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Posts For: December 9, 2013

A Disingenuous Defense of Hate Speech

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disturbing decision of the influential New America Foundation to host and promote Max Blumenthal’s new book calling for Israel’s destruction. As I wrote then, and in a previous post noting the civil war that has broken out on the left about it, any discussion of this piece of trash need not detain us long. It is an ignorant piece of agitprop the purpose of which is to depict the State of Israel as comparable to Nazi Germany. His goal is not to add to the debate about West Bank settlements or the critique of liberal foes of the Netanyahu government but also, as leftist writer Eric Alterman noted, to question the legitimacy of Zionism and the whole idea of Jewish sovereignty over a single inch of territory on either side of the 1967 lines. This is a theme Blumenthal has addressed with refreshing candor during some of his book tour appearances when he has pondered the question of whether Jews should be allowed to live in the territory of what is now Israel after his wishes are fulfilled. It is as devoid of any intellectual integrity as any screed produced by those who support Hamas and its vision of a new Middle East without Israel. However, the issue isn’t a book that engages in hate speech but what a respectable and well-connected think tank like the NAF was doing promoting it.

That issue has now been addressed by the group’s founding director James Fallows, who not only defended the book and its author but seemed to think my piece and another that inspired it by historian Ron Radosh was a campaign aimed at suppressing free speech. This is nonsense. As Radosh has noted in a response, no one is stopping Blumenthal from writing a book and speaking about it. But we do have a right to ask why the New America Foundation thinks it is worthy of being given their imprimatur. The problem with engaging Fallows’s argument is that he is being completely disingenuous. In order to defend Blumenthal and his book he has to completely misrepresent it and the discussion that he says is worth having about it.

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disturbing decision of the influential New America Foundation to host and promote Max Blumenthal’s new book calling for Israel’s destruction. As I wrote then, and in a previous post noting the civil war that has broken out on the left about it, any discussion of this piece of trash need not detain us long. It is an ignorant piece of agitprop the purpose of which is to depict the State of Israel as comparable to Nazi Germany. His goal is not to add to the debate about West Bank settlements or the critique of liberal foes of the Netanyahu government but also, as leftist writer Eric Alterman noted, to question the legitimacy of Zionism and the whole idea of Jewish sovereignty over a single inch of territory on either side of the 1967 lines. This is a theme Blumenthal has addressed with refreshing candor during some of his book tour appearances when he has pondered the question of whether Jews should be allowed to live in the territory of what is now Israel after his wishes are fulfilled. It is as devoid of any intellectual integrity as any screed produced by those who support Hamas and its vision of a new Middle East without Israel. However, the issue isn’t a book that engages in hate speech but what a respectable and well-connected think tank like the NAF was doing promoting it.

That issue has now been addressed by the group’s founding director James Fallows, who not only defended the book and its author but seemed to think my piece and another that inspired it by historian Ron Radosh was a campaign aimed at suppressing free speech. This is nonsense. As Radosh has noted in a response, no one is stopping Blumenthal from writing a book and speaking about it. But we do have a right to ask why the New America Foundation thinks it is worthy of being given their imprimatur. The problem with engaging Fallows’s argument is that he is being completely disingenuous. In order to defend Blumenthal and his book he has to completely misrepresent it and the discussion that he says is worth having about it.

Fallows claims Blumenthal belongs to the tradition of muckraking advocacy and “is a particular kind of exposé-minded, documentary-broadside journalism whose place we generally recognize and respect.” He compares it The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath and claims it is no more anti-Israel than The Wire was anti-American. But in order to make this claim Fallows has to ignore not only the content of much of the book but Blumenthal’s open advocacy of the cause of dismantling Israel. The comparisons are ludicrous since neither Upton Sinclair nor John Steinbeck wrote books aimed at convincing people that the United States ought not to exist as an independent country. Criticisms of the book are not based on the notion that the isolated interviews he conducts with Israeli extremists are fabricated, but that Blumenthal thinks even Israeli liberals and bitter critics of Netanyahu like author David Grossman are just as illegitimate as the wingnuts of Israeli society. Grossman rejected Blumenthal because his purpose wasn’t to reform Israel but to end its existence as a Jewish state.

Fallows concludes by saying he isn’t sure whether Blumenthal is right or wrong, but, “he is documenting things that need attention … If he is wrong, his case should be addressed in specific rather than ruled out of respectable consideration. If he’s right, we should absorb the implications.”

That is a position that makes sense when you are talking about those who critique Israel’s settlement movement or the wisdom of its positions on the peace talks. I may disagree with some of those who take that position, but these are debatable points. But when Fallows claims the same is true of Blumenthal’s screed, he is saying something very different. By claiming that this book requires our attention, he is asserting that Israel’s existence and the right of its six million Jews to self-determination and self-defense is debatable. The answer to Fallows from those of us who were offended by NAF’s decision to embrace Blumenthal is to say that these notions are no more debatable than the positions of the Klan, apartheid advocates, or those of al-Qaeda. Blumenthal’s book belongs in the category of those things that are offensive, not because he is critical of an imperfect democracy but because his purpose is to advance the cause of its dissolution.

That Fallows won’t admit this forces us to ask whether his powers of reasoning and reading comprehension skills (assuming that he has actually read Blumenthal’s book) are really this feeble or whether he is just not telling the truth about it for some reason, such as solidarity with Blumenthal’s influential parents who are his friends or dislike of the pro-Israel critics of the book on both the right and the left. But either way, the issue here is not free speech but the disturbing willingness of supposedly respectable figures to be agnostic about Israel’s existence. Max Blumenthal is no more worthy of being given important soapboxes like the NAF than David Duke is. If Fallows disagrees, his judgment and integrity have been called into question, not those whom he wrongly smears as opponents of free speech.

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Elizabeth Warren Sells Out

The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

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The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) asked big Wall Street banks to disclose financial contributions to think tanks, a request that came several days after a centrist Democratic think tank blasted Ms. Warren’s “economic populism” on issues including Social Security.

Tim Carney had the appropriate reaction: “Warren sits on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. She’s basically telling the entities whose livelihood her committee controls to stop criticizing her. This is bullying — and it’s the best argument for allowing companies and individuals to anonymously criticize politicians.”

Indeed it is bullying. And it’s worth remembering that this sort of thing began, in one form or another, almost as soon as Warren made the transition to politics as a candidate. When she ran against Scott Brown, she would out-fundraise him while the Democrats would accuse Brown of taking Wall Street cash. So Warren wasn’t taking Wall Street cash? Well, she was–but not that kind of Wall Street cash. Jim Antle responded with the headline: “Elizabeth Warren Wants Good Wall Street Cash.” Antle noted Warren’s reaction to the charge of hypocrisy:

“There are people on Wall Street who actually believe we need better rules, fairer rules,” Warren is quoted as saying. Obviously, the Wall Street people who help fund her campaign “want reform.” She has also attacked Karl Rove, who she says is acting as “Scott Brown’s wing man.” Rove is an adviser to American Crossroads, a conservative group that has run ads in Massachusetts critical of Warren’s support for bank bailouts.

So Warren wasn’t averse to picking winners and losers in the financial sector. And oh by the way, feel free to donate to her campaign if you work on Wall Street and are one of the good guys. Go ahead and put that donation receipt on your doorpost; who knows, your house may just get passed over. If you’re lucky.

In any event, the bullying charge is on-point, and it’s part of a pattern. But it’s also something more. I think Pejman Yousefzadeh gets it right:

I guess that I must be something of an old fogey, but I have serious objections to Elizabeth Warren’s decision to go on witch-hunts against those who have the temerity to suggest that she might be anything less than saintly and wonderful. Further proof of what might be my old-fogeyness might be found in my belief that what ultimately matters is not who is making a particular argument, but what the nature of that argument might be; whether it is weak or strong, deep or shallow, sophisticated or knuckle-dragging, informed or uninformed. Perhaps the public would be better served if Warren took the time to respond to her critics instead of trying to use senatorial power in order to bully them.

It has been difficult for liberals to accept–and some conservatives as well, who were at least looking forward to a spirited public debate–but Warren entered electoral politics and immediately became what she would otherwise claim to loathe. She is now both rich and powerful, and she is using that to stifle the debate and curtail the ability of her opponents to challenge her.

This is not populism, however much it comforts Democrats to use that term. And I doubt it’s what voters thought they were getting when they elected Warren. At least I hope not.

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Impeachment Talk Is Shutdown Rerun

Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

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Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

That conservatives would head down the same troublesome road so soon after the political disaster of the shutdown is an indication that some on the right simply aren’t thinking straight about their struggle against Obama’s liberal agenda. We were told by Senator Ted Cruz and others that any tactic, even contemplating a shutdown or a default, was worth it because if ObamaCare was implemented it would mean the end of liberty. Two months later that kind of rhetoric looks pretty silly, not just because it was over the top but because they were wrong about ObamaCare. Far from it being untouchable, the fiasco of the bill’s rollout has made it entirely possible to imagine its collapse, if not its eventual repeal. Lacking confidence in the system and the ability of Republicans to go on fighting for their principles, some conservatives considered a kamikaze charge over the cliff as the only honorable response to the fact that a Democratic Senate and a reelected Democratic president would not repeal or delay ObamaCare.

So, too, does McCarthy seem to argue that impeachment is the only way to stop Obama from transgressing legal norms in implementing the health-care bill or enforcing immigration laws. His reaction to the frustrations of working within the system is to try and build support for the most extreme remedy afforded by the Constitution.

But, just like the meltdown, this is not only a misreading of the political mood of the nation but bad political advice for an opposition that has gained back crucial ground in the weeks since the shutdown ended and the public’s attention has shifted from GOP foolishness to Obama’s follies.

McCarthy makes some strong arguments about the legitimacy of impeachment as a response to political misdeeds by a president, especially when he quotes Alexander Hamilton’s definition of high crimes and misdemeanors as abuses of the “public trust,” violations of a “political” nature in the sense that “they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” But impeachment is not an appropriate answer to political disagreements, even if they involve the way laws are enforced. I agree with McCarthy the president is wrong to attempt to selectively enforce provisions of laws. Yet most Americans rightly see impeachment as an abandonment of democratic politics. They believe an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election held just last year via impeachment in the absence of genuine crimes is a political trick and will make those who try it pay a high price.

Is accepting this widespread view an act of weakness by a feckless GOP establishment, as McCarthy seems to indicate? To the contrary, it is an act of maturity to understand that, as with the shutdown, transgressing political norms in this manner is viewed by most Americans as far worse than anything Obama might be doing. Criminalizing political differences, something Democrats have often resorted to when Republicans are in power, isn’t just a political mistake. It undermines the very system conservatives are seeking to preserve. 

As bitter as it may be for Republicans to accept, the proper remedy to Obama’s policies is to win the next midterm elections and then the presidency in 2016 if they can. As the last few weeks have shown, those preaching that extreme remedies are required to avert the imminent demise of our liberties have lost faith in our system as well as in the power of conservative ideas to win back the majority of Americans.

Talk of impeachment, like the shutdown, is a gift to the president and the Democrats since it illustrates a lack of seriousness on the part of some Republicans. If any of them go down this road, they will be doing conservatism a great disservice and helping, as the shutdown briefly did, the president keep his head above water in an otherwise disastrous second term.

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Dems’ Harsh Appraisal of Hillary Clinton

Though it’s probably not intended this way, Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser’s verdict on Hillary Clinton’s legacy as secretary of state is revealed before readers get to the first sentence. The headline of the piece is, naturally: “Was Hillary Clinton a Good Secretary of State?” But the subheadline gives it away: “And does it matter?” Thus, the article seems to be making excuses for Clinton before even revealing what must be excused.

The problem for Clinton is that she has a sympathetic judge in Glasser, who penned a Foreign Policy cover profile of Clinton last year that was celebratory despite not having much to celebrate. Yet when Glasser asks around the foreign-policy community about Clinton’s accomplishments at State, those on the left side of the political isle seem to all bypass the question itself and move right onto why she had no accomplishments. You have to wonder what the answers would be if Clinton weren’t presumed to be the next Democratic nominee for president.

Glasser asked Aaron David Miller for his assessment, which was this:

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Though it’s probably not intended this way, Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser’s verdict on Hillary Clinton’s legacy as secretary of state is revealed before readers get to the first sentence. The headline of the piece is, naturally: “Was Hillary Clinton a Good Secretary of State?” But the subheadline gives it away: “And does it matter?” Thus, the article seems to be making excuses for Clinton before even revealing what must be excused.

The problem for Clinton is that she has a sympathetic judge in Glasser, who penned a Foreign Policy cover profile of Clinton last year that was celebratory despite not having much to celebrate. Yet when Glasser asks around the foreign-policy community about Clinton’s accomplishments at State, those on the left side of the political isle seem to all bypass the question itself and move right onto why she had no accomplishments. You have to wonder what the answers would be if Clinton weren’t presumed to be the next Democratic nominee for president.

Glasser asked Aaron David Miller for his assessment, which was this:

“Hillary was risk-averse; Kerry isn’t. He’s risk-ready.” Of course, Miller argues, 2016 politics “explains partly why she didn’t own a single issue of consequence.” The other reason is President Obama himself, “the most controlling foreign policy president since Nixon.”

Clinton was inconsequential; the real question, to her fellow liberals, concerns who they can blame for this. (Surely not Hillary!) Miller tosses in the obligatory nod to “the Republican obsession with Benghazi,” but it only serves to remind readers that Democrats are crassly uninterested in the tragedy over which they presided.

Glasser sums up the Democrats’ opinions on Hillary as belonging to one of three groups:

As for the Democrats, Clinton’s advocates tend to come in several camps, which can be broadly summed up as The Timing Just Wasn’t Right group; the Blame the White Housers; and the Asia Pivot Was a Really Big Deal crowd (“her major accomplishment,” the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon told me, and “too often underappreciated”).

Brutal–those are her “advocates.” The first two speak for themselves; the third is obviously grasping at straws, since the administration’s “pivot” to Asia was mostly repairing the damage President Obama’s first term did to our Pacific alliances with the occasional painfully obvious declaration about the region that suggests members of the Obama administration have just recently discovered China’s existence.

Now, it should be noted that some of the justifications for Clinton’s tenure offered by her “advocates” are accurate. Obama really does exercise obsessive control over everything, and his anti-interventionist inclinations did in fact win out more often than Clinton may have liked. Readers may think those like Miller who blame Obama are taking the easy way out, but other Clinton supporters have him beat: Steve Sestanovich, a former State Department official under Hillary’s husband, blames–you guessed it–George Bush. (His logic is that the world existed before the Obama administration–he knows, he was there!–and thus Hillary didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning, etc.)

But Anne-Marie Slaughter, now the president of the New America Foundation, can top that. If you’re wondering just how incoherent an attempt to praise Clinton as consequential would be, wonder no more:

Her case for Clinton, in fact, is explicitly about politics—and Clinton’s willingness to integrate them into the traditionally stodgy, big man-to-big man diplomacy long favored at the State Department (and arguably now being resurrected by Kerry). “Foreign policy has always been the furthest thing from retail politics; she brought them much closer together and institutionalized as much of her approach as possible in the very bones of the State Department. … Hillary took diplomacy directly to the people in ways that cannot produce a treaty or negotiated agreement, but that are essential to advancing America’s interests over the longer term,” Slaughter argues. “What she should be remembered for in a 2016 campaign is proving that she could represent the American people day in and day out in the long, hard slog of regular politics, in between the rare shining moments of success. She was and is beloved around the world, as an inspiration, as an example of an America in which a woman could run for president, nearly win her party’s primary, lose with grace and then prove that adversaries can work together for the sake of their country.”

So there you have it: the case for Hillary isn’t much better than the case against her, but it’s always someone else’s fault anyway. The second half of that assessment is a gift due to her signal that she wants to be the next president. Subtract that, and you’ve probably got what her “advocates” really think of her. But if Clinton does indeed run for president, her opponents aren’t likely to be so kind.

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ACA? ObamaCare Not So Affordable

As some pollsters and late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel have proved, ordinary Americans don’t like ObamaCare but they like the idea of an Affordable Care Act, especially if they don’t know the two are the same thing. That’s led the White House and Democrats to try to train the voters to call the president’s signature health-care legislation the ACA rather than the more popular handle that links the increasingly unpopular incumbent to the issue. But like the attempt to minimize the problems of the ObamaCare rollout as a merely the fault of a glitchy website, the notion that ObamaCare really is about affordable health care turns out to be as false as the president’s promise that people could keep their insurance if they liked it. As the New York Times reports this morning, the premiums being offered via the ObamaCare insurance exchanges may be low, but the deductibles and the other out-of-pocket costs associated with actually using the plans are actually far more expensive than those being offered elsewhere in the market.

Apparently it was no accident that until last week, the healthcare.gov website didn’t offer consumers (or at least those who can successfully log in to it) the ability to discover what the deductibles on the plans being offered cost. That the premiums on these plans are often cheap is not in dispute, though many of those who were forced off existing plans that they liked have now found themselves saddled with much more expensive plans. But the point about insurance is not just what it costs to have it, but what it will cost you when you have to use it. If, as the Times reports, the deductible on some of these plans is $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple, then as far as many Americans are concerned, pretty much everything short of a hospital stay or surgery is going to mean that they are going to have to pay all medical costs out of their own pockets. Which means, as far as most of the Americans who are being forced onto the state exchanges are concerned, short of a catastrophic event, ObamaCare is the moral equivalent of having no insurance at all.

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As some pollsters and late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel have proved, ordinary Americans don’t like ObamaCare but they like the idea of an Affordable Care Act, especially if they don’t know the two are the same thing. That’s led the White House and Democrats to try to train the voters to call the president’s signature health-care legislation the ACA rather than the more popular handle that links the increasingly unpopular incumbent to the issue. But like the attempt to minimize the problems of the ObamaCare rollout as a merely the fault of a glitchy website, the notion that ObamaCare really is about affordable health care turns out to be as false as the president’s promise that people could keep their insurance if they liked it. As the New York Times reports this morning, the premiums being offered via the ObamaCare insurance exchanges may be low, but the deductibles and the other out-of-pocket costs associated with actually using the plans are actually far more expensive than those being offered elsewhere in the market.

Apparently it was no accident that until last week, the healthcare.gov website didn’t offer consumers (or at least those who can successfully log in to it) the ability to discover what the deductibles on the plans being offered cost. That the premiums on these plans are often cheap is not in dispute, though many of those who were forced off existing plans that they liked have now found themselves saddled with much more expensive plans. But the point about insurance is not just what it costs to have it, but what it will cost you when you have to use it. If, as the Times reports, the deductible on some of these plans is $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple, then as far as many Americans are concerned, pretty much everything short of a hospital stay or surgery is going to mean that they are going to have to pay all medical costs out of their own pockets. Which means, as far as most of the Americans who are being forced onto the state exchanges are concerned, short of a catastrophic event, ObamaCare is the moral equivalent of having no insurance at all.

When pressed about the high costs of the Affordable Care Act, its defenders have answered that most of those saddled with higher premiums and deductibles will actually not be hurt because they will be given subsidies. But as the Times points out, the idea that the ACA will be dishing out widespread subsidies is a myth:

Many people buying insurance on the federal and state exchanges are expected to qualify for subsidies. But in the first month, for reasons that are not clear, only 30 percent qualified. The others must pay the full premium and will be subject to the full deductible.

Most people shopping in the exchanges are expected to choose bronze or silver plans, which provide less generous coverage than most employer-sponsored plans.

A study by Jon R. Gabel and colleagues at NORC, a research organization affiliated with the University of Chicago, found that 65 percent of employees in group health plans had higher-value coverage that would be classified as gold or platinum under the Affordable Care Act.

That means that, contrary to the justifications that were offered for the violation of the president’s promise about keeping policies that consumers liked, many of the choices they are being offered are not as good as what was previously available. Throw in the factor of costs from sky-high deductibles and you have an ObamaCare formula that combines both mediocre-to-lousy coverage with costs that make it dangerous for anyone relying on the ACA to get sick.

As the Times explained:

Higher deductibles are one tool that insurers can use to hold down premiums. Many have also held down premiums on the exchanges by limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals available to consumers in their provider networks.

That brings up the third damaging element of ObamaCare: the fact that many Americans are not only going to lose their coverage they liked but will also be unable to keep the doctors they liked and trusted.

There are Americans who are, as the Times points out, grateful to get any kind of insurance at all and will suffer with ObamaCare’s costs due to its allowing those with pre-existing conditions to be covered. But the numbers of those who are benefiting from the new health-care regime appear to be heavily outnumbered by those who are being either inconvenienced or gouged by the Affordable Care Act. That’s why the expectation that once it is implemented it will be popular appears to be based on some faulty assumptions. As the ranks of the ObamaCare losers grows, the burden of “affordable care” that turns out to be not so affordable is turning the ACA into an albatross sinking President Obama’s second term.

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Hispanics Defecting from Obama in Huge Numbers

A few days ago I wrote that Barack Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant” was collapsing. I cited in particular a Harvard University Institute for Politics poll that found that among young Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 Obama’s approval rating is just 41 percent, down 11 points from a year ago.

Just after that poll was published, the Gallup organization reported President Obama’s job approval rating among Hispanics has dropped 23 points over the last 12 months, the most among major subgroups and nearly twice the national average. A year ago his approval rating among Hispanics was 75 percent; it’s now 52 percent. And in 39 subgroups listed in the Gallup survey, Mr. Obama has lost support in every single one over the last year.

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A few days ago I wrote that Barack Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant” was collapsing. I cited in particular a Harvard University Institute for Politics poll that found that among young Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 Obama’s approval rating is just 41 percent, down 11 points from a year ago.

Just after that poll was published, the Gallup organization reported President Obama’s job approval rating among Hispanics has dropped 23 points over the last 12 months, the most among major subgroups and nearly twice the national average. A year ago his approval rating among Hispanics was 75 percent; it’s now 52 percent. And in 39 subgroups listed in the Gallup survey, Mr. Obama has lost support in every single one over the last year.

This is yet more empirical evidence that the Obama presidency is at a perilous political moment.

In response, the president is trying to do several things: rally his base (by focusing on issues like the minimum wage), change the subject (to issues like income inequality), and attack Republicans (which Mr. Obama does habitually). This kind of short-term, tactical approach is basically worthless. It might win the president a news cycle or two. But his presidency is in disrepair for fundamental reasons and because of fundamental flaws–and unless and until they are corrected, the president will discover that as bad as this year has been, next year will be worse. 

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Obama’s Rouhani Smokescreen

Speaking at the Saban Forum last weekend, President Barack Obama reiterated that the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani heralded a new direction in Iran that Washington would be irresponsible to ignore. “The Iranian people responded [to the sanctions] by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime,” Obama declared. “And that’s what brought President Rouhani to power. He was not necessarily the first choice of the hardliners inside of Iran … And we should not underestimate or entirely dismiss a shift in how the Iranian people want to interact with the world.”

This explanation has been enthusiastically echoed by the media for months. But while it might have been possible for reasonable people of goodwill to believe it initially, today we know it’s a brazen lie. Obama didn’t start negotiating with Tehran because Rouhani’s election signaled an Iranian change of direction; his secret talks with Tehran started in March, three months before Rouhani’s election. Nor did Rouhani’s election in fact signal a public demand for change. On the contrary, it was deliberately engineered by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself–a fact that even the Iranians now admit, as the New York Times reported just last week: “A Tehran-based analyst with ties to the senior leadership, Amir Mohebbian, has said that Ayatollah Khamenei ushered Mr. Rouhani into power with the idea of shifting course from the Ahmadinejad years and testing President Obama’s sincerity about reaching a nuclear deal,” the paper wrote.

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Speaking at the Saban Forum last weekend, President Barack Obama reiterated that the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani heralded a new direction in Iran that Washington would be irresponsible to ignore. “The Iranian people responded [to the sanctions] by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime,” Obama declared. “And that’s what brought President Rouhani to power. He was not necessarily the first choice of the hardliners inside of Iran … And we should not underestimate or entirely dismiss a shift in how the Iranian people want to interact with the world.”

This explanation has been enthusiastically echoed by the media for months. But while it might have been possible for reasonable people of goodwill to believe it initially, today we know it’s a brazen lie. Obama didn’t start negotiating with Tehran because Rouhani’s election signaled an Iranian change of direction; his secret talks with Tehran started in March, three months before Rouhani’s election. Nor did Rouhani’s election in fact signal a public demand for change. On the contrary, it was deliberately engineered by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself–a fact that even the Iranians now admit, as the New York Times reported just last week: “A Tehran-based analyst with ties to the senior leadership, Amir Mohebbian, has said that Ayatollah Khamenei ushered Mr. Rouhani into power with the idea of shifting course from the Ahmadinejad years and testing President Obama’s sincerity about reaching a nuclear deal,” the paper wrote.

There was, of course, ample evidence of this even back in June, which I detailed at the time. But we now have the missing link in this evidence–the motive for Khamenei’s ostensible about-face in ensuring the victory of the most “moderate” of the eight regime-approved candidates allowed to run, after having backed the most conservative candidate in the previous election. Having opened exploratory talks with Washington three months earlier and concluded that the Obama administration was prepared to give him the kind of deal he wanted, Khamenei naturally sought to put his best negotiator at the helm to conduct the talks.

Rouhani was unquestionably that. Prior to his election, he boasted–correctly–that as chief negotiator with the West a decade earlier, he secured a deal that enabled Iran to dramatically expand its nuclear program: The number of centrifuges grew from 150 to 1,700, and the Isfahan facility for yellowcake conversion was completed. What Khamenei and Rouhani understood was that even when Westerners are dying to sign a rotten deal, you still have to give them the fig leaf of a smiling face rather than a brazen Holocaust denier like former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Thus once he decided to pursue the talks, Khamenei ensured Rouhani’s election.

One can understand why Obama seeks to portray the nuclear deal as a response to growing anti-regime sentiment among the Iranian public; that’s something most Americans (and Israelis) would obviously like to encourage. But nobody should be fooled by this transparent lie. The deal Obama made is one that the worst elements of the Iranian regime consider to be in their own interests, and they deliberately engineered Rouhani’s election to secure it. All the administration’s talk of how the Iranian people brought Rouhani to power is nothing but a smokescreen thrown up in a desperate effort to obscure just how bad the deal really is.

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When Friends Turn Anti-Semitic

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is the NGO of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. While it seeks to wear a moral mantle it claims from its 1947 Nobel Prize, in recent decades it has eschewed its values of peace and nonviolence and embraced unapologetically the world’s worst dictators and terrorist movements bent on genocide. One of the first pieces I wrote for this website almost three years ago was an examination of the AFSC’s work in North Korea and, previously, I had also co-written a piece with a fellow Quaker school alum looking at the AFSC’s conflation of pacifism with hard-left politics. It might seem strange to preach non-violence and work with a government that both runs concentration camps and summarily executes children, but after having shilled for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as that monstrous group massacred millions of Cambodians, such skewed values shouldn’t surprise.

Of course, most COMMENTARY readers know the AFSC better for its work among Palestinians. Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe have an important article in the Tower magazine this month asking aptly, “When did the Quakers Stop Being Friends?” They note the 2008 gala dinner co-hosted by the AFSC for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never mind Ahmadinejad’s threats to eradicate Israel and his Holocaust denial, and they also examined the AFSC’s recent indoctrination and training summer camps for new generations of boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) activists. But the real value of Romirowsky and Joffe’s work is its extensive examination of the AFSC attitudes toward Zionism and the notion of Jewish attachment toward Israel, and its close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during the height of that group’s terror campaign against Israel and Jews. In one 1977 session, the AFSC instructed Jewish participants at a workshop to “tolerate some anti-Semitic remarks.”

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The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is the NGO of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. While it seeks to wear a moral mantle it claims from its 1947 Nobel Prize, in recent decades it has eschewed its values of peace and nonviolence and embraced unapologetically the world’s worst dictators and terrorist movements bent on genocide. One of the first pieces I wrote for this website almost three years ago was an examination of the AFSC’s work in North Korea and, previously, I had also co-written a piece with a fellow Quaker school alum looking at the AFSC’s conflation of pacifism with hard-left politics. It might seem strange to preach non-violence and work with a government that both runs concentration camps and summarily executes children, but after having shilled for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as that monstrous group massacred millions of Cambodians, such skewed values shouldn’t surprise.

Of course, most COMMENTARY readers know the AFSC better for its work among Palestinians. Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe have an important article in the Tower magazine this month asking aptly, “When did the Quakers Stop Being Friends?” They note the 2008 gala dinner co-hosted by the AFSC for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never mind Ahmadinejad’s threats to eradicate Israel and his Holocaust denial, and they also examined the AFSC’s recent indoctrination and training summer camps for new generations of boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) activists. But the real value of Romirowsky and Joffe’s work is its extensive examination of the AFSC attitudes toward Zionism and the notion of Jewish attachment toward Israel, and its close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during the height of that group’s terror campaign against Israel and Jews. In one 1977 session, the AFSC instructed Jewish participants at a workshop to “tolerate some anti-Semitic remarks.”

They conclude:

Once a byword for humanitarianism and faith, [the AFSC]  has now become, in effect, a brand—one on which the AFSC can trade as it exploits the putative neutrality and pacifism it stands for in order to advance hostility toward Israel and, with its promotion of the “right of return,” an end to Israel itself. In the end, the AFSC’s story reflects the tensions between pacifism and politics, between aid work and political activism, and between neutrality in the Middle East conflict and religious anti-Zionism. It demonstrates that small religious movements are susceptible to hijacking by radicals, and suggests that pacifism may inevitably engender its opposite.

Let us hope that individual Quakers—some of whom are truly aghast at the AFSC’s antics—will recognize the great ills that are being perpetrated in their name and ask some hard questions of those tying Quakerism to racism, xenophobia, and hatred.  

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China Spikes the Ball in Iran

Perhaps the worst thing about Secretary of State John Kerry is that he is both completely aloof to how both adversaries and allies perceive the United States, and he genuinely does not understand how America’s competitors seek neither peace nor conflict resolution but rather to further their position vis-à-vis America in a zero-sum game of power rivalry.

For Kerry, the Iran nuclear talks may have been about curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, but for China, they were about curtailing the United States. Speaking yesterday to reporters in Tehran after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Chinese State Councilor (and former foreign minister) Yang Jiechi, declared:

Iran defended its rights in the [Vienna nuclear] negotiations and defeated the Western side. This result was achieved by Iran’s new government and through wisdom and prudence used in the talks. We respect Iran’s right to nuclear energy and uranium enrichment… Iran has started moving on the path of progress and development with your [Ruhani’s] appointment [victory in presidential elections]. And China considers Iran as a close friend and a good and strategic partner.

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Perhaps the worst thing about Secretary of State John Kerry is that he is both completely aloof to how both adversaries and allies perceive the United States, and he genuinely does not understand how America’s competitors seek neither peace nor conflict resolution but rather to further their position vis-à-vis America in a zero-sum game of power rivalry.

For Kerry, the Iran nuclear talks may have been about curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, but for China, they were about curtailing the United States. Speaking yesterday to reporters in Tehran after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Chinese State Councilor (and former foreign minister) Yang Jiechi, declared:

Iran defended its rights in the [Vienna nuclear] negotiations and defeated the Western side. This result was achieved by Iran’s new government and through wisdom and prudence used in the talks. We respect Iran’s right to nuclear energy and uranium enrichment… Iran has started moving on the path of progress and development with your [Ruhani’s] appointment [victory in presidential elections]. And China considers Iran as a close friend and a good and strategic partner.

In the same press conference—apparently reported in Persian but not in English—Rouhani himself, rather than any aide whose comments could be later denied, doubled down on the fact that the agreement would not stop Iranian nuclear ambitions: “Iran will not withdraw from its nuclear rights, including the right to enrichment.” He then thanked China for its assistance in Geneva.

Seldom has there been such a willful forfeiture of leverage and negotiating position with the American team overseeing the talks so seemingly unaware.

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