Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 12, 2011

Health-Care Spending, Biggest Burden

A new International Monetary Fund report nails down the biggest threat to international fiscal stability. Here’s a hint: It’s not defense spending. “Rising spending on health care is the main risk to fiscal sustainability, with an impact on long-run debt ratios that, absent reforms, will dwarf that of the financial crisis,” the report said.

Surely more government regulation is the way to thwart catastrophe, right? “More competition among insurance companies for consumers was the best but not only way to cut health care costs.” What’s needed is the opposite of regulation: the free market.

It’s hard to imagine a more concentrated manifestation of out-of-touch policy than ObamaCare. As the developed world suffocates in its health-care largess, the president and his liberal partners in Congress moved to finish us off in one unprecedented legislative sweep.  Consider this: “The burden of health care in 2008 averaged 7.0 percent of GDP in developed countries, with the United States close to that and France more than eight percent. Twenty years from now, health costs will grow another three percentage points of GDP in all the countries, and five percent more in the United States.”

Liberal lawmakers might as well start rioting now. The only difference between demanding more statism from a broke government via legislation and demanding it via graffiti is cosmetic.  Both are rooted in the same anti-logic and neither has much of a future. What Europeans call “austerity” American simply call math, and it’s making an inexorable comeback.

A new International Monetary Fund report nails down the biggest threat to international fiscal stability. Here’s a hint: It’s not defense spending. “Rising spending on health care is the main risk to fiscal sustainability, with an impact on long-run debt ratios that, absent reforms, will dwarf that of the financial crisis,” the report said.

Surely more government regulation is the way to thwart catastrophe, right? “More competition among insurance companies for consumers was the best but not only way to cut health care costs.” What’s needed is the opposite of regulation: the free market.

It’s hard to imagine a more concentrated manifestation of out-of-touch policy than ObamaCare. As the developed world suffocates in its health-care largess, the president and his liberal partners in Congress moved to finish us off in one unprecedented legislative sweep.  Consider this: “The burden of health care in 2008 averaged 7.0 percent of GDP in developed countries, with the United States close to that and France more than eight percent. Twenty years from now, health costs will grow another three percentage points of GDP in all the countries, and five percent more in the United States.”

Liberal lawmakers might as well start rioting now. The only difference between demanding more statism from a broke government via legislation and demanding it via graffiti is cosmetic.  Both are rooted in the same anti-logic and neither has much of a future. What Europeans call “austerity” American simply call math, and it’s making an inexorable comeback.

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Will the United States Stand Up to Ecuador?

Ecuador has expelled U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges after Wikileaks exposed cables criticizing President Rafael Correa. The State Department, for its part, has retaliated by expelling Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States. That’s good, but Secretary Clinton should also remember the case of the late American ambassador Hume Horan, who oversaw the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. As Robert Kaplan quoted him in The Arabists:

After the facts of the Falasha rescue became known and the new Sudanese government wanted me removed, Chet Crocker [the assistant secretary of state for Africa] bluntly informed Khartoum that if “Sudan wanted to continue to deal with Washington, it would have to do so through Hume Horan.” I’ll always be grateful to Crocker for that support.

Horan continues to recall how the State Department caved to Saudi pressure when they demanded his recall. Let’s hope Clinton, like Chet Crocker so many years ago, stands her ground.

Ecuador has expelled U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges after Wikileaks exposed cables criticizing President Rafael Correa. The State Department, for its part, has retaliated by expelling Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States. That’s good, but Secretary Clinton should also remember the case of the late American ambassador Hume Horan, who oversaw the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. As Robert Kaplan quoted him in The Arabists:

After the facts of the Falasha rescue became known and the new Sudanese government wanted me removed, Chet Crocker [the assistant secretary of state for Africa] bluntly informed Khartoum that if “Sudan wanted to continue to deal with Washington, it would have to do so through Hume Horan.” I’ll always be grateful to Crocker for that support.

Horan continues to recall how the State Department caved to Saudi pressure when they demanded his recall. Let’s hope Clinton, like Chet Crocker so many years ago, stands her ground.

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Liberals: “Don’t Ask for a Penny of My Money”

The mere thought of President Obama’s proposing cuts to Medicare or Medicaid during his speech tomorrow is sending some left-wing groups into fits of hysteria. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee just blasted out an email today threatening to withhold donations from the president’s campaign if he endorses cuts to these programs. The group asked its members to sign a pledge card:

“President Obama: If you cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits for me, my parents, my grandparents, or families like mine, don’t ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I’m going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates—not Democrats who help Republicans make harmful cuts.” Click here to sign.

Left-wing activists are finding themselves in a tough position, as Obama adopts a centrist stance in preparation for the general election. If they attack him for not being liberal enough, they make him seem like even more of a centrist. And threatening to withhold campaign donations doesn’t seem like a winning tactic either.

Obama is pursuing a different fundraising strategy than he did back in 2008. While Progressive Change’s email encourages small donors to withhold money, Obama is focusing on large donors for the upcoming election. And the chances are small that a group like Progressive Change, which has only been around since 2009, will be able to have any sort of impact on Obama’s fundraising.

Besides, it doesn’t look like liberals have much to worry about anyway. According to Politico, Obama will avoid angering his base further during his speech tomorrow by falling back his trademark tactic of being as vague as possible.

“It’s looking less likely that President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday will embrace a lot of specific ideas on how to cut Medicare and Medicaid—which would get him in trouble with Democrats and progressive groups anyway,” Politico is reporting. “Instead, his health care allies are expecting him to talk in more general themes, focusing on cutting wasteful health care spending rather than cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits.”

Update: More than 80,000 people have signed the Progressive Change Campaign’s Committee pledge to withhold support from President Obama in the event he proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The mere thought of President Obama’s proposing cuts to Medicare or Medicaid during his speech tomorrow is sending some left-wing groups into fits of hysteria. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee just blasted out an email today threatening to withhold donations from the president’s campaign if he endorses cuts to these programs. The group asked its members to sign a pledge card:

“President Obama: If you cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits for me, my parents, my grandparents, or families like mine, don’t ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I’m going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates—not Democrats who help Republicans make harmful cuts.” Click here to sign.

Left-wing activists are finding themselves in a tough position, as Obama adopts a centrist stance in preparation for the general election. If they attack him for not being liberal enough, they make him seem like even more of a centrist. And threatening to withhold campaign donations doesn’t seem like a winning tactic either.

Obama is pursuing a different fundraising strategy than he did back in 2008. While Progressive Change’s email encourages small donors to withhold money, Obama is focusing on large donors for the upcoming election. And the chances are small that a group like Progressive Change, which has only been around since 2009, will be able to have any sort of impact on Obama’s fundraising.

Besides, it doesn’t look like liberals have much to worry about anyway. According to Politico, Obama will avoid angering his base further during his speech tomorrow by falling back his trademark tactic of being as vague as possible.

“It’s looking less likely that President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday will embrace a lot of specific ideas on how to cut Medicare and Medicaid—which would get him in trouble with Democrats and progressive groups anyway,” Politico is reporting. “Instead, his health care allies are expecting him to talk in more general themes, focusing on cutting wasteful health care spending rather than cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits.”

Update: More than 80,000 people have signed the Progressive Change Campaign’s Committee pledge to withhold support from President Obama in the event he proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

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The Budget Deal May Collapse

The big news today is that the $38.5 billion in budget cuts announced with such fanfare on Friday night mostly aren’t real. A good deal of it involves money from previous years and previous budgets that hasn’t actually been spent. As the AP puts it, the budget deal is

financed with a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially ‘score’ as savings to pay for spending elsewhere, but that often have little to no actual impact on the deficit…cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.

The total amount actually cut appears to be $ somewhere between8 and $14.7 billion.

The politics here are very complicated now. On the one hand, polls suggest the public is overwhelmingly in favor of there having been a deal, around 60 percent or so. On the other, politically engaged people on both the Right and the Left are profoundly upset by what they take to be unprincipled caving on the part of the leaders of the two parties.

That profound concern is likely to spur a populist revolt this week, over the next 72 hours, before the vote is taken. Already there are indications that a great many House members are going to vote against the deal. What we don’t know, or can’t know, is whether grass-roots velocity has sped up to such a degree over the past several years that we could be looking at a major meltdown of support when the votes are cast, as Republican members honestly balk at the clear deceit of the negotiators in making non-existent cuts in federal spending—and as they fear the wrath of the voters (particularly tea partiers). Meanwhile, Leftist Democrats who feel betrayed by Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might also decide to teach them a lesson by withholding support.

And then, all of a sudden, there will be a shutdown. And no plan to end it. And make no mistake—the public will blame the GOP.

The big news today is that the $38.5 billion in budget cuts announced with such fanfare on Friday night mostly aren’t real. A good deal of it involves money from previous years and previous budgets that hasn’t actually been spent. As the AP puts it, the budget deal is

financed with a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially ‘score’ as savings to pay for spending elsewhere, but that often have little to no actual impact on the deficit…cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.

The total amount actually cut appears to be $ somewhere between8 and $14.7 billion.

The politics here are very complicated now. On the one hand, polls suggest the public is overwhelmingly in favor of there having been a deal, around 60 percent or so. On the other, politically engaged people on both the Right and the Left are profoundly upset by what they take to be unprincipled caving on the part of the leaders of the two parties.

That profound concern is likely to spur a populist revolt this week, over the next 72 hours, before the vote is taken. Already there are indications that a great many House members are going to vote against the deal. What we don’t know, or can’t know, is whether grass-roots velocity has sped up to such a degree over the past several years that we could be looking at a major meltdown of support when the votes are cast, as Republican members honestly balk at the clear deceit of the negotiators in making non-existent cuts in federal spending—and as they fear the wrath of the voters (particularly tea partiers). Meanwhile, Leftist Democrats who feel betrayed by Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might also decide to teach them a lesson by withholding support.

And then, all of a sudden, there will be a shutdown. And no plan to end it. And make no mistake—the public will blame the GOP.

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Living with a Stalemate in Libya

In a significant and thoroughly depressing article, David Sanger of the New York Times writes that President Obama’s hope that a quick application of power from the air would tip the balance against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and that Libyan rebels would do the rest has been dashed. “Now with the Qaddafi forces weathering episodic attacks, and sometimes even gaining, the question in Washington has boiled down to this: Can Mr. Obama live with a stalemate?” Sanger writes.

But while it may want Qaddafi out, the White House insists that the military action in Libya is intended solely to protect civilians, noting that the United Nations did not authorize anyone to overthrow Qaddafi. And that leaves Mr. Obama with a vexing choice, between living with a civil war that may drag on for weeks, months or years, at a gradually rising human cost, and becoming more deeply involved, either directly or through NATO, in a third war in a Muslim nation. “We’re not in a good place,” an Obama adviser acknowledged last week, on a day when rebel forces seemed particularly hapless and disorganized.

No, we’re not in a good place. And President Obama’s opponent in 2008, Senator John McCain, makes the point that a stalemate was inevitable given the Obama approach: “If we had declared a no-fly zone early on, three or four weeks ago, Qaddafi would not be in power today,” McCain said last week. “So now the Libyan people are paying a very high price in blood because of our failure to act, and because of this overwhelming priority of having to act multilaterally.”

President Obama appears to have chosen the worst possible path: to intervene in a half-hearted fashion, wishing and praying that Qaddafi would just leave instead of committing the resources to force him out.

The Libyan policy has been terribly mishandled so far, and the result is a stalemate. It is possible of course that events might yet begin to go our way; other nations might be able to compensate for the president’s errors in judgment. But if this stalemate continues there will be consequences, ranging from the welfare of the Libyan people to American national interests to the president’s reelection prospects.

In a significant and thoroughly depressing article, David Sanger of the New York Times writes that President Obama’s hope that a quick application of power from the air would tip the balance against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and that Libyan rebels would do the rest has been dashed. “Now with the Qaddafi forces weathering episodic attacks, and sometimes even gaining, the question in Washington has boiled down to this: Can Mr. Obama live with a stalemate?” Sanger writes.

But while it may want Qaddafi out, the White House insists that the military action in Libya is intended solely to protect civilians, noting that the United Nations did not authorize anyone to overthrow Qaddafi. And that leaves Mr. Obama with a vexing choice, between living with a civil war that may drag on for weeks, months or years, at a gradually rising human cost, and becoming more deeply involved, either directly or through NATO, in a third war in a Muslim nation. “We’re not in a good place,” an Obama adviser acknowledged last week, on a day when rebel forces seemed particularly hapless and disorganized.

No, we’re not in a good place. And President Obama’s opponent in 2008, Senator John McCain, makes the point that a stalemate was inevitable given the Obama approach: “If we had declared a no-fly zone early on, three or four weeks ago, Qaddafi would not be in power today,” McCain said last week. “So now the Libyan people are paying a very high price in blood because of our failure to act, and because of this overwhelming priority of having to act multilaterally.”

President Obama appears to have chosen the worst possible path: to intervene in a half-hearted fashion, wishing and praying that Qaddafi would just leave instead of committing the resources to force him out.

The Libyan policy has been terribly mishandled so far, and the result is a stalemate. It is possible of course that events might yet begin to go our way; other nations might be able to compensate for the president’s errors in judgment. But if this stalemate continues there will be consequences, ranging from the welfare of the Libyan people to American national interests to the president’s reelection prospects.

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The Times Anoints a GOP Front-Runner

The 2012 Republican presidential field is so wide open that virtually any of the candidates or potential candidates can make a plausible case for winning the GOP nomination. All of the presidential wannabes are either relatively marginal or unknown figures, or as is the case with Mitt Romney, are so badly flawed that even wide name recognition and vast financial resources are probably not enough to outweigh the liabilities. While any of them might conceivably win, none should be rated a favorite.

But the New York Times, which covered the Tea Party-inspired Republican upsurge in 2010 as if it were studying a tribe of pygmy cannibals on a National Geographic Special, is still having trouble grasping conservative voter sentiment. Writing in the paper’s political blog The Caucus, Michael D. Shear offers the fifth anniversary of Romney’s Massachusetts health care program as proof the former Bay State governor really is the Republican front-runner. While many believe it is Romney’s Achilles’ heel, Shear takes the opposite view. The fact that both Democrats and fellow Republicans are bashing him over “Romneycare,” Shear says, is proof that the 64-year-old is “the Republican to beat.”

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The 2012 Republican presidential field is so wide open that virtually any of the candidates or potential candidates can make a plausible case for winning the GOP nomination. All of the presidential wannabes are either relatively marginal or unknown figures, or as is the case with Mitt Romney, are so badly flawed that even wide name recognition and vast financial resources are probably not enough to outweigh the liabilities. While any of them might conceivably win, none should be rated a favorite.

But the New York Times, which covered the Tea Party-inspired Republican upsurge in 2010 as if it were studying a tribe of pygmy cannibals on a National Geographic Special, is still having trouble grasping conservative voter sentiment. Writing in the paper’s political blog The Caucus, Michael D. Shear offers the fifth anniversary of Romney’s Massachusetts health care program as proof the former Bay State governor really is the Republican front-runner. While many believe it is Romney’s Achilles’ heel, Shear takes the opposite view. The fact that both Democrats and fellow Republicans are bashing him over “Romneycare,” Shear says, is proof that the 64-year-old is “the Republican to beat.”

The criticisms being lobbed at Romney might be construed as the compliment that also-rans pay to the frontrunner. Romney has a lot going for him. He has money, a winning personality, and the sort of central-casting looks that give him the mien of a president. And as someone who ran last time and lost, he fits the the Republican pattern of being next in line for the nomination—a party habit that helped the elder George Bush, Robert Dole, and John McCain to the GOP nomination. But if 2010 established anything, it is that such “rules” no longer apply. And even if they did, they don’t in this situation. While Romney did mount a well-funded challenge for the presidency in 2008, he wasn’t actually the GOP runner-up. That title belongs to Mike Huckabee, who won in Iowa and received more votes and delegates than Romney.

Moreover, while Romney’s name recognition is a huge advantage, there is little doubt that the main issue animating Republican voters these days is opposition to federal spending in general and Obamacare in particular. If both Republicans and Democrats are pointing out that his Massachusetts bill bears a fatal resemblance to Obamacare that isn’t a sign of strength. It merely highlights the almost impossible task that Romney faces in trying to explain why his government health care program was acceptable but Obama’s isn’t. Throw in the fact that up until now his greatest liability has been a well-deserved reputation for flip-flopping (abortion being just the most publicized of those reversals), and the vision of him as the Republican nominee for president in 2012 is unlikely.

Perhaps it is natural for the Times—a paper that treats the opposition to Obamacare by a consistent majority of Americans as an inconvenient truth to be ignored at all costs—to dismiss Romney’s contamination by this issue as a mere detail. A year is a lifetime in politics and nothing can be taken for granted about the outcome of the 2012 election. But to assume that Romney is the front-runner, as the Times does, is a leap of faith rooted more in ignorance of the Republican electorate than savvy reporting.

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Trump Plays a Conservative on TV

In an interview with CBN News today, Donald Trump assured America that he would “never do anything negative to a Bible.” Not that anyone was saying he would. His comment came during the latest in a string of bizarre interviews over the past few weeks. But this time Trump gave his views on Christianity—a subject that he seems oddly uncomfortable speaking about. Here are some examples:

  • “I believe in God. I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly, it is the book, it is the thing.
  • (On going to church): “Well, I go as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there’s a major occasion. And during the Sundays. I’m a Sunday church person. I’ll go when I can.”
  • (On people sending him Bibles): “Well, I get sent Bibles by a lot of people. There’s no way I would ever throw anything to do anything negative to a Bible, so what we do is we keep all of the Bibles. I would have a fear of doing something other than very positive.”

Trump’s stilted responses about religion (the Bible is the thing?) indicate that he’s unversed on the subject. Since he is not somebody who is new to speaking on TV, there doesn’t appear to be another explanation for it.

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In an interview with CBN News today, Donald Trump assured America that he would “never do anything negative to a Bible.” Not that anyone was saying he would. His comment came during the latest in a string of bizarre interviews over the past few weeks. But this time Trump gave his views on Christianity—a subject that he seems oddly uncomfortable speaking about. Here are some examples:

  • “I believe in God. I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly, it is the book, it is the thing.
  • (On going to church): “Well, I go as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there’s a major occasion. And during the Sundays. I’m a Sunday church person. I’ll go when I can.”
  • (On people sending him Bibles): “Well, I get sent Bibles by a lot of people. There’s no way I would ever throw anything to do anything negative to a Bible, so what we do is we keep all of the Bibles. I would have a fear of doing something other than very positive.”

Trump’s stilted responses about religion (the Bible is the thing?) indicate that he’s unversed on the subject. Since he is not somebody who is new to speaking on TV, there doesn’t appear to be another explanation for it.

But if he’s not a particularly religious person, why wouldn’t he just say so? People would respect the honesty. Instead, Trump has been trying to play a role that he thinks the Republican base wants to see him in. But the act isn’t even believable.

For example, take his changing views on abortion. “One thing about me, I’m a very honorable guy,” said Trump, during the CBN interview. “I’m pro-life, but I changed my view a number of years ago. One of the reasons I changed, one of the primary reasons, a friend of mine, his wife was pregnant, in this case married. She was pregnant and he didn’t really want the baby. . . . He ends up having the baby and the baby is the apple of his eye. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him. And you know here’s a baby that wasn’t going to be let into life. And I heard this, and some other stories, and I am pro-life.”

There’s nothing wrong with his story. But if he had such a major transformation, why wouldn’t he say something about it before he began looking into a 2012 presidential campaign? This seems especially strange, considering the fact that he was a vocal pro-choice supporter when mulled over a run for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination 10 years ago.

“I’m totally pro-choice. I hate it and I hate saying it. And I’m almost ashamed to say that I’m pro-choice, but I am pro-choice because I think we have no choice,’’ he said on Fox News Sunday in 1999. He even opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion at the time.

These inconsistencies (and there are many of them) raise the question whether Trump has any real views of his own. Or are even his professions about his church-attendance and Bible-reading just ruses to win over voters?

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The Crack-Up of Obama’s Half-Hearted Libya War Policy

Critical statements issued today by Britain’s foreign secretary and France’s minister of foreign affairs brought into public what has become obvious to even the most casual observers of the fighting in Libya. The half-hearted NATO effort to prevent Muammar Qaddafi from squelching the Libyan rebellion is failing badly.

Both William Hague and Alain Juppé demanded that NATO intensify its strikes on Qaddafi’s army and protect the rebels as well as non-combatants from the dictator’s forces. While the criticisms were aimed at NATO, the real target was the United States. President Obama was dragged reluctantly and belatedly into this humanitarian mission. His mixed messages about its goals—the president demands that Qaddafi must go while proclaiming at the same time that America is not trying to effect regime change—have clearly undermined the NATO war effort.

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Critical statements issued today by Britain’s foreign secretary and France’s minister of foreign affairs brought into public what has become obvious to even the most casual observers of the fighting in Libya. The half-hearted NATO effort to prevent Muammar Qaddafi from squelching the Libyan rebellion is failing badly.

Both William Hague and Alain Juppé demanded that NATO intensify its strikes on Qaddafi’s army and protect the rebels as well as non-combatants from the dictator’s forces. While the criticisms were aimed at NATO, the real target was the United States. President Obama was dragged reluctantly and belatedly into this humanitarian mission. His mixed messages about its goals—the president demands that Qaddafi must go while proclaiming at the same time that America is not trying to effect regime change—have clearly undermined the NATO war effort.

Although the limited use of NATO air power has prevented Qaddafi from sweeping the rebels out of their strongholds in the eastern part of the country, a half-hearted military intervention is not going to tip the balance in favor of the insurgents. Rebel forces are barely strong enough to hold onto the territory they control. The calls from the African Union for a cease-fire and even the stated willingness of the rebels to accept some sort of halt to hostilities indicates that the anti-Qaddafi coalition is beginning to understand that it is losing the war.

Hague and Juppé appear to understand that once the West decided to intervene in Libya anything short of victory—which in this case obviously means Qaddafi’s ouster—will be rightly perceived as a catastrophic defeat. Obama’s notion that he could play the humanitarian while not dirtying his hands with regime change was absurd. While the president may think he is avoiding the mistakes that George W. Bush made in Iraq, he is accomplishing little beyond proving there is more than one way to turn screw up a war.

By delaying America’s entry into this conflict long enough to allow Qaddafi to recover from the initial shock of the rebellion (but not long enough to go to Congress for authorization for the use of force as Bush did in Iraq), Obama ensured that what might have been a quick and relatively easy campaign was transformed into tough, drawn-out fight. By not committing NATO forces to an all-out attack on the dictator, he may have created the circumstances for a stalemate that may leave Qaddafi in power and the country in ruins, the worst possible outcome imaginable.

The irony in this dilemma is palpable. The president elected as a multilateralist who would halt the supposed go-it-alone philosophy of George W. Bush needs to start listening to his allies. Britain and France are right. If the fight is to be taken to Qaddafi, he must be defeated. The price of leaving him in power after shedding blood on behalf of the Libyan rebels would be high. Not only would Western influence be diminished. The dictator would become more dangerous than ever if he survives. Settling for anything less than victory in Libya is a sure recipe for disaster.

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Remembrance of Things Past

It’s a cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. But some clichés are true. A picture can illuminate a moment in time, capture a personality, or symbolize an entire war.

A picture can also show how much the world has changed in less than a lifetime. On Friday the artist Hedda Sterne died at the age of 100 and the New York Times carried her obituary this morning. Accompanying the article is a well-known photograph taken sixty years ago and published in Life magazine. It shows Sterne among a group of the biggest names in the exploding New York art scene of that time and of the abstract expressionist school, names that are still familiar today: Wilhelm de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and others.

What strikes me most about the photograph is that the men are all prim and proper, dressed up in coats and ties for a group portrait. Hedda Sterne, the only woman in the picture, is in a dress and holding a pocket book. Can you imagine a similar group of major-league avant garde artists today all wearing coats and ties?

It’s a cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. But some clichés are true. A picture can illuminate a moment in time, capture a personality, or symbolize an entire war.

A picture can also show how much the world has changed in less than a lifetime. On Friday the artist Hedda Sterne died at the age of 100 and the New York Times carried her obituary this morning. Accompanying the article is a well-known photograph taken sixty years ago and published in Life magazine. It shows Sterne among a group of the biggest names in the exploding New York art scene of that time and of the abstract expressionist school, names that are still familiar today: Wilhelm de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and others.

What strikes me most about the photograph is that the men are all prim and proper, dressed up in coats and ties for a group portrait. Hedda Sterne, the only woman in the picture, is in a dress and holding a pocket book. Can you imagine a similar group of major-league avant garde artists today all wearing coats and ties?

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The Education of Barack Obama

Yesterday the White House announced that President Obama regrets his 2006 vote as a senator against raising the debt limit—the same kind of increase he’s now urging Congress to approve. Obama “thinks it was a mistake,” presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote that, even when you are protesting an administration’s policies, you can play around with.”

This is a shift from January, when former press secretary Robert Gibbs explained that the Obama vote was simply “sending a message,” since he knew the debt ceiling was going to be raised regardless of how he voted. That spin is now done.

The fact that in 2006 Obama was so ignorant or so irresponsibly partisan, or both, tells you quite a lot. After all, this was not a “youthful indiscretion”; it was a vote cast by a United States Senator. And it’s not simply the vote we should focus on; take a look at what Obama said at the time:

The fact that we’re here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign — is a sign of leadership failure. Leadership means the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

The debt problem is of course many times worse than it was in 2006. So is the failure of leadership.

One good thing to emerge from all this is that the president may be learning that he wasn’t (and isn’t) nearly as smart as he thought.

Call it the Education of Barack Obama.

Yesterday the White House announced that President Obama regrets his 2006 vote as a senator against raising the debt limit—the same kind of increase he’s now urging Congress to approve. Obama “thinks it was a mistake,” presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote that, even when you are protesting an administration’s policies, you can play around with.”

This is a shift from January, when former press secretary Robert Gibbs explained that the Obama vote was simply “sending a message,” since he knew the debt ceiling was going to be raised regardless of how he voted. That spin is now done.

The fact that in 2006 Obama was so ignorant or so irresponsibly partisan, or both, tells you quite a lot. After all, this was not a “youthful indiscretion”; it was a vote cast by a United States Senator. And it’s not simply the vote we should focus on; take a look at what Obama said at the time:

The fact that we’re here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign — is a sign of leadership failure. Leadership means the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

The debt problem is of course many times worse than it was in 2006. So is the failure of leadership.

One good thing to emerge from all this is that the president may be learning that he wasn’t (and isn’t) nearly as smart as he thought.

Call it the Education of Barack Obama.

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Angry at the U.S. for Criticizing China

It looks as if Beijing is employing the classic “I am rubber, you are glue” defense against recent U.S. criticism of its human rights record. The Chinese government has released a report on human rights in the U.S., in which it slams the alleged injustice of the American prison system, the lack of online freedom, the prevalent gender discrimination, and the growing poverty rate:

Much of the document focuses on social and economic issues such as poverty, crime and racism. It attacks the US for the large number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prisoner abuse scandals that have dogged counterterrorism initiatives. It adds: “The violation of [US] citizens’ civil and political rights by the government is severe . . . the United States applies double standards . . . by requesting unrestricted ‘internet freedom’ in other countries, which becomes an important diplomatic tool for the United States to impose pressure and seek hegemony, and imposing strict restriction within its territory.

According to China, the human rights record of the U.S. puts it in no position to criticize other countries’ records. This argument apparently struck a cord with some on the left, who quickly adopted the Chinese Communist Party’s talking points.

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It looks as if Beijing is employing the classic “I am rubber, you are glue” defense against recent U.S. criticism of its human rights record. The Chinese government has released a report on human rights in the U.S., in which it slams the alleged injustice of the American prison system, the lack of online freedom, the prevalent gender discrimination, and the growing poverty rate:

Much of the document focuses on social and economic issues such as poverty, crime and racism. It attacks the US for the large number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prisoner abuse scandals that have dogged counterterrorism initiatives. It adds: “The violation of [US] citizens’ civil and political rights by the government is severe . . . the United States applies double standards . . . by requesting unrestricted ‘internet freedom’ in other countries, which becomes an important diplomatic tool for the United States to impose pressure and seek hegemony, and imposing strict restriction within its territory.

According to China, the human rights record of the U.S. puts it in no position to criticize other countries’ records. This argument apparently struck a cord with some on the left, who quickly adopted the Chinese Communist Party’s talking points.

“China isn’t totally out-of-line,” wrote Carmel Lobello at Death and Taxes. “While the U.S. is mostly famous for international bullying, our history is riddled with internal human rights violations as well. The removal of Native Americans from their lands, slavery, the detainment of Japanese Americans during WWII—the list is long.”

In other words, the U.S. should be denounced for its behavior 70 to 200 years ago, while China shouldn’t be held responsible for human rights abuses that it committed yesterday (or, at the very least, both China and the U.S. should be condemned equally).

By this standard, America will never have the legitimacy to speak out on human rights. And that’s exactly where the left is going with this.

Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge declared that China’s report “makes a mockery of the US double standard when it comes to human rights, and exposes US ‘hypocrisy’ which China (rightly many would claim) asserts is merely a pretext for continued US attempts at world ‘hegemony’.”

Underlying this argument is a complete lack of interest in human rights. The anger here is directed at the U.S. for publicizing China’s human rights violations, not at the Chinese government for engaging in them.

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Not a Good Way to Win an Election

According to the Rasmussen Reports, only 19 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 39 percent strongly disapprove. The data reflect his lowest level of strong approval yet.

Rasmussen finds that there has been a sharp decline in enthusiasm among liberal voters. Just 37 percent of liberals now approve strongly of the president’s performance—down from 63 percent a year ago, 57 percent at the beginning of 2011, and 52 percent a week ago.

The decline can be explained, I think, by last week’s budget agreement, which infuriated many on the left. But the disappointments have been piling up for them: the U.S. military involvement in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan, the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, the failure to shut down Guantanamo Bay and try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in front of a military tribunal, etc.

The left’s unhappiness with Obama was given voice yesterday by the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, who wrote, “What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?”

E. J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post weighed in as well, saying

For Obama, it is not good enough to cast himself as the school principal scolding competing congressional gangs. He needs the courage to defend the government he leads. He needs to declare that he will no longer bargain with those who use threats to shut down the government or force it to default on its debt as tools of intimidation. We’re all a bit weary of Obama telling everyone to be grown-ups, but this would be the grown-up thing to do.

If he hopes to be reelected the president needs to win back independent voters, who fled him and his party in huge numbers in 2010. Almost everything the White House does between now and 2012 will have that object in mind. The worst-case scenario for Obama is that he fails to win back independents while at the same time he deflates his base. It would be hard to imagine a more perilous political situation for him.

Right now the president seems to be annoying liberals more than he’s inspiring independents. That’s not a good way for a Democrat to win an election.

According to the Rasmussen Reports, only 19 percent of the nation’s voters strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 39 percent strongly disapprove. The data reflect his lowest level of strong approval yet.

Rasmussen finds that there has been a sharp decline in enthusiasm among liberal voters. Just 37 percent of liberals now approve strongly of the president’s performance—down from 63 percent a year ago, 57 percent at the beginning of 2011, and 52 percent a week ago.

The decline can be explained, I think, by last week’s budget agreement, which infuriated many on the left. But the disappointments have been piling up for them: the U.S. military involvement in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan, the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, the failure to shut down Guantanamo Bay and try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in front of a military tribunal, etc.

The left’s unhappiness with Obama was given voice yesterday by the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, who wrote, “What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?”

E. J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post weighed in as well, saying

For Obama, it is not good enough to cast himself as the school principal scolding competing congressional gangs. He needs the courage to defend the government he leads. He needs to declare that he will no longer bargain with those who use threats to shut down the government or force it to default on its debt as tools of intimidation. We’re all a bit weary of Obama telling everyone to be grown-ups, but this would be the grown-up thing to do.

If he hopes to be reelected the president needs to win back independent voters, who fled him and his party in huge numbers in 2010. Almost everything the White House does between now and 2012 will have that object in mind. The worst-case scenario for Obama is that he fails to win back independents while at the same time he deflates his base. It would be hard to imagine a more perilous political situation for him.

Right now the president seems to be annoying liberals more than he’s inspiring independents. That’s not a good way for a Democrat to win an election.

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Obama’s Flip-Flops

The media regularly seize on Mitt Romney’s flip-flops as one of the major problems facing his 2012 bid. But as Ronald Kessler points out, President Obama has managed to dodge the dreaded “flip-flopper” label, even as he has backtracked on numerous major campaign promises:

Instead of opposing an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is essential to protecting the country, Obama has supported extending it. Instead of trying terrorists as criminals in civilian courts, the administration will try them before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. Instead of closing the prison camp there, Obama is keeping it open. Obama said he would start pulling out troops from Afghanistan in July. Now the Pentagon is saying that date is not set in stone. While he said previously he would roll back the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000, Obama ultimately supported retaining those cuts.

It is true that some writers on the far left—like Salon’s Glenn Greenwald—have regularly called attention to Obama’s inconsistencies. But so far the media haven’t touted this as a major obstacle to the president’s reelection bid. “The difference between Romney and Obama is that Romney is a Republican, while Obama is a Democrat who is adored by the media,” Kessler argues. “For that reason, you will rarely see Obama described on television or in print as a flip-flopper.”

But another reason could be that the “flip-flopper” charge clashes with the media narrative about Obama. The press has been saying since 2008 that Obama is an exceedingly “nuanced thinker.” So when he shifts on the issues, this is chalked up to his distaste for “black-and-white” policy solutions, as well as his ability to transcend Washington’s partisanship-as-usual.

The media regularly seize on Mitt Romney’s flip-flops as one of the major problems facing his 2012 bid. But as Ronald Kessler points out, President Obama has managed to dodge the dreaded “flip-flopper” label, even as he has backtracked on numerous major campaign promises:

Instead of opposing an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is essential to protecting the country, Obama has supported extending it. Instead of trying terrorists as criminals in civilian courts, the administration will try them before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. Instead of closing the prison camp there, Obama is keeping it open. Obama said he would start pulling out troops from Afghanistan in July. Now the Pentagon is saying that date is not set in stone. While he said previously he would roll back the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000, Obama ultimately supported retaining those cuts.

It is true that some writers on the far left—like Salon’s Glenn Greenwald—have regularly called attention to Obama’s inconsistencies. But so far the media haven’t touted this as a major obstacle to the president’s reelection bid. “The difference between Romney and Obama is that Romney is a Republican, while Obama is a Democrat who is adored by the media,” Kessler argues. “For that reason, you will rarely see Obama described on television or in print as a flip-flopper.”

But another reason could be that the “flip-flopper” charge clashes with the media narrative about Obama. The press has been saying since 2008 that Obama is an exceedingly “nuanced thinker.” So when he shifts on the issues, this is chalked up to his distaste for “black-and-white” policy solutions, as well as his ability to transcend Washington’s partisanship-as-usual.

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Ricciardone Watch

Francis “Frank” Ricciardone, President Obama’s recess appointment as U.S. ambassador to Turkey, is once again affirming the concerns that led his nomination to get held up in the Senate.

In his first interview as ambassador with Turkey’s mass circulation daily Milliyet, Ricciardone tries to paper over differences between Ankara and Washington. “Our interests are similar,” he said. “Even if we have different methods and targets, our strategic vision is the same.”

Alas, our interests are anything but similar, and our strategic vision is no longer the same:

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Francis “Frank” Ricciardone, President Obama’s recess appointment as U.S. ambassador to Turkey, is once again affirming the concerns that led his nomination to get held up in the Senate.

In his first interview as ambassador with Turkey’s mass circulation daily Milliyet, Ricciardone tries to paper over differences between Ankara and Washington. “Our interests are similar,” he said. “Even if we have different methods and targets, our strategic vision is the same.”

Alas, our interests are anything but similar, and our strategic vision is no longer the same:

  • Turkey’s government embraces Hamas and Hezbollah and refuses to consider these groups as terrorists.
  • Turkey’s prime minister has defended Sudanese president Omar El-Bashir, and denied that Bashir is complicit in any mass killings in Darfur.
  • Turkey’s prime minister has accepted a $250,000 prize from Muammar Qaddafi, and now works to preserve his rule.
  • Turkey’s prime minister has drawn his country much closer to Iran’s orbit, and defended Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
  • Turkey has become the most anti-American country in the Middle East.
  • The Turkish government has slid back from democracy and is drifting closer to autocracy.
  • The Turkish government has ushered in a period of anti-Semitism unprecedented in Turkish history.
  • Turkish journalists live in fear.
  • Women are fast becoming an oppressed class in modern Turkey.

The United States would be better served if Ricciardone enunciated these differences and defended American policies and freedoms, but that is not the culture which the State Department ingrains in its diplomats. Perhaps the only silver lining is for Ricciardone himself. When he retires, he will have his pick of dictators for which to shill.

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