Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 3, 2011

Three Million and Counting Exempted from ObamaCare

Sure, ObamaCare is great for you. So great that the president is now offering 3 million members of his base ObamaClemency:

The Obama Administration has rolled out another 129 waivers to one provision of the new health reform law, with almost half of those new exemptions going to various union groups.   The extra waivers bring the total to 1,168. …The waivers now cover almost three million Americans, but the feds argue that is “less than 2 percent of all Americans who have private health insurance.

The waiver gets you out of “a portion of the law that in 2011 requires an annual benefit limit of no less than $750,000.” Sure beats a PBA card.

The left loves to perseverate on the threat to democracy posed by the top one percent of the country’s earners. Wonder if they’ll have any complaints about the two percent of Americans the president has officially exempted from obeying the law of the land.

We are deep in banana- republic territory here. The head of state forces an eccentric law onto his subjects and then lets his closest supporters get out of it so that they alone may continue to prosper. To call this more of the “same old” cynical Washington back-scratch machine is to underestimate the extent of the damage taking place before our eyes.

Sure, ObamaCare is great for you. So great that the president is now offering 3 million members of his base ObamaClemency:

The Obama Administration has rolled out another 129 waivers to one provision of the new health reform law, with almost half of those new exemptions going to various union groups.   The extra waivers bring the total to 1,168. …The waivers now cover almost three million Americans, but the feds argue that is “less than 2 percent of all Americans who have private health insurance.

The waiver gets you out of “a portion of the law that in 2011 requires an annual benefit limit of no less than $750,000.” Sure beats a PBA card.

The left loves to perseverate on the threat to democracy posed by the top one percent of the country’s earners. Wonder if they’ll have any complaints about the two percent of Americans the president has officially exempted from obeying the law of the land.

We are deep in banana- republic territory here. The head of state forces an eccentric law onto his subjects and then lets his closest supporters get out of it so that they alone may continue to prosper. To call this more of the “same old” cynical Washington back-scratch machine is to underestimate the extent of the damage taking place before our eyes.

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Can America Stop the Palestinian Squeeze Play? Yes Obama Can!

Those expecting Richard Goldstone’s recantation to be front-page news today were, of course, dreaming. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was above the fold on the front page of the New York Times today, but the stunning news about Goldstone was buried on page ten with only a tiny teaser line underneath the main Middle East story on the cover. That much bigger story was a “diplomatic memo” written by Ethan Bronner of the paper’s Jerusalem bureau. Headlined “In Israel, Time for Peace Offer May Run Out,” Bronner’s story flogged the premise that the Jewish state is heading for a catastrophic diplomatic defeat at the United Nations.

The scenario Bronner sketches out conforms to the one that Jackson Diehl wrote about in the Washington Post last week when he reported that President Obama is trying to force Israel to accept a complete pullback from all of the West Bank and all of eastern Jerusalem as the basis of future peace talks with the Palestinians. In other words, even before negotiations began, Israel would have to concede everything on territory and then, presumably, begin talking about the Palestinian “right of return,” which would doom the Jewish state inside the 1949 armistice lines.

Bronner takes this scenario further. If Israel doesn’t bend to this Palestinian demand, he warns, the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote in September to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem as a member nation.

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Those expecting Richard Goldstone’s recantation to be front-page news today were, of course, dreaming. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was above the fold on the front page of the New York Times today, but the stunning news about Goldstone was buried on page ten with only a tiny teaser line underneath the main Middle East story on the cover. That much bigger story was a “diplomatic memo” written by Ethan Bronner of the paper’s Jerusalem bureau. Headlined “In Israel, Time for Peace Offer May Run Out,” Bronner’s story flogged the premise that the Jewish state is heading for a catastrophic diplomatic defeat at the United Nations.

The scenario Bronner sketches out conforms to the one that Jackson Diehl wrote about in the Washington Post last week when he reported that President Obama is trying to force Israel to accept a complete pullback from all of the West Bank and all of eastern Jerusalem as the basis of future peace talks with the Palestinians. In other words, even before negotiations began, Israel would have to concede everything on territory and then, presumably, begin talking about the Palestinian “right of return,” which would doom the Jewish state inside the 1949 armistice lines.

Bronner takes this scenario further. If Israel doesn’t bend to this Palestinian demand, he warns, the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote in September to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem as a member nation.

At that point, according to Bronner, Israel will be considered an outlaw nation occupying not the disputed territory of the former British Mandate for Palestine (which was created in order to facilitate Jewish immigration to the country and the foundation of a Jewish homeland), but the territory of a UN-member state. As a consequence, not only would the West Bank settlers be pirates living on “stolen” land, but the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Jerusalem would be just as “illegal.” Clearly, such a move will not be an end in itself but a prelude to further pressure on Israel to compromise its sovereignty even inside the old borders.

The Palestinian Authority was so confident that this strategy would work that it blew off the Obama administration’s peace efforts in the last two years, not even deigning to negotiate during the West Bank settlement freeze that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu enacted last year. The PA feels sure that the majority of UN members will back its demands and is confident the other members of the Diplomatic Quartet (the European Union, Russia, and the UN) will also back its play. As Bronner observes, this will be made possible by a General Assembly vote where the United States will not be able to exercise a veto as it would in the Security Council. If successful, the ploy would put Israel in the diplomatic cross-hairs with seemingly no way out but to surrender not only territory but the entire concept that the borders of a theoretical two-state solution be based, at least in part, on Israeli security needs. And, if the Palestinians are right, both Israel and the United States are helpless to stop this anti-Zionist juggernaut.

There are three conclusions to be drawn from this news.

First, if there was any doubt at all that the Palestinians have ever negotiated in good faith during the last 18 years of peace talks with Israel, it is gone. They refused an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008, and they will keep on saying No in the hope of getting even more—and perhaps ending Israel’s independent existence—by other means.

The second is that while Obama may be something of a spectator to the latest turn of events, he remains one of its authors, although an unwitting one. By beginning his administration with unprecedented pressure on Israel to give up settlements rather than on the Palestinians to talk, he set in motion the train of events which led to this point. Obama’s decision to treat existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as no different from the most remote West Bank settlement didn’t, as he hoped, encourage the Palestinians to negotiate, but prompted them to dig in and avoid talking altogether. Obama’s disdain for Netanyahu convinced the Palestinians that they could get the EU and Russia to back their plan to bypass direct negotiations and impose a UN dictat on Israel.

Third, contrary to Bronner’s assertion, the United States is not helpless to stop this strategy. Rather than threatening Israel to buckle under and accept draconian concessions, as Obama appears to be considering  doing in the upcoming months, Washington could start putting serious pressure on the PA at last. Abbas depends on foreign aid to keep his corrupt authority in place and on Western and Israeli military aid and protection to prevent a Hamas coup d’état in the West Bank. Were Obama to make it clear that the United States will not tolerate an initiative that disregards our interests then it is more than possible that Abbas’s bluff would be called. Perhaps then this looming catastrophe, which will do nothing to pave the way to peace, can be averted.

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Kerry: Pro-Democracy Efforts Do More Harm than Good

Sen. John Kerry announced on Friday that he would seek to delay additional funding to the USAID democracy-promotion program in Cuba, because he believes that it has been doing more harm than good.

Kerry asks for a review of the program before funding is continued. Fair enough. But then the senator goes on to blame the pro-democracy program for the arrest of U.S. contractor Alan Gross in 2009: “There is no evidence . . . that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people,” he said in a press statement. “Nor have they achieved much more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government contractor who was distributing satellite communication sets to Cuban contacts.”

Why would Kerry hold a democracy-promotion program responsible for Gross’s arrest instead of Cuba’s Communist government? First of all, Cuba hardly needs an excuse for that sort of crackdown. And second, Cuba’s action spotlights the need for such a program in the first place. You’d think the arrest would be an argument for more funding, not less.

Sen. John Kerry announced on Friday that he would seek to delay additional funding to the USAID democracy-promotion program in Cuba, because he believes that it has been doing more harm than good.

Kerry asks for a review of the program before funding is continued. Fair enough. But then the senator goes on to blame the pro-democracy program for the arrest of U.S. contractor Alan Gross in 2009: “There is no evidence . . . that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people,” he said in a press statement. “Nor have they achieved much more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government contractor who was distributing satellite communication sets to Cuban contacts.”

Why would Kerry hold a democracy-promotion program responsible for Gross’s arrest instead of Cuba’s Communist government? First of all, Cuba hardly needs an excuse for that sort of crackdown. And second, Cuba’s action spotlights the need for such a program in the first place. You’d think the arrest would be an argument for more funding, not less.

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What Would Bismarck Do?

On the cover of today’s New York Times Book Review is “Otto von Bismarck, Master Statesman,” Henry Kissinger’s review of a new Bismarck biography. Kissinger quotes one of Bismarck’s sayings about war: “Woe to the statesman whose arguments for entering a war are not as convincing at its end as they were at the beginning.”

In his Friday column on Barack Obama, David Brooks wrote that he opposes the administration’s publicly-articulated Libyan policy (the days-not-weeks humanitarian mission with an ambiguous ultimate objective), but supports what he calls the unstated actual policy (a “Squeeze and See” strategy of regime change formulated by a “sensitive, idealistic” commander-in-chief who can also “think practically”):

It is tiresome to harp on this sort of thing, but this is an intervention done in the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr. It is motivated by a noble sentiment, to combat evil, but it is being done without self-righteousness and with a prudent awareness of the limits and the ironies of history.

Brooks is right: it is tiresome. Perhaps we are blessed to have a hugely self-regarding president whose public words are not a reliable guide to his actual policies – continually dragged into last-minute decisions while contemplating the limits and ironies of history. But perhaps we should withhold judgment until we see how well the Niebuhrian spirit combats evil in the shape of Iran.

Two days before Brooks’s column appeared, the administration announced unserious Iran sanctions that reporters saw through immediately and that clearly upset knowledgeable senators. Such sanctions are not likely what Niebuhr (much less Bismarck) would have done.

On the cover of today’s New York Times Book Review is “Otto von Bismarck, Master Statesman,” Henry Kissinger’s review of a new Bismarck biography. Kissinger quotes one of Bismarck’s sayings about war: “Woe to the statesman whose arguments for entering a war are not as convincing at its end as they were at the beginning.”

In his Friday column on Barack Obama, David Brooks wrote that he opposes the administration’s publicly-articulated Libyan policy (the days-not-weeks humanitarian mission with an ambiguous ultimate objective), but supports what he calls the unstated actual policy (a “Squeeze and See” strategy of regime change formulated by a “sensitive, idealistic” commander-in-chief who can also “think practically”):

It is tiresome to harp on this sort of thing, but this is an intervention done in the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr. It is motivated by a noble sentiment, to combat evil, but it is being done without self-righteousness and with a prudent awareness of the limits and the ironies of history.

Brooks is right: it is tiresome. Perhaps we are blessed to have a hugely self-regarding president whose public words are not a reliable guide to his actual policies – continually dragged into last-minute decisions while contemplating the limits and ironies of history. But perhaps we should withhold judgment until we see how well the Niebuhrian spirit combats evil in the shape of Iran.

Two days before Brooks’s column appeared, the administration announced unserious Iran sanctions that reporters saw through immediately and that clearly upset knowledgeable senators. Such sanctions are not likely what Niebuhr (much less Bismarck) would have done.

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