Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 1, 2013

American Jews: Laughing But Shrinking

The release today of a Pew Research Center study about American Jews contained little that was surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to the community in the last generation. Optimists will point to the numbers that tell us that 94 percent of Jews say they are proud of their identity. Three-quarters say they have a “strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.” A lot of attention is also going to the survey result that points to a whopping 42 percent who think having a sense of humor is somehow integral to being Jewish as opposed to a far smaller figure who say the same for Jewish religious law. But once we stop chuckling about the disproportionate influence of Comedy Central Jews, this survey must be seen for what it is: a portrait of a shrinking community whose non-Orthodox majority has only an amorphous sense of what it means to be a Jew—however they define it—and rates of assimilation that portend a rapid demographic decline in terms of absolute numbers and affiliation.

This means the American Jewry of the future will be more Orthodox but also far smaller than the already tiny community of the present day. Such a population will be less inclined to support Jewish philanthropies aimed at helping members of their own community or care about Israel. It should also cause non-Orthodox Jewish groups and denominations to take a hard look at their policies that, as I wrote in a response to a Jack Wertheimer essay in Mosaic on intermarriage earlier this month, are clearly failing. A counterproductive yet popular emphasis on outreach to those on the margins of the community must be replaced with a new concentration on strengthening rather than ignoring the core.

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The release today of a Pew Research Center study about American Jews contained little that was surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to the community in the last generation. Optimists will point to the numbers that tell us that 94 percent of Jews say they are proud of their identity. Three-quarters say they have a “strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.” A lot of attention is also going to the survey result that points to a whopping 42 percent who think having a sense of humor is somehow integral to being Jewish as opposed to a far smaller figure who say the same for Jewish religious law. But once we stop chuckling about the disproportionate influence of Comedy Central Jews, this survey must be seen for what it is: a portrait of a shrinking community whose non-Orthodox majority has only an amorphous sense of what it means to be a Jew—however they define it—and rates of assimilation that portend a rapid demographic decline in terms of absolute numbers and affiliation.

This means the American Jewry of the future will be more Orthodox but also far smaller than the already tiny community of the present day. Such a population will be less inclined to support Jewish philanthropies aimed at helping members of their own community or care about Israel. It should also cause non-Orthodox Jewish groups and denominations to take a hard look at their policies that, as I wrote in a response to a Jack Wertheimer essay in Mosaic on intermarriage earlier this month, are clearly failing. A counterproductive yet popular emphasis on outreach to those on the margins of the community must be replaced with a new concentration on strengthening rather than ignoring the core.

To acknowledge the dismal future that this charts for the community should not be confused with exaggerated claims about American Jewry disappearing. There are still an estimated 5.3 million people who claim Jewish identity and a critical mass of them are still raising Jewish children, many of whom will affiliate with religious denominations and have an affinity for Israel. But the breakdown of the data shows that among the non-Orthodox majority in the United States—a group that composes approximately 90 percent of the community—most are not marrying Jews or giving their kids a Jewish education. Indeed, the two elements of American Jewry that seem to be growing at the most rapid rates are the Orthodox and those who consider themselves to be Jewish in some way but have no religion, a group that makes up 22 percent of those polled. While, as Pew points out, secularism has always been part of American Jewish culture, most of those with no religion are not raising Jewish children or participating in or supporting Jewish institutions. Moreover, more than half of non-Orthodox Jews are also marrying non-Jews with the overwhelming majority of these families also giving their children no Jewish education.

The problem here is not just the absolute numbers of those Jews drifting away. It is the survey results that make it clear that an increasingly large number of Jews have notions of Jewish identity that are based on values not likely to promote future generations of Jewish life on these shores.

For example, “leading an ethical or moral life” or “working for justice or equality”—elements that 69 percent and 56 percent of Jews say is what it means to be Jewish—are integral to Judaism. But they are beliefs that are also integral to other faiths and even compatible with being non-religious. Simply being a good person or fighting for good causes makes you a nice human being but not necessarily a Jew. Remembering the Holocaust—a point embraced by 73 percent of those surveyed—is also important. But as vital a lesson as the Holocaust is, it is not a positive vision of Jewish life that can serve as a paradigm for the future. Ideas such as being part of a community or observing Jewish law have far less support, but it is those notions upon which a community is built. For all of the popularity of secular and purely cultural Judaism, the survey indicates that in a nation where Jews remain a small minority and where all are free to assimilate, these concepts are halfway houses to assimilation, not a path to a viable future.

The only theological point upon which the majority of those polled agree is that believing in the divinity of Jesus means you are not a Jew. That’s understandable given that this is still an overwhelmingly Christian nation. But again, this is hardly a factor that can serve as a building block for Jewish identity. If Jewish denominations are all suffering record levels of dropouts, it can be traced to the fact that a community in a free society that is based on such loose notions rather than the strong bonds of faith cannot hope to retain much of its membership.

Israel remains important to most Jews and that is a hopeful sign since it remains the vital center of Jewish life in our time. But here again those numbers are skewed since the rates of interest in Israel are far higher among the Orthodox and lower among the growing numbers with no religion and affiliation. Critics of Israel will point to the fact that pluralities disapprove of settlements and think the government of the Jewish state isn’t doing enough to make peace with the Palestinians. Those are debatable notions, but the far smaller number of American Jews who think the Palestinians are sincere about wanting peace shows that the majority is not completely detached from the reality of the Middle East.

As for domestic political considerations, like other polls of American Jewry, the survey shows the overwhelming majority are liberals and loyal to the Democrats. Since those numbers are reversed among the Orthodox, one should expect a gradual rise in the total of those who vote for the Republicans. Yet even with the Orthodox population growing far more rapidly than the rest of the community, it may take several decades for the GOP to make up that ground if at all.

Overall, the survey tells us that the falloff of Jewish affiliation among the young and the non-Orthodox is already considerable and will only grow in the future. If Jewish organizations want to have any sort of impact on these numbers, it will require them to cast off their illusions about the value of outreach, which has clearly failed. A community that is primarily defined by being inclusive or by values that are not specific to Judaism is dooming itself to irrelevance. Instead of accepting assimilation, Jewish groups must resist it whenever possible and concentrate their efforts on encouragement and investment in those elements that produce Jews rather than people with only a dim grasp of what it means to be part of the Jewish people. Only with major investments in those institutions that build Jewish identity such as schools, synagogues, and camps as well as trips to Israel can American Jewry stop or even lessen this demographic slide. The numbers show us that a largely secular, non-religious American Jewish community is well on its way to assimilating itself into a marginal group with only a vestigial memory of Jewish life as well as notions about food and humor that should not be mistaken for communal values.

If these trends continue or worsen, Jewish life and Judaism will not die in America. But it will be smaller, less diverse, and be increasingly unable to support the institutions that have been built here. That is not the same thing as disappearing, but for the majority of those who are not committed to a community of faith however they choose to define it Jewishly, it will be a distinction without a difference.

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This Is What Government-Run Healthcare Looks Like

Today was the first official day of the ObamaCare health insurance exchanges, with open enrollment taking place across the country. It went just as well as one would expect an undertaking of this magnitude to go, especially when it’s handled by the government. Across the country today, from Hawaii to Miami and everywhere in between, reports are flooding in of major complications for Americans trying to sign up for insurance. 

The interesting part about the difficulties, especially online, is that they aren’t caused by a massive influx of traffic. If they were, the sites would have crashed under the pressure, producing error messages from server companies that the websites were down. The issues being reported are entirely design-based: drop-down menus that weren’t populated with text and coding gibberish on several pages that was never replaced with the appropriate language. Many of the pages were entirely inaccessible, with error messages asking visitors to “Please wait” and later, after going through the steps to open an account an error message told users “Your account couldnt [sic] be created at this time.” 

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Today was the first official day of the ObamaCare health insurance exchanges, with open enrollment taking place across the country. It went just as well as one would expect an undertaking of this magnitude to go, especially when it’s handled by the government. Across the country today, from Hawaii to Miami and everywhere in between, reports are flooding in of major complications for Americans trying to sign up for insurance. 

The interesting part about the difficulties, especially online, is that they aren’t caused by a massive influx of traffic. If they were, the sites would have crashed under the pressure, producing error messages from server companies that the websites were down. The issues being reported are entirely design-based: drop-down menus that weren’t populated with text and coding gibberish on several pages that was never replaced with the appropriate language. Many of the pages were entirely inaccessible, with error messages asking visitors to “Please wait” and later, after going through the steps to open an account an error message told users “Your account couldnt [sic] be created at this time.” 

The most troubling of these “glitches,” (which Kathleen Sebelius called “a great problem to have”) takes the form of lax online security. Numerous fake websites have apparently emerged by third-party websites aimed at stealing the information respondents enter online. The security of the exchanges themselves have also been brought into question: is the information that Americans are entering on the site and sharing with ObamaCare “navigators” safe from outside hackers and identity thieves? 

Today Market Watch attempted to sign up for exchanges in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Their batting average was .000; not a single website was operational for the competent and educated reporters attempting to discern if the average American would be able to sign up for health insurance in their own state. Even MSNBC highlighted the impossibility of signing up on the site as a reporter experienced error message after error message while trying to showcase how easy signing up for health care would be live on air. Today the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin expressed her utter frustration with the lack of coverage of the ObamaCare exchanges disaster in light of the government shutdown:

The conservative media assured its audience the shutdown would not overshadow the Obamacare rollout glitches. So far, the coverage ratio is about 80-20 percent in favor of the shutdown.

The shutdown squad said public opposition to Obamacare would tip support in favor of the shutdown. Polls suggest this hasn’t happened.

Instead of making the story about ObamaCare, Republicans have done Democrats an incredible favor and dimmed the spotlight on it during its disastrous public debut. Unfortunately, the reality for most Americans is that they will come to discover how unworkable and unaffordable the “Affordable Care Act” is in their own time, as the uninsured begin to try to sign up and as the many Americans who are losing their insurance daily thanks to ObamaCare’s regulations attempt to do the same. Will the realization that these long waits and error messages are the future of American health care if ObamaCare is left as-is resonate with Americans in the voting booth? Or is this our new normal? Only time will tell, but if the story remains focused on the shutdown instead of on ObamaCare, we all better get used to getting the DMV treatment when we’re in need of medical care.

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In ObamaWorld, ObamaCare Works Fine

A government shutdown may have already been in effect, but while national parks and even the open-air World War Two memorial in the capital were closed (though thanks to some determined vets the barriers that had been inexplicably put up at the place where the greatest generation is honored were thrown aside), the White House talking shop was open for business. President Obama was able to bring together the usual number of human props for a dog and pony show held this afternoon to celebrate the first day of the age of ObamaCare as well as to direct abuse at Republicans. Emboldened by favorable polls and a mainstream media that is singing from the Democrat’s hymnal when it comes to excoriating Republicans on the shutdown, the president launched into a paean to his signature health-care bill that dismissed the clear signs of economic trouble as well as shrugged off the mishaps that have characterized its rollout.

There’s little doubt that the Republican decision to make ObamaCare part of the debate about a continuing resolution to fund the government has handed Democrats a clear edge right now. That was not a smart decision and was based on some unrealistic expectations about the way the political system—where Democrats control the Senate and the White House—would work. But as out of touch with political reality as the principal architects of this strategy have been in the last couple of months, nothing they have said comes close to the fantasies spun by the president when speaking of the virtues of ObamaCare. If we are going to criticize Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz for ignoring the truth about what would happen in a shutdown, what then shall we say about a president whose rhetoric is not only partisan but blatantly misrepresents the truth about the health-care bill? Is the mainstream press so firmly in his pocket that they will let him get away with claiming that health-care prices are going down when they are actually going up or that his bill wasn’t killing jobs even before it was implemented?

All along, those of us who worried about the political impact of a shutdown feared that it would revive a presidency that was clearly failing on both domestic and foreign issues. But if today’s event is any indicator what it has also done is to cause the president to throw away all restraint in his utterances to the point where we are faced with a staggering credibility gap. With the GOP on the defensive, Barack Obama is now free to be himself, a rabid partisan attack dog who has no scruples about distorting the truth to make political points.

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A government shutdown may have already been in effect, but while national parks and even the open-air World War Two memorial in the capital were closed (though thanks to some determined vets the barriers that had been inexplicably put up at the place where the greatest generation is honored were thrown aside), the White House talking shop was open for business. President Obama was able to bring together the usual number of human props for a dog and pony show held this afternoon to celebrate the first day of the age of ObamaCare as well as to direct abuse at Republicans. Emboldened by favorable polls and a mainstream media that is singing from the Democrat’s hymnal when it comes to excoriating Republicans on the shutdown, the president launched into a paean to his signature health-care bill that dismissed the clear signs of economic trouble as well as shrugged off the mishaps that have characterized its rollout.

There’s little doubt that the Republican decision to make ObamaCare part of the debate about a continuing resolution to fund the government has handed Democrats a clear edge right now. That was not a smart decision and was based on some unrealistic expectations about the way the political system—where Democrats control the Senate and the White House—would work. But as out of touch with political reality as the principal architects of this strategy have been in the last couple of months, nothing they have said comes close to the fantasies spun by the president when speaking of the virtues of ObamaCare. If we are going to criticize Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz for ignoring the truth about what would happen in a shutdown, what then shall we say about a president whose rhetoric is not only partisan but blatantly misrepresents the truth about the health-care bill? Is the mainstream press so firmly in his pocket that they will let him get away with claiming that health-care prices are going down when they are actually going up or that his bill wasn’t killing jobs even before it was implemented?

All along, those of us who worried about the political impact of a shutdown feared that it would revive a presidency that was clearly failing on both domestic and foreign issues. But if today’s event is any indicator what it has also done is to cause the president to throw away all restraint in his utterances to the point where we are faced with a staggering credibility gap. With the GOP on the defensive, Barack Obama is now free to be himself, a rabid partisan attack dog who has no scruples about distorting the truth to make political points.

To summarize the president’s remarks in a sentence, in Obama’s world, ObamaCare is working just fine. In his view, ObamaCare is as brilliant a success as Apple computer products, which have also had a few glitches along the way. The comparison is risible, but not as outrageous as his denial about the impact of the legislation. Despite the many documented instances in which employers are being forced to drop health coverage or lay off workers, in Obama’s America, no such thing is happening. There, no one is losing the coverage they like or seeing the costs of their health care drastically rise. Unfortunately, in the America where the rest of us live, that is exactly what is going on.

While some Americans are gaining new benefits today, far more are being hurt in one way or another. But the main beneficiary of this scheme is a federal government that is gaining more power and more control of the economy as well as leverage for future encroachments on the private sector. As Mona Charen wisely notes in National Review today, the looming failure of the current version of ObamaCare will just be used by the left as a reason to go back to their dream of a single-payer system that will further erode our freedoms and destroy our health-care system.

Obama’s mendacity about ObamaCare is matched by his hypocrisy about the shutdown. However much one might question the GOP’s tactics, there is nothing illegitimate about one house of Congress—especially the one with the power of the purse—seeking to attach conditions to funding the government. What is going on now is not a question of House Republicans refusing to pay the country’s bills but the refusal of the president and Senate Democrats to even negotiate with the other body. The president said he would not be justified in holding out against government funding in order to satisfy his own demands. But that is exactly what he is doing in claiming that putting off the individual mandate on ObamaCare for a year (just as he has already done for employers) or revoking exemptions for Congress is beyond the pale. Though he claims the shutdown is the result of an ideological crusade by conservatives, the same can be said of his unwillingness to even consider compromise.

Despite the president’s vituperation directed at his foes, the true ideological crusader in Washington these days is still Barack Obama. If we are to blame the architects of the shutdown for anything, it might be that by allowing the president to seize the initiative this week, they have empowered him to revert to the sort of outrageous propaganda that he could never get away with at a time when the press and the country were focused on his conduct, rather than that of the Republicans. 

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And the Shutdown Cometh

Visitors to this website know that I believe Republicans have badly mishandled the government shutdown. My view is that it was unwise from the get-go, since it set up goals that were unattainable–certainly the Lee-Cruz-led efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, which was always a pipe dream, but also the effort to delay it a year (which was more reasonable but still not achievable). That meant that unless Republicans ran up the white flag in advance of a shutdown–which would have enraged many grassroots Republicans and Tea Party members and probably cost John Boehner his speakership–we were going to face a shutdown.

Why? Because Democrats were not only not inclined to negotiate; they actually welcomed a shutdown. And from their perspective, I understand why. The public is strongly opposed to a shutdown–and even before we experienced one, the public was more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats for it.

In addition, the party that controls the presidency has huge institutional advantages in confrontations such as this. The president has a much larger bully pulpit and the ability to enforce discipline in a way a House speaker simply cannot. And while President Obama is not terribly popular at the moment, he is (unfortunately from my perspective) far more popular than the Republican House. The fact that the GOP is the more anti-government party won’t help them in terms of the developing narrative of this story.

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Visitors to this website know that I believe Republicans have badly mishandled the government shutdown. My view is that it was unwise from the get-go, since it set up goals that were unattainable–certainly the Lee-Cruz-led efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, which was always a pipe dream, but also the effort to delay it a year (which was more reasonable but still not achievable). That meant that unless Republicans ran up the white flag in advance of a shutdown–which would have enraged many grassroots Republicans and Tea Party members and probably cost John Boehner his speakership–we were going to face a shutdown.

Why? Because Democrats were not only not inclined to negotiate; they actually welcomed a shutdown. And from their perspective, I understand why. The public is strongly opposed to a shutdown–and even before we experienced one, the public was more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats for it.

In addition, the party that controls the presidency has huge institutional advantages in confrontations such as this. The president has a much larger bully pulpit and the ability to enforce discipline in a way a House speaker simply cannot. And while President Obama is not terribly popular at the moment, he is (unfortunately from my perspective) far more popular than the Republican House. The fact that the GOP is the more anti-government party won’t help them in terms of the developing narrative of this story.

Beyond all that, I tend to believe that Republicans hurt, not help, themselves with these kind of high-profile confrontations. Brinksmanship isn’t something that tends to redound to the benefit of the GOP Congress–especially one that is so obviously pointless (since the end goal, defunding/delaying the Affordable Care Act, was never achievable).

As a result of all this, there’s more attention on the Republican Party’s role in the shutdown than there is on the implementation of the pernicious Affordable Care Act.

My concern is that this gambit will inflict damage to conservatism, erase the gains the GOP has made in recent months (when it has begun polling better on most issues than Democrats), and at the same time help revive the Obama presidency. That’s not the hat trick the right wants.

Now I may be wrong. Politics is rarely linear, often unpredictable, and so perhaps Republicans will emerge from the shutdown in better shape and the president in a weaker condition. We’ll see. But even if I’m right, we should be clear about a few things. First, it is President Obama and the Democratic Congress that is adamantine in their position. They are the inflexible and unyielding ones. They are the dogmatists in this drama.

Moreover, the hate rhetoric Democrats are employing is stupidly excessive. The charges that Republicans are (choose your crime and/or pathology) arsonists, anarchists, terrorists, jihadists, extortionists, racists, hostage-takers, and so forth and so on are reckless and unwarranted, to say nothing of tiresome and stale. It’s the sign of an intellectually exhausted party. And of course it is antithetical to the central promise of the Obama campaign in 2008, which was to bind up the political wounds in America and put an end to partisan divisions and divisive rhetoric. 

Republicans are pursuing a legitimate (though I think unwise) strategy to try to unwind a law they believe is malignant. They may be right or they may be wrong in their substantive analysis of the Affordable Care Act (I believe they are correct)–but in either case they are using levers that are available to them. Nor are they unreasonable, especially when facing a president who is himself obdurate and obstinate.

Make no mistake about it; Barack Obama and his Democratic allies wanted this shutdown, and now they have it. I just hope I’m wrong and that it’s the president, and not the GOP and the conservative movement, that pays the higher price for this latest governing debacle. 

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Accountability in the Marines

For a long time there has been too little accountability for general officers in the armed forces. They are seldom relieved for failure to do a good job even though a similar failure to perform can result in severe penalties for those lower down the chain of command. Those with stars on their shoulders can usually expect a gilded march to retirement unless they commit gross malfeasance, especially if sexual misconduct charges are involved.

That’s why it is refreshing to see the Marine commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, fire two generals for negligence in a 2012 Taliban attack on a marine airfield in Afghanistan which resulted in the destruction of six Harrier jump jets and the deaths of two Marines. As the Washington Post reports:

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For a long time there has been too little accountability for general officers in the armed forces. They are seldom relieved for failure to do a good job even though a similar failure to perform can result in severe penalties for those lower down the chain of command. Those with stars on their shoulders can usually expect a gilded march to retirement unless they commit gross malfeasance, especially if sexual misconduct charges are involved.

That’s why it is refreshing to see the Marine commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, fire two generals for negligence in a 2012 Taliban attack on a marine airfield in Afghanistan which resulted in the destruction of six Harrier jump jets and the deaths of two Marines. As the Washington Post reports:

The two, Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, the top Marine commander in southern Afghanistan at the time, and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant, the senior Marine aviation officer in the area, “failed to exercise the level of judgment expected of commanders of their rank,” Amos said.

“It was unrealistic to think that a determined enemy would not be able to penetrate the perimeter fence,” Amos said.

In their defense, Gurganus and Sturdevant could argue that the attack occurred at a time of a general drawdown in Afghanistan and that their requests for additional marines to safeguard the airbase were denied because commanders were bound by President Obama’s ill-advised “cap” on overall troop numbers. That was true, but Amos judged that it was no excuse for failing to secure such an important base.

It was no easy call for the commandant to make, given that he has known both men for decades. But it was the right call, and it should send a signal of accountability that ordinary soldiers and marines–who often grouse about lack of accountability for higher-ups–will welcome.

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Thanks to Obama, Iran Doesn’t Fear Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly today and drew attention to the obvious fraud that is the Iranian charm offensive. After a week in which the international community and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheered on by the mainstream media celebrated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate who offers a chance to end his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, Netanyahu tried to play the spoiler at the party. Yet while his arguments detailing the record of both Rouhani and the despotic regime he serves were unanswerable, his speech didn’t get much more applause than his much lampooned cartoon bomb “red line” speech got last year from the same podium. Nor is there much reason for the Iranians to believe his threats about Israel being prepared to launch a strike on its own to stop the nuclear threat. Last week’s decision by President Obama to reach out to Rouhani and to initiate yet another diplomatic process virtually ensures that Iran can laugh at Netanyahu’s vow to act alone if necessary.

Though Netanyahu and President Obama seemed to be on the same page on Iran when they met at the White House yesterday, there’s little doubt that Israel’s isolation on the issue is greater than it ever has been. The bottom line here is that as long as Obama is prepared to engage with the Iranians, no matter how transparent the falsity of Rouhani’s position or how unlikely new talks will be to produce any sort of nuclear deal, Israel is effectively disarmed. As I wrote yesterday, a new round of talks between the West and Iran is no more likely to succeed than all of the ones that preceded it. As Netanyahu said in his speech, Rouhani has bragged about his own role in Iran’s clever negotiating strategy that suckers the West into thinking they have a deal while Tehran wins more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. More such dead-end talks will enable Iran to continue to run out the clock until they can achieve their nuclear ambition.

But like his efforts to debunk the Rouhani-as-moderate theme, it’s not clear there is any reason for the ayatollahs to worry much about Netanyahu’s vows about never allowing a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction to go nuclear.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly today and drew attention to the obvious fraud that is the Iranian charm offensive. After a week in which the international community and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheered on by the mainstream media celebrated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate who offers a chance to end his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, Netanyahu tried to play the spoiler at the party. Yet while his arguments detailing the record of both Rouhani and the despotic regime he serves were unanswerable, his speech didn’t get much more applause than his much lampooned cartoon bomb “red line” speech got last year from the same podium. Nor is there much reason for the Iranians to believe his threats about Israel being prepared to launch a strike on its own to stop the nuclear threat. Last week’s decision by President Obama to reach out to Rouhani and to initiate yet another diplomatic process virtually ensures that Iran can laugh at Netanyahu’s vow to act alone if necessary.

Though Netanyahu and President Obama seemed to be on the same page on Iran when they met at the White House yesterday, there’s little doubt that Israel’s isolation on the issue is greater than it ever has been. The bottom line here is that as long as Obama is prepared to engage with the Iranians, no matter how transparent the falsity of Rouhani’s position or how unlikely new talks will be to produce any sort of nuclear deal, Israel is effectively disarmed. As I wrote yesterday, a new round of talks between the West and Iran is no more likely to succeed than all of the ones that preceded it. As Netanyahu said in his speech, Rouhani has bragged about his own role in Iran’s clever negotiating strategy that suckers the West into thinking they have a deal while Tehran wins more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. More such dead-end talks will enable Iran to continue to run out the clock until they can achieve their nuclear ambition.

But like his efforts to debunk the Rouhani-as-moderate theme, it’s not clear there is any reason for the ayatollahs to worry much about Netanyahu’s vows about never allowing a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction to go nuclear.

Netanyahu’s analysis of what Rouhani tried to do in New York was accurate. Though some credulous Western journalists have taken to speaking about him as if he is a latter-day Bobby Kennedy, his involvement in all of the Islamist regime’s outrages—including terrorism—during the last three decades is a matter of record. That some media outlets were even prepared to buy into the false story line that he had denounced the Holocaust was proof of how eager many Americans are to believe any lie so long as it absolves them of the obligation to do something about Iran.

That Rouhani lied on the UN podium last week about Iran’s nuclear program is not really in dispute. While experts differ as to how far away they are from nuclear capability, there is little dispute that the growing stockpiles of enriched uranium as well as their plutonium option is bringing Iran closer to the moment when they will have a bomb that will destabilize the region and threaten Israel’s existence.

But while America is talking with Iran, Israel cannot attack no matter what Netanyahu says, and he knows it. The prime minister has wisely sought to minimize conflict with President Obama but by now he has to understand that the president has no intention of confronting Iran and will always seek to avoid having to make good on his own promises to stop Tehran.

So what alternatives does Israel have at this point to waiting for Obama to come to his senses? Sadly, there are none that make any sense that I can think of.

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens ponders this question in his column today and I agree with his analysis of the Obama administration’s intentions. As he writes, Israelis who think Obama will ever strike Iran are “fooling themselves.” But I disagree when he says that what Israel must do in response to the president’s inaction involves “downgrading relations with Washington.”

It was one thing for Netanyahu’s predecessor to ignore American advice to accept a Syrian nuclear program back in 2007 and take it out in an air attack, an example Stephens rightly cites as a correct decision on the part of Ehud Olmert. But Iran’s nuclear program presents a far more difficult target. It cannot be neatly made to disappear with a single simple surgical strike. Eliminating this threat would require an air campaign that would present enormous logistical and military problems that would strain the resources of the United States, let alone those of Israel. But even if Israel was capable of eliminating the Iranian threat on its own, doing so while the United States is engaged in negotiations with Tehran simply isn’t going to happen.

Israel can and should say no to the United States when its security is at stake. Nor should it, as Stephens says, worry much about gaining international approval. That is never going to happen because of factors that are rooted more in anti-Semitism than any disapproval of Israeli policies.

Yet as frustrating as America’s dalliance with Iran may be, cutting itself loose from its alliance with the United States isn’t an option for Israel any more than ridiculous proposals being floated elsewhere for Jerusalem to upgrade its ties with China in the hope of creating some positive leverage over Washington. American support for the Jewish state is embedded in this country’s political DNA and is more proof of American exceptionalism. It cannot be duplicated anywhere else on the globe.

Stephens is right when he says the current situation leaves Israel reliant on Iranian hard-liners to sabotage any nuclear deal. That may not be much of a strategy, but it may prove true since it is unlikely that even so-called moderates like Rouhani have any intention of giving up Iran’s nuclear program.

But until the moment when the U.S. administration wakes up to the Rouhani ruse, Israel has little choice but to stand by and wait and worry. So long as they’ve got Obama swallowing Rouhani’s bait, the Iranians have little to fear from Israel. That’s bad news for Netanyahu and Israel. But it is just as sobering for Americans who realize that despite Obama’s tough rhetoric about Iran, what the administration is doing is bringing us closer to the day when Tehran will go nuclear.

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Must Republicans Blink on the Shutdown?

The government shutdown went into effect last night, and even before most Americans had absorbed the news or had learned what it actually meant there was little doubt about how it would end. The House Republicans who had refused to pass a continuing resolution funding the government without attaching conditions about the future of ObamaCare would be forced to back down before long. Backed by polls that said the public blamed the GOP more than the Democrats, President Obama and the Senate Democratic majority stonewalled any idea of negotiations with the House. With the mainstream media pouring on the invective aimed at conservatives while broadcasting endless sob stories about those suffering from the shutdown, and with many Republicans publicly dissenting from the strategy chosen by House Speaker John Boehner, Democrats woke up this morning confident that it wouldn’t be long before the GOP would blink and pass a “clean” resolution that would end the standoff.

But is that really the way it will happen?

There’s no question that Democrats are in a stronger position today, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. But the expectation that the GOP must give in and do so quickly may be mistaken. As I noted last night, after having gone this far in order to make a point about their unwillingness to go along with ObamaCare, for Boehner to cave in quickly would only worsen his party’s situation. Having taken a stand on points they believe are eminently defensible—applying ObamaCare to Congress and the staff of the White House and a demand to delay the penalties attached to the health-care bill’s personal mandate—and with the president declaring he won’t negotiate and with an even more important deadline looming in three weeks about raising the debt ceiling, the GOP may not have as much incentive to surrender as their opponents think.

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The government shutdown went into effect last night, and even before most Americans had absorbed the news or had learned what it actually meant there was little doubt about how it would end. The House Republicans who had refused to pass a continuing resolution funding the government without attaching conditions about the future of ObamaCare would be forced to back down before long. Backed by polls that said the public blamed the GOP more than the Democrats, President Obama and the Senate Democratic majority stonewalled any idea of negotiations with the House. With the mainstream media pouring on the invective aimed at conservatives while broadcasting endless sob stories about those suffering from the shutdown, and with many Republicans publicly dissenting from the strategy chosen by House Speaker John Boehner, Democrats woke up this morning confident that it wouldn’t be long before the GOP would blink and pass a “clean” resolution that would end the standoff.

But is that really the way it will happen?

There’s no question that Democrats are in a stronger position today, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. But the expectation that the GOP must give in and do so quickly may be mistaken. As I noted last night, after having gone this far in order to make a point about their unwillingness to go along with ObamaCare, for Boehner to cave in quickly would only worsen his party’s situation. Having taken a stand on points they believe are eminently defensible—applying ObamaCare to Congress and the staff of the White House and a demand to delay the penalties attached to the health-care bill’s personal mandate—and with the president declaring he won’t negotiate and with an even more important deadline looming in three weeks about raising the debt ceiling, the GOP may not have as much incentive to surrender as their opponents think.

Let me specify that the decision to call the president’s bluff on the shutdown was unwise. There was never a chance the Democrats would agree to defund ObamaCare and no game plan that would give the Republicans a viable exit strategy from such a standoff, let alone a way to win it. But having gotten into this position, it must be conceded that the widespread belief that they will be forced to wave the white flag within days is based on a set of expectations that aren’t necessarily valid.

As the Washington Examiner wisely noted this morning, the comparisons to the disastrous 1995 shutdown need to be re-examined. As much as Senator John McCain may be right when he said that he had seen this movie before, the circumstances are slightly different. Unlike in 1995, mainstream liberal media pressure on Republicans is now offset by not only Fox News but also conservative talk radio, a medium that is placing pressure on the GOP to stand firm, not to give in. The conservative base that helped goad the Republicans into this fix is equally unwilling to see them weasel their way out of it, at least not without a fight.

Just as important is the nature of their antagonist. In 1995, Republicans were faced with a Democratic president who made a career out of successfully pretending to be a centrist. President Obama may have run in 2008 as a post-partisan candidate, but he dropped that act a long time ago and is a far more polarizing figure. When the president told NPR this morning that he “will not negotiate” with Republicans, that was what his liberal base wanted to hear. But it is not a stand that is likely to increase pressure on the GOP. To the contrary, the more Obama dares them to dig in their heels, the more likely it is that conservatives will do just that.

All along, critics of the shutdown strategy have assumed that simply because there was no clear exit strategy the consequences of a shutdown would be enough to pressure Republicans to blink once the Democrats refused to budge. But the problem with that critique is that while Senator Ted Cruz and others were blowing smoke when they said Obama would cave, there may not be sufficient leverage on the other side that would cause Boehner to blink.

Indeed, the longer this goes on, the more likely it may be that Republicans start to think time is on their side rather than against them. President Obama has been hoping for this shutdown for two years but only because he, like so many others, assumed it would not last long. As the days pass with Senate Democrats refusing to go into a conference with House Republicans and Obama drawing a line in the sand, pressure may start to build on him to give a little. The financial markets are not collapsing today because of the belief the shutdown will be brief. Once that changes, the economic impact will change with it.

This doesn’t mean that Republicans are likely to succeed, but it does raise the possibility of something few of us expected in the event of a shutdown: a prolonged struggle that could wind up morphing into the next big battle over the debt. That doesn’t mean the decision to go down this road by either party was wise. But the longer this goes on, the more everyone gets damaged and the less likely either side is to give in. Anyone planning to visit the Statue of Liberty in the next week or two should think about a change in plans. 

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The Shutdown: Exposing the Bloat

One nice thing about the shutdown is that it exposes the vast waste and inefficiency in the federal government.

Investors Business Daily reports, for instance, that the president will have to do without three-quarters of his White House staff—1,265 people, to be exact—during the shutdown. Vice President Joe Biden will have to make do with a mere dozen staffers during the emergency. The U.S. trade representative will muddle through with only 61 employees, who will be beavering away “developing, coordinating, and advising the president on U.S. trade policy.”

If one-quarter of the White House Staff can keep the executive branch from collapsing, what are the other three-quarters needed for? Since the vice president is constitutionally powerless, why does he need more than a dozen staffers at any time?

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One nice thing about the shutdown is that it exposes the vast waste and inefficiency in the federal government.

Investors Business Daily reports, for instance, that the president will have to do without three-quarters of his White House staff—1,265 people, to be exact—during the shutdown. Vice President Joe Biden will have to make do with a mere dozen staffers during the emergency. The U.S. trade representative will muddle through with only 61 employees, who will be beavering away “developing, coordinating, and advising the president on U.S. trade policy.”

If one-quarter of the White House Staff can keep the executive branch from collapsing, what are the other three-quarters needed for? Since the vice president is constitutionally powerless, why does he need more than a dozen staffers at any time?

There is always a tendency to add personnel. Politicians and bureaucrats love entourages as a display of their importance and power. Those human tendencies are just as present in the private sector, but such personnel bloat doesn’t happen nearly to the same extent. Why? Simple: the profit motive.

There are only two ways to increase profits (and profits are the sole raison d’être of corporations): increase income, or reduce costs. Any reduction in costs flows straight through to the bottom line, so there is always great pressure to find ways to do things more cheaply. Cutting personnel increases profits and so personnel tends to get cut whenever possible (and that, in turn, provides a powerful incentive to workers to work hard enough and productively enough to avoid being among the let-go).

Government faces no such pressures, so staff numbers tend to increase slowly but steadily. And duplicative and obsolete programs hang on while new programs are constantly being added. The Interstate Commerce Commission, for instance, lost its powers to regulate transportation in 1980, but it was abolished only in 1995, after twiddling its bureaucratic thumbs for 15 years.

There are ways to provide the same pressure to be efficient and lean that corporations know so well to government. Generously rewarding managers who develop ways of reducing costs is one way. Giving managers half of one-year’s savings would motivate them like crazy. Setting up competitions among regional offices is another.

But without doubt, the shutdown will end sooner or later, the 825,000 personnel who are not “essential” will go back to working none too hard, the Washington D.C., commute will once again be horrible, and nothing will change.

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Let ObamaCare Make the Case for Repeal

This week the American people are discovering just how sacred the flawed law known as ObamaCare is to Democratic lawmakers. Despite the increasing unpopularity of the bill, Senate Democrats signaled yesterday afternoon that given the choice between shutting down the government and delaying implementation of ObamaCare, Senate Democrats choose the former. 

While there have been amusing stories about the cessation of the “PandaCam” at the National Zoo during a shutdown, there would also more serious repercussions to a government shutdown. National Review’s Jim Geraghty outlined some important examples of programs that could be endangered by a government shutdown, most notably for the law enforcement and defense industries. There has been a great deal of fear-mongering in the past by Democrats regarding shutdowns in order to place blame on Republicans, which in turn has caused Republicans to emphasize how little the shutdown would affect the average American. Neither strategy is advisable in the event of a shutdown, as Americans will be able to see beyond the rhetoric and judge the effects firsthand. 

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This week the American people are discovering just how sacred the flawed law known as ObamaCare is to Democratic lawmakers. Despite the increasing unpopularity of the bill, Senate Democrats signaled yesterday afternoon that given the choice between shutting down the government and delaying implementation of ObamaCare, Senate Democrats choose the former. 

While there have been amusing stories about the cessation of the “PandaCam” at the National Zoo during a shutdown, there would also more serious repercussions to a government shutdown. National Review’s Jim Geraghty outlined some important examples of programs that could be endangered by a government shutdown, most notably for the law enforcement and defense industries. There has been a great deal of fear-mongering in the past by Democrats regarding shutdowns in order to place blame on Republicans, which in turn has caused Republicans to emphasize how little the shutdown would affect the average American. Neither strategy is advisable in the event of a shutdown, as Americans will be able to see beyond the rhetoric and judge the effects firsthand. 

For Democrats, agreeing to a delay of ObamaCare in order to avert a shutdown seems, on the outset, like a gift. Every day, more stories emerge about the effects that the law will have on the American people and economy. With the implementation of ObamaCare’s exchanges this morning, Democrats have yet another reason to take the “Get Out of Jail Free” card that their Republican opponents have just offered, even if they have no intention of cashing in.

Yesterday the New York Times, which was once ObamaCare’s cheerleader, explained just how flawed the implementation of the exchanges, a major component of the law, will look in the state of Oregon and beyond: 

Rocky King, the executive director of Oregon’s new health insurance exchange, has done everything in his power to tamp down expectations for its opening on Tuesday.

He rejected the idea of a flashy downtown news conference that morning. He postponed a series of ads meant to drive customers to its Web site, coveroregon.com. In fact, Mr. King is not even allowing people to sign up for health coverage online without assistance at first; they will have to go through an insurance agent or a community group until at least mid-October.

Tuesday is the long-awaited kickoff of President Obama’s signature health care law, when millions of Americans can start signing up for new insurance options. Yet across the country, officials are issuing warnings that despite fevered efforts, their new insurance exchanges — online markets where people can shop for health plans and see if they qualify for federal subsidies — will not be fully operational for weeks or even months.

Jonathan rightly pointed out yesterday that Democrats may not have the easy layup they think they do over the shutdown. With the exchanges melting down already, the American people may see this drastic push by Republicans to put an end to the individual mandate portion of the law as needed and justified as they watch what ObamaCare means for their daily lives for the first time.

Unfortunately, the media won’t be focused on reporting on the difficulties nationwide if  the story is instead now about the shutdown. Now that Republicans have gone on record with this push to end ObamaCare in the 11th hour, it’s time to pull back from the brink. Republicans have warned for years that ObamaCare would be a disaster for Americans. Without the ability to put an end to the law via defunding, delay, or repeal with the Senate and White House under Democratic control, it’s time to let the law speak for itself. 

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