Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 23, 2009

The Latest Milestone in Chinese Tyranny

For the last two decades, those committed to warm ties with Beijing have tried to tell Americans that the development of capitalism in China—albeit a capitalism that must operate in a system in which the rule of law and property rights are a matter of government fiat—would eventually transform the totalitarian system. But today, as the New York Times reports, another milestone has been passed in which such hopes have been revealed as utterly unfounded.

The Chinese capital was the setting on Wednesday for the trial of Liu Xiaobo, one of the country’s leading human-rights advocates. Liu faces up to 15 years in prison for calling for open elections and free speech. His role in promulgating Charter 08, a manifesto in favor of Chinese political freedom, is the chief reason for the government’s latest attempt to silence Liu. As the Times notes, the document’s language that states “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes” is itself viewed as a crime by the Communist Party.

The persecution of Liu is something of a history of China’s abuse of human rights since 1989. At the time of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University but returned home to join the hunger strikers. When the Chinese army struck, he was arrested and held for 21 months without trial. In 1996, he was sent to the laogai—China’s gulag—for three years for calling for the release of others still imprisoned for their participation in the Tiananmen events. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Communist Party but the charter, which evokes similar protests by Czech opponents against the Soviet empire, has motivated the government to try and put him away again. Reporters were barred from the trial, as were other dissidents who bravely came to support Liu. This is all we know of the proceedings:

Liu Xiaoxuan, the defendant’s younger brother, was one of two family members allowed in the courtroom. After the trial adjourned, he tried to recall details of the proceedings — court officials had prevented those in the room from taking notes — and he repeated his brother’s final words, spoken to a judge. Mr. Liu, according to his brother, said that he came from a long line of persecuted thinkers and hoped he would be the last. “He said that if he was sent to jail, it might bring others freedom of speech,” Liu Xiaoxuan said.

It would be nice to think that were true. But neither the Obama administration—which allowed Beijing to humiliate the president during his recent trip there—nor its predecessors have had any interest in the fate of Chinese dissidents or the drive for pushing the world’s largest tyranny to change its behavior. The Chinese authorities have stepped up their suppression of freedom in the last year with a vengeance. Yet most Americans either don’t care or still actually believe the propaganda about the Chinese not caring about freedom, which business interests put forward about China and democracy. As with the successful campaign to stifle concerns about Chinese human rights that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government can count on the self-interest of the business community and the indifference of Washington to allow it to continue its abuses with impunity.

Yet the attempt by Liu to courageously invoke the example of those who challenged the seemingly unshakable grip of Soviet communism in 1977 ought to remind us all that even the most powerful of tyrants can be resisted and toppled. Provided, that is, that dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo be not forsaken by the forces of freedom elsewhere. Just as the West once embraced men like Vaclav Havel and Natan Sharansky, Americans must not allow Liu’s oppressors to triumph in silence.

For the last two decades, those committed to warm ties with Beijing have tried to tell Americans that the development of capitalism in China—albeit a capitalism that must operate in a system in which the rule of law and property rights are a matter of government fiat—would eventually transform the totalitarian system. But today, as the New York Times reports, another milestone has been passed in which such hopes have been revealed as utterly unfounded.

The Chinese capital was the setting on Wednesday for the trial of Liu Xiaobo, one of the country’s leading human-rights advocates. Liu faces up to 15 years in prison for calling for open elections and free speech. His role in promulgating Charter 08, a manifesto in favor of Chinese political freedom, is the chief reason for the government’s latest attempt to silence Liu. As the Times notes, the document’s language that states “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes” is itself viewed as a crime by the Communist Party.

The persecution of Liu is something of a history of China’s abuse of human rights since 1989. At the time of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University but returned home to join the hunger strikers. When the Chinese army struck, he was arrested and held for 21 months without trial. In 1996, he was sent to the laogai—China’s gulag—for three years for calling for the release of others still imprisoned for their participation in the Tiananmen events. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Communist Party but the charter, which evokes similar protests by Czech opponents against the Soviet empire, has motivated the government to try and put him away again. Reporters were barred from the trial, as were other dissidents who bravely came to support Liu. This is all we know of the proceedings:

Liu Xiaoxuan, the defendant’s younger brother, was one of two family members allowed in the courtroom. After the trial adjourned, he tried to recall details of the proceedings — court officials had prevented those in the room from taking notes — and he repeated his brother’s final words, spoken to a judge. Mr. Liu, according to his brother, said that he came from a long line of persecuted thinkers and hoped he would be the last. “He said that if he was sent to jail, it might bring others freedom of speech,” Liu Xiaoxuan said.

It would be nice to think that were true. But neither the Obama administration—which allowed Beijing to humiliate the president during his recent trip there—nor its predecessors have had any interest in the fate of Chinese dissidents or the drive for pushing the world’s largest tyranny to change its behavior. The Chinese authorities have stepped up their suppression of freedom in the last year with a vengeance. Yet most Americans either don’t care or still actually believe the propaganda about the Chinese not caring about freedom, which business interests put forward about China and democracy. As with the successful campaign to stifle concerns about Chinese human rights that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government can count on the self-interest of the business community and the indifference of Washington to allow it to continue its abuses with impunity.

Yet the attempt by Liu to courageously invoke the example of those who challenged the seemingly unshakable grip of Soviet communism in 1977 ought to remind us all that even the most powerful of tyrants can be resisted and toppled. Provided, that is, that dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo be not forsaken by the forces of freedom elsewhere. Just as the West once embraced men like Vaclav Havel and Natan Sharansky, Americans must not allow Liu’s oppressors to triumph in silence.

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California Taxpayer to the Feds: Don’t Do It!

I live and pay taxes in California. And when I read Governor Schwarzenegger’s “threats” today, about the consequences of the federal government’s not bailing out the state by $8 billion, my immediate reaction was “No bail-out! Carry out the threats!”

The Governator’s threats are to cut funding to the state welfare program and in-home health services, and to push for a resumption of offshore drilling to raise new revenue. The state’s welfare policies are extremely counterproductive: in combined state and federal subsidies, beneficiaries can receive over $1,500 a month–more if they have dependents–plus food stamps, free medical care, and low-income housing, which are enough to live on pretty well in many parts of the state. The ease with which day laborers can earn undeclared cash income, moreover, means many families have substantially more than their welfare subsidies to live on. California benefits give native Californians the option of lifetime dependency, but they do worse than that: they attract millions of welfare aspirants from elsewhere.

Earlier this year I received this communication from an unusually knowledgeable reader. It’s a dollar-by-dollar description of the welfare benefits available to people in California, and of how the residents of a north-coastal county consequently live, in a census area where only 6 out of 256 people actually have paying jobs. This is a broken, unsustainable system. By far the best thing that could happen to California is for this system to fail, and to have to be reconstituted under much different procedures. The burden of it, as a major element of state spending, makes it a Sisyphean task under the best of economic conditions for new businesses to establish themselves, and for working families to stay in or enter the middle class.

Offshore drilling, meanwhile, is something California should never have stopped doing. The state could also realize healthy revenues, as well as jobs and cheaper fuel for residents, by retooling its existing refineries. Efforts to do so, however, have been stalled by environmentalist lawsuits and, in some cases, by California senators. The nation as a whole, we should note, would also benefit from a resumption of drilling and a more robust oil-production profile in the Golden State.

Welfarism, economically destructive taxation and regulation, irresponsible environmentalism: California’s fiscal wounds are all self-inflicted. An $8 billion bail-out from Washington would only enable the state to stagger about dementedly for a bit longer, still holding a knife plunged between its ribs. This is what the therapists call a dysfunctional situation, and it needs intervention, not enabling. Don’t do it, Washington. Don’t do it.

I live and pay taxes in California. And when I read Governor Schwarzenegger’s “threats” today, about the consequences of the federal government’s not bailing out the state by $8 billion, my immediate reaction was “No bail-out! Carry out the threats!”

The Governator’s threats are to cut funding to the state welfare program and in-home health services, and to push for a resumption of offshore drilling to raise new revenue. The state’s welfare policies are extremely counterproductive: in combined state and federal subsidies, beneficiaries can receive over $1,500 a month–more if they have dependents–plus food stamps, free medical care, and low-income housing, which are enough to live on pretty well in many parts of the state. The ease with which day laborers can earn undeclared cash income, moreover, means many families have substantially more than their welfare subsidies to live on. California benefits give native Californians the option of lifetime dependency, but they do worse than that: they attract millions of welfare aspirants from elsewhere.

Earlier this year I received this communication from an unusually knowledgeable reader. It’s a dollar-by-dollar description of the welfare benefits available to people in California, and of how the residents of a north-coastal county consequently live, in a census area where only 6 out of 256 people actually have paying jobs. This is a broken, unsustainable system. By far the best thing that could happen to California is for this system to fail, and to have to be reconstituted under much different procedures. The burden of it, as a major element of state spending, makes it a Sisyphean task under the best of economic conditions for new businesses to establish themselves, and for working families to stay in or enter the middle class.

Offshore drilling, meanwhile, is something California should never have stopped doing. The state could also realize healthy revenues, as well as jobs and cheaper fuel for residents, by retooling its existing refineries. Efforts to do so, however, have been stalled by environmentalist lawsuits and, in some cases, by California senators. The nation as a whole, we should note, would also benefit from a resumption of drilling and a more robust oil-production profile in the Golden State.

Welfarism, economically destructive taxation and regulation, irresponsible environmentalism: California’s fiscal wounds are all self-inflicted. An $8 billion bail-out from Washington would only enable the state to stagger about dementedly for a bit longer, still holding a knife plunged between its ribs. This is what the therapists call a dysfunctional situation, and it needs intervention, not enabling. Don’t do it, Washington. Don’t do it.

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The Culture of Corruption

When it comes to the public outrage that will emerge based on the deals that took place to secure passage of the Senate health-care bill, the degree of tone-deafness among Democrats is nothing short of startling. Senator Tom Harkin calls it “small stuff.” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said, “Rather than sitting here and carping about what Nelson got for Nebraska, I would say to my friends on the other side of the aisle: Let’s get together and see what we can get for South Carolina.”

And Majority Leader Harry Reid has said, “I don’t know if there is a Senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that was important to them. And if they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them.”

These people strike me as hermetically sealed off from how most of the rest of the country view this subject. As these backroom deals become more and more widely known, anger will swell up among voters. It is bad enough to jam through a bill on a strict party-line-vote against overwhelming opposition from the public; for it to have happened only because various Members of Congress were (legally) bribed will magnify the intensity of the opposition. And for politicians to take such obvious pride in the pay-off will make things even worse. The populist, anti-Washington wave out there, which is already quite large, will only grow, and grow, and grow.

The Democrats are doing everything they can to make “the culture of corruption” a GOP campaign slogan in 2010. This week Democrats have added immeasurably to the Republican case and cause.

When it comes to the public outrage that will emerge based on the deals that took place to secure passage of the Senate health-care bill, the degree of tone-deafness among Democrats is nothing short of startling. Senator Tom Harkin calls it “small stuff.” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said, “Rather than sitting here and carping about what Nelson got for Nebraska, I would say to my friends on the other side of the aisle: Let’s get together and see what we can get for South Carolina.”

And Majority Leader Harry Reid has said, “I don’t know if there is a Senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that was important to them. And if they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them.”

These people strike me as hermetically sealed off from how most of the rest of the country view this subject. As these backroom deals become more and more widely known, anger will swell up among voters. It is bad enough to jam through a bill on a strict party-line-vote against overwhelming opposition from the public; for it to have happened only because various Members of Congress were (legally) bribed will magnify the intensity of the opposition. And for politicians to take such obvious pride in the pay-off will make things even worse. The populist, anti-Washington wave out there, which is already quite large, will only grow, and grow, and grow.

The Democrats are doing everything they can to make “the culture of corruption” a GOP campaign slogan in 2010. This week Democrats have added immeasurably to the Republican case and cause.

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More Time to Change Minds

Politico is reporting that the White House “privately anticipates health care talks to slip into February” and that “disputes over abortion and the tight schedule are highly likely to delay a final deal, a blow to the president, who had hoped to trumpet a health care victory in his big speech to the nation.” They anticipate that House leaders will roll over and “largely accept the compromise worked out in the Senate.” Well, well.

It seems there is an opportunity then. The details of the shady deals, the abortion funding, the Medicare slashing, and the attempt to insulate the death panels . . . er  Medicare Advisory Board . . .  from potential repeal by a subsequent Congress are only now coming to light. If the next month or so is spent explaining to the public what is in the bill and that it, even by its sponsors’ own terms, fails to meet the goals of deficit reduction and improved access, then perhaps some wary lawmakers’ minds may be changed.

Harry Reid’s effort to jam this through without public scrutiny may fail spectacularly. Senators emboldened by the late-night sessions and the cloak of opaqueness have wheeled and dealed without a second thought. Now the public can tell the lawmakers what they think, and put to the fire the feet of those supposedly “responsible” Democrats who were going to protect taxpayers (but not those with incomes less than $200,000) and the elderly (except for sucking $500B out of an already shaky Medicare system). Time has never been on the side of the Democrats and news that there will be a significant delay, if accurate, comes as a welcomed holiday gift to ObamaCare opponents.

Politico is reporting that the White House “privately anticipates health care talks to slip into February” and that “disputes over abortion and the tight schedule are highly likely to delay a final deal, a blow to the president, who had hoped to trumpet a health care victory in his big speech to the nation.” They anticipate that House leaders will roll over and “largely accept the compromise worked out in the Senate.” Well, well.

It seems there is an opportunity then. The details of the shady deals, the abortion funding, the Medicare slashing, and the attempt to insulate the death panels . . . er  Medicare Advisory Board . . .  from potential repeal by a subsequent Congress are only now coming to light. If the next month or so is spent explaining to the public what is in the bill and that it, even by its sponsors’ own terms, fails to meet the goals of deficit reduction and improved access, then perhaps some wary lawmakers’ minds may be changed.

Harry Reid’s effort to jam this through without public scrutiny may fail spectacularly. Senators emboldened by the late-night sessions and the cloak of opaqueness have wheeled and dealed without a second thought. Now the public can tell the lawmakers what they think, and put to the fire the feet of those supposedly “responsible” Democrats who were going to protect taxpayers (but not those with incomes less than $200,000) and the elderly (except for sucking $500B out of an already shaky Medicare system). Time has never been on the side of the Democrats and news that there will be a significant delay, if accurate, comes as a welcomed holiday gift to ObamaCare opponents.

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Misbehaving SEALs

I have some sympathy with Warren Kozak’s complaint regarding the prosecution of three Navy SEALs charged with beating Ahmed Hashim Abed, a captured terrorist of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Kozak is surely right that in World War II and other wars, U.S. troops often committed war crimes for which they were not prosecuted—the most common being killing enemy soldiers trying to surrender. But I also have some sympathy with the decision to court-martial the SEALs. While the captured terrorist richly deserved to be executed, not just beaten, the SEALs were expressly ordered not to abuse prisoners and may have violated their orders. They also are accused of lying about their acts, which would be another violation of the honor code by which these men live.

Why not simply allow them to throw a few punches on the sly and get away with it? The biggest reason is discipline—the need to ensure that our fighting men and women follow orders and don’t become rogue operators. But there is also an operational need to prevent freelance abuse of detainees, which could make it harder to interrogate them and, if publicized, result in a negative public-relations blowback a la Abu Ghraib. I believe that interrogators should have the freedom to use some “stress techniques” against high-level detainees if absolutely necessary to draw out information, but this has to be done in a carefully controlled setting with higher-level approval—it should not be left to the discretion of angry soldiers or sailors.

The fact is, this is not World War II. We are fighting a very different sort of war with very different rules. One of the differences: SEALs are not draftees who, for better or worse, made up the ranks of the armed forces in World War II; they are highly trained professionals who are expected to follow orders. That doesn’t mean they should be harshly punished, but nor can the higher command simply overlook their excesses, especially when they (probably foolishly) refused a non-judicial punishment by their commanding officer and insisted on a trial.

I have some sympathy with Warren Kozak’s complaint regarding the prosecution of three Navy SEALs charged with beating Ahmed Hashim Abed, a captured terrorist of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Kozak is surely right that in World War II and other wars, U.S. troops often committed war crimes for which they were not prosecuted—the most common being killing enemy soldiers trying to surrender. But I also have some sympathy with the decision to court-martial the SEALs. While the captured terrorist richly deserved to be executed, not just beaten, the SEALs were expressly ordered not to abuse prisoners and may have violated their orders. They also are accused of lying about their acts, which would be another violation of the honor code by which these men live.

Why not simply allow them to throw a few punches on the sly and get away with it? The biggest reason is discipline—the need to ensure that our fighting men and women follow orders and don’t become rogue operators. But there is also an operational need to prevent freelance abuse of detainees, which could make it harder to interrogate them and, if publicized, result in a negative public-relations blowback a la Abu Ghraib. I believe that interrogators should have the freedom to use some “stress techniques” against high-level detainees if absolutely necessary to draw out information, but this has to be done in a carefully controlled setting with higher-level approval—it should not be left to the discretion of angry soldiers or sailors.

The fact is, this is not World War II. We are fighting a very different sort of war with very different rules. One of the differences: SEALs are not draftees who, for better or worse, made up the ranks of the armed forces in World War II; they are highly trained professionals who are expected to follow orders. That doesn’t mean they should be harshly punished, but nor can the higher command simply overlook their excesses, especially when they (probably foolishly) refused a non-judicial punishment by their commanding officer and insisted on a trial.

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On Their Own, It Seems

The Washington Post editors timidly suggest:

The most momentous international event of 2009 was the uprising in Iran, and though the regime’s collapse is not imminent, it is hardly unthinkable. President Obama is prudent to pursue a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But in doing so, he must not diminish the prospect that Iran’s people might ultimately deliver both themselves and the world from the menace.

“He must not diminish the prospect. . . “? Hard to fathom what the editors mean precisely as they twist and turn, evading the glaring failure of the Obami’s Iran engagement policy. Does that opaque phrase mean that Obama should not undermine the cause of the democracy protesters any further — after defunding them and negotiating agreeably with the thugocracy that murders, imprisons, and abducts them in the middle of the night? Or does it mean that Obama now should actually do something to promote regime change, as the only logical response to a brutal regime not amenable to negotiation and very possibly not likely to be sanctioned by a fainthearted “international community”? Or maybe they mean that it might be a good idea to stop and assess whether “engagement” has done more harm than good. Hard to say.

Nevertheless, the editors hint at the fact that those Obama spinners who are quietly embarrassed by Obama’s passivity would rather ignore: if there is to be regime change in Iran, it will be in spite of and no thanks to the Obami. Whether one assesses the situation from a human-rights perspective or from that of cagey “realism,” it is a sobering conclusion and will, one suspects, remain as a blot on the administration’s foreign-policy record.

Next time Hillary Clinton or Obama start flying the banner of human rights and touting their witness-bearing skills (which, one supposes, is not unlike a mute bystander dutifully taking a video of a traffic accident — only with many more bodies maimed) someone should ask them why they have done so little to aid the most significant political popular uprising in our time.

The Washington Post editors timidly suggest:

The most momentous international event of 2009 was the uprising in Iran, and though the regime’s collapse is not imminent, it is hardly unthinkable. President Obama is prudent to pursue a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But in doing so, he must not diminish the prospect that Iran’s people might ultimately deliver both themselves and the world from the menace.

“He must not diminish the prospect. . . “? Hard to fathom what the editors mean precisely as they twist and turn, evading the glaring failure of the Obami’s Iran engagement policy. Does that opaque phrase mean that Obama should not undermine the cause of the democracy protesters any further — after defunding them and negotiating agreeably with the thugocracy that murders, imprisons, and abducts them in the middle of the night? Or does it mean that Obama now should actually do something to promote regime change, as the only logical response to a brutal regime not amenable to negotiation and very possibly not likely to be sanctioned by a fainthearted “international community”? Or maybe they mean that it might be a good idea to stop and assess whether “engagement” has done more harm than good. Hard to say.

Nevertheless, the editors hint at the fact that those Obama spinners who are quietly embarrassed by Obama’s passivity would rather ignore: if there is to be regime change in Iran, it will be in spite of and no thanks to the Obami. Whether one assesses the situation from a human-rights perspective or from that of cagey “realism,” it is a sobering conclusion and will, one suspects, remain as a blot on the administration’s foreign-policy record.

Next time Hillary Clinton or Obama start flying the banner of human rights and touting their witness-bearing skills (which, one supposes, is not unlike a mute bystander dutifully taking a video of a traffic accident — only with many more bodies maimed) someone should ask them why they have done so little to aid the most significant political popular uprising in our time.

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Who Responds?

The person selected to respond to the State of the Union has a rough time. There is no competing with the pomp and excitement of the president in a prime-time appearance before Congress, the Supreme Court, the cabinet officials, and all the honored guests. Usually, the unlikely recipient of this “honor” gets awful reviews. (Think Tim Kaine’s odd-eye brow appearance and Bobby Jindal’s presidential buzz-halting performance.) So who should do the honors this year?

Bill Kristol recommends an ordinary American fed up with Obama’s agenda, maybe a doctor. There are lots of good possibilities. Perhaps Rep. Parker Griffith could do the honors, explaining why he couldn’t stomach a party that would behave so irresponsibly on health care. The Republicans might have a cancer survivor like Carly Fiorina explain why empowering bureaucrats to ration care is a bad idea. The Republicans might have Dick Cheney replay his face-off against Obama from earlier in the year, updating it for the subsequent dreadful decisions on KSM’s trial and the moving of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining him could be Debra Burlingame and other 9/11 family members, talking about the lunacy of giving KSM a public forum to preach jihadism. Or the Republicans could have a bipartisan evening, inviting Rep. Bart Stupak to talk about abortion subsidies and Jane Hamsher to talk about paying for health-care “reform” on the backs of the middle class.

There are a lot of options because, frankly, Obama has made many, many bad calls. It will be up to the Republicans to see in 2010 if they can find effective spokespeople to make the case to the American people — who at least for now seem awfully receptive to each of the messages I suggested. In fact, Americans poll overwhelming in the GOP’s favor on all of these items. And that, no doubt, is why Republicans are looking forward to a successful 2010 election year.

The person selected to respond to the State of the Union has a rough time. There is no competing with the pomp and excitement of the president in a prime-time appearance before Congress, the Supreme Court, the cabinet officials, and all the honored guests. Usually, the unlikely recipient of this “honor” gets awful reviews. (Think Tim Kaine’s odd-eye brow appearance and Bobby Jindal’s presidential buzz-halting performance.) So who should do the honors this year?

Bill Kristol recommends an ordinary American fed up with Obama’s agenda, maybe a doctor. There are lots of good possibilities. Perhaps Rep. Parker Griffith could do the honors, explaining why he couldn’t stomach a party that would behave so irresponsibly on health care. The Republicans might have a cancer survivor like Carly Fiorina explain why empowering bureaucrats to ration care is a bad idea. The Republicans might have Dick Cheney replay his face-off against Obama from earlier in the year, updating it for the subsequent dreadful decisions on KSM’s trial and the moving of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining him could be Debra Burlingame and other 9/11 family members, talking about the lunacy of giving KSM a public forum to preach jihadism. Or the Republicans could have a bipartisan evening, inviting Rep. Bart Stupak to talk about abortion subsidies and Jane Hamsher to talk about paying for health-care “reform” on the backs of the middle class.

There are a lot of options because, frankly, Obama has made many, many bad calls. It will be up to the Republicans to see in 2010 if they can find effective spokespeople to make the case to the American people — who at least for now seem awfully receptive to each of the messages I suggested. In fact, Americans poll overwhelming in the GOP’s favor on all of these items. And that, no doubt, is why Republicans are looking forward to a successful 2010 election year.

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Big Labor Sold Out by Democrats

Harold Meyerson writes of Big Labor’s reaction to ObamaCare:

Labor believes, rightly, that the cost controls in the Senate bill come chiefly from insurance policy holders (among them, labor’s members), rather than from insurance and drug companies. Both the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union have condemned these provisions, while hailing the bill’s epochal creation of affordable health insurance for 30 million Americans. They’re careful, too, to exempt President Obama from their criticisms.

Actually, if the labor bosses had their members’ interests at heart, they’d be outraged and looking to upset the deal. For starters, insurance for 30 million Americans really doesn’t do much for their members,  nearly all of whom have union contracts giving them that benefit. (Come to think of it, unions dig their own graves by supporting mandatory benefits for nonunion workers, thereby lowering the incentive to unionize.) Moreover, the excise tax on Cadillac plans hits their members disproportionately and quite severely. Having run against a similar proposal by John McCain, now Obama is delivering the same bitter pill to his political allies, as Meyerson concedes:

Politically, in fact, the tax could set in motion the kind of dynamic that undermined many Great Society anti-poverty programs: taxing the working class to provide benefits to the poor (or, in this case, the uninsured). Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan smashed the Democrats’ New Deal coalition by fanning the racial and class tensions endemic to such programs.

So what exactly is in this for union members and why aren’t their leaders trying to stop this assault on their financial interests? You got me. But union members might start to wonder why millions in union dues are being used to support candidates who back legislation so hostile to their economic well being.

Harold Meyerson writes of Big Labor’s reaction to ObamaCare:

Labor believes, rightly, that the cost controls in the Senate bill come chiefly from insurance policy holders (among them, labor’s members), rather than from insurance and drug companies. Both the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union have condemned these provisions, while hailing the bill’s epochal creation of affordable health insurance for 30 million Americans. They’re careful, too, to exempt President Obama from their criticisms.

Actually, if the labor bosses had their members’ interests at heart, they’d be outraged and looking to upset the deal. For starters, insurance for 30 million Americans really doesn’t do much for their members,  nearly all of whom have union contracts giving them that benefit. (Come to think of it, unions dig their own graves by supporting mandatory benefits for nonunion workers, thereby lowering the incentive to unionize.) Moreover, the excise tax on Cadillac plans hits their members disproportionately and quite severely. Having run against a similar proposal by John McCain, now Obama is delivering the same bitter pill to his political allies, as Meyerson concedes:

Politically, in fact, the tax could set in motion the kind of dynamic that undermined many Great Society anti-poverty programs: taxing the working class to provide benefits to the poor (or, in this case, the uninsured). Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan smashed the Democrats’ New Deal coalition by fanning the racial and class tensions endemic to such programs.

So what exactly is in this for union members and why aren’t their leaders trying to stop this assault on their financial interests? You got me. But union members might start to wonder why millions in union dues are being used to support candidates who back legislation so hostile to their economic well being.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Among the dopier things written about the health-care debate is this rant accusing the Senate Republicans of wimping out on health care. Other than running a filibuster during a snow storm. . . oh wait, they did that . . .  trying to filibuster a defense bill  . . . oh wait, they did that . . . and making every conceivable argument before voting unanimously to oppose the bill, it is hard to imagine what 40 senators could have done differently. But maybe it’s a fund-raising gambit or something.

Turns out that the savvy Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got something for easing up on the final vote schedule: “One, come early January, they’ll be able to get a vote on giving TARP money back to the Treasury. Two, they’ll be able to get a vote on Senator Murkowski’s disapproval resolution to stop the EPA from regulating carbon emissions. Both of these votes will come before the president’s State of the Union address.”

Meanwhile Jane Hamsher does something useful: goes on Fox (where the viewers are) to call for the defeat of ObamaCare.

Jim Prevor finds restaurant regulations buried in the health-care bill: “When did we have the national debate that disclosures with our tuna-salad sandwiches from the supermarket deli are urgently required? When did we discuss that diverting resources to pastrami-on-pumpernickel is prudent — and if the health-care bill deals with such minutiae, what else is hidden in its pages? And how could any ‘leader’ worthy of the name risk voting for it before we know what is even in the bill?”

Good thing we don’t have a problem with hiring and economic growth: “Companies are alarmed at potentially costly provisions in the Senate health-care bill, many of which they hope will be scrapped during a final round of negotiations early next year.” Oh, wait, that’s right: “Across the spectrum, businesses worry that a series of new taxes and fees to pay for expanding health-care coverage will push up premiums, particularly for smaller employers.”

In the Brave New World of terrorist criminal law, Major Nadal Hasan’s lawyer crabs that his client can’t speak from his jail cell to outsiders unless an interpreter is present to hear what he is saying. Well, “isn’t Mr. Hasan, like Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?”

I think this will be in a campaign ad or two: “News from the Obama re-alignment watch: Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith announced yesterday that he plans to switch parties and become a Republican. At a press conference, the oncologist-turned-politician said he could not continue to align himself with a Democratic Party pushing a health-care bill that is ‘bad for our doctors . . . bad for our patients, and . . . bad for the young men and women who are considering going into the health-care field.’ Other than that, how do you like the bill?”

Turns out that Congress stiffed the Obami on funds to convert Thomson Correctional Center into the new, domestic Guantanamo. “The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the center, which would cost about $150 million. Several weeks ago, the White House approached the House Appropriations Committee and floated the idea of adding about $200 million for the project to the military spending bill for the 2010 fiscal year, according to administration and Congressional officials.But Democratic leaders refused to include the politically charged measure in the legislation. When lawmakers approved the bill on Dec. 19, it contained no financing for Thomson.” Now they need to cut off funds for KSM’s trial.

Among the dopier things written about the health-care debate is this rant accusing the Senate Republicans of wimping out on health care. Other than running a filibuster during a snow storm. . . oh wait, they did that . . .  trying to filibuster a defense bill  . . . oh wait, they did that . . . and making every conceivable argument before voting unanimously to oppose the bill, it is hard to imagine what 40 senators could have done differently. But maybe it’s a fund-raising gambit or something.

Turns out that the savvy Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got something for easing up on the final vote schedule: “One, come early January, they’ll be able to get a vote on giving TARP money back to the Treasury. Two, they’ll be able to get a vote on Senator Murkowski’s disapproval resolution to stop the EPA from regulating carbon emissions. Both of these votes will come before the president’s State of the Union address.”

Meanwhile Jane Hamsher does something useful: goes on Fox (where the viewers are) to call for the defeat of ObamaCare.

Jim Prevor finds restaurant regulations buried in the health-care bill: “When did we have the national debate that disclosures with our tuna-salad sandwiches from the supermarket deli are urgently required? When did we discuss that diverting resources to pastrami-on-pumpernickel is prudent — and if the health-care bill deals with such minutiae, what else is hidden in its pages? And how could any ‘leader’ worthy of the name risk voting for it before we know what is even in the bill?”

Good thing we don’t have a problem with hiring and economic growth: “Companies are alarmed at potentially costly provisions in the Senate health-care bill, many of which they hope will be scrapped during a final round of negotiations early next year.” Oh, wait, that’s right: “Across the spectrum, businesses worry that a series of new taxes and fees to pay for expanding health-care coverage will push up premiums, particularly for smaller employers.”

In the Brave New World of terrorist criminal law, Major Nadal Hasan’s lawyer crabs that his client can’t speak from his jail cell to outsiders unless an interpreter is present to hear what he is saying. Well, “isn’t Mr. Hasan, like Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?”

I think this will be in a campaign ad or two: “News from the Obama re-alignment watch: Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith announced yesterday that he plans to switch parties and become a Republican. At a press conference, the oncologist-turned-politician said he could not continue to align himself with a Democratic Party pushing a health-care bill that is ‘bad for our doctors . . . bad for our patients, and . . . bad for the young men and women who are considering going into the health-care field.’ Other than that, how do you like the bill?”

Turns out that Congress stiffed the Obami on funds to convert Thomson Correctional Center into the new, domestic Guantanamo. “The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the center, which would cost about $150 million. Several weeks ago, the White House approached the House Appropriations Committee and floated the idea of adding about $200 million for the project to the military spending bill for the 2010 fiscal year, according to administration and Congressional officials.But Democratic leaders refused to include the politically charged measure in the legislation. When lawmakers approved the bill on Dec. 19, it contained no financing for Thomson.” Now they need to cut off funds for KSM’s trial.

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