Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 19, 2012

Irony: Leveraged Buyout Firm May Save Twinkies, Union Jobs

Private equity firm Sun Capital Partners is interested in buying bankrupt Twinkies manufacturer Hostess and reopening negotiations with the labor unions, CNN reports:

The proposal would be to operate Hostess as a going concern, including reopening the shuttered factories and continuing union representation of Hostess workers. 

Sun Capital privately expressed interest in acquiring Hostess earlier this year, but the bakery’s creditors chose for an alternate reorganization plan that ultimately failed. Following Friday’s liquidation, Sun reengaged by contacting Hostess advisor Perella Weinberg Partners. It also plans to contact the relevant labor unions.

“I think that we could offer a slightly better, more labor-friendly deal than what was on the table last week,” says Sun co-CEO Marc Leder, in an interview with Fortune. “We also think that one point the unions have made is that there hasn’t been a great amount of reinvestment in the business. We’ve found that investing new capital into companies like this can be very positive for brand, people and profitability… We would look to invest in newer, more modern, manufacturing assets that would enable the company to become more productive and to innovate.”

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Private equity firm Sun Capital Partners is interested in buying bankrupt Twinkies manufacturer Hostess and reopening negotiations with the labor unions, CNN reports:

The proposal would be to operate Hostess as a going concern, including reopening the shuttered factories and continuing union representation of Hostess workers. 

Sun Capital privately expressed interest in acquiring Hostess earlier this year, but the bakery’s creditors chose for an alternate reorganization plan that ultimately failed. Following Friday’s liquidation, Sun reengaged by contacting Hostess advisor Perella Weinberg Partners. It also plans to contact the relevant labor unions.

“I think that we could offer a slightly better, more labor-friendly deal than what was on the table last week,” says Sun co-CEO Marc Leder, in an interview with Fortune. “We also think that one point the unions have made is that there hasn’t been a great amount of reinvestment in the business. We’ve found that investing new capital into companies like this can be very positive for brand, people and profitability… We would look to invest in newer, more modern, manufacturing assets that would enable the company to become more productive and to innovate.”

Hostess entered its current bankruptcy under another private equity firm, Ripplewood Holdings, which recently warned labor unions that workers would have to accept certain cuts to keep the doors open. The unions assumed this was a bluff, refused the deal, and the company folded. Now the left is blaming the closure on the private equity firm’s unsuccessful business plan (an argument which may have some merit, but completely ignores the union’s rejection of any compromise).

The national labor movement, clearly worried about the impact this will have on its public image, has been trying to shift blame to the public equity industry in general. “What’s happening with Hostess Brands is a microcosm of what’s wrong with America, as Bain-style Wall Street vultures make themselves rich by making America poor,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Friday.

Funny that a leveraged buyout firm like Sun Capital Partners may be one of the few options left to save Hostess and its unionized workers.

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Obama’s Ominous FDR Precedent

Polls have consistently shown that far more Americans still blame George W. Bush for the country’s economic difficulties than those who were prepared to place responsibility on the man who has been president for the last few years. That fact, along with an economy that wasn’t very good but still not as terrible as many thought it might be, was enough to re-elect Barack Obama earlier this month. In doing so, Obama became the first president to successfully run for a second term, while blaming his predecessor for his own failures, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who buried Alf Landon in 1936 by running against his predecessor Herbert Hoover.

That was quite a trick, but President Obama should be wary of emulating FDR in every respect. As Amity Shlaes wrote yesterday in Bloomberg News, Roosevelt’s second term provides some ominous precedents for an Obama second term. As our colleague John Steele Gordon wrote earlier this year, it may always be 1936 for liberals who believe conservatives are doomed to perpetual defeat. But what the president and his supporters should be worrying about is whether 2013 turns out to be a repeat of 1937, when a country mired in the Great Depression suffered another economic setback that heightened the country’s misery. As Shlaes points out, signs abound that the “Great Recession” that Obama claimed to save the country from during the campaign may be about to get worse.

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Polls have consistently shown that far more Americans still blame George W. Bush for the country’s economic difficulties than those who were prepared to place responsibility on the man who has been president for the last few years. That fact, along with an economy that wasn’t very good but still not as terrible as many thought it might be, was enough to re-elect Barack Obama earlier this month. In doing so, Obama became the first president to successfully run for a second term, while blaming his predecessor for his own failures, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who buried Alf Landon in 1936 by running against his predecessor Herbert Hoover.

That was quite a trick, but President Obama should be wary of emulating FDR in every respect. As Amity Shlaes wrote yesterday in Bloomberg News, Roosevelt’s second term provides some ominous precedents for an Obama second term. As our colleague John Steele Gordon wrote earlier this year, it may always be 1936 for liberals who believe conservatives are doomed to perpetual defeat. But what the president and his supporters should be worrying about is whether 2013 turns out to be a repeat of 1937, when a country mired in the Great Depression suffered another economic setback that heightened the country’s misery. As Shlaes points out, signs abound that the “Great Recession” that Obama claimed to save the country from during the campaign may be about to get worse.

The key clue is the drop in industrial production that set off a decline in the stock market in the aftermath of the president’s victory. One can’t compare that drop to the precipitous decline that America suffered in 1937 (when most stocks lost half their value). But as Shlaes writes, the link between the two situations may be the federal government spending sprees that both Democratic presidents engaged in, followed by tax hikes that spiked any chance for growth.

Another troubling parallel is what she calls the fallout from first-term legislation. In FDR’s case, the New Deal may have given many Americans hope, but the result of the vast expansion of federal power and the consequent diversion of money from taxpayers to the government was “reduced available cash, increased uncertainty and lower business confidence.” As Bethany wrote earlier today, the impact of the implementation of ObamaCare on business has the potential to raise unemployment and send the country into another “Great Recession.” In both cases, governments that have tried to “play God” with the economy may bring down on the nation policies that can “spook markets and employers whatever the decade.”

While FDR was able to keep blaming the country’s ills on Hoover until Tojo and the Japanese imperialists bombed Pearl Harbor and finally ended the Depression, it remains to be seen whether Americans will still be grousing about George W. Bush if a year or two from now that they are stuck in another “Great Recession” brought about by Obama’s policies.

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Marco Rubio v. Science

In an interview with GQ magazine, Senator Marco Rubio was asked, “How old do you think the Earth is?” To which Senator Rubio responded:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

To this I would answer that I’m not a doctor, but I know that smoking causes lung cancer. In the same way, one doesn’t have to be a scientist to know roughly how old the earth is (the estimates are roughly 4.5 billion years old). The age of the earth, by the way, is a separate question from whether God is its Creator.

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In an interview with GQ magazine, Senator Marco Rubio was asked, “How old do you think the Earth is?” To which Senator Rubio responded:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

To this I would answer that I’m not a doctor, but I know that smoking causes lung cancer. In the same way, one doesn’t have to be a scientist to know roughly how old the earth is (the estimates are roughly 4.5 billion years old). The age of the earth, by the way, is a separate question from whether God is its Creator.

If Senator Rubio is worried about reconciling his faith with science (or worried about offending those who believe the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old), he might consider reading a book by the biologist Darrel Falk, Coming to Peace With Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology. Professor Falk writes about reconciling his Christian belief with biological evolution. More to the point, Falk presents the overwhelming evidence for an ancient earth. He also argues that the “young earth” belief inevitably leads

to the position that the sciences of astronomy, astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology and biology are all fundamentally wrong. These sciences point toward a very old earth and universe and lead to the gradual appearance of new life forms on earth over billions of years. If they were wrong, it would not mean the demise of a marginal theory at the sidelines of each discipline. So central are the notions of an old earth and the gradual appearance of life to these fields of scientific endeavor that the scientists in research universities hold them with absolute certainty. Within these disciplines the earth is viewed without doubt to be billions of years old, and new species have been making appearances throughout most of that time span. So foundational is this position to all of the scientific disciplines that, were it wrong, the disciplines themselves would collapse.

For Senator Rubio to duck on this matter, then, is, to me at least, a bit disquieting. There are many issues that don’t have to do with the economy that are still worth knowing about when it comes to major political leaders. This is one of them, since it offers an insight into the broader views one holds about the nature and validity of science. 

One of the attributes of conservatism, at least as I understand it, is openness to evidence, including scientific evidence, and embracing reality. It can be discrediting to a political party—as well as religious institutions—to stand against (or deny) overwhelming empirical evidence on any subject. (It’s worth recalling that up until 500 years ago the Christian church, to its great detriment, argued that if the Bible were taken literally, the sun would have to revolve around the earth. The claim that the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old is about as believable as are those made in attacking Galileo and Copernicus.)

I like Senator Rubio and believe he has a very bright future. But it seems to me he not only needs to re-think his answer to this question, but come to terms with its larger implications. He and his party will suffer, and should suffer, if they are seen as agnostic on, or standing against, science.

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IAEA: Bibi’s Red Line Warnings Were Right

Hamas’s decision not to go along with their patron Iran’s determination to keep Bashar Assad in power in Syria broke up a profitable alliance that had worked well for both parties. But though the two may no longer be working in tandem, Hamas’s decision to launch a rocket offensive against Israel did a favor for the country that had supplied the terror group with cash and weapons for a decade: it diverted international attention away from the release of a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear program.

That’s fortuitous for Iran, since the IAEA’s latest findings about Tehran’s project more or less confirm the warnings that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued from the podium of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September. As Britain’s Guardian reports, all those pundits and kibitzers who mocked Netanyahu’s rhetoric and graphic display at the UN may need to rethink their position:

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Hamas’s decision not to go along with their patron Iran’s determination to keep Bashar Assad in power in Syria broke up a profitable alliance that had worked well for both parties. But though the two may no longer be working in tandem, Hamas’s decision to launch a rocket offensive against Israel did a favor for the country that had supplied the terror group with cash and weapons for a decade: it diverted international attention away from the release of a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear program.

That’s fortuitous for Iran, since the IAEA’s latest findings about Tehran’s project more or less confirm the warnings that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued from the podium of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September. As Britain’s Guardian reports, all those pundits and kibitzers who mocked Netanyahu’s rhetoric and graphic display at the UN may need to rethink their position:

Iran has expanded its enrichment capacity and is enriching uranium at a pace that would bring it to what Israel has declared an unacceptable red line in just over seven months, according to a report by the UN nuclear watchdog. The red line drawn by Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, during his UN appearance in September, represented 240kg of 20%-enriched uranium, enough to make a warhead if further enriched to weapons grade.

The sensitivity of 20% uranium figure is that it can be turned into weapons grade relatively fast and easily. The last time the IAEA inspectors drew up a report, three months ago, Iran had made 189kg of 20% uranium. but had used nearly 100kg for civilian purposes, leaving an outstanding 96kg.

In the last three months, that stockpile has grown by 43kg and Iran has not diverted any more of it to civil uses. At the current steady rate of production, that would bring Iran to the Israeli red line by mid-June. But it also installed new centrifuges at its underground enrichment plant in Fordow, with which it could double its rate of production if it chose to do so.

The IAEA report should concentrate American minds on the fact that although the erratically enforced international economic sanctions imposed on Iran have caused great pain to the country, they have done nothing to weaken the resolve of the ayatollahs to stick to their nuclear plan. The June red line date gives President Obama only a few months to do something to vindicate his insistence that diplomacy can work to persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambition. Though the attention focused on Hamas’s war has diverted the press and the public from the question of Iran this week, Washington shouldn’t count on the Israelis being similarly distracted.

The fact that the Iranians understand this all too well is apparent in their attitude toward the fighting going on along the Israel-Gaza border. Though Iran’s vilification of Israel is second to none, it has not sought to do anything to ease the pressure on their former allies. While the Israelis are pounding Hamas, Iran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries have been suspiciously quiet. Iran could order Hezbollah to start firing its own rockets at northern Israel–something that could put a terrible strain on the Jewish state’s already heavily burdened missile defense systems. But they haven’t done so. The reason for this is that they know that if they did unleash Hezbollah, it would give the Israelis an excuse to launch an all-out offensive aimed at knocking out the Lebanese terror group’s offensive capabilities. That would mean that Iran would be deprived of a major deterrent to an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities.

Nevertheless, the bottom line here is that the UN group has confirmed that Netanyahu’s calculations about the moment when Iran would have the ability to create a weapon were largely accurate. That leaves the ball firmly placed in President Obama’s court. The clock is ticking down the moments until Iran passes the red line that will mark them as a potential nuclear power. It is also counting down the time that the president has left before he will be forced to choose between taking action against Iran or reneging on his campaign promises to stop them.

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Gaza Ground War Decision Within 2 Days?

Israel will decide within the next 24 to 48 hours whether to accept a cease-fire deal brokered by pro-Palestinian governments in Egypt and Turkey or launch a ground incursion into Gaza, former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel said on a conference call today.

“Basically we are moving with the Palestinians straight into a [juncture],” said Harel, who served as deputy chief of staff from 2007 to 2009, and also led Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. “There are two basic alternatives. One is an agreement, which is cooked in Cairo, apparently. And the other one is escalating the situation and move forward into the Gaza strip with a land effort, which is going to be bad for both sides.”

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Israel will decide within the next 24 to 48 hours whether to accept a cease-fire deal brokered by pro-Palestinian governments in Egypt and Turkey or launch a ground incursion into Gaza, former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel said on a conference call today.

“Basically we are moving with the Palestinians straight into a [juncture],” said Harel, who served as deputy chief of staff from 2007 to 2009, and also led Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. “There are two basic alternatives. One is an agreement, which is cooked in Cairo, apparently. And the other one is escalating the situation and move forward into the Gaza strip with a land effort, which is going to be bad for both sides.”

Harel said that there are two conditions Israel believes must be met before a deal is reached. First, there must be guarantees that the cease-fire will be long-term. Second, there must be an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza. Harel didn’t specifically mention the one-kilometer buffer zone on the Gaza border, which the Times of Israel reported was also an Israeli condition. 

“If both conditions [are] answered…then the Israelis, as far as I understand, will sign the agreement,” said Harel. “So basically we are about 24 to 48 hours from this [juncture], and we will have to see which direction each side will take.”

Harel also said that Hamas’s infrastructure has been severely degraded by air attacks. The IDF has hit nearly every launching pad that it was aware of — numbering from several hundred to one thousand — as well as Hamas government infrastructure, he said.

Though Israel has successfully targeted Hamas leadership since the operation began, many remain underground. “They are not being attacked because of the places they are hiding,” said Harel. “We are not going to attack a hospital or mosque, and so forth.”

But if Israel is drawn into a ground war, the Obama administration might not necessarily receive warning notice beforehand, Harel added.

“It might, it might not. I really can’t call it,” he said. “Basically, it’s not something you hide from the Americans, and I guess if they ask, they’ll be answered.”

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Risk and Reward in Burmese Diplomacy

If Burmese democratization continues apace, historians will look for a “Berlin Wall moment”–something that signified the true beginning of the end for the country’s authoritarian past. They will probably settle on May 2, 2012, when Nobel Peace laureate, democracy activist, and longtime Burmese opposition dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was finally sworn in to the country’s parliament after being permitted to run in free and fair by-elections. That was indeed a powerful moment, but the more accurate choice would be September 30, 2011. That’s when Burmese President Thein Sein informed parliament that he was canceling a controversial dam project funded by China and vocally opposed by the local population.

It was remarkable that Thein Sein, who succeeded the dictatorial Than Shwe, had bowed to the will of the people. But it was perhaps even more remarkable that he told them so. “As our government is elected by the people, it is to respect the people’s will. We have the responsibility to address public concerns in all seriousness. So construction of Myitsone Dam will be suspended in the time of our government,” Thein Sein wrote to parliament. The suspension of the dam project not only set a precedent of accountability. It also signaled that Burma would not be an economic protectorate of a rising China–a decision that represented an outstretched hand to Western governments and, more importantly for a poor country, Western businesses.

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If Burmese democratization continues apace, historians will look for a “Berlin Wall moment”–something that signified the true beginning of the end for the country’s authoritarian past. They will probably settle on May 2, 2012, when Nobel Peace laureate, democracy activist, and longtime Burmese opposition dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was finally sworn in to the country’s parliament after being permitted to run in free and fair by-elections. That was indeed a powerful moment, but the more accurate choice would be September 30, 2011. That’s when Burmese President Thein Sein informed parliament that he was canceling a controversial dam project funded by China and vocally opposed by the local population.

It was remarkable that Thein Sein, who succeeded the dictatorial Than Shwe, had bowed to the will of the people. But it was perhaps even more remarkable that he told them so. “As our government is elected by the people, it is to respect the people’s will. We have the responsibility to address public concerns in all seriousness. So construction of Myitsone Dam will be suspended in the time of our government,” Thein Sein wrote to parliament. The suspension of the dam project not only set a precedent of accountability. It also signaled that Burma would not be an economic protectorate of a rising China–a decision that represented an outstretched hand to Western governments and, more importantly for a poor country, Western businesses.

Since then political liberalization has continued, political prisoners have been freed, Western sanctions have been lifted, and high-profile visits culminate today in President Obama’s personal visit to Burma–the first time a sitting U.S. president has done so. Is Burma ready for all this attention? The answer may be found in the answer to another oft-posed question since this trip was announced: Why is Obama making the trip at all? That riddle is easier to solve: because Burma is the one foreign policy success that can be plausibly attributed to the president’s strategic vision. Obama prefers engagement and, where possible (or necessary), sanctions. Such a policy has left much of what this White House has touched in tatters.

Neither the president’s watered-down sanctions nor his stubborn obsession with engagement have stopped Iran’s nuclear program. His major foreign policy success is the assassination of Osama bin Laden, which relied on the use of force, intelligence gained under his predecessor, and the heavyhanded dismissal of another country’s territorial sovereignty. Force worked in the effort to oust Moammar Gaddafi, but the light footprint follow-up–the president’s vaunted “leading from behind”–has been a colossal disaster marked by the murder of our ambassador there and four others.

So the answer to the second question–because Obama must cling to what may turn out to be his one success not attributable to the use of overwhelming force–also provides an answer to whether Burma is ready for such a visit: It doesn’t matter. Obama needs this trip and this photo op, and so he will get it.

Human rights groups and even Aung San Suu Kyi aren’t thrilled with the visit, the latter warning of a “mirage” of success. A day earlier, in Thailand, Obama responded to his critics by saying that “if we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we’d be waiting an awful long time.”

Obama should be applauded for supporting a fledgling democracy, but he shouldn’t ignore his own advice. He has been known to warn against “spiking the football”; how much more so should he avoid the temptation to celebrate at the five-yard line.

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Restaurant Industry Already Preparing for Obamacare Consequences

Will the restaurant business survive a second Obama term? Can it? Since the president’s reelection earlier this month, four large restaurant chains, Papa Johns, Applebee’s, Denny’s and Darden Restaurants (the company that owns the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse chains) have all recently released statements about their companies’ plans to respond to the increased costs of complying with Obamacare regulations. According to the healthcare law, every full-time employee must be provided with comprehensive medical coverage if the company employs more than 50 full-time workers. If a company refuses to comply, they will be faced with fines of $2,000 per year, per employee, as of January 1, 2014. 

The announcements from companies grappling with the increased costs of Obamacare have, expectedly, been met with disbelief and consternation by the left, still seemingly unaware of basic economics. Appearing on Fox News Business early last week, Applebee’s CEO Zane Tankel explained the steps his business would have to take in order to stay in operation:

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Will the restaurant business survive a second Obama term? Can it? Since the president’s reelection earlier this month, four large restaurant chains, Papa Johns, Applebee’s, Denny’s and Darden Restaurants (the company that owns the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse chains) have all recently released statements about their companies’ plans to respond to the increased costs of complying with Obamacare regulations. According to the healthcare law, every full-time employee must be provided with comprehensive medical coverage if the company employs more than 50 full-time workers. If a company refuses to comply, they will be faced with fines of $2,000 per year, per employee, as of January 1, 2014. 

The announcements from companies grappling with the increased costs of Obamacare have, expectedly, been met with disbelief and consternation by the left, still seemingly unaware of basic economics. Appearing on Fox News Business early last week, Applebee’s CEO Zane Tankel explained the steps his business would have to take in order to stay in operation:

The costs of fines or healthcare for dozens of employees per restaurant have the potential to bankrupt individually owned chains across the country. The Applebee’s in New York City would face fines of $600,000 per year if insurance isn’t provided for full-time staff, and estimates for offering federally approved insurance would cost “some millions” across the Applebee’s system. Both scenarios, according to Tankel, “[would] roll back expansion, roll back hiring more people. In the best case scenario [it] would only shrink the labor force minimally.” The restaurant industry, already operating with razor thin margins, doesn’t have the ability to absorb tens of thousands more in healthcare expenditures without a considerable increase in sales. It’s a basic realty of economics: more has to be coming in than going out.

The only solution for restaurants that want to stay open and maintain competitive pricing would be to cut employee hours to part-time status. This is the conclusion already reached by several large chains–companies that provide jobs to tens of thousands of working class Americans. Two of the four companies went public after the election, and thus cries from the left about companies and their CEOs “playing politics” ring empty. Despite the fact that these provisions don’t go into place until January 1, 2014, with the reelection of President Obama and the control of the Senate in Democratic hands, the future of Obamacare is now all but certain as businesses across the country are planning for their companies’ futures. 

If workers are moved to part-time status, the onus for paying for insurance would then be placed on employees who have suddenly seen their incomes reduced drastically. Another provision of Obamacare is the requirement for Americans to purchase insurance or face a financial penalty, a tax as defined by the Supreme Court. Some of these employees may qualify for Medicaid and would be exempt from the tax specifically designed to compel Americans to purchase insurance, regardless of their desire to do so. Cash-strapped states would then be on the hook for expanding Medicaid in order to fulfill the needs of the estimated 11-17 million Americans newly enrolled on Medicaid thanks to Obamacare. These workers, directly pushed further into poverty by Obamacare via reduced hours would then be enrolled in a system with the worst healthcare outcomes in the country, including the ranks of the uninsured. The costs of providing millions more with insurance would then be passed on by states unable to afford the Medicaid loads they already have. As a result, residents should expect fewer services from their states or higher taxes, if not both. 

In anticipation for January 1, 2014 restaurants are already cutting staff hours in order to classify themselves as companies with fewer than 50 full-time employees. As we saw with regard to Hostess Brands, left-wing groups’ perception of how much companies can afford to give to employees while still maintaining a healthy business doesn’t always align with companies’ bottom lines. Just because liberals think that companies should be able to provide more in compensation and benefits doesn’t mean they can. Hostess was the first company to throw in the towel in the face of unreasonable demands for worker compensation and benefits, and unfortunately, given the burden Obamacare is placing on businesses, it may not be the last.

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Is this How the Israel-Iran War Begins?

Experts and defense analysts agree that Iran would respond to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities by proxy, specifically by Hamas and Hezbollah rocketry launched at Israeli towns and cities. Indeed, this is one of the reasons beyond sheer ideological spite that the Iranian leadership has gone to such great lengths to arm both Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Iranian leadership may be coming very close to forcing Israel’s hand. If Hezbollah seeks to open a second front against Israel, then Israel could find itself in a two-front war with terrorist entities. Make no mistake, Israel would achieve its objective of destroying the majority of the longest-range and most lethal missiles supplied to Hamas and Hezbollah by Iran, Syria, and perhaps even North Korea.

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Experts and defense analysts agree that Iran would respond to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities by proxy, specifically by Hamas and Hezbollah rocketry launched at Israeli towns and cities. Indeed, this is one of the reasons beyond sheer ideological spite that the Iranian leadership has gone to such great lengths to arm both Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Iranian leadership may be coming very close to forcing Israel’s hand. If Hezbollah seeks to open a second front against Israel, then Israel could find itself in a two-front war with terrorist entities. Make no mistake, Israel would achieve its objective of destroying the majority of the longest-range and most lethal missiles supplied to Hamas and Hezbollah by Iran, Syria, and perhaps even North Korea.

This might reduce the costs to Israel of undertaking a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. After all, if Hamas and Hezbollah are temporarily neutered and if the Israeli government concludes that the elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who would have command and control over any Iranian nuclear arsenal would pose an existential threat, then the Israelis may decide that their window of opportunity would never be so favorable as the present. After all, Iran’s air defense is only going to get more sophisticated with time, and its missile program is advancing steadily, and so time is otherwise not on Israel’s side.

The Iranians often quip that they play chess while their opponents play checkers. Let us hope before it is too late that the Iranian regime comes to realize, despite its overconfidence, that it is not the grandmaster it believes itself to be.

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Hamas and the Two-State Solution Myth

Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.

It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.

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Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.

It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.

Beinart is right when he characterizes the Israeli counter-offensive as merely a short-term solution rather than a long-term strategy. Many Israelis regard Operation Pillar of Defense in much the same way they saw the 2008 campaign called Cast Lead: as nothing more than a periodic effort to hamper Hamas’s military capability. The 2005 decision to withdraw from Gaza was a security disaster, but few Israelis want any part of governing the strip again. All they want is for it to be prevented from threatening their country, and to that end they back a regular “grass cutting” in Gaza that will make it harder for Hamas to terrorize millions of Israelis the way they have in the last week.

This Israeli consensus frustrates foreign observers like Beinart who insist they can solve a problem that citizens of the Jewish state see as having been proven to be intractable by 20 years of failed peace processing. They also understand that, contrary to Beinart, the last thing Hamas wants is either peace with Israel under any circumstances or democracy for the Palestinians.

Far from being tempted to bolster Abbas, the current Hamas campaign is intended to boost their own standing among Palestinians at Fatah’s expense. Moreover, Hamas’s leadership believes the support it has gotten from Egypt and Turkey renders Abbas obsolete. In a sense, they are right. Far from highlighting the need for a Palestinian state, the current fighting is a reminder that one already exists in Gaza and its leaders believe the Palestinian people prefer to be sacrificed on the altar of unending war with Israel than good government or peace.

Ending the West’s efforts to isolate Hamas won’t revive the two-state solution. What it would do is to legitimize a brutal, dictatorial Islamist regime in Gaza and encourage Hamas to think that they can eventually seize the West Bank as well.

Should his friends in the Obama administration heed Beinart’s point of view and the United States reward Hamas in this fashion, it wouldn’t just strengthen Hamas’s ability to withstand future Israeli counter attacks. It would also kill whatever slim hopes exist for democratization of the corrupt and violent Palestinian political culture.

Beinart concludes his piece by trotting out one of the oldest lamest arguments of those trying to revive hopes for peace with Israel’s foes. It is the old quote about the need to make peace with enemies, not your friends. But if there is anything Israelis have learned in the 20 years since Oslo, it is that you make peace with enemies who are willing to live in peace and give up the hope of your destruction, not enemies who merely wish to gain concessions prior to restarting the conflict on more advantageous terms. That’s the mistake Israel made with Yasir Arafat. It won’t make the same one with the Islamists of Hamas.

The fact that there is no long-term political solution available to Israel as it copes with a terrorist state on its doorstep is frustrating. But pundits like Beinart and the Obama administration need to be reminded that the choice facing Israel isn’t between peace and talking to Hamas. It’s between survival and death.

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Destroy the Smuggling Tunnels

Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to warn against rewarding Hamas for its attacks on Israel by granting it any sort of diplomatic concession. After all, engrained in Hamas is an absolute refusal to abide by previous diplomacy, such as the agreements the Palestinian Authority had made with Israel as a precondition to the Authority’s 1994 formation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israeli officials, alas, can always be counted on for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Enter on cue Dan Harel, former deputy chief of the Israeli Defense Forces General Staff and a former head of its Southern Command, who quips that Israel is running out of targets.

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Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to warn against rewarding Hamas for its attacks on Israel by granting it any sort of diplomatic concession. After all, engrained in Hamas is an absolute refusal to abide by previous diplomacy, such as the agreements the Palestinian Authority had made with Israel as a precondition to the Authority’s 1994 formation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israeli officials, alas, can always be counted on for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Enter on cue Dan Harel, former deputy chief of the Israeli Defense Forces General Staff and a former head of its Southern Command, who quips that Israel is running out of targets.

There are several huge targets that Israel should destroy, lest they simply kick the can down the road and set the stage for a far more bloody conflict a few months or years down the road: The smuggling tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Gaza. As much as Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, other Islamist leaders, and prominent leftists like Noam Chomsky and the UN’s special rapporteur Richard Falk whine about Israel’s inspection regime for the Gaza Strip, the fact remains that Hamas had no problem rearming and building its arsenal since 2009. It achieved this through the sophisticated network of smuggling tunnels.

Israel should not waste the opportunity to systematically destroy these in their entirety. To accept a ceasefire while the mechanism by which a terrorist group resupplies itself remains functional would be strategic malpractice. For diplomats in the European Union and United States to turn a blind eye to these tunnels is no less irresponsible.  

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Rubio Starting Early in Iowa

One trip to Iowa does not a candidacy make, but you don’t have to be a political junkie to interpret Marco Rubio’s star turn at a birthday party fundraiser for the state’s governor as the first shot fired in the race for the 2016 presidential race. As Politico reported over the weekend, the Florida senator’s appearance at Governor Terry Branstad’s shindig set off speculation about his intentions.

With three years and two months to go before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus, all this talk about 2016 may seem incredibly premature. But in a state where you can never spend too much time buttering up the voters, Rubio has sent a clear signal that he isn’t shy about starting early to win their approval. Just as important, his speech reminded Republicans that what they need is not just a Hispanic but also someone who can appeal to middle class sensibilities in a way that Mitt Romney failed to do. Which means we can expect to hear a lot more about Rubio’s bartender father and his hotel maid mother than we ever did about George and Lenore Romney.

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One trip to Iowa does not a candidacy make, but you don’t have to be a political junkie to interpret Marco Rubio’s star turn at a birthday party fundraiser for the state’s governor as the first shot fired in the race for the 2016 presidential race. As Politico reported over the weekend, the Florida senator’s appearance at Governor Terry Branstad’s shindig set off speculation about his intentions.

With three years and two months to go before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus, all this talk about 2016 may seem incredibly premature. But in a state where you can never spend too much time buttering up the voters, Rubio has sent a clear signal that he isn’t shy about starting early to win their approval. Just as important, his speech reminded Republicans that what they need is not just a Hispanic but also someone who can appeal to middle class sensibilities in a way that Mitt Romney failed to do. Which means we can expect to hear a lot more about Rubio’s bartender father and his hotel maid mother than we ever did about George and Lenore Romney.

The nation’s political landscape may be very different two years from now after the next midterm elections. By then, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have gotten a major boost from a 2013 re-election victory or have had his ambitions cut short by Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Paul Ryan may have burnished his reputation further by years of budget showdowns with President Obama or gotten bogged down in the fallout from those confrontations. Other potential candidates, such as Bobby Jindal, may have emerged as party favorites. Conservative Christians may have united behind recycled candidates like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum, and enough time may have passed since 2008 for Jeb Bush to consider following in his father and brother’s footsteps.

All those potential nominees and many others will be schlepping to Iowa in the next couple of years. But by making himself conspicuous in Iowa this soon after the 2012 race, Rubio is showing that the diffidence he often expressed about the possibility of being nominated for vice president this past year shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of interest in the top spot on the next GOP ticket. It’s also a sign that Rubio intends to go big if he does run, since his speech showed that he wants to position himself as a Tea Party stalwart, an advocate of conservative family values, and a supporter of a robust national defense and foreign policy, as well as staking out ground with Hispanics and the middle class.

One speech doesn’t commit Rubio, and this also gives him plenty of time to make the sort of mistakes that could sink his hopes before they even get started. But it does serve notice to his potential rivals that he is probably interested and that they should think twice about underestimating him.

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Poll: Democrats Split on Whether Israel’s Actions Are Justified

Today’s CNN/ORC International poll shows solid American support for Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense. Fifty-seven percent say Israel’s strikes in Gaza are justified, compared with 25 percent who disagree. That support is even higher among independents and Republicans, but substantially lower among Democrats:

A majority of Americans say that Israel’s current military strikes against Gaza are justified, according to a new national survey.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday indicates that 57% of the public says Israel is justified in taking military action in Gaza against Hamas, with one in four saying the attacks are unjustified.

“Although most Americans think the Israeli actions are justified, there are key segments of the public who don’t necessarily feel that way,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Only four in ten Democrats think the Israeli actions in Gaza are justified, compared to 74% of Republicans and 59% of independents. Support for Israel’s military action is 13 points higher among men than among women, and 15 points higher among older Americans than among younger Americans.”

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Today’s CNN/ORC International poll shows solid American support for Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense. Fifty-seven percent say Israel’s strikes in Gaza are justified, compared with 25 percent who disagree. That support is even higher among independents and Republicans, but substantially lower among Democrats:

A majority of Americans say that Israel’s current military strikes against Gaza are justified, according to a new national survey.

A CNN/ORC International poll released Monday indicates that 57% of the public says Israel is justified in taking military action in Gaza against Hamas, with one in four saying the attacks are unjustified.

“Although most Americans think the Israeli actions are justified, there are key segments of the public who don’t necessarily feel that way,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Only four in ten Democrats think the Israeli actions in Gaza are justified, compared to 74% of Republicans and 59% of independents. Support for Israel’s military action is 13 points higher among men than among women, and 15 points higher among older Americans than among younger Americans.”

Democrats are divided on the question, with 41 percent saying Israel’s actions are justified and 36 percent saying they’re unjustified. Another 23 percent say they have no opinion. The gulf between Democratic opinions on the operation and broader public opinion is notable, especially considering President Obama’s public support for Israeli self-defense. However, the Obama administration has also expressed strong opposition to an Israeli ground invasion, publicly and behind-the-scenes.

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Did White House Edit CIA Talking Points?

David Petraeus reportedly told Congress on Friday that the original CIA talking points linked the Benghazi attack to terrorism, but that part was edited out by unknown officials before distribution. The question is, who edited the talking points, and was it politically motivated?

According to Senator Saxby Chambliss, every agency that could have made these changes also pleaded ignorance at Friday’s closed-door hearing. The one entity that wasn’t at the hearing and could have changed the talking points? The White House

Leaders from the State Department, FBI, CIA, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, testified on Thursday and Friday. Regarding the allegations that the original CIA talking points had been changed so that terrorist involvement was not included, Sen. Chambliss said, “Everybody there was asked do you know who made these changes; and nobody knew. The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House.”

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David Petraeus reportedly told Congress on Friday that the original CIA talking points linked the Benghazi attack to terrorism, but that part was edited out by unknown officials before distribution. The question is, who edited the talking points, and was it politically motivated?

According to Senator Saxby Chambliss, every agency that could have made these changes also pleaded ignorance at Friday’s closed-door hearing. The one entity that wasn’t at the hearing and could have changed the talking points? The White House

Leaders from the State Department, FBI, CIA, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, testified on Thursday and Friday. Regarding the allegations that the original CIA talking points had been changed so that terrorist involvement was not included, Sen. Chambliss said, “Everybody there was asked do you know who made these changes; and nobody knew. The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House.”

That’s not exactly proof the White House made the edits. It could turn out the FBI, State Department or CIA weren’t being totally up-front at the hearing, and one of them was responsible for the changes. Both the State Department and CIA would have had at least some motive to play up the “spontaneous demonstration” narrative. State, because of all the security red flags it ignored prior to the attack, and the CIA because it didn’t want its Benghazi assets exposed.

Spokesman Ben Rhodes also denied the White House was involved in a briefing Saturday (h/t Erika Johnson):

Now, in terms of — I think the focus of this has often been on the public statements that were made by Susan Rice and other administration officials in that first week after the attack.  Those were informed by unclassified talking points that we — that were provided to the Congress and to the interagency — the rest of the administration by the intelligence community. …

What we also said yesterday, though — because this question came up as to whether the White House had edited Susan Rice’s points and the points that were provided to Congress and the administration — the only edit that was made to those points by the White House, and was also made by the State Department, was to change the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility” since the facility in Benghazi had not — was not formally a consulate.  Other than that, we worked off of the points that were provided by the intelligence community.  So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made within the intelligence community.

This should be fairly easy to clear up, especially if the only entities that reviewed the talking points were the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and the White House, as Chambliss indicates. If the White House knows that the State Department changed “consulate” to “diplomatic facility” — a relatively minor technical edit — then surely somebody at one of these agencies knows who removed the references to terrorism.

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Technology No Substitute for Troops

I never thought I’d live to see a former New York Times editor praise Donald Rumsfeld. That day has now arrived–and it is hardly a cause for rejoicing.

Today Bill Keller writes in favor of defense cuts, as if the $487 billion that was lopped out of the Pentagon budget last summer were not enough. He thinks greater savings can be achieved by seeking “a significant cut in active-duty ground forces and the heavy vehicles and artillery that go with them,” as if the army and Marine Corps were not already set to lose roughly 100,000 troopers. He argues that we don’t need all those ground forces anyway–“Keeping America and its allies safe these days depends more on our formidable array of ships, aircraft and precision-guided munitions, plus small units of highly trained special ops and drones to combat terrorist cells.” He then goes on to advocate various other ideas, including reforming the procurement process and pushing for greater inter-service consolidation. The really priceless part comes when Keller concedes:

None of this is new thinking. The last secretary of defense who called for a postwar transformation of the military was Donald Rumsfeld. He arrived at the Pentagon in 2001 for his second tour with an insider’s understanding of the system, a C.E.O.’s impatience with inefficiency, and an awareness that the end of the cold war presented a different world of threats. He was not a budget-cutter, but he wanted the money spent well. Before his good intentions got lost in the slogs of Afghanistan and Iraq, he railed at the interservice rivalries, the waste, the reluctance to give up anything or think afresh.

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I never thought I’d live to see a former New York Times editor praise Donald Rumsfeld. That day has now arrived–and it is hardly a cause for rejoicing.

Today Bill Keller writes in favor of defense cuts, as if the $487 billion that was lopped out of the Pentagon budget last summer were not enough. He thinks greater savings can be achieved by seeking “a significant cut in active-duty ground forces and the heavy vehicles and artillery that go with them,” as if the army and Marine Corps were not already set to lose roughly 100,000 troopers. He argues that we don’t need all those ground forces anyway–“Keeping America and its allies safe these days depends more on our formidable array of ships, aircraft and precision-guided munitions, plus small units of highly trained special ops and drones to combat terrorist cells.” He then goes on to advocate various other ideas, including reforming the procurement process and pushing for greater inter-service consolidation. The really priceless part comes when Keller concedes:

None of this is new thinking. The last secretary of defense who called for a postwar transformation of the military was Donald Rumsfeld. He arrived at the Pentagon in 2001 for his second tour with an insider’s understanding of the system, a C.E.O.’s impatience with inefficiency, and an awareness that the end of the cold war presented a different world of threats. He was not a budget-cutter, but he wanted the money spent well. Before his good intentions got lost in the slogs of Afghanistan and Iraq, he railed at the interservice rivalries, the waste, the reluctance to give up anything or think afresh.

What Keller seems to have missed is that Rumsfeld was wrong–profoundly and dangerously wrong. Not about cutting bureaucracy and improving contracting–that needs to be done, although the fact that Rumsfeld failed to make any progress on either front should lead one to question whether it’s in fact possible to cut the budget top-line while only excising unnecessary spending without sacrificing real military capabilities.

Where Rumsfeld was wrong was to think that advances in technology would make it possible to cut ground forces without any resulting loss of security. Before 9/11, Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War, leading then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki to issue a prophetic warning: “Beware a 12-division strategy for a 10-division army.” Rumsfeld did not heed that warning and therefore we went into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with an army too small for the tasks it was assigned.

Now, proving that we have learned nothing from history, politicians and pundits appear eager to repeat Rumsfeld’s mistake. Slash ground forces to the bone, they argue–we’ll never need to fight another major ground war again. Haven’t we heard that before?

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Missile Defense Stands Up to Scrutiny

It is amazing the controversy that missile defense continues to arouse nearly 30 years after Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Star Wars” speech. Yesterday I posted an item saying that Reagan’s vision of intercepting missiles had been vindicated by the success that Israel’s Iron Dome system is having in knocking down Hamas rockets–some 300 so far. This sparked much indignation on Twitter and the blogosphere, with a graduate student named Matt Fay writing an entire blog item in reply arguing “Iron Dome Does Not Vindicate SDI,” and political scientist/blogger Robert Farley posting numerous tweets in a similar vein. They attack me for one alleged factual error and for a larger conceptual error of equating defense against Russian ICBMs, which have a range of thousands of miles, with defense against short-range Hamas rockets which can travel no more than 50 miles and often less. Let me explain in brief why I stand by my original point.

First, the supposed factual error is more an omission than a mistake. I wrote that “the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors.” Fay points out I neglected to mention the ground-based interceptors located in Alaska and California. Fair enough; I should have mentioned them. But the first line of defense against missiles aimed at the U.S. remains warships equipped with Aegis radar and Standard Missile 3’s–as a quick glance at the website of the US Missile Defense Agency will confirm. In the future a new generation of SM-3’s will also be based ashore in the U.S. If North Korea were to launch a missile our way, an Aegis-equipped Navy ship would be more likely to shoot it down than one of the ground-based interceptors in the continental U.S. But they are all part of a larger system with redundancy built in to increase the chances of a successful interception.

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It is amazing the controversy that missile defense continues to arouse nearly 30 years after Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Star Wars” speech. Yesterday I posted an item saying that Reagan’s vision of intercepting missiles had been vindicated by the success that Israel’s Iron Dome system is having in knocking down Hamas rockets–some 300 so far. This sparked much indignation on Twitter and the blogosphere, with a graduate student named Matt Fay writing an entire blog item in reply arguing “Iron Dome Does Not Vindicate SDI,” and political scientist/blogger Robert Farley posting numerous tweets in a similar vein. They attack me for one alleged factual error and for a larger conceptual error of equating defense against Russian ICBMs, which have a range of thousands of miles, with defense against short-range Hamas rockets which can travel no more than 50 miles and often less. Let me explain in brief why I stand by my original point.

First, the supposed factual error is more an omission than a mistake. I wrote that “the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors.” Fay points out I neglected to mention the ground-based interceptors located in Alaska and California. Fair enough; I should have mentioned them. But the first line of defense against missiles aimed at the U.S. remains warships equipped with Aegis radar and Standard Missile 3’s–as a quick glance at the website of the US Missile Defense Agency will confirm. In the future a new generation of SM-3’s will also be based ashore in the U.S. If North Korea were to launch a missile our way, an Aegis-equipped Navy ship would be more likely to shoot it down than one of the ground-based interceptors in the continental U.S. But they are all part of a larger system with redundancy built in to increase the chances of a successful interception.

What about my supposed error in equating rocket defense with missile defense? Granted there are major differences between the two–missiles travel farther and faster and they can have multiple warheads and various defenses against interception. But the fact that missiles take time to prepare for launch, that they have to come from launching platforms easily observable from the air, and that they are often in flight for many minutes–roughly half an hour to get from Russia to the U.S.–actually improves the chances of interception. By contrast Qassam rockets can be set up with no notice and detonate 30 seconds after launch. The fact that the Iron Dome system has been 90 percent successful, if initial reports are to be believed, is actually quite impressive and does vindicate Reagan’s much-mocked vision of using one projectile to intercept another.

Some critics point out that even a 90-percent success rate for national missile defense wouldn’t do much good, because letting even one nuclear-tipped missile through could be devastating. True enough, but, Reagan’s sometimes grandiose rhetoric aside about “eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles,” even markedly reducing that threat would be of great benefit. In the days of the Cold War, the Soviets plotted to launch a devastating first strike on the U.S. But if a defense system had knocked down many of their attacking missiles, that would have preserved America’s ability to launch an even more devastating counter-strike. Thus if missile defense had been in place in those days it could have improved deterrence and reduced the risk of a nuclear attack. Today missile defense can achieve more limited, but just as valuable, objectives by preventing North Korea, Iran and other rogue states from threatening their neighbors and their neighbors’ ally, the United States.

I remain puzzled by the emotional response generated by any advocacy of missile defense. Why do so many critics have such an investment in trying to prove that missile defense doesn’t work? Isn’t a good defense the best way to keep the peace?

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Preventing Another Akin

With Democrats defending almost twice as many Senate seats as Republicans in 2014, the GOP has a chance to make up for this year’s dismal performance and retake the Senate. But that also means reforming the National Republican Senatorial Committee to prevent future Todd Akin-esque candidates. Politico reports:

Now, top Republicans are considering splitting the difference between the heavy hand they wielded in 2010 that prompted sharp blowback from the right and their mostly hands-off approach of 2012. Both strategies produced a handful of unelectable candidates, so senators are gravitating toward a middle ground: engage in primaries so long as they can get some cover on the local level.

“We ought to make certain that if we get engaged in primaries that we’re doing it based on the desires, the electability and the input of people back in the states that we’re talking about,” Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, told POLITICO. “And not from the perception of what political operatives from Washington, D.C., think about who ought to be the candidate in state X.” 

The first-term Moran, who was elected to the spot last week by his Senate colleagues, tapped incoming Texas freshman Sen. Ted Cruz as a vice chairman for grass roots and outreach. The plan, according to party leaders, is to employ Cruz’s tea party star power to help win over activist groups that may be wary of the NRSC and help unify the GOP behind a single candidate in crucial Senate races.

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With Democrats defending almost twice as many Senate seats as Republicans in 2014, the GOP has a chance to make up for this year’s dismal performance and retake the Senate. But that also means reforming the National Republican Senatorial Committee to prevent future Todd Akin-esque candidates. Politico reports:

Now, top Republicans are considering splitting the difference between the heavy hand they wielded in 2010 that prompted sharp blowback from the right and their mostly hands-off approach of 2012. Both strategies produced a handful of unelectable candidates, so senators are gravitating toward a middle ground: engage in primaries so long as they can get some cover on the local level.

“We ought to make certain that if we get engaged in primaries that we’re doing it based on the desires, the electability and the input of people back in the states that we’re talking about,” Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, told POLITICO. “And not from the perception of what political operatives from Washington, D.C., think about who ought to be the candidate in state X.” 

The first-term Moran, who was elected to the spot last week by his Senate colleagues, tapped incoming Texas freshman Sen. Ted Cruz as a vice chairman for grass roots and outreach. The plan, according to party leaders, is to employ Cruz’s tea party star power to help win over activist groups that may be wary of the NRSC and help unify the GOP behind a single candidate in crucial Senate races.

Moran is an interesting choice to lead the middle-ground approach. He’s only been in the Senate for a year, and while he’s not exactly “establishment,” he also isn’t someone who thrills the grassroots. That could either help him work with both sides, or end up turning them both off. Deploying Cruz is also critical for the new NRSC strategy. Cruz replaces Orrin Hatch as vice chair, and could be instrumental in building relationships between the NRSC and local activists. He and Senator Rob Portman (who will serve as finance chair) will be important when it comes to fundraising, since Moran is expected to be weaker in that area.

Jim DeMint also tells Politico that political training — a more controversial proposal — will be necessary to prevent candidates from torpedoing their campaigns with a single stupid comment:

“We need to do a good job of recruiting; our candidates need more training, keep their foots out of their mouth,” DeMint told POLITICO. “There’s a reason why most politicians talk in sanitized sound bites: Once you get out of that, you’re opening yourself up to get attacked.”

In an interview, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the NRSC chairman in the past two cycles, said the party needs to ask itself whether the goal is to prop up the most conservative candidate or push through the most conservative candidate that can win a general election. He said the party is reevalating its approach.

It’s actually a good time for a compromise. Both sides of the establishment vs. grassroots divide seem tired of losing for the past two elections, and both share equal amounts of the blame for it. They may finally be ready for a middle-ground approach.

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Hamas Follows Obama to Asia

There are two great sources of frustrating irony for presidents seeking to leave their own policymaking legacy. The first is that they have far greater control over American foreign policy than domestic economic policy, yet it is the latter they are judged on when they stand for reelection after their first term. The second is that, once forced by the electorate to turn their attention to economic policy, history reverses its influence on them by often judging them predominantly on foreign policy.

That makes sense; the president is the commander in chief of the combined armed forces of the world’s lone superpower, and his first responsibility is always to keep his citizens safe. Following this trend, President Obama came under attack for his own economic stewardship, but won a second term. Now, as he turns to foreign policy with more concentration and attention than his first term, he is finding, as most presidents do, that no matter which direction he turns he will somehow still be facing the Middle East. The president is already hounded by Benghazi; he’s gone to Asia to stress the Asian “pivot”—not so much a policy as a slogan meant to convey a thoughtfulness about the 21st century world—and the Middle East followed him there. It was not Benghazi, however. Rather, it was Hamas that showed up in Thailand, and the president was decidedly unamused:

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There are two great sources of frustrating irony for presidents seeking to leave their own policymaking legacy. The first is that they have far greater control over American foreign policy than domestic economic policy, yet it is the latter they are judged on when they stand for reelection after their first term. The second is that, once forced by the electorate to turn their attention to economic policy, history reverses its influence on them by often judging them predominantly on foreign policy.

That makes sense; the president is the commander in chief of the combined armed forces of the world’s lone superpower, and his first responsibility is always to keep his citizens safe. Following this trend, President Obama came under attack for his own economic stewardship, but won a second term. Now, as he turns to foreign policy with more concentration and attention than his first term, he is finding, as most presidents do, that no matter which direction he turns he will somehow still be facing the Middle East. The president is already hounded by Benghazi; he’s gone to Asia to stress the Asian “pivot”—not so much a policy as a slogan meant to convey a thoughtfulness about the 21st century world—and the Middle East followed him there. It was not Benghazi, however. Rather, it was Hamas that showed up in Thailand, and the president was decidedly unamused:

“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Obama said at press conference in Thailand at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.

“So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.”

As usual, the United States stands with Israel in yet another no-brainer: a terrorist group has conducted a prolonged assault upon Israel’s south, Tel Aviv, and even Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the most militarily cautious and patient prime ministers in Israel’s history, has shown remarkable restraint by not ordering a ground invasion even though Jerusalem—infinitely holy to the Jewish people but apparently not very holy to the Palestinians who keep trying to blow it up—has come under fire.

But this is an easy call for the president for another reason: Hamas has decided it will be the first to test the newly reelected president’s resolve. Obama wants peace and Hamas wants war. Peace will be possible with Hamas’s defeat.

But even more than that, the president’s foreign policy legacy very well might depend on the resolution of the security crises in the Middle East–including the one created by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons–and if the president wants attention for his Asia “pivot” or any other aspect of his foreign policy, he needs a lot more quiet on the Middle Eastern front. Hamas’s ability to sabotage the political process has gone global. The president, therefore, may actually want to make more of an example of Hamas than even Israel does. Hamas’s latest provocations were intended as a message to Israel but also to the American president. Judging by his comments, Obama seems to have gotten the message.

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Obama Must Spike Hamas Demands

Last week, Hamas started a war with Israel that it could not win militarily. The hundreds of missiles it has fired at Israeli villages, towns and cities have terrorized millions of civilians, but thanks to effective civil defense procedures and a generally successful use of the Iron Dome system, they have failed to kill or injure many people. On the other hand, the Israel Defense Forces have exacted a heavy price from Hamas in terms of leaders and terrorists killed and destruction of their armaments. But Hamas still thinks it can win. As in the past, by hiding their missiles and fighters among civilians, they have deliberately endangered Palestinian civilians and created a toll of casualties with which they hope to distort the world’s view of the conflict. All it takes is one errant Israeli bomb that kills (as one did yesterday) a family to create an international incident in which the terrorist-run enclave can falsely represent itself as a victim rather than a perpetrator.

But Hamas is hoping for more than just the usual media gang-tackle aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend its borders and its people. This time, Hamas is counting on the diplomatic support of Egypt and Turkey to not only force Israel to accept a cease-fire before the terrorist group’s military infrastructure is significantly damaged, but also to extract concessions from the Israelis. Hamas is using the indirect negotiations for a halt to the fighting currently going on in Cairo to pursue an agenda that would effectively render it invulnerable to future Israeli counter-attacks as well as to strengthen its hold on Gaza. It goes almost without saying that no Israeli government could possibly consider agreeing to those terms even if meant that a costly ground attack on Gaza was the only alternative.

Hamas’s confidence is based on the idea not only that Egypt and Turkey have its back but also that the United States will not support Israel’s refusal to accept its demands. That is where President Obama, who has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Gaza fighting, becomes a crucial figure in its resolution.

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Last week, Hamas started a war with Israel that it could not win militarily. The hundreds of missiles it has fired at Israeli villages, towns and cities have terrorized millions of civilians, but thanks to effective civil defense procedures and a generally successful use of the Iron Dome system, they have failed to kill or injure many people. On the other hand, the Israel Defense Forces have exacted a heavy price from Hamas in terms of leaders and terrorists killed and destruction of their armaments. But Hamas still thinks it can win. As in the past, by hiding their missiles and fighters among civilians, they have deliberately endangered Palestinian civilians and created a toll of casualties with which they hope to distort the world’s view of the conflict. All it takes is one errant Israeli bomb that kills (as one did yesterday) a family to create an international incident in which the terrorist-run enclave can falsely represent itself as a victim rather than a perpetrator.

But Hamas is hoping for more than just the usual media gang-tackle aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend its borders and its people. This time, Hamas is counting on the diplomatic support of Egypt and Turkey to not only force Israel to accept a cease-fire before the terrorist group’s military infrastructure is significantly damaged, but also to extract concessions from the Israelis. Hamas is using the indirect negotiations for a halt to the fighting currently going on in Cairo to pursue an agenda that would effectively render it invulnerable to future Israeli counter-attacks as well as to strengthen its hold on Gaza. It goes almost without saying that no Israeli government could possibly consider agreeing to those terms even if meant that a costly ground attack on Gaza was the only alternative.

Hamas’s confidence is based on the idea not only that Egypt and Turkey have its back but also that the United States will not support Israel’s refusal to accept its demands. That is where President Obama, who has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Gaza fighting, becomes a crucial figure in its resolution.

Up until this point, the Obama administration’s stand on Gaza has been everything Israel and its supporters could have asked for. The president has himself spoken up on behalf of Israel’s right to self-defense and specifically said that the rocket fire from Gaza could not be tolerated. But he has also made it clear to Israel that the United States would oppose a ground attack into Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t need Obama to tell him that such a decision would be a disaster in terms of international opinion or that it would result in higher casualties on both sides. But he also understands that if Hamas sticks to its price for a halt to the rocket fire, the IDF may have no choice but to go in on the ground.

The only way to avoid that unpalatable scenario is for the president to make it clear to both the Turks and the Egyptians that not only will Israel not tolerate an end to the fighting that leaves Hamas the victor, but that the United States won’t accept it either. And if that means giving Israel the green light to take out even more of the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, so be it.

Unfortunately, Hamas has construed Obama’s friendship for the ruling Islamists in Turkey and his embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as being a green light to their own escalation of the conflict as well as their unrealistic demands being placed on Israel.

Despite the pounding they have taken in the last week, Hamas still thinks it is winning the battle for public opinion. Even more important, it thinks it has the whip hand over Israel on the diplomatic playing field. The only way to correct their misperceptions is for the United States to make it clear that a Gaza cease-fire ought not to be allowed to make Hamas invulnerable or to strengthen the dubious legitimacy of the terrorist regime. If President Obama fails to speak out strongly on this point, the result will be exactly the escalation in fighting that he wants so desperately to avoid.

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