Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 5, 2010

Re: Does South Africa’s “Big Love” President Have a Lesson for Liberal America?

Jonathan, you bring up an interesting point: “If your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults?”

Properly construed, the subject of homosexual marriage is awkward for ardent libertarians because it insidiously suggests another question to which their doctrine provides no comfortable answer: Should marriage of any form, even the traditional, be within the domain of state regulation?

In as far as the relationships, duties, and privileges of marriage are confined in their reach and consequences to the adult spouses, libertarians see no reason for the state to treat marriage any differently from ordinary contracts. From this point of view, traditional marriage too is just a contractual union not to be accorded special treatment or “social subsidies” by the state. Conversely, seen as yet another contract, any domestic union that wants to call itself marriage should be allowed to take place. The finer point is that libertarians, even in their laissez-faire attitude toward marriage, neither dispute nor defend the virtues of transgressive unions. What they advocate, while professing moral agnosticism on the matter, is that marriage be divested of its social mystique and institutional protections—that it shrink to a merely appellative label for an open-ended category of contractual domestic relationships.

Whatever its merits, this radical position fails on practical grounds. The obvious enormity of polygamy is often cited to make the point—the same could be said for other far more aberrant though contractually sound unions.

By contrast, most so-called progressive liberals do not champion homosexual unions in the context of fully deregulated marriage. Whatever libertarian instincts they might be endowed with, their prevailing instincts are statist. Unlike confused libertarians, they are not prone to fall down the rabbit hole of “if homosexual marriage, then why not polygamy?” because they have no reservations about wielding the Leviathan’s scepter against unions they themselves find distasteful or destructive. Of course they see marriage as a public good: a vital institution worthy of state sanction, societal approval, and “social subsidies.” This also means they must defend, on its moral merits, whatever union they deem worthy of calling marriage, so as to justify the latter’s high standing.

To this effect they are advancing the argument that marriage is—essentially—monogamy. In this context, same-sex monogamous unions are seen as normative. Cultural conservatives insist that, rather, marriage is essentially the union between man and woman. The conservatives’ argument carries the authoritative weight of thousands of years of continuity in human customs. Marriage has always been between men and women, even in societies most tolerant of homosexuality. Ironically, it has only occasionally been monogamous, even in Abrahamic religions.

But being made by man, marriage could also be changed, improved by man. And it has. Indeed, monogamy is now nearly synonymous with marriage—aberrations from it are seen as barbaric relics from tribal, primitive societies or Islamist theocracies. Perhaps the institution of marriage can withstand further changes productively—but it certainly cannot do so as flimsily as today’s “progressives” propose. Human traditions do matter. In fact, it may be the rites of marriage, the cultural myths surrounding it, its promises of domestic bliss and family adventures, of home and hearth, that homosexual couples covet most of all when they aspire to marriage. But these are the cultural byproducts of a heterosexual tradition, with the peculiar relations it prescribes between men and women, which may or may not scale well across same-sex unions. In the debate to define marriage, it would take a very powerful argument to compete with the force of tradition, especially when that tradition partly accounts for the very allure of marriage to those who seek to redefine it.

Could the virtues of monogamy-above-all-else trump the fitness between man and woman as the truest essence of marriage, thus conveniently extending marriage to homosexual couples while banishing polygamy? Perhaps so, but liberal progressives are not the best advocates for an argument that elevates marital exclusivity as the cornerstone of marriage, given their own distaste for and attacks against traditional culture. For that’s where the sentiment that monogamy and fidelity are the ideal form of marriage is grounded.

Jonathan, you bring up an interesting point: “If your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults?”

Properly construed, the subject of homosexual marriage is awkward for ardent libertarians because it insidiously suggests another question to which their doctrine provides no comfortable answer: Should marriage of any form, even the traditional, be within the domain of state regulation?

In as far as the relationships, duties, and privileges of marriage are confined in their reach and consequences to the adult spouses, libertarians see no reason for the state to treat marriage any differently from ordinary contracts. From this point of view, traditional marriage too is just a contractual union not to be accorded special treatment or “social subsidies” by the state. Conversely, seen as yet another contract, any domestic union that wants to call itself marriage should be allowed to take place. The finer point is that libertarians, even in their laissez-faire attitude toward marriage, neither dispute nor defend the virtues of transgressive unions. What they advocate, while professing moral agnosticism on the matter, is that marriage be divested of its social mystique and institutional protections—that it shrink to a merely appellative label for an open-ended category of contractual domestic relationships.

Whatever its merits, this radical position fails on practical grounds. The obvious enormity of polygamy is often cited to make the point—the same could be said for other far more aberrant though contractually sound unions.

By contrast, most so-called progressive liberals do not champion homosexual unions in the context of fully deregulated marriage. Whatever libertarian instincts they might be endowed with, their prevailing instincts are statist. Unlike confused libertarians, they are not prone to fall down the rabbit hole of “if homosexual marriage, then why not polygamy?” because they have no reservations about wielding the Leviathan’s scepter against unions they themselves find distasteful or destructive. Of course they see marriage as a public good: a vital institution worthy of state sanction, societal approval, and “social subsidies.” This also means they must defend, on its moral merits, whatever union they deem worthy of calling marriage, so as to justify the latter’s high standing.

To this effect they are advancing the argument that marriage is—essentially—monogamy. In this context, same-sex monogamous unions are seen as normative. Cultural conservatives insist that, rather, marriage is essentially the union between man and woman. The conservatives’ argument carries the authoritative weight of thousands of years of continuity in human customs. Marriage has always been between men and women, even in societies most tolerant of homosexuality. Ironically, it has only occasionally been monogamous, even in Abrahamic religions.

But being made by man, marriage could also be changed, improved by man. And it has. Indeed, monogamy is now nearly synonymous with marriage—aberrations from it are seen as barbaric relics from tribal, primitive societies or Islamist theocracies. Perhaps the institution of marriage can withstand further changes productively—but it certainly cannot do so as flimsily as today’s “progressives” propose. Human traditions do matter. In fact, it may be the rites of marriage, the cultural myths surrounding it, its promises of domestic bliss and family adventures, of home and hearth, that homosexual couples covet most of all when they aspire to marriage. But these are the cultural byproducts of a heterosexual tradition, with the peculiar relations it prescribes between men and women, which may or may not scale well across same-sex unions. In the debate to define marriage, it would take a very powerful argument to compete with the force of tradition, especially when that tradition partly accounts for the very allure of marriage to those who seek to redefine it.

Could the virtues of monogamy-above-all-else trump the fitness between man and woman as the truest essence of marriage, thus conveniently extending marriage to homosexual couples while banishing polygamy? Perhaps so, but liberal progressives are not the best advocates for an argument that elevates marital exclusivity as the cornerstone of marriage, given their own distaste for and attacks against traditional culture. For that’s where the sentiment that monogamy and fidelity are the ideal form of marriage is grounded.

Read Less

C-SPAN vs. the Obami

C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb has asked Congress and the president to keep their word on transparency and let C-SPAN cover the “critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers.” The answer certainly will be “no.” After all, there is not likely to be an actual conference committee, so cameras would have to follow Reid and Pelosi around as they buttonhole members and offer up more Cornhusker Kickbacks. And that wouldn’t look too good.

Tom Bevan thinks Obama has a problem, given his own explicit promise to televise negotiations:

Today, when asked for the 3rd time whether President Obama believes that the “standard” he set during the campaign for transparency on health care negotiations is being met by the current process (which now appears to include bypassing the formal conference process), White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave a flaccid but telling response. “I do not believe the American people have lacked for information on what’s in these bills – the political and policy arguments around different people’s positions – I think that’s been well documented,” Gibbs said.

More and more of what comes out of the White House sounds like third-rate talking points. They seem to have grown accustomed to saying  just any old thing and getting away with it. Now, they are being challenged. We’ll see how they respond. That enemies list (e.g., Fox News, Gallup, Rasmussen, Chamber of Commerce) is getting pretty long. But who’s going to believe that C-SPAN can be dismissed as a partisan attack machine? Maybe Obama should stick to a few of his promises — or at least concede that he just doesn’t want to.

C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb has asked Congress and the president to keep their word on transparency and let C-SPAN cover the “critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers.” The answer certainly will be “no.” After all, there is not likely to be an actual conference committee, so cameras would have to follow Reid and Pelosi around as they buttonhole members and offer up more Cornhusker Kickbacks. And that wouldn’t look too good.

Tom Bevan thinks Obama has a problem, given his own explicit promise to televise negotiations:

Today, when asked for the 3rd time whether President Obama believes that the “standard” he set during the campaign for transparency on health care negotiations is being met by the current process (which now appears to include bypassing the formal conference process), White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave a flaccid but telling response. “I do not believe the American people have lacked for information on what’s in these bills – the political and policy arguments around different people’s positions – I think that’s been well documented,” Gibbs said.

More and more of what comes out of the White House sounds like third-rate talking points. They seem to have grown accustomed to saying  just any old thing and getting away with it. Now, they are being challenged. We’ll see how they respond. That enemies list (e.g., Fox News, Gallup, Rasmussen, Chamber of Commerce) is getting pretty long. But who’s going to believe that C-SPAN can be dismissed as a partisan attack machine? Maybe Obama should stick to a few of his promises — or at least concede that he just doesn’t want to.

Read Less

Circle the Wagons

The pattern in reacting to terrorism is now unfortunately all too familiar. First, the administration says, “The system worked.” But everyone knows that’s crazy talk. So a day or so later, we hear there was a “systematic failure.” The president, despite ample media reports, first tells us this was the work of an “isolated extremist.” But that’s just plain wrong. So he later tells us this was an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist. For days, administration spokespeople have pushed back on the notion that we should stop sending Guantanmo detainees to Yemen. Even Democrats like Rep. Jane Harman, and Sen. Diane Feinstein said it was preposterous to keep feeding the terrorist pipeline. Finally today we hear:

President Barack Obama has come under political pressure from some U.S. lawmakers not to send any more prisoners to Yemen as a result of revelations that a would-be bomber on a Detroit-bound plane had received al Qaeda training in Yemen. “While we remain committed to closing the (Guantanamo) facility, a determination has been made right now — any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

So why is the administration the last place where the light bulb goes on? Again, you have to look to the top. The president, we are informed, “wants no more finger-pointing.” Well, especially at him. But if there is no blame assigned, there is also no accountability. And that still seems to be the name of the game here. Even after all of the criticism, the White House persists in doing the same old damage-control routine: deny fault, defend current policy, attack critics’ motives, and deflect blame. That is why they seem to be in perpetual catch-up mode, racing to avoid the fallout from the voters (and increasingly from the Democrats) who perceive that the Obami are simply not getting it.

When the political heat boils over, then the Obama team grudgingly reacts. But not before. Who really thinks they are capable of assessing themselves and making needed changes? If they did, someone might be seen to have been at fault. And the president says there will be none of that.

The pattern in reacting to terrorism is now unfortunately all too familiar. First, the administration says, “The system worked.” But everyone knows that’s crazy talk. So a day or so later, we hear there was a “systematic failure.” The president, despite ample media reports, first tells us this was the work of an “isolated extremist.” But that’s just plain wrong. So he later tells us this was an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist. For days, administration spokespeople have pushed back on the notion that we should stop sending Guantanmo detainees to Yemen. Even Democrats like Rep. Jane Harman, and Sen. Diane Feinstein said it was preposterous to keep feeding the terrorist pipeline. Finally today we hear:

President Barack Obama has come under political pressure from some U.S. lawmakers not to send any more prisoners to Yemen as a result of revelations that a would-be bomber on a Detroit-bound plane had received al Qaeda training in Yemen. “While we remain committed to closing the (Guantanamo) facility, a determination has been made right now — any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

So why is the administration the last place where the light bulb goes on? Again, you have to look to the top. The president, we are informed, “wants no more finger-pointing.” Well, especially at him. But if there is no blame assigned, there is also no accountability. And that still seems to be the name of the game here. Even after all of the criticism, the White House persists in doing the same old damage-control routine: deny fault, defend current policy, attack critics’ motives, and deflect blame. That is why they seem to be in perpetual catch-up mode, racing to avoid the fallout from the voters (and increasingly from the Democrats) who perceive that the Obami are simply not getting it.

When the political heat boils over, then the Obama team grudgingly reacts. But not before. Who really thinks they are capable of assessing themselves and making needed changes? If they did, someone might be seen to have been at fault. And the president says there will be none of that.

Read Less

Prosecuting Pirates

It’s nice to read in the Wall Street Journal that more shipping companies are embarking armed security guards to protect their ships off the coast of Somalia. That will certainly strike a blow against the pirates who had another record year in 2009. But the Journal also notes that “the majority of the international maritime community resists using lethal force because it ‘poses incredible logistical challenges, potentially violates many national and international laws, and is contrary to maritime conventions,’ says James Christodoulou, chief executive of Industrial Shipping Enterprises Corp.”

It is incumbent upon shipping companies to do more to protect their vessels. But it is also incumbent upon the world’s leading state to do more to safeguard maritime commerce. All the warships cruising off the coast of East Africa can accomplish little as long as they lack the legal authority to treat pirates as combatants rather than as potential criminal suspects. This is yet another instance where the Obama administration (like the Bush administration before it) insists on using normal legal safeguards in a situation where they don’t apply. That makes it impossible for our naval ships to blow pirates out of the water or bombard their lairs on land. Even when caught, most pirates are released because there is no desire to try them in our courts — or those of Western Europe. This would be another excellent use for the terrorist tribunals set up by Congress because pirates are, after all, another species of international rogue. Their activities are, in fact, often indistinguishable from those of terrorists, who also use criminal schemes to finance their operations. But what chance is there that we will get tough with Somalian buccaneers if we are extending the full panoply of constitutional rights even to the likes of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad?

It’s nice to read in the Wall Street Journal that more shipping companies are embarking armed security guards to protect their ships off the coast of Somalia. That will certainly strike a blow against the pirates who had another record year in 2009. But the Journal also notes that “the majority of the international maritime community resists using lethal force because it ‘poses incredible logistical challenges, potentially violates many national and international laws, and is contrary to maritime conventions,’ says James Christodoulou, chief executive of Industrial Shipping Enterprises Corp.”

It is incumbent upon shipping companies to do more to protect their vessels. But it is also incumbent upon the world’s leading state to do more to safeguard maritime commerce. All the warships cruising off the coast of East Africa can accomplish little as long as they lack the legal authority to treat pirates as combatants rather than as potential criminal suspects. This is yet another instance where the Obama administration (like the Bush administration before it) insists on using normal legal safeguards in a situation where they don’t apply. That makes it impossible for our naval ships to blow pirates out of the water or bombard their lairs on land. Even when caught, most pirates are released because there is no desire to try them in our courts — or those of Western Europe. This would be another excellent use for the terrorist tribunals set up by Congress because pirates are, after all, another species of international rogue. Their activities are, in fact, often indistinguishable from those of terrorists, who also use criminal schemes to finance their operations. But what chance is there that we will get tough with Somalian buccaneers if we are extending the full panoply of constitutional rights even to the likes of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad?

Read Less

The Frustration of Reality

Bob Herbert gives us a peek into the mindset I think permeates the Left and the Obama administration in particular:

I’m starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation’s grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.

A celebrity scandal. A terrorist-bombing attack (the third on the homeland last year). All the same. Such a distraction. So many overheated conservatives. Can’t we just move along? You can feel his desperation and the frustration that precious time, energy, and resources are being diverted from the ultraliberal agenda:

Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation’s moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well. Now we’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.

That’s the mindset, of course, that caused the president to slough off the Christmas Day bombing. That’s the predisposition that led to the imposition of an 18-month deadline in Afghanistan — at the price of sending a mixed message about our intentions and unsettling our allies there and in Pakistan. The Democrats’ window of opportunity to remake American society is closing faster than they ever imagined. And now all anyone wants to talk about is national security, terrorism, connecting dots, and the president’s refusal to use the words “Islamic fundamentalism.” The liberals are beside themselves. This was not to be. After all, they told us, it was the Bushies who exaggerated the dangers and put us on a needlessly alarmist path. The Obami were there to put all of that aside and get back to the pent up domestic demands of the Left.

Obama plainly shares Herbert’s sense that a moment is passing us by. His policies and demeanor have been designed to replace the war against jihadists with an inward looking, government-centric agenda as the nation’s primary focus. This is the moment — so long as supermajorities in Congress remain — to get it done, they plead. But wait. Doesn’t this historic moment also include a critical juncture for Iran, where a totalitarian revolutionary Islamic state might be overthrown by a popular revolt? Doesn’t the “golden opportunity” also include the potential that freedom and democracy will triumph over the death cult of the jihadists?

Sadly, it doesn’t seem so for the Obami. Not only do the administration and its restive supporters on the Left not see those international commitments as vital and “glorious” (as the president put it in deriding the conduct of the war against Islamic fascism), but they seem to imagine that the great era of prosperity and social progress is possible if we husband our resources (e.g., starve the Defense Department), limit America’s commitments (no open-ended ones, thank you), and stop raising the alarm when America is attacked. Yes, it’s as if 9/11 never occurred. Too bad reality keeps knocking at our door.

Bob Herbert gives us a peek into the mindset I think permeates the Left and the Obama administration in particular:

I’m starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation’s grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.

A celebrity scandal. A terrorist-bombing attack (the third on the homeland last year). All the same. Such a distraction. So many overheated conservatives. Can’t we just move along? You can feel his desperation and the frustration that precious time, energy, and resources are being diverted from the ultraliberal agenda:

Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation’s moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well. Now we’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.

That’s the mindset, of course, that caused the president to slough off the Christmas Day bombing. That’s the predisposition that led to the imposition of an 18-month deadline in Afghanistan — at the price of sending a mixed message about our intentions and unsettling our allies there and in Pakistan. The Democrats’ window of opportunity to remake American society is closing faster than they ever imagined. And now all anyone wants to talk about is national security, terrorism, connecting dots, and the president’s refusal to use the words “Islamic fundamentalism.” The liberals are beside themselves. This was not to be. After all, they told us, it was the Bushies who exaggerated the dangers and put us on a needlessly alarmist path. The Obami were there to put all of that aside and get back to the pent up domestic demands of the Left.

Obama plainly shares Herbert’s sense that a moment is passing us by. His policies and demeanor have been designed to replace the war against jihadists with an inward looking, government-centric agenda as the nation’s primary focus. This is the moment — so long as supermajorities in Congress remain — to get it done, they plead. But wait. Doesn’t this historic moment also include a critical juncture for Iran, where a totalitarian revolutionary Islamic state might be overthrown by a popular revolt? Doesn’t the “golden opportunity” also include the potential that freedom and democracy will triumph over the death cult of the jihadists?

Sadly, it doesn’t seem so for the Obami. Not only do the administration and its restive supporters on the Left not see those international commitments as vital and “glorious” (as the president put it in deriding the conduct of the war against Islamic fascism), but they seem to imagine that the great era of prosperity and social progress is possible if we husband our resources (e.g., starve the Defense Department), limit America’s commitments (no open-ended ones, thank you), and stop raising the alarm when America is attacked. Yes, it’s as if 9/11 never occurred. Too bad reality keeps knocking at our door.

Read Less

Bringing Us Together

Mickey Kaus lists the people who don’t like ObamaCare: old people, young people, and opponents of the bill. As for supporters of the bill, he explains:

Two subgroups here: i) Those who wanted more (like a public option or single payer) are disappointed and maybe angry and demoralized. But at least they have a good reason to show up at the polls (to elect liberals who will help them achieve what they want). ii) Those who didn’t necessarily want more–who are happy with the Pelosi/Reid product–have far less incentive to show up. For them, the deed is done. Unless, that is, Dems can somehow bait the Republicans into making repeal of Reid/Pelosi a hard-core pledge.

But even with those voters, he may be overestimating their support for the Democrats. The principled proponents of the Left, who think this is a giant sellout to big insurance companies, might very well stay home – or try to run primary opponents against establishment Democratic incumbents (remember Nick Lamont?), vote for third-party candidates, and refuse to donate to the incumbents who sold them down the river. They can be very disruptive, which is why Obama, on everything from Afghanistan to health care, has gone to great pains to try to soothe their hurt feelings (e.g., give them a withdrawal deadline on the Afghanistan surge).

And then there are many other groups (some overlapping) that hate the bill: independents, deficit hawks, pro-lifers, good-government types, taxpayers in Blue states getting the short end of the stick, union members with Cadillac plans (which are about to be taxed), small-business people, the ”rich,” and those who thought the president meant it when he said he wasn’t going to tax the non-rich. Seems like lots and lots of people.

So who is going to gain from ObamaCare? The uninsured. But do they vote in great numbers? Not as much as seniors, certainly. And certainly not in numbers equal to all the anti-ObamaCare groups. Plus, remember the timeline: the uninsured don’t get anything from this bill until 2014. They are supposed to race to the polls to defend something they won’t see, if ever, until after the 2012 presidential race? Somehow I don’t see it.

The bill is really a political wonder, a tribute to the ability to forge alliances with disparate groups. It just happens to have done that for the opposition.

Mickey Kaus lists the people who don’t like ObamaCare: old people, young people, and opponents of the bill. As for supporters of the bill, he explains:

Two subgroups here: i) Those who wanted more (like a public option or single payer) are disappointed and maybe angry and demoralized. But at least they have a good reason to show up at the polls (to elect liberals who will help them achieve what they want). ii) Those who didn’t necessarily want more–who are happy with the Pelosi/Reid product–have far less incentive to show up. For them, the deed is done. Unless, that is, Dems can somehow bait the Republicans into making repeal of Reid/Pelosi a hard-core pledge.

But even with those voters, he may be overestimating their support for the Democrats. The principled proponents of the Left, who think this is a giant sellout to big insurance companies, might very well stay home – or try to run primary opponents against establishment Democratic incumbents (remember Nick Lamont?), vote for third-party candidates, and refuse to donate to the incumbents who sold them down the river. They can be very disruptive, which is why Obama, on everything from Afghanistan to health care, has gone to great pains to try to soothe their hurt feelings (e.g., give them a withdrawal deadline on the Afghanistan surge).

And then there are many other groups (some overlapping) that hate the bill: independents, deficit hawks, pro-lifers, good-government types, taxpayers in Blue states getting the short end of the stick, union members with Cadillac plans (which are about to be taxed), small-business people, the ”rich,” and those who thought the president meant it when he said he wasn’t going to tax the non-rich. Seems like lots and lots of people.

So who is going to gain from ObamaCare? The uninsured. But do they vote in great numbers? Not as much as seniors, certainly. And certainly not in numbers equal to all the anti-ObamaCare groups. Plus, remember the timeline: the uninsured don’t get anything from this bill until 2014. They are supposed to race to the polls to defend something they won’t see, if ever, until after the 2012 presidential race? Somehow I don’t see it.

The bill is really a political wonder, a tribute to the ability to forge alliances with disparate groups. It just happens to have done that for the opposition.

Read Less

A Lesson for London

Meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem this morning, British Attorney General Baroness Scotland reiterated her government’s pledge to amend the “universal jurisdiction” law under which British courts have repeatedly issued arrest warrants against Israeli officers and politicians. That pledge, first made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month, outraged the Muslim Council of Britain, which accused the government of being “partisan” and “compliant to [Israeli] demands.”

But if Britain keeps its word, the pro-Palestinian activists who keep seeking, and getting, those warrants will have only themselves to blame. After all, British courts have issued such warrants for years without the British government batting an eye, despite vociferous Israeli protests, and could probably have continued doing so had activists only picked their targets a little more carefully. The British couldn’t care less if Israeli army officers canceled planned visits for fear of being arrested, as yet another group did last week. Ditto for right-of-center politicians such as Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who aborted a planned trip in November: Britain would rather not hear from Israelis who think peace with the Palestinians is currently impossible.

But the activists overreached last month by securing a warrant against former foreign minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Livni is the Great White Hope of peace-processors worldwide, the Israeli deemed most likely to sign a deal with the Palestinians. She won praise from her Palestinian interlocutors during a year of final-status negotiations in 2008; she publicly declares that any Israeli premier’s primary responsibility, far above such trivialities as preventing Iran from getting the bomb, is to create a Palestinian state. And, not coincidentally, she is the most left-wing Israeli who could conceivably become prime minister. If even Livni can’t travel to Britain, London would be left with no Israelis to talk to at all.

And for the pro-Palestinian radicals who seek these warrants, that’s precisely the point. In their view, there are no “good” Israelis; all Israelis (except those who favor abolishing their own country) are evil and deserve to be in jail. There’s no difference between Livni, passionately committed to Palestinian statehood, and a right-wing extremist, because Livni and the extremist are equally guilty of the cardinal sins: both believe Israel should continue to exist as a Jewish state, and both are willing to fight to defend it.

In truth, Britain ought to amend the law for its own sake: while Israelis can live without visiting London, a country whose soldiers are in combat from Iraq to Afghanistan has much to lose from encouraging universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to try any other country’s nationals for “war crimes” committed anywhere in the world, even if neither crime nor criminal has any connection to the indicting country. Hence if the Livni warrant does finally spur London to action, Britain will benefit no less than Israel does.

But it would be even more useful if the case finally prompted Britons to recognize the pro-Palestinian radicals’ true goal: not “peace,” but the end of Israel.

Meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem this morning, British Attorney General Baroness Scotland reiterated her government’s pledge to amend the “universal jurisdiction” law under which British courts have repeatedly issued arrest warrants against Israeli officers and politicians. That pledge, first made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month, outraged the Muslim Council of Britain, which accused the government of being “partisan” and “compliant to [Israeli] demands.”

But if Britain keeps its word, the pro-Palestinian activists who keep seeking, and getting, those warrants will have only themselves to blame. After all, British courts have issued such warrants for years without the British government batting an eye, despite vociferous Israeli protests, and could probably have continued doing so had activists only picked their targets a little more carefully. The British couldn’t care less if Israeli army officers canceled planned visits for fear of being arrested, as yet another group did last week. Ditto for right-of-center politicians such as Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who aborted a planned trip in November: Britain would rather not hear from Israelis who think peace with the Palestinians is currently impossible.

But the activists overreached last month by securing a warrant against former foreign minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Livni is the Great White Hope of peace-processors worldwide, the Israeli deemed most likely to sign a deal with the Palestinians. She won praise from her Palestinian interlocutors during a year of final-status negotiations in 2008; she publicly declares that any Israeli premier’s primary responsibility, far above such trivialities as preventing Iran from getting the bomb, is to create a Palestinian state. And, not coincidentally, she is the most left-wing Israeli who could conceivably become prime minister. If even Livni can’t travel to Britain, London would be left with no Israelis to talk to at all.

And for the pro-Palestinian radicals who seek these warrants, that’s precisely the point. In their view, there are no “good” Israelis; all Israelis (except those who favor abolishing their own country) are evil and deserve to be in jail. There’s no difference between Livni, passionately committed to Palestinian statehood, and a right-wing extremist, because Livni and the extremist are equally guilty of the cardinal sins: both believe Israel should continue to exist as a Jewish state, and both are willing to fight to defend it.

In truth, Britain ought to amend the law for its own sake: while Israelis can live without visiting London, a country whose soldiers are in combat from Iraq to Afghanistan has much to lose from encouraging universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to try any other country’s nationals for “war crimes” committed anywhere in the world, even if neither crime nor criminal has any connection to the indicting country. Hence if the Livni warrant does finally spur London to action, Britain will benefit no less than Israel does.

But it would be even more useful if the case finally prompted Britons to recognize the pro-Palestinian radicals’ true goal: not “peace,” but the end of Israel.

Read Less

Re: Could Massachusetts Save Us from ObamaCare?

John, a potential victory by Republican Scott Brown in the race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat – which would be “10″ on the political Richter scale — is now more than simply a pipe dream by conservatives looking to upset ObamaCare and deliver a megadose of political medicine to the cocooned Beltway set. The race seems to be fairly close. Scott Rasmussen, following a private poll with a margin of 11 points for State Attorney General Martha Coakley, shows that the race is now down to nine points. Here is the kicker:

Special elections are typically decided by who shows up to vote and it is clear from the data that Brown’s supporters are more enthusiastic. In fact, among those who are absolutely certain they will vote, Brown pulls to within two points of Coakley. That suggests a very low turnout will help the Republican and a higher turnout is better for the Democrat.

Coakley is not exactly wowing them in the Bay State. As Boston radio talk-show host Michael Graham reports:

She’s insisting that the obscure third-party candidate (named, ironically enough, “Joe Kennedy”) be included in the few debates she has agreed to participate in. So few debates, in fact, that their radio debate this morning on my station, WTKK-FM in Boston, is turning into a huge media event. It’s a smart strategy for Coakley, a weak and unimpressive candidate, but it also shows how little confidence her campaign team has in their candidate.

Now, this is Massachusetts, so don’t bet the farm on a Brown once-in-a-generation upset. But by the same token, this is Massachusetts. If a Democrat is in a close race to replace Ted Kennedy there, what does this say about the political landscapes in Arkansas, Nevada, and a lot of other states with competitive races? Frankly, if the election is close, Democrats should be very, very nervous.

John, a potential victory by Republican Scott Brown in the race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat – which would be “10″ on the political Richter scale — is now more than simply a pipe dream by conservatives looking to upset ObamaCare and deliver a megadose of political medicine to the cocooned Beltway set. The race seems to be fairly close. Scott Rasmussen, following a private poll with a margin of 11 points for State Attorney General Martha Coakley, shows that the race is now down to nine points. Here is the kicker:

Special elections are typically decided by who shows up to vote and it is clear from the data that Brown’s supporters are more enthusiastic. In fact, among those who are absolutely certain they will vote, Brown pulls to within two points of Coakley. That suggests a very low turnout will help the Republican and a higher turnout is better for the Democrat.

Coakley is not exactly wowing them in the Bay State. As Boston radio talk-show host Michael Graham reports:

She’s insisting that the obscure third-party candidate (named, ironically enough, “Joe Kennedy”) be included in the few debates she has agreed to participate in. So few debates, in fact, that their radio debate this morning on my station, WTKK-FM in Boston, is turning into a huge media event. It’s a smart strategy for Coakley, a weak and unimpressive candidate, but it also shows how little confidence her campaign team has in their candidate.

Now, this is Massachusetts, so don’t bet the farm on a Brown once-in-a-generation upset. But by the same token, this is Massachusetts. If a Democrat is in a close race to replace Ted Kennedy there, what does this say about the political landscapes in Arkansas, Nevada, and a lot of other states with competitive races? Frankly, if the election is close, Democrats should be very, very nervous.

Read Less

Behind Closed Doors

Shocking, I know, but the Democrats are going to dispense with a real conference committee on health care and hammer out a quickie (they hope) deal behind closed doors. As this report notes, “the maneuver gives Democratic leaders the ability to quickly work through hundreds of differences between the 2,000-page bills and to keep control over the deals they will need to make on politically touchy topics such as abortion, taxes and Medicare cuts.”

Lefties are miffed because they, like the Republicans, will be shut out. Over at the Huffington Post one complains:

You see, if there was even a tiny chance this bill was going to get better in conference committee, that chance was, in part, reliant on progressive pressure on an open process. Ya know, pressuring individual conferees on specific amendments, etc. But if the conference negotiations take place in secret, that progressive public pressure is far harder to muster and to appropriately target.

The media concedes that it is not transparent at all and violates Obama’s campaign promises (however overwrought) about open health-care negotiations. (“An informal conference is likely to reinforce claims that Democrats haven’t upheld Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge to keep the health care reform process transparent — complete with C-SPAN cameras.”)  And once again, it is obvious that the only way lawmakers can pass a noxious bill is by hiding it from the voters.

Just as it was with the contents of the bill, the process is defended by only the Democratic leadership and, presumably, the White House. The closed-door scurrying, like the bill itself, is not defensible as a matter of good governance. It is simply the only viable means for passing a bill the country hates. Liberals, who are whining about their leadership’s lack of openness and the sellout to big insurance companies, can stop this, of course. All they have to do is find some Democratic lawmakers to vote “no.” A dozen in the House would do the trick. One senator is all they need. But as usual, it seems as though the Left has more bark than bite, and the Democrats will shuffle along, consent to secret deal-making, and vote to force Americans to pay bzillions to big insurance companies. No wonder their base is demoralized.

Shocking, I know, but the Democrats are going to dispense with a real conference committee on health care and hammer out a quickie (they hope) deal behind closed doors. As this report notes, “the maneuver gives Democratic leaders the ability to quickly work through hundreds of differences between the 2,000-page bills and to keep control over the deals they will need to make on politically touchy topics such as abortion, taxes and Medicare cuts.”

Lefties are miffed because they, like the Republicans, will be shut out. Over at the Huffington Post one complains:

You see, if there was even a tiny chance this bill was going to get better in conference committee, that chance was, in part, reliant on progressive pressure on an open process. Ya know, pressuring individual conferees on specific amendments, etc. But if the conference negotiations take place in secret, that progressive public pressure is far harder to muster and to appropriately target.

The media concedes that it is not transparent at all and violates Obama’s campaign promises (however overwrought) about open health-care negotiations. (“An informal conference is likely to reinforce claims that Democrats haven’t upheld Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge to keep the health care reform process transparent — complete with C-SPAN cameras.”)  And once again, it is obvious that the only way lawmakers can pass a noxious bill is by hiding it from the voters.

Just as it was with the contents of the bill, the process is defended by only the Democratic leadership and, presumably, the White House. The closed-door scurrying, like the bill itself, is not defensible as a matter of good governance. It is simply the only viable means for passing a bill the country hates. Liberals, who are whining about their leadership’s lack of openness and the sellout to big insurance companies, can stop this, of course. All they have to do is find some Democratic lawmakers to vote “no.” A dozen in the House would do the trick. One senator is all they need. But as usual, it seems as though the Left has more bark than bite, and the Democrats will shuffle along, consent to secret deal-making, and vote to force Americans to pay bzillions to big insurance companies. No wonder their base is demoralized.

Read Less

The Spin Factory Goes Haywire

Deep into defensive spin mode on the Christmas Day bombing plot, the Obama team is fanning out with talking points. “The system works most of the time.” Yikes. OK, there is this one: “It is only in retrospect that the clues are clear.” Yikes again. (Isn’t this why we have people looking at clues prospectively?) The worst: “There was no smoking gun.” That one set off Charles Hurt, who writes:

Of course there was “no single piece of intelligence” that spelled it out. You have to put the pieces together, genius. Anyway, we’re not talking about a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle here. This was more like one of those children’s puzzles with four giant pieces that have to be laid out of the floor, and each piece gives you a pretty good idea of what you’re looking at.

Really, do the Obami imagine that they bear no responsibility unless they get a note with the date, time, and place of the next attack, or that they only need to catch 75 percent of the plots? I suppose they can try to convince us of that, but there must be some voice of sanity cautioning against this nonsense. Right?

The Obama spinners who have descended on radio- and cable-news shows seem conflicted. They dare not defend the president’s shabby handling of the incident. The more candid of them concede he is “struggling to find the right tone,” but they plead that he’s really being treated oh so unfairly by all of these second-guessers and partisans who insist on finding out what went wrong. So the Obama supporters retreat to Napolitano-like talking points: no system is perfect, we are doing everything we can, and we have to learn to live with the inevitability of one of these bombers succeeding. (Just not on a flight with them or their loved ones, I suppose.)

It is rather cringe-inducing. Suggest that an independent commission look at this? Oh, you’ll hear howls (where were they during the Bush years?) that these commissions never really work, that creating new systems is a process fraught with unintended consequences, and it’s all a counterproductive blame game. In their book, no one should get fired, no real reforms are needed, and the real problem is all the Republican criticism.

I suspect all of this will crumble as Congress returns and hearings get under way. Democrats in Congress can’t appear to cover for the festival of incompetence or forfeit the national-security issue to the other party. At some point, even Democrats must concede that the White House spin is not only unbelievable but enormously counterproductive.

Deep into defensive spin mode on the Christmas Day bombing plot, the Obama team is fanning out with talking points. “The system works most of the time.” Yikes. OK, there is this one: “It is only in retrospect that the clues are clear.” Yikes again. (Isn’t this why we have people looking at clues prospectively?) The worst: “There was no smoking gun.” That one set off Charles Hurt, who writes:

Of course there was “no single piece of intelligence” that spelled it out. You have to put the pieces together, genius. Anyway, we’re not talking about a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle here. This was more like one of those children’s puzzles with four giant pieces that have to be laid out of the floor, and each piece gives you a pretty good idea of what you’re looking at.

Really, do the Obami imagine that they bear no responsibility unless they get a note with the date, time, and place of the next attack, or that they only need to catch 75 percent of the plots? I suppose they can try to convince us of that, but there must be some voice of sanity cautioning against this nonsense. Right?

The Obama spinners who have descended on radio- and cable-news shows seem conflicted. They dare not defend the president’s shabby handling of the incident. The more candid of them concede he is “struggling to find the right tone,” but they plead that he’s really being treated oh so unfairly by all of these second-guessers and partisans who insist on finding out what went wrong. So the Obama supporters retreat to Napolitano-like talking points: no system is perfect, we are doing everything we can, and we have to learn to live with the inevitability of one of these bombers succeeding. (Just not on a flight with them or their loved ones, I suppose.)

It is rather cringe-inducing. Suggest that an independent commission look at this? Oh, you’ll hear howls (where were they during the Bush years?) that these commissions never really work, that creating new systems is a process fraught with unintended consequences, and it’s all a counterproductive blame game. In their book, no one should get fired, no real reforms are needed, and the real problem is all the Republican criticism.

I suspect all of this will crumble as Congress returns and hearings get under way. Democrats in Congress can’t appear to cover for the festival of incompetence or forfeit the national-security issue to the other party. At some point, even Democrats must concede that the White House spin is not only unbelievable but enormously counterproductive.

Read Less

D.C.’s Boggling Bag Tax

This week, the District of Columbia began charging shoppers 5 cents for each plastic bag. Consumers and grocery-store clerks are in for a headache.

A nickel might not seem like much. But anyone who has lived recently in Hong Kong and experienced their 6-cent bag tax knows how burdensome that levy makes commerce. There, grocery-store clerks must cram as much as possible into a single, side-split reusable bag – or face a perturbed customer. (Never underestimate the public’s desire to save a buck.) Milk, butter, and eggs become Tetris blocks; and consequently, the checkout lines grow longer and longer as clerks painstakingly pack for maximum space efficiency.

But that is not all. Customers once re-used their grocery bags to dispose of trash; now, in Hong Kong, they buy trash bags. This suggests the tax is not effective in reducing bag consumption; it certainly doesn’t encourage conservation of resources. But it does, evidently, cause delay and hassle for everyone.

The nice thing about living in Washington is that voters choose all of their city-council members, unlike Hong Kongers. Next time they’re voting, the harried shoppers of D.C. might remember this lesson in the unintended consequences of government meddling.

This week, the District of Columbia began charging shoppers 5 cents for each plastic bag. Consumers and grocery-store clerks are in for a headache.

A nickel might not seem like much. But anyone who has lived recently in Hong Kong and experienced their 6-cent bag tax knows how burdensome that levy makes commerce. There, grocery-store clerks must cram as much as possible into a single, side-split reusable bag – or face a perturbed customer. (Never underestimate the public’s desire to save a buck.) Milk, butter, and eggs become Tetris blocks; and consequently, the checkout lines grow longer and longer as clerks painstakingly pack for maximum space efficiency.

But that is not all. Customers once re-used their grocery bags to dispose of trash; now, in Hong Kong, they buy trash bags. This suggests the tax is not effective in reducing bag consumption; it certainly doesn’t encourage conservation of resources. But it does, evidently, cause delay and hassle for everyone.

The nice thing about living in Washington is that voters choose all of their city-council members, unlike Hong Kongers. Next time they’re voting, the harried shoppers of D.C. might remember this lesson in the unintended consequences of government meddling.

Read Less

Just a Notch on a Belt

Buried deep inside an angst-filled column complaining that Obama is underappreciated and overly criticized, Richard Cohen concedes what many on both the Right and Left suspect: “He wanted a health-care bill. Why? To cover the uncovered. Maybe. To rein in the insurance companies. Maybe. To lower costs. Maybe. What mattered most was getting a bill, any bill. This is not a cause. It’s a notch on a belt.” We suspect that is true in part because Obama never really told us what he wanted in the bill. He never sent a proposal to Congress. He didn’t spell out specific requirements for his plan in that game-changing (not) speech in September. Each time Congress moved ahead with one version or another, Obama praised the effort without much comment on the content. Some thought it was tactical. But maybe he never really cared what was in it.

That conclusion is reinforced by the bill’s content and timing. As for the content, it doesn’t do what the president in broadest strokes said he wanted to accomplish. James Capretta points out that this isn’t “universal” care:

The House and Senate bills would add 15 million or more people to [Medicaid's] rolls without any guarantee whatsoever that there will be doctors and hospitals that can see them. Ironically, the very Democrats who most frequently tout “universality” as the goal are also the ones who ensure it will never actually come about by insisting that America’s lower-income families enroll in government-run insurance — with no other options. Beyond the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare is really an obligation, not a right. Every citizen would be required to sign up with a government-approved health-insurance plan or pay a tax penalty for going without coverage.

And even its proponents concede there will still be 23 million or so uninsured. Nor does the bill meet the president’s goals of deficit neutrality or cost cutting:

[T]he claim that bill lowers the deficit means that, in addition to cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, the Senate would also raise half a trillion in new taxes — during a recession. Only a series of accounting gimmicks — such as implementing benefits beginning in 2014 but raising taxes starting in 2010, and double-counting Medicare savings — allowed Senate majority leader Harry Reid to get a CBO cost estimate that pretends to add “not one dime” to the deficit. Medicare actuary Foster found that the Senate bill would bend the cost curve up, not down, and that the new taxes on drugs, devices, and health-insurance plans would increase prices and health-insurance costs for consumers.

But the telltale sign that Obama doesn’t really much care about the merits of the bill or any of the bill’s promised benefits is the timeline. The Heritage Foundation lays this out in detail:

2010: Physician Medicare payments decrease 21% effective March 1, 2010

2011: “Annual Fee” tax on health insurance, allocated according to share of total premiums. Begins at $2 billion in 2011, then increases to $4 billion in 2012, $7 billion in 2013, $9 billion in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and eventually $10 billion for 2017 and every year thereafter. Two insurers in Nebraska and one in Michigan are exempt from this tax.

2012: Medicare payment penalties for hospitals with the highest readmission rates for selected conditions.

2013: Medicare tax increased from 2.9% to 3.8% for incomes over $250,000 (joint filers) or $200,000 (all others). (This is stated as an increase of 0.9 percentage points, to only the employee’s share of the FICA tax.)

2014: Individual mandate begins: Tax penalties for not having insurance begin at $95 or 0.5% of income, whichever is higher, rising to $495 or 1% of income in 2015 and $750 or 2% of income thereafter (indexed for inflation after 2016). These penalties are per adult, half that amount per child, to a maximum of three times the per-adult amount per family. The penalty is capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan.

2015: Establishment of Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) to recommend cuts in Medicare benefits; these cuts will go into effect automatically unless Congress passes, and the President signs, an override bill.

2016: Individual mandate penalty rises to $750 per adult ($375 per child), maximum $2,250 per family, or 2% of family income, whichever is higher (capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan). After 2016, the penalty will be increased each year to adjust for inflation.

2017: Itemized deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses is limited to expenses over 10% of AGI for those over age 65.

Bottom line: nothing but taxes and Medicare cuts begin before 2014. This is not a serious plan to address a health-care “crisis,” is it? No. It is an effort to throw something up against the wall and clean up the mess later. It won’t be proven “not to work” before Obama’s last election because it isn’t designed to really do anything, other than raise taxes, for the next four years. It is the ultimate placeholder that Obama can check off on his to-do list without the responsibility for actually solving the crisis he told us we had to fix urgently – before Christmas 2009.

It is hard, then, to quibble with Cohen. This isn’t a serious effort to reform health care. It’s lazy governance from a president who couldn’t face failure or craft a coherent bill. He and Democrats in the House and Senate imagine that the voters are too dumb to figure this out. We’ll test that proposition in November.

Buried deep inside an angst-filled column complaining that Obama is underappreciated and overly criticized, Richard Cohen concedes what many on both the Right and Left suspect: “He wanted a health-care bill. Why? To cover the uncovered. Maybe. To rein in the insurance companies. Maybe. To lower costs. Maybe. What mattered most was getting a bill, any bill. This is not a cause. It’s a notch on a belt.” We suspect that is true in part because Obama never really told us what he wanted in the bill. He never sent a proposal to Congress. He didn’t spell out specific requirements for his plan in that game-changing (not) speech in September. Each time Congress moved ahead with one version or another, Obama praised the effort without much comment on the content. Some thought it was tactical. But maybe he never really cared what was in it.

That conclusion is reinforced by the bill’s content and timing. As for the content, it doesn’t do what the president in broadest strokes said he wanted to accomplish. James Capretta points out that this isn’t “universal” care:

The House and Senate bills would add 15 million or more people to [Medicaid's] rolls without any guarantee whatsoever that there will be doctors and hospitals that can see them. Ironically, the very Democrats who most frequently tout “universality” as the goal are also the ones who ensure it will never actually come about by insisting that America’s lower-income families enroll in government-run insurance — with no other options. Beyond the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare is really an obligation, not a right. Every citizen would be required to sign up with a government-approved health-insurance plan or pay a tax penalty for going without coverage.

And even its proponents concede there will still be 23 million or so uninsured. Nor does the bill meet the president’s goals of deficit neutrality or cost cutting:

[T]he claim that bill lowers the deficit means that, in addition to cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, the Senate would also raise half a trillion in new taxes — during a recession. Only a series of accounting gimmicks — such as implementing benefits beginning in 2014 but raising taxes starting in 2010, and double-counting Medicare savings — allowed Senate majority leader Harry Reid to get a CBO cost estimate that pretends to add “not one dime” to the deficit. Medicare actuary Foster found that the Senate bill would bend the cost curve up, not down, and that the new taxes on drugs, devices, and health-insurance plans would increase prices and health-insurance costs for consumers.

But the telltale sign that Obama doesn’t really much care about the merits of the bill or any of the bill’s promised benefits is the timeline. The Heritage Foundation lays this out in detail:

2010: Physician Medicare payments decrease 21% effective March 1, 2010

2011: “Annual Fee” tax on health insurance, allocated according to share of total premiums. Begins at $2 billion in 2011, then increases to $4 billion in 2012, $7 billion in 2013, $9 billion in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and eventually $10 billion for 2017 and every year thereafter. Two insurers in Nebraska and one in Michigan are exempt from this tax.

2012: Medicare payment penalties for hospitals with the highest readmission rates for selected conditions.

2013: Medicare tax increased from 2.9% to 3.8% for incomes over $250,000 (joint filers) or $200,000 (all others). (This is stated as an increase of 0.9 percentage points, to only the employee’s share of the FICA tax.)

2014: Individual mandate begins: Tax penalties for not having insurance begin at $95 or 0.5% of income, whichever is higher, rising to $495 or 1% of income in 2015 and $750 or 2% of income thereafter (indexed for inflation after 2016). These penalties are per adult, half that amount per child, to a maximum of three times the per-adult amount per family. The penalty is capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan.

2015: Establishment of Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) to recommend cuts in Medicare benefits; these cuts will go into effect automatically unless Congress passes, and the President signs, an override bill.

2016: Individual mandate penalty rises to $750 per adult ($375 per child), maximum $2,250 per family, or 2% of family income, whichever is higher (capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan). After 2016, the penalty will be increased each year to adjust for inflation.

2017: Itemized deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses is limited to expenses over 10% of AGI for those over age 65.

Bottom line: nothing but taxes and Medicare cuts begin before 2014. This is not a serious plan to address a health-care “crisis,” is it? No. It is an effort to throw something up against the wall and clean up the mess later. It won’t be proven “not to work” before Obama’s last election because it isn’t designed to really do anything, other than raise taxes, for the next four years. It is the ultimate placeholder that Obama can check off on his to-do list without the responsibility for actually solving the crisis he told us we had to fix urgently – before Christmas 2009.

It is hard, then, to quibble with Cohen. This isn’t a serious effort to reform health care. It’s lazy governance from a president who couldn’t face failure or craft a coherent bill. He and Democrats in the House and Senate imagine that the voters are too dumb to figure this out. We’ll test that proposition in November.

Read Less

Meet The Tea Party Movement

Well, at least David Brooks introduces the Upper West Side to the Tea Party movement. He notes:

The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation. . .

The movement is especially popular among independents. The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent.

Now he does tip the scales a bit, suggesting that its “flamboyant fringe” has gotten the most attention. (Beware the passive voice: To be clear, the mainstream media have given the most attention to the flamboyant fringe.) And, yes, he does minimize the radicalism of the Obami to which the Tea Party movement objects. (“The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems.”) Actually, I think it’s fair to say (in fact Brooks has been candid enough to say it on occasion) that the Obama team has become infatuated with a certain type of problem-solving — centralized, blind to unintended consequences, arrogant in the assumption of expertise, and lacking humility about government bureaucrats’ ability to micromanage the lives of hundreds of millions of us. But Brooks has one thing right:

Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally. Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history — the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.

And as for his concern about “mediocre” leadership of this populist movement, he seems unaware of an extremely dynamic figure who has embraced the Tea Party movement and they, her. She wrote a book – and millions of them turned out to get it signed. She has more than a million people on her Facebook page, which enables her to entirely bypass the mainstream media, including the Gray Lady, of course. She took up the issue of health-care rationing and made “death panels” the most widely understood objection to ObamaCare. Elites don’t much care for her, but then that’s just fine with the Tea Party troops.

But there are many potential leaders for a populist movement based on limited government, the rule of law, and defense of free-market capitalism. The interesting thing about the foot soldiers in a popular movement: they find the leaders they like. What they have to start with, however, is rare and valuable in politics: a set of convictions, enormous enthusiasm, experience in organizing, and an increasingly unpopular and out of touch ”establishment” (including media elites) to rail against. And Brooks might want to reconsider the timing just a bit (“I can certainly see its potential to shape the coming decade”). The Tea Party folks seem to think their time is now.

Well, at least David Brooks introduces the Upper West Side to the Tea Party movement. He notes:

The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation. . .

The movement is especially popular among independents. The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent.

Now he does tip the scales a bit, suggesting that its “flamboyant fringe” has gotten the most attention. (Beware the passive voice: To be clear, the mainstream media have given the most attention to the flamboyant fringe.) And, yes, he does minimize the radicalism of the Obami to which the Tea Party movement objects. (“The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems.”) Actually, I think it’s fair to say (in fact Brooks has been candid enough to say it on occasion) that the Obama team has become infatuated with a certain type of problem-solving — centralized, blind to unintended consequences, arrogant in the assumption of expertise, and lacking humility about government bureaucrats’ ability to micromanage the lives of hundreds of millions of us. But Brooks has one thing right:

Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally. Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history — the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.

And as for his concern about “mediocre” leadership of this populist movement, he seems unaware of an extremely dynamic figure who has embraced the Tea Party movement and they, her. She wrote a book – and millions of them turned out to get it signed. She has more than a million people on her Facebook page, which enables her to entirely bypass the mainstream media, including the Gray Lady, of course. She took up the issue of health-care rationing and made “death panels” the most widely understood objection to ObamaCare. Elites don’t much care for her, but then that’s just fine with the Tea Party troops.

But there are many potential leaders for a populist movement based on limited government, the rule of law, and defense of free-market capitalism. The interesting thing about the foot soldiers in a popular movement: they find the leaders they like. What they have to start with, however, is rare and valuable in politics: a set of convictions, enormous enthusiasm, experience in organizing, and an increasingly unpopular and out of touch ”establishment” (including media elites) to rail against. And Brooks might want to reconsider the timing just a bit (“I can certainly see its potential to shape the coming decade”). The Tea Party folks seem to think their time is now.

Read Less

The Price of Lawyering Up

Bill Burck picks up on John Brennan’s comments on Sunday, indicating that we are prepared to “deal” — that is, make a deal and not get tough with the Christmas Day bomber Abdulmutallab. He explains:

Had Abdulmutallab been designated as an enemy combatant from the start, we would not have had to offer him anything at all in exchange for the information he possesses. He could have been interrogated immediately by professionals without Miranda warnings, without a lawyer, and against his will. Given that he appears to have been willing to talk for awhile before he demanded a lawyer, it is a fair assumption that he would have continued talking if he didn’t have the option of lawyering up. . . . So, here are the perverse incentives for terrorists who come to this country to kill us — assuming you don’t succeed in blowing yourself up and are captured, you will have a right to a lawyer, a right to remain silent, a right to trial by a jury of your “peers,” and the possibility of early release if you cooperate with authorities.

The Obami, their lefty lawyers at the Justice Department, and their media cheerleaders think this is exactly how it’s supposed to work. We show our values by extending Constitutional protections to those who did not enjoy such protections in previous wars. They ignore or indifferent to the fact that we thereby limit out intelligence gathering.

Even if we make a “deal,” valuable time is still lost, leads may evaporate, and information becomes stale. And if he chooses not to “make a deal,” (because, after all, he’s heading for a trial, many appeals and a journey through the ACLU-guided American legal system) we get no information at all. He might well conclude this is the smarter course. You see, after the trial, legal battles for privileges in prison ensue and perhaps a sympathetic judge will spring him at some point in the proceedings. If that’s what he and his lawyers can figure out, he would keep quiet now and we would get zilch. After all, making a deal isn’t a necessity when you can play the American system with a court-appointed lawyer.

What “smoking gun” are we missing by allowing this to unfold? What plots will go undetected? We don’t know. But the Obami think we get brownie points with someone for doing this. And those who are on the plane targeted by the next terrorist plot that might have been uncovered had Abdulmutallab been interrogated as an enemy combatant — what about them? Not much thought is given to them by Eric Holder and his crew.

The gap between the Obami and the rest of the country on this issue is vast, I would suggest. The average American must think this is insanity. We risk American lives so that terrorists will feel better about our justice system? That’s what the president thinks. That’s what his fellow Democrats think as they enable this policy by funding the Obami’s efforts to relocate and try terrorists in the U.S. – as well as by the appalling lack of Congressional oversight to date.

There is however a “solution” to this divergence between popular and leftist elite opinion: the 2010 elections. This should be a hot topic of debate. And soon enough we’ll find out whether Obama is defending “our” values or rather some misbegotten experiment in radical lawyering.

Bill Burck picks up on John Brennan’s comments on Sunday, indicating that we are prepared to “deal” — that is, make a deal and not get tough with the Christmas Day bomber Abdulmutallab. He explains:

Had Abdulmutallab been designated as an enemy combatant from the start, we would not have had to offer him anything at all in exchange for the information he possesses. He could have been interrogated immediately by professionals without Miranda warnings, without a lawyer, and against his will. Given that he appears to have been willing to talk for awhile before he demanded a lawyer, it is a fair assumption that he would have continued talking if he didn’t have the option of lawyering up. . . . So, here are the perverse incentives for terrorists who come to this country to kill us — assuming you don’t succeed in blowing yourself up and are captured, you will have a right to a lawyer, a right to remain silent, a right to trial by a jury of your “peers,” and the possibility of early release if you cooperate with authorities.

The Obami, their lefty lawyers at the Justice Department, and their media cheerleaders think this is exactly how it’s supposed to work. We show our values by extending Constitutional protections to those who did not enjoy such protections in previous wars. They ignore or indifferent to the fact that we thereby limit out intelligence gathering.

Even if we make a “deal,” valuable time is still lost, leads may evaporate, and information becomes stale. And if he chooses not to “make a deal,” (because, after all, he’s heading for a trial, many appeals and a journey through the ACLU-guided American legal system) we get no information at all. He might well conclude this is the smarter course. You see, after the trial, legal battles for privileges in prison ensue and perhaps a sympathetic judge will spring him at some point in the proceedings. If that’s what he and his lawyers can figure out, he would keep quiet now and we would get zilch. After all, making a deal isn’t a necessity when you can play the American system with a court-appointed lawyer.

What “smoking gun” are we missing by allowing this to unfold? What plots will go undetected? We don’t know. But the Obami think we get brownie points with someone for doing this. And those who are on the plane targeted by the next terrorist plot that might have been uncovered had Abdulmutallab been interrogated as an enemy combatant — what about them? Not much thought is given to them by Eric Holder and his crew.

The gap between the Obami and the rest of the country on this issue is vast, I would suggest. The average American must think this is insanity. We risk American lives so that terrorists will feel better about our justice system? That’s what the president thinks. That’s what his fellow Democrats think as they enable this policy by funding the Obami’s efforts to relocate and try terrorists in the U.S. – as well as by the appalling lack of Congressional oversight to date.

There is however a “solution” to this divergence between popular and leftist elite opinion: the 2010 elections. This should be a hot topic of debate. And soon enough we’ll find out whether Obama is defending “our” values or rather some misbegotten experiment in radical lawyering.

Read Less

Why Is Napolitano Still There?

Mickey Kaus wants to know why the chattering class is being so nice to Janet Napolitano. Maureen Dowd, David Broder, and a bunch of former and current office-holders rallied around her over the weekend. But she is a national punch line, forever tied to her “the system worked” hooey, so what’s the story? Kaus muses: “Does she give great parties? Is it that DHS has a highly effective, overactive P.R. person? Or does America’s bureaucratic capital simply overvalue those whose first instinct is to defend their bureaucracy?” Well, even conservatives who know her say she is pleasant, and that counts for something, I suppose. But when Michael Chertoff damns her with faint praise (“her heart is in the right place”) I get a bit suspicious.

Here’s a theory: it is in everyone’s interest (except that of the American people, but their views don’t count for much on vital national issues such as health care, so why listen to them on this, right?) to keep her around. The Republicans don’t want this to stop with the Secretary of Homeland Security. They place responsibility on the president and his weirdly inappropriate conduct of the war against Islamic fundamentalists (whom he won’t identify as the enemy). And as long as she is around saying dopey things, the Republicans’ case that the Obami are out to lunch on anti-terrorism is strengthened. She is a useful piñata. Meanwhile, the Democrats don’t want any heads to start rolling because then the public might get the idea that this is a really big deal. Dumping her would be inconsistent with their line that they’ve always been on top of things. And then the White House never likes to fire anyone (recall how long it took to get rid of 9/11 “truther” Van Jones) because that might suggest the Obami either have made a specific mistake or, more generally, lack judgment. So she just might be safe in the near term. Which makes everyone happy. Except the public.

Mickey Kaus wants to know why the chattering class is being so nice to Janet Napolitano. Maureen Dowd, David Broder, and a bunch of former and current office-holders rallied around her over the weekend. But she is a national punch line, forever tied to her “the system worked” hooey, so what’s the story? Kaus muses: “Does she give great parties? Is it that DHS has a highly effective, overactive P.R. person? Or does America’s bureaucratic capital simply overvalue those whose first instinct is to defend their bureaucracy?” Well, even conservatives who know her say she is pleasant, and that counts for something, I suppose. But when Michael Chertoff damns her with faint praise (“her heart is in the right place”) I get a bit suspicious.

Here’s a theory: it is in everyone’s interest (except that of the American people, but their views don’t count for much on vital national issues such as health care, so why listen to them on this, right?) to keep her around. The Republicans don’t want this to stop with the Secretary of Homeland Security. They place responsibility on the president and his weirdly inappropriate conduct of the war against Islamic fundamentalists (whom he won’t identify as the enemy). And as long as she is around saying dopey things, the Republicans’ case that the Obami are out to lunch on anti-terrorism is strengthened. She is a useful piñata. Meanwhile, the Democrats don’t want any heads to start rolling because then the public might get the idea that this is a really big deal. Dumping her would be inconsistent with their line that they’ve always been on top of things. And then the White House never likes to fire anyone (recall how long it took to get rid of 9/11 “truther” Van Jones) because that might suggest the Obami either have made a specific mistake or, more generally, lack judgment. So she just might be safe in the near term. Which makes everyone happy. Except the public.

Read Less

Hillary Clinton Delivers New Year’s Assurances for the Mullahs

Hillary Clinton emerges from her long absence to deliver this blather on Iran:

Now, we’ve avoided using the term “deadline” ourselves. That’s not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we’ve also made it clear we can’t continue to wait and we cannot continue to stand by when the Iranians themselves talk about increasing their production of high-enriched uranium and additional facilities for nuclear power that very likely can be put to dual use.

So we have already begun discussions with our partners and with likeminded nations about pressure and sanctions. I can’t appropriately comment on the details of those discussions now, except to say that our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iraqis who deserve better than what they currently are receiving.

Iran is going through a very turbulent period in its history. There are many troubling signs of the actions that they are taking. And we want to reiterate that we stand with those Iranians who are peacefully demonstrating. We mourn the loss of innocent life. We condemn the detention and imprisonment, the torture and abuse of people, which seems to be accelerating. And we hope that there will be an opportunity for Iran to reverse course, to begin engaging in a positive way with the international community, respecting the rights of their own citizens. But we’re going to continue on our dual-track approach.

No, the Obami haven’t given up on engagement, nor do those “crippling sanctions” seem to be in the cards. Regime change? You must be joking! All she can muster is the “hope” that Iran will reverse course. Not that we would do much to aid in that effort. We are simply taking notes — isn’t that what “bearing witness” is all about? — as Iranian citizens disappear or are tortured or killed. Now she does express “concerns” and is “disturbed” –  “deeply” disturbed, as her boss expressed, begrudgingly, after the June 12 election was stolen: “So yes, we have concerns about their behavior, we have concerns about their intentions, and we are deeply disturbed by the mounting signs of ruthless repression that they are exercising against those who assemble and express viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” That level of concern and “disturbance” does not rise, however, to warning the mullahs of the consequences of their behavior. No, there are none of those in sight. And how genteel is her description that the Iranian people express “viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” Yes, the Iranian people would like not to be snatched from their homes or have their children tortured; the regime takes the contrary view. All so polite. All so very Foggy Bottom-ish.

Can you imagine how delighted the Iranian regime must be to hear this unintelligible mush from the Obama team? Clinton has told them that there isn’t really any “deadline” and that they can proceed without fear of any serious consequences for their behavior. For the mullahs, that’s a delightful start for 2010. For the people of Iran? Not so much.

Hillary Clinton emerges from her long absence to deliver this blather on Iran:

Now, we’ve avoided using the term “deadline” ourselves. That’s not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we’ve also made it clear we can’t continue to wait and we cannot continue to stand by when the Iranians themselves talk about increasing their production of high-enriched uranium and additional facilities for nuclear power that very likely can be put to dual use.

So we have already begun discussions with our partners and with likeminded nations about pressure and sanctions. I can’t appropriately comment on the details of those discussions now, except to say that our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iraqis who deserve better than what they currently are receiving.

Iran is going through a very turbulent period in its history. There are many troubling signs of the actions that they are taking. And we want to reiterate that we stand with those Iranians who are peacefully demonstrating. We mourn the loss of innocent life. We condemn the detention and imprisonment, the torture and abuse of people, which seems to be accelerating. And we hope that there will be an opportunity for Iran to reverse course, to begin engaging in a positive way with the international community, respecting the rights of their own citizens. But we’re going to continue on our dual-track approach.

No, the Obami haven’t given up on engagement, nor do those “crippling sanctions” seem to be in the cards. Regime change? You must be joking! All she can muster is the “hope” that Iran will reverse course. Not that we would do much to aid in that effort. We are simply taking notes — isn’t that what “bearing witness” is all about? — as Iranian citizens disappear or are tortured or killed. Now she does express “concerns” and is “disturbed” –  “deeply” disturbed, as her boss expressed, begrudgingly, after the June 12 election was stolen: “So yes, we have concerns about their behavior, we have concerns about their intentions, and we are deeply disturbed by the mounting signs of ruthless repression that they are exercising against those who assemble and express viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” That level of concern and “disturbance” does not rise, however, to warning the mullahs of the consequences of their behavior. No, there are none of those in sight. And how genteel is her description that the Iranian people express “viewpoints that are at variance with what the leadership of Iran wants to hear.” Yes, the Iranian people would like not to be snatched from their homes or have their children tortured; the regime takes the contrary view. All so polite. All so very Foggy Bottom-ish.

Can you imagine how delighted the Iranian regime must be to hear this unintelligible mush from the Obama team? Clinton has told them that there isn’t really any “deadline” and that they can proceed without fear of any serious consequences for their behavior. For the mullahs, that’s a delightful start for 2010. For the people of Iran? Not so much.

Read Less

The Ballot Box Solution

The Wall Street Journal editors zero in on Sen. Ben Nelson’s infamous deal, the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which is going to replace the Bridge To Nowhere in legislative infamy. They explain:

Under the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the federal government will pay all of Nebraska’s new Medicaid costs forever, while taxpayers in the other 49 states will see their budgets explode as this safety-net program for the poor is expanded to one out of every five Americans.

“In addition to violating the most basic and universally held notions of what is fair and just,” the AGs wrote last week to the Democratic leadership, the Article I spending clause is limited to “general Welfare.” If Congress claims to be legitimately serving that interest by expanding the joint state-federal Medicaid program, then why is it relieving just one state of a mandate that otherwise applies to all states? In other words, serving the non-general welfare of Nebraska—for no other reason than political expediency—violates a basic Supreme Court check on the “display of arbitrary power” that was established in 1937′s Helvering v. Davis.

I am not a fan of reconstituting policy arguments as Constitutional claims, even when the legislative offense is as gross as this. At bottom, noxious legislation calls out for a legislative solution: a no vote by the other lawmakers whose constituents rightly see this as unfair and, at bottom, immoral. After all, why are Californians’ health needs not given the same consideration as Nebraskans’? And just because Sen. Feinstein and Boxer allowed Nelson to get away with a better deal in the Christmas rush doesn’t mean they and their colleagues shouldn’t take a second look. As the Journal‘s editors point out, Blue states really have reason to gripe:

In a December letter Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lamented that ObamaCare would impose the “crushing new burden” of as much as $4 billion per year in new Medicaid spending in a state that is already deeply in the red. And in a Christmas Day op-ed in the Buffalo News, New York Governor David A. Paterson protested the almost $1 billion in new costs as well as the “unfairness of the Senate bill” when “New York already sends significantly more money to Washington than it gets back.”

There are, after all, Senate races in New York and California this year. It seems as though it would behoove Sens. Boxer and Gillibrand to defend their taxpayers’ interests. The same goes for the 53 California House members and the 29 New York representatives. Don’t at least a handful of the Democrats in those and other states object to the fact that their voters are going to be subsidizing Nebraskans only so that the latter don’t get too mad at Ben Nelson?

Perhaps the courts will find some legal infirmity with the deal. But the ultimate solution to this sort of chicanery is found at the ballot box.

The Wall Street Journal editors zero in on Sen. Ben Nelson’s infamous deal, the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which is going to replace the Bridge To Nowhere in legislative infamy. They explain:

Under the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the federal government will pay all of Nebraska’s new Medicaid costs forever, while taxpayers in the other 49 states will see their budgets explode as this safety-net program for the poor is expanded to one out of every five Americans.

“In addition to violating the most basic and universally held notions of what is fair and just,” the AGs wrote last week to the Democratic leadership, the Article I spending clause is limited to “general Welfare.” If Congress claims to be legitimately serving that interest by expanding the joint state-federal Medicaid program, then why is it relieving just one state of a mandate that otherwise applies to all states? In other words, serving the non-general welfare of Nebraska—for no other reason than political expediency—violates a basic Supreme Court check on the “display of arbitrary power” that was established in 1937′s Helvering v. Davis.

I am not a fan of reconstituting policy arguments as Constitutional claims, even when the legislative offense is as gross as this. At bottom, noxious legislation calls out for a legislative solution: a no vote by the other lawmakers whose constituents rightly see this as unfair and, at bottom, immoral. After all, why are Californians’ health needs not given the same consideration as Nebraskans’? And just because Sen. Feinstein and Boxer allowed Nelson to get away with a better deal in the Christmas rush doesn’t mean they and their colleagues shouldn’t take a second look. As the Journal‘s editors point out, Blue states really have reason to gripe:

In a December letter Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lamented that ObamaCare would impose the “crushing new burden” of as much as $4 billion per year in new Medicaid spending in a state that is already deeply in the red. And in a Christmas Day op-ed in the Buffalo News, New York Governor David A. Paterson protested the almost $1 billion in new costs as well as the “unfairness of the Senate bill” when “New York already sends significantly more money to Washington than it gets back.”

There are, after all, Senate races in New York and California this year. It seems as though it would behoove Sens. Boxer and Gillibrand to defend their taxpayers’ interests. The same goes for the 53 California House members and the 29 New York representatives. Don’t at least a handful of the Democrats in those and other states object to the fact that their voters are going to be subsidizing Nebraskans only so that the latter don’t get too mad at Ben Nelson?

Perhaps the courts will find some legal infirmity with the deal. But the ultimate solution to this sort of chicanery is found at the ballot box.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.’”

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.’”

Read Less