provide the first chance for Congress to exercise any oversight responsibility in a serious matter of voter intimidation.

The mystery, however, continues for now: why did the Justice Department yank the case, and what is it now trying to hide? We may finally get some preliminary answers in January.

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The Cornhusker Highjack and the Constitution

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was handsomely bribed to vote for cloture on the health-care bill. While most states will have to pick up much of the tab for new enrollees in Medicaid beginning in 2017, Nebraska will not. Instead, the federal government will pay for that state’s increased costs.

Such bribery has a long history in Congress, but so far as I know (and I’d be delighted to hear of other, earlier instances), bribes always came in the form of highways, post offices, bridges to nowhere, and other infrastructure, or in offers of higher office for the person being bribed. They were not in the form of a special deal allowing a particular, not impoverished state to have a lower share of costs in an ongoing federal program. There are, of course, plenty of the old-fashioned sorts of bribes in this bill. Connecticut will get a new hospital at federal expense, for instance.

But is it constitutional for the federal government to give some states a better deal on a national program than it does other states? It is not obviously unconstitutional, as, say, having a lower federal income tax rate for Nebraska would be, since Art. I, Sec. 8, requires that “all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” However, one could argue that Nebraskans will be getting what amounts to a rebate on federal taxes through the back door of lower state taxes.

Another constitutional provision, in Art. IV, Sec. 2, provides that the “Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in Several States.” But this clause has always been interpreted to apply to state action vis-à-vis citizens of other states, forbidding them to discriminate against nonresidents, such as forbidding nonresidents to be admitted to the state bar. The privileges and immunities clause in the Fourteenth Amendment applies specifically to states.

Yet another provision, in Art. I, Sec. 9, requires that “No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another.” The health-care bill’s constitutional underpinning is the commerce clause of Art. I, Sec. 8, giving Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations and among the several States.” Narrowly interpreted, the ports clause is simply a limitation on that power, forbidding the federal government from, say, requiring that all imports of steel flow through the port of Charleston. More broadly interpreted, it can be construed to forbid the federal government from using its powers under the commerce clause to discriminate among the states.

How would the Supreme Court rule here? Well, first one has to ask who would have standing to sue. Individuals almost certainly would not under the first two arguments above, as an individual’s interest is too small. But states might well have standing to sue with regard to the ports clause. How a state so suing would fare is anyone’s guess. A strict constructionist would throw the case out of court. Nebraska, after all, doesn’t have any ports in the 18th-century sense (although it does have a navy). But it is not too great a stretch to say that the bribe that Nelson received violates the clear spirit of the ports clause — that powers under the commerce clause must be applied equally in all states. It was just this type of reasoning that led the Supreme Court to rule in the 1920s that tapping a telephone line required a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment, which, of course, nowhere mentions telephones.

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was handsomely bribed to vote for cloture on the health-care bill. While most states will have to pick up much of the tab for new enrollees in Medicaid beginning in 2017, Nebraska will not. Instead, the federal government will pay for that state’s increased costs.

Such bribery has a long history in Congress, but so far as I know (and I’d be delighted to hear of other, earlier instances), bribes always came in the form of highways, post offices, bridges to nowhere, and other infrastructure, or in offers of higher office for the person being bribed. They were not in the form of a special deal allowing a particular, not impoverished state to have a lower share of costs in an ongoing federal program. There are, of course, plenty of the old-fashioned sorts of bribes in this bill. Connecticut will get a new hospital at federal expense, for instance.

But is it constitutional for the federal government to give some states a better deal on a national program than it does other states? It is not obviously unconstitutional, as, say, having a lower federal income tax rate for Nebraska would be, since Art. I, Sec. 8, requires that “all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” However, one could argue that Nebraskans will be getting what amounts to a rebate on federal taxes through the back door of lower state taxes.

Another constitutional provision, in Art. IV, Sec. 2, provides that the “Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in Several States.” But this clause has always been interpreted to apply to state action vis-à-vis citizens of other states, forbidding them to discriminate against nonresidents, such as forbidding nonresidents to be admitted to the state bar. The privileges and immunities clause in the Fourteenth Amendment applies specifically to states.

Yet another provision, in Art. I, Sec. 9, requires that “No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another.” The health-care bill’s constitutional underpinning is the commerce clause of Art. I, Sec. 8, giving Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations and among the several States.” Narrowly interpreted, the ports clause is simply a limitation on that power, forbidding the federal government from, say, requiring that all imports of steel flow through the port of Charleston. More broadly interpreted, it can be construed to forbid the federal government from using its powers under the commerce clause to discriminate among the states.

How would the Supreme Court rule here? Well, first one has to ask who would have standing to sue. Individuals almost certainly would not under the first two arguments above, as an individual’s interest is too small. But states might well have standing to sue with regard to the ports clause. How a state so suing would fare is anyone’s guess. A strict constructionist would throw the case out of court. Nebraska, after all, doesn’t have any ports in the 18th-century sense (although it does have a navy). But it is not too great a stretch to say that the bribe that Nelson received violates the clear spirit of the ports clause — that powers under the commerce clause must be applied equally in all states. It was just this type of reasoning that led the Supreme Court to rule in the 1920s that tapping a telephone line required a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment, which, of course, nowhere mentions telephones.

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Virginia Backlash?

The Washington Post highlights the four vulnerable Democratic congressmen who will need to face the voters in 2010. The bottom line:

Republican leaders think that they can reclaim at least two of the three seats they lost last year, when President Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia. They also think that the political climate has changed so decisively that they can unseat U.S. Rep. Rick C. Boucher, a 28-year incumbent from the far southwestern part of the state, where antipathy toward Obama and national Democratic policies run strong. And they are planning a well-financed challenge to Gerald E. Connolly of the Washington suburbs, where victory is possible although more difficult, they say.

What the Post avoids mentioning — because that might remind readers of their own ill-fated crusade for his opponent — is that Bob McDonnell won big in each of these districts running against the Democrats’ national agenda. Even in increasingly Democratic Fairfax county, McDonnell prevailed. How much stronger will the GOP message be in that affluent suburb, what with a new bevy of taxes passed in the name of health care?

And these Democrats shouldn’t count on Obama to help them. Indeed, they’re going to have to put some distance there. Obama’s disapproval rating exceeds his approval rating in Virginia. So the task for Democrats will be to explain to voters that they’re somehow different from Obama or that they will defend their constituents’ interests. But that’s an uphill climb after voting for the tax- and spend-athon and ObamaCare. Republicans are understandably delighted, having watched McDonnell test run their anti-government and anti-Obamaism message. And Democrats who enabled the leftward lurch are right to be nervous.

The Washington Post highlights the four vulnerable Democratic congressmen who will need to face the voters in 2010. The bottom line:

Republican leaders think that they can reclaim at least two of the three seats they lost last year, when President Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia. They also think that the political climate has changed so decisively that they can unseat U.S. Rep. Rick C. Boucher, a 28-year incumbent from the far southwestern part of the state, where antipathy toward Obama and national Democratic policies run strong. And they are planning a well-financed challenge to Gerald E. Connolly of the Washington suburbs, where victory is possible although more difficult, they say.

What the Post avoids mentioning — because that might remind readers of their own ill-fated crusade for his opponent — is that Bob McDonnell won big in each of these districts running against the Democrats’ national agenda. Even in increasingly Democratic Fairfax county, McDonnell prevailed. How much stronger will the GOP message be in that affluent suburb, what with a new bevy of taxes passed in the name of health care?

And these Democrats shouldn’t count on Obama to help them. Indeed, they’re going to have to put some distance there. Obama’s disapproval rating exceeds his approval rating in Virginia. So the task for Democrats will be to explain to voters that they’re somehow different from Obama or that they will defend their constituents’ interests. But that’s an uphill climb after voting for the tax- and spend-athon and ObamaCare. Republicans are understandably delighted, having watched McDonnell test run their anti-government and anti-Obamaism message. And Democrats who enabled the leftward lurch are right to be nervous.

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The Policy of Condolence Cards

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali and the ensuing enormous public demonstrations in Iran raise once again a troubling question about the incoherence of Obama’s Iran policy. Gerald Seib, ever so mildly, raises the issue:

Thus, the chance that Ayatollah Montazeri may take on in death an opposition role greater than the one he was playing in the final weeks of life. Odds are equally good that Mr. Ahmadinejad will try, perhaps brutally, to suppress that impulse. In either case, the developments pose a new test for President Barack Obama. He continues to try to deal with the Iranian regime while showing sympathy for the opposition movement that wants to be rid of it. That balancing act will get tougher as the U.S. moves next month toward more economic sanctions against Iran’s government to protest its nuclear program.

Translation: it’s hard to square Obama’s heartfelt words six months after the June 12 election with his consistent pattern of undermining the protesters and engaging — that is, bestowing legitimacy upon — their jailers.

The editors of Seib’s paper are more direct:

The foundation stones of Iran’s Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran’s democrats. … Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

So what are we doing? We’ve sent condolences to “Montazeri’s friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.” But the administration still holds out hope that we can get the regime back to the bargaining table, if only they’d take us seriously. The obvious way to square Obama’s supposed concern for the democracy advocates and his alleged determination to halt Iran’s nuclear program would be to assist the Iranian people in obtaining a new government for themselves. So perhaps neither goal is really high on the Obami’s priority list. Perhaps they simply intend to “manage” the situation and will try to “deter” the rabid revolutionary regime. It seems unimaginable — except that it explains all their policy choices and rhetoric to date.

For now, we have a policy resting on insincerity and feebleness. The mullahs will act accordingly.

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Assad Returns as the Strong Horse

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah’s bayonet in his back.

Assad’s regime assassinated Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically “positive” statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri’s house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can’t quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it’s not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government’s cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis. Read More

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah’s bayonet in his back.

Assad’s regime assassinated Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically “positive” statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri’s house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can’t quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it’s not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government’s cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis.

Hariri and his allies in parliament resisted an extraordinary amount of pressure on these points for months before caving in, but cave in they did. They didn’t have much choice. The national army isn’t strong enough to disarm Hezbollah, and unlike Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei, Hariri doesn’t have his own private army. Hezbollah militiamen surrounded his house last year and firebombed his TV station when the government shut down its illegal surveillance system at the airport. At the end of the day, Hariri has to do what Hezbollah and its friends say unless someone with a bigger stick covers his back when push comes to shove.

No one has Hariri’s or Lebanon’s back, not anymore. He and his allies in the “March 14″ coalition have sensed this for some time, which is why Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has grudgingly softened his opposition to Assad and Hezbollah lately. When Hariri went to Damascus, everyone in the country, aside from useless newswire reporters, understood it meant Syria has re-emerged as the strong horse in Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt is another member of what David Schenker calls the Murdered Fathers Club. Assad’s ruthless late father, Hafez Assad, put Jumblatt through a similarly gruesome experience back in the 70s during the civil war. First Assad murdered Walid’s father, Kamal, then summoned the surviving Jumblatt to Damascus and forced him to shake hands and pledge his allegiance. Who can even imagine what that must have felt like? Hariri knows now, and Jumblatt still tells everyone he meets all about it.

Hariri generally doesn’t like having long conversations with journalists on the record because he doesn’t want to calculate how everything he says will be simultaneously interpreted in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Israel, the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia. I can’t say I blame him. He lives under virtual house arrest as it is, with barely more freedom of movement than Hassan Nasrallah. Here is something he said, though, back when it was safer for him to do so: “Action must be taken against Syria, like isolation, to make the Syrians understand that killing members of [Lebanon’s] parliament will have consequences.”

The U.S. and France did effectively isolate Assad with Saudi assistance when George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac were in charge, but presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy think they can save the Middle East by “engaging” its most toxic leaders. Syria, therefore, is no longer isolated. Lebanon’s little anti-Syrian government doesn’t stand a chance under these circumstances, especially not when Hezbollah is the dominant military power in the country.

“It’s a dangerous game these people are playing,” Lebanese activist and political analyst Eli Khoury said last time I spoke with him in Beirut, “but I think it’s only a matter of time until the newcomers burn their fingers with the same realities that we’ve seen over and over again. I’ve seen every strategy: Kissinger’s step-by-step approach, full engagement — which means sleeping with the enemy, basically — and the solid stand as with the Bush Administration. I’ve seen them all. The only one that works so far in my opinion, aside from some real stupid and dumb mistakes, is the severing of relationships. It made the Syrians behave.”

It did make the Syrians behave a bit for a while, but now the U.S., France, and Saudi Arabia are bringing Assad in from the cold and giving him cocoa. His influence, naturally, is rising again, in Lebanon and everywhere else. That’s good news for Hezbollah, of course, which means it’s also good news for Iran. It’s bad news for the Lebanese, the Americans, the French, the Saudis, and the Israelis. None of this was inevitable, but — in Lebanon, at least — it was predictable.

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You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

It sounds like a joke, but it’s all too real. John McCormack reports: “Senator Roland Burris is claiming credit for a provision in Harry Reid’s ‘manager’s amendment,’ unveiled Saturday morning, that could funnel money to ACORN through the health care bill.” And your problem is? Really, this is a graft-athon, so it’s only fitting that the senator selected by the most notoriously corrupt governor in America (a senator, by the way, who also lied about his connection to that same governor, only to be given a stern look and a slap on the wrist by his colleagues) would insert into the bill an earmark for “the Office of Minority Health” to be voted on in the middle of night so as to deliver a goodie bag for the most notoriously corrupt organization in America. It’s as if there were a conspiracy to see if Jon Stewart can be left speechless.

McCormack explains:

Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a ban on federal funding for ACORN, but a judge ruled that that law was unconstitutional. If a higher court reverses that ruling, ACORN may be prohibited from receiving funds through the Office of Minority Health earmark. But according to the Senate legislative aide, ACORN would still “absolutely” qualify for federal funding through the provision in the underlying Reid bill because the anti-ACORN appropriations amendment would not apply to funds provided through the health care exchanges.

A spokesman for Sen. Harkin, chairman of the HELP committee, wrote in an email that he “will look into” which organizations qualify for funding under these provisions. Spokesmen for Senators Reid and Dodd did not immediately reply to emails.

This is what comes from a legislative process as noxious as this. (It almost obscures another issue: why do we fund health care by race?) Dana Milbank dubs it the “cash for cloture” bill. Indeed, it may replace the infamous transportation bill that gave us the “Bridge to Nowhere” as the symbol par excellence of congressional graft. He explains:

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) even disavowed Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback. “Nebraskans are frustrated and angry that our beloved state has been thrust into the same pot with all of the other special deals that get cut here,” he reported.

The accusations must worry Democrats, for Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), facing a difficult 2010 reelection contest, went to the Senate floor to declare: “I’m not happy about the backroom deals.”

I think Burris isn’t likely to be worried or embarrassed. But perhaps it’s just a bit too ludicrous to defend, so the conference committee might see fit to lose the ACORN handout. I’m sure Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can come up with an appropriate substitute to satisfy the junior senator from Illinois. Maybe a public-works project to improve and expand this structure.

It sounds like a joke, but it’s all too real. John McCormack reports: “Senator Roland Burris is claiming credit for a provision in Harry Reid’s ‘manager’s amendment,’ unveiled Saturday morning, that could funnel money to ACORN through the health care bill.” And your problem is? Really, this is a graft-athon, so it’s only fitting that the senator selected by the most notoriously corrupt governor in America (a senator, by the way, who also lied about his connection to that same governor, only to be given a stern look and a slap on the wrist by his colleagues) would insert into the bill an earmark for “the Office of Minority Health” to be voted on in the middle of night so as to deliver a goodie bag for the most notoriously corrupt organization in America. It’s as if there were a conspiracy to see if Jon Stewart can be left speechless.

McCormack explains:

Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a ban on federal funding for ACORN, but a judge ruled that that law was unconstitutional. If a higher court reverses that ruling, ACORN may be prohibited from receiving funds through the Office of Minority Health earmark. But according to the Senate legislative aide, ACORN would still “absolutely” qualify for federal funding through the provision in the underlying Reid bill because the anti-ACORN appropriations amendment would not apply to funds provided through the health care exchanges.

A spokesman for Sen. Harkin, chairman of the HELP committee, wrote in an email that he “will look into” which organizations qualify for funding under these provisions. Spokesmen for Senators Reid and Dodd did not immediately reply to emails.

This is what comes from a legislative process as noxious as this. (It almost obscures another issue: why do we fund health care by race?) Dana Milbank dubs it the “cash for cloture” bill. Indeed, it may replace the infamous transportation bill that gave us the “Bridge to Nowhere” as the symbol par excellence of congressional graft. He explains:

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) even disavowed Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback. “Nebraskans are frustrated and angry that our beloved state has been thrust into the same pot with all of the other special deals that get cut here,” he reported.

The accusations must worry Democrats, for Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), facing a difficult 2010 reelection contest, went to the Senate floor to declare: “I’m not happy about the backroom deals.”

I think Burris isn’t likely to be worried or embarrassed. But perhaps it’s just a bit too ludicrous to defend, so the conference committee might see fit to lose the ACORN handout. I’m sure Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can come up with an appropriate substitute to satisfy the junior senator from Illinois. Maybe a public-works project to improve and expand this structure.

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Obama’s Multilateral Infatuation

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs — and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs — and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

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The Rebellion Against Big Government

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors write that the president’s plunge below 50 percent for the first time in their poll shows that “his agenda is turning the public against activist government.” Voters were queried as to whether “government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people” or if “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals”:

Some 47% … replied that they thought government is doing too much, while only 44% believed that it should do more. That’s a striking change since February, when the views were reversed, with 51% saying the government should do more, and only 40% saying do less.

Even more startling, in the latest survey only 18% said they trusted government to do the right thing “most of the time,” down from a high of 36% in July 2004 and 27% in August 2005. Some 32% said they trusted government to do the right thing “almost never,” up from single digits in earlier surveys when it was a volunteered response.

That is a far different take from that of the Obama spinners, who contend it’s all inevitable or someone else’s fault.

The poll numbers in the Wall Street Journal and other surveys do have some real-world support. In the two high-profile gubernatorial races, the Republican candidates ran on platforms of reduced taxes and spending. In Virginia, Bob McDonnell was exceptionally specific in detailing the parade of big-government policies that he opposed (cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, card check). It was an overwhelmingly successful message even before support dropped sharply for ObamaCare. It’s not unreasonable to conclude that McDonnell caught the upswing in anti-government fury, which has not yet peaked.

The Obama team would have us believe that the public will learn to love ObamaCare. But continued polling — and the 2010 elections — will demonstrate just how fervent is the opposition to Obama’s “enormous and helter-skelter expansions of the federal government.” From ObamaCare to Climategate, the voters have shown themselves remarkably impervious to the self-serving spin of elites.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors write that the president’s plunge below 50 percent for the first time in their poll shows that “his agenda is turning the public against activist government.” Voters were queried as to whether “government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people” or if “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals”:

Some 47% … replied that they thought government is doing too much, while only 44% believed that it should do more. That’s a striking change since February, when the views were reversed, with 51% saying the government should do more, and only 40% saying do less.

Even more startling, in the latest survey only 18% said they trusted government to do the right thing “most of the time,” down from a high of 36% in July 2004 and 27% in August 2005. Some 32% said they trusted government to do the right thing “almost never,” up from single digits in earlier surveys when it was a volunteered response.

That is a far different take from that of the Obama spinners, who contend it’s all inevitable or someone else’s fault.

The poll numbers in the Wall Street Journal and other surveys do have some real-world support. In the two high-profile gubernatorial races, the Republican candidates ran on platforms of reduced taxes and spending. In Virginia, Bob McDonnell was exceptionally specific in detailing the parade of big-government policies that he opposed (cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, card check). It was an overwhelmingly successful message even before support dropped sharply for ObamaCare. It’s not unreasonable to conclude that McDonnell caught the upswing in anti-government fury, which has not yet peaked.

The Obama team would have us believe that the public will learn to love ObamaCare. But continued polling — and the 2010 elections — will demonstrate just how fervent is the opposition to Obama’s “enormous and helter-skelter expansions of the federal government.” From ObamaCare to Climategate, the voters have shown themselves remarkably impervious to the self-serving spin of elites.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Another Red State senator with a potential re-election problem: “Incumbent Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan may have a serious problem on his hands if Republicans recruit Governor John Hoeven to run for the U.S. Senate in North Dakota next year. The first Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 telephone survey of likely voters in North Dakota finds the popular Republican governor leading Dorgan by 22 points — 58% to 36%.”

Harry Reid says any senator who didn’t get a “deal” is a sucker. Well, he didn’t quite say it that way — but almost: “I don’t know if there’s a senator who doesn’t have something in this bill that’s important to them. … And if they don’t have something in it that’s important to them, then it’s doesn’t speak well for them.” Next we’ll be hearing that the Cornhusker Kickback is “golden.”

James Pinkerton explains: “It’s not sausage-making, it’s three-card-monte-playing. … But the whole point of three-card-monte is not to build an enduring monument of some kind–the point is to get the money away from the rubes. Or, in this case, the votes away from the voters. We’ll see in 11 months how this game plays out.”

Sen. Ben Nelson is convinced that the backlash against him is “all orchestrated.” Yes, the outrage from the right-to-life community, the governor, and the local branch of Americans for Prosperity is quite “orchestrated,” and they will be equally united when he comes up for re-election.

Three of her top two reasons for opposing ObamaCare: “1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not. 2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS. … 5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.” Jane Hamsher or Dana Perino?

CBS headline: “Democrats Worry of Dismal Mid-Term.” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says, “Our voters are less enthusiastic than Republicans and independents.” And that was before the 1 a.m. Senate health-care vote.

In Virginia, which Obama won in 2008 by 5 percentage points, voters disapprove of his performance by a 54 to 44 percent margin. Only 30 percent of white voters approve of his performance.

Isn’t it delusional to think a bill that more than 60 percent of voters disfavor is going to help the party that passed it on a strict party-line vote? “Slumping in the polls and struggling to pass climate and financial legislation, President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders are counting on an historic health care victory to buoy their electoral prospects in 2010. … Last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll not only showed a substantial majority opposed to the plan, but for the first time, it showed a plurality favoring the status quo over passage.”

Independents disapprove of Obama’s performance by a lot — more than a dozen points on average.

Many of them may be in agreement with Michael Goodwin: “I now regard his campaign as a sly bait-and-switch operation, promising one thing and delivering another. Shame on me. Equally surprising, he has become an insufferable bore. The grace notes and charm have vanished, with peevishness and petty spite his default emotions. His rhetorical gifts now serve his loathsome habit of fear-mongering.”

Another Red State senator with a potential re-election problem: “Incumbent Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan may have a serious problem on his hands if Republicans recruit Governor John Hoeven to run for the U.S. Senate in North Dakota next year. The first Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 telephone survey of likely voters in North Dakota finds the popular Republican governor leading Dorgan by 22 points — 58% to 36%.”

Harry Reid says any senator who didn’t get a “deal” is a sucker. Well, he didn’t quite say it that way — but almost: “I don’t know if there’s a senator who doesn’t have something in this bill that’s important to them. … And if they don’t have something in it that’s important to them, then it’s doesn’t speak well for them.” Next we’ll be hearing that the Cornhusker Kickback is “golden.”

James Pinkerton explains: “It’s not sausage-making, it’s three-card-monte-playing. … But the whole point of three-card-monte is not to build an enduring monument of some kind–the point is to get the money away from the rubes. Or, in this case, the votes away from the voters. We’ll see in 11 months how this game plays out.”

Sen. Ben Nelson is convinced that the backlash against him is “all orchestrated.” Yes, the outrage from the right-to-life community, the governor, and the local branch of Americans for Prosperity is quite “orchestrated,” and they will be equally united when he comes up for re-election.

Three of her top two reasons for opposing ObamaCare: “1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not. 2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS. … 5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.” Jane Hamsher or Dana Perino?

CBS headline: “Democrats Worry of Dismal Mid-Term.” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says, “Our voters are less enthusiastic than Republicans and independents.” And that was before the 1 a.m. Senate health-care vote.

In Virginia, which Obama won in 2008 by 5 percentage points, voters disapprove of his performance by a 54 to 44 percent margin. Only 30 percent of white voters approve of his performance.

Isn’t it delusional to think a bill that more than 60 percent of voters disfavor is going to help the party that passed it on a strict party-line vote? “Slumping in the polls and struggling to pass climate and financial legislation, President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders are counting on an historic health care victory to buoy their electoral prospects in 2010. … Last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll not only showed a substantial majority opposed to the plan, but for the first time, it showed a plurality favoring the status quo over passage.”

Independents disapprove of Obama’s performance by a lot — more than a dozen points on average.

Many of them may be in agreement with Michael Goodwin: “I now regard his campaign as a sly bait-and-switch operation, promising one thing and delivering another. Shame on me. Equally surprising, he has become an insufferable bore. The grace notes and charm have vanished, with peevishness and petty spite his default emotions. His rhetorical gifts now serve his loathsome habit of fear-mongering.”

Read Less




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