Commentary Magazine


Topic: cuts

USAID: Mend It, Don’t End It

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

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Obama’s Not-So-Very-Good Week

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.” Read More

David Brooks is not only an outstanding columnist; he’s also a friend. And so I want to register a friendly dissent with his column today.

As Rick noted, David argues that Barack Obama ran for president as a “network liberal” — defined as  one who believes progress is achieved by leaders savvy enough to build coalitions. (Brooks contrasts this with “cluster liberals/cluster conservatives,” meaning those who believe that victory is achieved through “maximum unity” and that “partisan might” should be “bluntly applied.”) But in office, Brooks writes, “Obama, like George W. Bush before him, narrowed his networks.”

That is, I think, an unfair reading of the Bush presidency.

One of the first significant legislative undertakings of President Bush, for example, was No Child Left Behind, which was the result of substantial bipartisan cooperation. President Obama has, until now, shown no such inclination to work with Republicans. In the first term, Bush also worked with Democrats on Medicare prescription drugs. Both the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions had substantial to overwhelming bipartisan support; so did the Patriot Act. Even on the 2001 tax cuts, Bush worked with Democrats and took into account their input. (Then House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said a corporate tax cut was a non-starter with his caucus; he suggested instead sending out rebate checks to low- and moderate-income households. In response Bush, against his better judgment, instructed the White House staff to replace the corporate rate cut with Gephardt’s rebates. For more, see Karl Rove’s Courage and Consequence, chapter 19.)

At comparable points in their presidency, then, George W. Bush was much more of a “network conservative” than Obama has been a “network liberal.”

Second, David — in contrasting Obama favorably this week with “cluster liberals” — writes:

Cluster liberals in the House and the commentariat are angry. They have no strategy for how Obama could have better played his weak hand — with a coming Republican majority, an expiring tax law and several Democratic senators from red states insisting on extending all the cuts. They just sense the waning of their moment and are howling in protest.

They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end. (Perhaps psychologists can explain the interesting combination: intellectual self-confidence alongside a political inferiority complex.)

Some of this analysis I agree with. I would point out, however, that (a) during his press conference, Obama was as visibly angry as many people can recall seeing him, and (b) the term “hostage takers” was used by Obama against Republicans.

Finally, I disagree with David’s verdict that Obama had “a very good week.” Brooks’s argument is that Obama has put himself in a position to govern again, and I understand and have some sympathy with the point he’s making: Obama is distancing himself from his liberal base and, in so doing, embracing a policy that is both fairly popular and wise.

What’s going to damage Obama, though, is the manner in which the distancing was done. The president’s base is enraged at him; what we’re seeing looks very much like a political revolt within his own ranks. It’s stating the obvious to say that having members of your own congressional caucus cursing at you is not a very good thing. And as President George H.W. Bush found out with his violation of his “no new taxes” pledge, creating fury within your base in order to tack to the center can hurt one rather than help one.

Nor is it clear yet that Nancy Pelosi will even bring the legislation Obama has blessed to the floor for a vote without changes. I assume she will — but if the speaker decides not to, and if as a result Obama fails to get this deal signed into law, it will be a terrifically damaging blow to his prestige and his presidency. And even if Obama does succeed, he has created enormous unhappiness and mistrust among his base. This won’t be forgotten any time soon. Presidents, while needing to distance themselves from their base at times, don’t usually succeed when they are at war with it.

Democratic tempers will cool over time; new political battles will reconnect Obama to his party. And the key variable remains the economy. If in 2012 unemployment is going down, if the economy is growing at a brisk pace, and if people are confident about the trajectory the country is on, Obama will be in good shape with both his base and with independents. For now, though, the president is in a precarious position, having (for the moment at least) lost his base without having won over the rest of the country. It may be that the former is necessary to achieve the latter — but the way these things are done matters quite a lot. And this has been ugly all the way around.

If David Brooks is right and this week signaled the beginning of a fundamental change in Obama’s governing philosophy, then the president has helped himself. If, on the other hand, what Obama did this week was simply an anomaly, a tactical shift without a fundamental rethinking, then he has complicated his life and damaged his presidency.

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Foreign Policy Alternatives

Foreign Policy has a symposium on “Plan B” for Obama’s foreign policy. The assumption is, of course, that what he’s tried hasn’t worked very well.

Elliott Abrams suggests:

Forget the peace talks. A lasting, final Israeli-Palestinian agreement is nowhere in sight. With the negotiations as background music, Barack Obama should get serious. The rest of his term should be spent building the institutions of a Palestinian state in the West Bank — not chasing a dream.

That’s one of the smartest entries. From the left we also get Bob Shrum (yes, that Bob Shrum), who actually is on to something:

On critical issues like Afghanistan and Iran, Obama will need to take his case to the people directly, as he did so convincingly as a candidate. This means a continuing conversation in town halls and speeches that connect both emotionally and logically with a majority of Americans. … Obama needs to become the diplomat-in-chief — not just for U.S. allies overseas, but for his own citizenry at home.

But then again, Obama is not convincing Americans of much of anything, so it’s not clear that this would prove a productive exercise. And of course Obama first would have to decide what he wants to do about Iran.

Another helpful contribution comes from Ellen Laipson, who recommends:

Barack Obama needs to rethink his approach to engaging the Muslim world. After the promise of his seminal June 2009 Cairo speech, his administration has not focused on any serious initiatives and has fallen into the trap of fawning over Muslims in ways that are contrary to America’s core values. … The case of Egypt and its upcoming presidential election is a good place to start. The White House must try to ensure that the 2011 contest be fair and legitimate, for Egypt’s sake and ours. But America’s good work with grassroots activists needs to be complemented by a bolder public stance and even tough measures when governments fail to advance the most basic democratic reforms.

One of the more horrid suggestions come from Will Marshall, who wants a new Geneva Convention. One can only imagine what rules they would come up with to further impede America’s and Israel’s security. Nearly as bad is Christopher Preble (demonstrating the danger of the “austerity trap“), who wants massive defense cuts. But don’t worry, he says: “The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine.”

It’s a hard choice, but my vote for the dopiest recommendation comes from Joseph Cirincione:

Obama should unilaterally reduce the active U.S. arsenal to 1,000 weapons (which is still three times more than U.S. Air Force experts judge are necessary) and remove the 200 U.S. nuclear bombs that remain in Europe. Such cuts won’t hurt U.S. or global security in the least — and Obama has plenty of bipartisan, expert support for cuts of this size. They would put him on the road to fulfilling his compelling promise of a truly nuclear-free world.

Except for all the other countries that have nukes.

Get the sense that the left isn’t very serious about foreign policy? Me too. And it’s not just the left. As we correctly turn our attention to our massive deficits, the pressure will be on from the right and the left to bring troops home, cut defense spending, and return to Fortress America. But there is no return. Our enemies are real, and we need to rise to meet the challenges they pose to the U.S. and our allies.

Foreign Policy has a symposium on “Plan B” for Obama’s foreign policy. The assumption is, of course, that what he’s tried hasn’t worked very well.

Elliott Abrams suggests:

Forget the peace talks. A lasting, final Israeli-Palestinian agreement is nowhere in sight. With the negotiations as background music, Barack Obama should get serious. The rest of his term should be spent building the institutions of a Palestinian state in the West Bank — not chasing a dream.

That’s one of the smartest entries. From the left we also get Bob Shrum (yes, that Bob Shrum), who actually is on to something:

On critical issues like Afghanistan and Iran, Obama will need to take his case to the people directly, as he did so convincingly as a candidate. This means a continuing conversation in town halls and speeches that connect both emotionally and logically with a majority of Americans. … Obama needs to become the diplomat-in-chief — not just for U.S. allies overseas, but for his own citizenry at home.

But then again, Obama is not convincing Americans of much of anything, so it’s not clear that this would prove a productive exercise. And of course Obama first would have to decide what he wants to do about Iran.

Another helpful contribution comes from Ellen Laipson, who recommends:

Barack Obama needs to rethink his approach to engaging the Muslim world. After the promise of his seminal June 2009 Cairo speech, his administration has not focused on any serious initiatives and has fallen into the trap of fawning over Muslims in ways that are contrary to America’s core values. … The case of Egypt and its upcoming presidential election is a good place to start. The White House must try to ensure that the 2011 contest be fair and legitimate, for Egypt’s sake and ours. But America’s good work with grassroots activists needs to be complemented by a bolder public stance and even tough measures when governments fail to advance the most basic democratic reforms.

One of the more horrid suggestions come from Will Marshall, who wants a new Geneva Convention. One can only imagine what rules they would come up with to further impede America’s and Israel’s security. Nearly as bad is Christopher Preble (demonstrating the danger of the “austerity trap“), who wants massive defense cuts. But don’t worry, he says: “The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine.”

It’s a hard choice, but my vote for the dopiest recommendation comes from Joseph Cirincione:

Obama should unilaterally reduce the active U.S. arsenal to 1,000 weapons (which is still three times more than U.S. Air Force experts judge are necessary) and remove the 200 U.S. nuclear bombs that remain in Europe. Such cuts won’t hurt U.S. or global security in the least — and Obama has plenty of bipartisan, expert support for cuts of this size. They would put him on the road to fulfilling his compelling promise of a truly nuclear-free world.

Except for all the other countries that have nukes.

Get the sense that the left isn’t very serious about foreign policy? Me too. And it’s not just the left. As we correctly turn our attention to our massive deficits, the pressure will be on from the right and the left to bring troops home, cut defense spending, and return to Fortress America. But there is no return. Our enemies are real, and we need to rise to meet the challenges they pose to the U.S. and our allies.

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A Presidency on the Rocks

The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal has many liberal pundits breathless. Granted, it’s been a long time since Obama made a decision quickly and effectively. There was disagreement over whether McChrystal had to go, but few quibble with bringing in the general who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. Despite liberals’ delirium (See, he can get something right!), the incident actually highlights the degree to which Obama is no longer in command of events or his own political destiny. In a compelling column, A.B. Stoddard of the Hill writes:

Within the competing factions in burgeoning disagreement over Afghan war policy in his administration, Obama has tried taking shelter in the middle, his habitual no man’s land where he is neither wartime commander nor consensus builder. In deciding to relieve McChrystal, Obama cannot be accused of weakness, but the scandal weakened him instantly and immeasurably and made him appear even more alone.

In a foundering war our allies have lost patience with, and a fragile economic recovery that has failed to make a dent in joblessness, Obama struggles to lead at home and abroad. Seventeen months into office, Obama is increasingly isolated — from his party, from American voters and from the world. Though he was sworn in amid great expectations to transcend partisan, racial, cultural and economic divisions, the country is more polarized than ever and Washington is even more a target for voter anger than it was under President Bush.

Obama has gone from a political colossus to a political leper. (“Obama is so politically toxic in battlegrounds he can’t campaign for most Democratic candidates and his relationships with Democrats outside his intimate circle of mostly Chicagoan advisers fall somewhere between faint and frosty.”) His fondness for big government and for phony budget calculations has run up against increasingly skeptic voters and nervous Democrats. As Stoddard notes:

Democrats have joined Republicans with a newfound distaste for deficit spending. So spooked are Democrats from every region of the country, mostly vulnerable members elected in 2006 and 2008, they are turning their backs on unpaid emergency spending to extend COBRA health benefits for the unemployed and continued unemployment benefits and aid to cash-strapped states that can’t be offset with other spending cuts. Jobs bills are stalling, and a debate about the extension of Bush tax cuts — including those promised to the middle class by then-candidate Obama in his presidential campaign — it’s all on the table in the new age of fiscal rectitude.

None of this should be that surprising. Americans elected an ideologically extreme candidate with no executive experience and little warmth. He identifies with European elites and American academics, not so much with ordinary Americans. He has even managed to annoy his mainstream fan club. It’s no wonder that his administration is on the rocks.

Obama has two and a half years in his term to turn things around. The irony here is that he came into office wanting to change us. Now, to save his presidency, he will have to change policies, staff, and himself. I frankly don’t think he has it in him. But we’ll find out.

The firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal has many liberal pundits breathless. Granted, it’s been a long time since Obama made a decision quickly and effectively. There was disagreement over whether McChrystal had to go, but few quibble with bringing in the general who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. Despite liberals’ delirium (See, he can get something right!), the incident actually highlights the degree to which Obama is no longer in command of events or his own political destiny. In a compelling column, A.B. Stoddard of the Hill writes:

Within the competing factions in burgeoning disagreement over Afghan war policy in his administration, Obama has tried taking shelter in the middle, his habitual no man’s land where he is neither wartime commander nor consensus builder. In deciding to relieve McChrystal, Obama cannot be accused of weakness, but the scandal weakened him instantly and immeasurably and made him appear even more alone.

In a foundering war our allies have lost patience with, and a fragile economic recovery that has failed to make a dent in joblessness, Obama struggles to lead at home and abroad. Seventeen months into office, Obama is increasingly isolated — from his party, from American voters and from the world. Though he was sworn in amid great expectations to transcend partisan, racial, cultural and economic divisions, the country is more polarized than ever and Washington is even more a target for voter anger than it was under President Bush.

Obama has gone from a political colossus to a political leper. (“Obama is so politically toxic in battlegrounds he can’t campaign for most Democratic candidates and his relationships with Democrats outside his intimate circle of mostly Chicagoan advisers fall somewhere between faint and frosty.”) His fondness for big government and for phony budget calculations has run up against increasingly skeptic voters and nervous Democrats. As Stoddard notes:

Democrats have joined Republicans with a newfound distaste for deficit spending. So spooked are Democrats from every region of the country, mostly vulnerable members elected in 2006 and 2008, they are turning their backs on unpaid emergency spending to extend COBRA health benefits for the unemployed and continued unemployment benefits and aid to cash-strapped states that can’t be offset with other spending cuts. Jobs bills are stalling, and a debate about the extension of Bush tax cuts — including those promised to the middle class by then-candidate Obama in his presidential campaign — it’s all on the table in the new age of fiscal rectitude.

None of this should be that surprising. Americans elected an ideologically extreme candidate with no executive experience and little warmth. He identifies with European elites and American academics, not so much with ordinary Americans. He has even managed to annoy his mainstream fan club. It’s no wonder that his administration is on the rocks.

Obama has two and a half years in his term to turn things around. The irony here is that he came into office wanting to change us. Now, to save his presidency, he will have to change policies, staff, and himself. I frankly don’t think he has it in him. But we’ll find out.

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We Need to Reset “Reset”

The Foreign Policy Initiative provides a helpful analysis of Obama’s  attempt to “reset” relations with Russia. It seems we have given up a lot and gotten very little.

On arms control, the START agreement looks like a bad deal:

The cuts are so minute that Russia was technically in compliance with the agreement before the treaty was signed.  New START also falls short in other key respects. The treaty does not address Russia’s overwhelming advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while arcane counting rules — where a bomber armed with multiple cruise missiles is counted as one launcher — could allow the Russians to increase the size of their deployed nuclear arsenal, should they find the resources to expand their bomber fleet. … In sum, New START places restrictions on the United States, while having only a limited impact on Russia’s nuclear force.

On Iran, we have again given up much for minimal returns:

To get Russian support for new sanctions, the Obama administration paid a steep price – removing U.S. sanctions against five Russian entities, and resubmitting a nuclear cooperation agreement that was previously frozen after Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  Despite administration denials, many observers wonder whether President Obama’s cancellation of missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in September 2009 also were part of a package deal with Moscow.

Likewise on Afghanistan, despite the puffery on new air routes afforded by the Russians for our operations, it amounts to a grand total of “only five supply flights… in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.” Meanwhile:

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan.

With regard to Russia’s neighbors, we haven’t gotten Russia out of Georgia, but we have strained our own relations with the Czech Republic and Poland. On human rights:

One of the most troubling aspects of the “reset” is the fact that it has subjugated concerns about Russia’s internal situation to issues such as arms control and Iran.  The Russian political situation is marked by unfair elections and the abolition of elected governorships, control of civil society organizations through intimidation, harassment and regulation, the dominance of state controlled media and restrictions on independent media, impunity for perpetrators of violence, including murder, against regime critics and brutal abuses in the Caucasus.  Opposition parties struggle to compete in elections and to hold demonstrations.  A monthly effort to protest the lack of freedom of assembly was violently broken up by police on May 31 and more than 100 people were arrested.

We frankly did much better with the Communists during the Cold War:

Even during the Cold War, the United States was able to engage Moscow on key national security issues while simultaneously making clear where U.S. and Russian interests diverged.  The Obama administration has thus far shown itself either unable or unwilling to do the same.

The Obama team, filled with hubris, entered office determined to “get along” better than the Bush team with rivals and allies alike. The childlike approach boiled down to: hey, just give our adversaries everything they want, and they will like us! But rivals and foes soon learn there are more goodies in store despite (and maybe because of) their intransigence. So their demands increase, and their behavior both internally and externally becomes more aggressive. Meanwhile, by abusing allies, we whet our foes’ appetites even more, revealing our desperation. In the end, we’ve given up much to get little and find ourselves worse off than when we started.

As practiced by Obama, “reset” has been a failure. A more humble and introspective administration would jettison a policy as counterproductive as this one. But not this president. As with so much else, an improvement in our policy must await a new administration that can assess whether there is a “smarter” policy than just giving stuff away.

The Foreign Policy Initiative provides a helpful analysis of Obama’s  attempt to “reset” relations with Russia. It seems we have given up a lot and gotten very little.

On arms control, the START agreement looks like a bad deal:

The cuts are so minute that Russia was technically in compliance with the agreement before the treaty was signed.  New START also falls short in other key respects. The treaty does not address Russia’s overwhelming advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while arcane counting rules — where a bomber armed with multiple cruise missiles is counted as one launcher — could allow the Russians to increase the size of their deployed nuclear arsenal, should they find the resources to expand their bomber fleet. … In sum, New START places restrictions on the United States, while having only a limited impact on Russia’s nuclear force.

On Iran, we have again given up much for minimal returns:

To get Russian support for new sanctions, the Obama administration paid a steep price – removing U.S. sanctions against five Russian entities, and resubmitting a nuclear cooperation agreement that was previously frozen after Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  Despite administration denials, many observers wonder whether President Obama’s cancellation of missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in September 2009 also were part of a package deal with Moscow.

Likewise on Afghanistan, despite the puffery on new air routes afforded by the Russians for our operations, it amounts to a grand total of “only five supply flights… in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.” Meanwhile:

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan.

With regard to Russia’s neighbors, we haven’t gotten Russia out of Georgia, but we have strained our own relations with the Czech Republic and Poland. On human rights:

One of the most troubling aspects of the “reset” is the fact that it has subjugated concerns about Russia’s internal situation to issues such as arms control and Iran.  The Russian political situation is marked by unfair elections and the abolition of elected governorships, control of civil society organizations through intimidation, harassment and regulation, the dominance of state controlled media and restrictions on independent media, impunity for perpetrators of violence, including murder, against regime critics and brutal abuses in the Caucasus.  Opposition parties struggle to compete in elections and to hold demonstrations.  A monthly effort to protest the lack of freedom of assembly was violently broken up by police on May 31 and more than 100 people were arrested.

We frankly did much better with the Communists during the Cold War:

Even during the Cold War, the United States was able to engage Moscow on key national security issues while simultaneously making clear where U.S. and Russian interests diverged.  The Obama administration has thus far shown itself either unable or unwilling to do the same.

The Obama team, filled with hubris, entered office determined to “get along” better than the Bush team with rivals and allies alike. The childlike approach boiled down to: hey, just give our adversaries everything they want, and they will like us! But rivals and foes soon learn there are more goodies in store despite (and maybe because of) their intransigence. So their demands increase, and their behavior both internally and externally becomes more aggressive. Meanwhile, by abusing allies, we whet our foes’ appetites even more, revealing our desperation. In the end, we’ve given up much to get little and find ourselves worse off than when we started.

As practiced by Obama, “reset” has been a failure. A more humble and introspective administration would jettison a policy as counterproductive as this one. But not this president. As with so much else, an improvement in our policy must await a new administration that can assess whether there is a “smarter” policy than just giving stuff away.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Gov. Bob McDonnell better get some decent staff. First, he leaves slavery out of a Confederate History Month proclamation, and then he hires Fred Malek without knowing that “in 1971 [he] compiled a list of Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the president’s request, an action that has been the subject of numerous articles and for which Malek has repeatedly apologized” or that Malek “recently paid a $100,000 civil fine related to his firm’s work with Connecticut’s pension fund.” Unforced errors will kill you in baseball and in politics.

Elena Kagan better reveal more about her judicial philosophy or a bunch of senators are going to oppose her nomination. After all, ”senators, interest groups and the media [are trying] to piece together a portrait of the solicitor general’s views from scraps of speeches, scholarly articles and actions as a member of two Democratic administrations. Because Kagan, 50, has never been a judge and has not published a major work since 2001, her record lacks the ‘paper trail’ that other nominees in recent years have had. But it also seems at times contradictory, or at least ambiguous.”

Obama better be willing to send more than 1,200 National Guard troops to secure the border. Not even CBS News thinks it’s enough. “Some law enforcement officials along the border said they worry that Mr. Obama will repeat Bush’s mistake by limiting the troops to support roles, such as conducting surveillance and installing lighting, rather than letting them make arrests and confront smugglers. They also believe the scale of the force — one-fifth of the size of the one sent by Bush — is too small to make a difference along the length of the 2,000-mile border.”  I’m not in favor of the Arizona immigration law, but it sure did get Obama’s attention.

Obama better pay attention to this poll: “Forty-five percent disapprove of the Obama administration’s handling of the spill while 35 percent approve.” And that’s the New York Times survey.

Obama better hope Democratic senators don’t pay attention to the polls: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 41% of U.S. voters now hold a favorable opinion of Kagan but 47% view her unfavorably, up from 43% a week ago and 39% just after President Obama announced her nomination. … With Senate hearings on Kagan’s nomination set to begin June 28, 36% of voters now favor her confirmation, but 39% are opposed. One-out-of-four (25%) are undecided.” For Democrats wanting to show their independence from Obama, why not vote no?

You better keep an eye on Chris Christie: “Governor Christie on Tuesday told a borough teacher to find another job if she did not feel she was compensated enough as he defended his state budget cuts and promoted a plan to cap annual growth in property tax collections. … ‘Your union said that is the greatest assault on public education in the history of the state,’ Christie said. ‘That’s why the union has no credibility, stupid statements like that.’” He keeps that up and they’ll be a “Draft Christie” movement in 2012.

Obama better knock off the self-pity — Americans don’t like whiners: Daniel Halper on Obama’s comment that this is the hardest year and a half of any president: “It shows his self-absorption and utter lack of a sense of history. … Obama’s whining is puerile. One does hope it’s been the toughest year and a half he’s ever had. He is the president, and it’s a job that requires a bit of work. But to treat the previous presidents with so little respect is unbecoming.” And this was the candidate with a “superior temperament.”

The Democrats better lock away Joe Biden and Richard Blumenthal: “Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday took an unexpected dig at Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal for misstating his military service record. … ‘I didn’t serve in Vietnam. I don’t want to make a Blumenthal mistake here,’ he said according to a pool report. ‘Our attorney general from Connecticut, God love him.’” I don’t necessarily see Obama sticking with Biden in 2012, do you?

Gov. Bob McDonnell better get some decent staff. First, he leaves slavery out of a Confederate History Month proclamation, and then he hires Fred Malek without knowing that “in 1971 [he] compiled a list of Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the president’s request, an action that has been the subject of numerous articles and for which Malek has repeatedly apologized” or that Malek “recently paid a $100,000 civil fine related to his firm’s work with Connecticut’s pension fund.” Unforced errors will kill you in baseball and in politics.

Elena Kagan better reveal more about her judicial philosophy or a bunch of senators are going to oppose her nomination. After all, ”senators, interest groups and the media [are trying] to piece together a portrait of the solicitor general’s views from scraps of speeches, scholarly articles and actions as a member of two Democratic administrations. Because Kagan, 50, has never been a judge and has not published a major work since 2001, her record lacks the ‘paper trail’ that other nominees in recent years have had. But it also seems at times contradictory, or at least ambiguous.”

Obama better be willing to send more than 1,200 National Guard troops to secure the border. Not even CBS News thinks it’s enough. “Some law enforcement officials along the border said they worry that Mr. Obama will repeat Bush’s mistake by limiting the troops to support roles, such as conducting surveillance and installing lighting, rather than letting them make arrests and confront smugglers. They also believe the scale of the force — one-fifth of the size of the one sent by Bush — is too small to make a difference along the length of the 2,000-mile border.”  I’m not in favor of the Arizona immigration law, but it sure did get Obama’s attention.

Obama better pay attention to this poll: “Forty-five percent disapprove of the Obama administration’s handling of the spill while 35 percent approve.” And that’s the New York Times survey.

Obama better hope Democratic senators don’t pay attention to the polls: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 41% of U.S. voters now hold a favorable opinion of Kagan but 47% view her unfavorably, up from 43% a week ago and 39% just after President Obama announced her nomination. … With Senate hearings on Kagan’s nomination set to begin June 28, 36% of voters now favor her confirmation, but 39% are opposed. One-out-of-four (25%) are undecided.” For Democrats wanting to show their independence from Obama, why not vote no?

You better keep an eye on Chris Christie: “Governor Christie on Tuesday told a borough teacher to find another job if she did not feel she was compensated enough as he defended his state budget cuts and promoted a plan to cap annual growth in property tax collections. … ‘Your union said that is the greatest assault on public education in the history of the state,’ Christie said. ‘That’s why the union has no credibility, stupid statements like that.’” He keeps that up and they’ll be a “Draft Christie” movement in 2012.

Obama better knock off the self-pity — Americans don’t like whiners: Daniel Halper on Obama’s comment that this is the hardest year and a half of any president: “It shows his self-absorption and utter lack of a sense of history. … Obama’s whining is puerile. One does hope it’s been the toughest year and a half he’s ever had. He is the president, and it’s a job that requires a bit of work. But to treat the previous presidents with so little respect is unbecoming.” And this was the candidate with a “superior temperament.”

The Democrats better lock away Joe Biden and Richard Blumenthal: “Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday took an unexpected dig at Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal for misstating his military service record. … ‘I didn’t serve in Vietnam. I don’t want to make a Blumenthal mistake here,’ he said according to a pool report. ‘Our attorney general from Connecticut, God love him.’” I don’t necessarily see Obama sticking with Biden in 2012, do you?

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What’s in It?

Kim Strassel explains that the horde of amendments that Republicans offered during the reconciliation process helped smoke out exactly what Democrats were for and against:

Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) offered language to bar the government from subsidizing erectile dysfunction drugs for convicted pedophiles and rapists. Democrats voted. … No! Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) proposed exempting wounded soldiers from the new tax on medical devices. Democrats: No way! Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) wanted to exempt critical access rural hospitals from funding cuts. Senate Democrats: Forget it! This was Republicans’ opportunity to lay out every ugly provision and consequence of ObamaCare, and Democrats — because of the process they’d chosen — had to defend it all.

And so it went, into the wee Thursday hours. All Democrats in favor of taxing pacemakers? Aye! All Democrats in favor of keeping those seedy vote buyoffs? Aye! All Democrats in favor of raising taxes on middle-income families? Aye! All Democrats in favor of exempting themselves from elements of ObamaCare? Aye! All Democrats in favor of roasting small children in Aga ovens? (Okay, I made that one up, but you get the point.) Aye!

Democrats were miffed, and none more so than the Democrats on the ballot who can see the campaign ads that are sure to follow:

The record now shows that Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln is on board with higher premiums, that Colorado’s Michael Bennet is good to go with gutting Medicare Advantage, that Nevada’s Harry Reid is just fine with rationing, that New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand is cool with taxes on investment income, that California’s Barbara Boxer is right-o with employer mandates, and that Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter is willing to strip his home state of the right to opt out of the health law.

Democrats insist that the public will be enamored of the bill once they learn what is in it. But the reaction to the amendment flurry suggests otherwise. Democratic leaders were none too pleased to see the component parts of the bill laid bare. Indeed, Democrats seem delighted by the idea of ObamaCare but a lot less thrilled with defending each of its elements. In that regard, the debate – which will now absorb the country and explore the contents of the mammoth deal — may prove distasteful to those who must face their constituents and explain the consequences to employers and ordinary voters. Those leading the “repeal and replace!” charge would do well to highlight the gap between the “historic” happy talk and the grubby details.

Kim Strassel explains that the horde of amendments that Republicans offered during the reconciliation process helped smoke out exactly what Democrats were for and against:

Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) offered language to bar the government from subsidizing erectile dysfunction drugs for convicted pedophiles and rapists. Democrats voted. … No! Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) proposed exempting wounded soldiers from the new tax on medical devices. Democrats: No way! Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) wanted to exempt critical access rural hospitals from funding cuts. Senate Democrats: Forget it! This was Republicans’ opportunity to lay out every ugly provision and consequence of ObamaCare, and Democrats — because of the process they’d chosen — had to defend it all.

And so it went, into the wee Thursday hours. All Democrats in favor of taxing pacemakers? Aye! All Democrats in favor of keeping those seedy vote buyoffs? Aye! All Democrats in favor of raising taxes on middle-income families? Aye! All Democrats in favor of exempting themselves from elements of ObamaCare? Aye! All Democrats in favor of roasting small children in Aga ovens? (Okay, I made that one up, but you get the point.) Aye!

Democrats were miffed, and none more so than the Democrats on the ballot who can see the campaign ads that are sure to follow:

The record now shows that Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln is on board with higher premiums, that Colorado’s Michael Bennet is good to go with gutting Medicare Advantage, that Nevada’s Harry Reid is just fine with rationing, that New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand is cool with taxes on investment income, that California’s Barbara Boxer is right-o with employer mandates, and that Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter is willing to strip his home state of the right to opt out of the health law.

Democrats insist that the public will be enamored of the bill once they learn what is in it. But the reaction to the amendment flurry suggests otherwise. Democratic leaders were none too pleased to see the component parts of the bill laid bare. Indeed, Democrats seem delighted by the idea of ObamaCare but a lot less thrilled with defending each of its elements. In that regard, the debate – which will now absorb the country and explore the contents of the mammoth deal — may prove distasteful to those who must face their constituents and explain the consequences to employers and ordinary voters. Those leading the “repeal and replace!” charge would do well to highlight the gap between the “historic” happy talk and the grubby details.

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The Reconciliation Dodge

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

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Jonathan Chait’s Hokum

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

Jonathan Chait continues his tireless attempt to defend the indefensible: ObamaCare. In his latest iteration, titled “Paul Ryan’s Hokum,” he criticizes Ryan and those who have praised him, including Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, and me.

According to Chait, “Ryan’s argument holds a lot of superficial appeal to people who are looking for reasons to oppose the health care plan but lack a firm grasp of the details. On close examination it falls apart.”

Actually, the arguments that are superficial and misleading, and which fall of their own weight, are Chait’s.

Mr. Chait argues two things. First,

Ryan claims that the [Obama] plan is phony because it ignores the fact that Congress is going to have to increase reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. The problem is, that reimbursement fix is going to happen anyway, regardless of whether reform occurs. So to count that cost as a hidden cost of health care reform is simply incorrect.

Second, Chait insists that “Ryan misleadingly portrayed the health care plan as hiding its costs, by phasing in benefits more slowly than costs.” Chait proceeds to quote himself from an earlier posting:

Ryan objected that the Senate health care bill does not really reduce the deficit, because it raises taxes and reduces spending over ten years, but pays out benefits over just six. If that was true, it would be a sharp rebuttal to Obama’s claim of reducing the deficit. And you could certainly design a bill like that. By spreading out the savings over a long time and delaying the benefits, you’d have a bill that technically saves money over a ten year window, but starts to lose money by year ten, and to bleed more red ink after that.

But it’s not true. The benefits do phase in slowly, but so do the savings. The CBO finds that the Senate bill reduces the deficit in year ten. It would reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars in the next ten years.

Let’s deal with these arguments in order. The so-called “doc fix” — which would restore reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients — is most certainly a hidden cost. It was originally in the House bill but was stripped out in the summer and treated as a separate bill precisely because keeping it in the original health-care legislation would (rightly) balloon the total cost. By stripping the “doc fix” provision out, it allowed ObamaCare to be scored at a much lower figure. The more honest way to proceed would have been to add the cost of “doc fix” to ObamaCare, since the costs will be paid by the federal government. So Ryan is correct; what we’re dealing with is, in fact, a hidden cost. That was the whole purpose behind the Democrats’ strategy.

Second, no one with any knowledge of this situation — not even Jonathan Chait — believes that future Congresses will effect over half a trillion dollars of in cuts to Medicare. Yet the Democrats’ health-care bill relies for its claim of cutting the deficit beyond 2020 on — you guessed it — those huge Medicare cuts. Think of it as a giant “magic asterisk.” Baking fictional cuts into the cake is why the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will save more money in the long term. They are forced to score plans based on the premises they are given, including fictional ones. Ryan’s point is that the cuts won’t happen, so the savings won’t, either.

A final point: “doc fix” is itself a good example of why Medicare cuts on the scale we are talking about will never happen. “Doc fix” refers to a provision of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. It called on cuts in reimbursements to physicians treating Medicare patients. The reality, though, is that those cuts have been rescinded year after year after year. The supposed cost savings haven’t materialized — and neither will massive cuts in Medicare. But defenders of ObamaCare need to pretend they will, in order to argue that their plan will reduce the deficit.

In sum: Ryan is right and Chait wrong. This may be because Chait lacks a firm grasp of the details. But there are other possibilities, too.

If this is the best Chait and his allies can do in defending Obama and criticizing Ryan, the GOP is in better shape than even I imagined.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.’” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ –  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.’” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ –  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What a difference less than a year of one-party liberal rule makes: “Republicans can take a bit of satisfaction from a new survey by Democracy Corps. … The survey found that voters now say, by a three-point margin (45% to 42%), that Republicans would do a better job on the economy than Democrats. That’s a change from the 16-point lead Democrats had in May on the question of managing the economy, and marks the first time since 2002 that Republicans have had a lead on the issue in Democracy Corps polling.”

The Afghans, I think, have reason to worry: “Afghan officials hope President Barack Obama’s address on Afghanistan won’t be weighted too heavily on an exit strategy — even though that’s the message many Americans and Democrats in Congress want to hear. If he talks extensively in his speech Tuesday night about winding down the war, Afghans fear the Taliban will simply bide their time until the Americans abandon the country much as Washington did after the Soviets left 20 years ago.”

The latest on radical jihadism at a taxpayer-supported college: “Siraj Wahhaj, a radical Muslim cleric who authorities in 1995 identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was last week invited to Queens College to speak on the subject ‘How Islam Perfected Thanksgiving.’ Wahhaj testified in 1996 for convicted terror plotter Omar Abdel Rahman, who was charged with attempting to bomb New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the United Nations.” He was invited by the Muslim Student Association, a member of which was reported to have declared after the showing of a radical Muslim film: ‘If I had enough money I would be part of the jihad army, I would kill all the Jews.’ … Another spoke of getting a ‘bomb.’” Read the whole outrageous account.

The CBO’s latest: “Individual insurance premiums would increase by an average of 10 percent or more, according to an analysis of the Senate healthcare bill. The long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) also concluded that subsidies provided by the legislation would make coverage cheaper for those who qualify.” And more expensive for everyone else.

The epidemic of BRIs (Bagel Related Injuries): “In 2008, according to an analysis of fingers cut by knives as reported in the government’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1,979 people appeared in ERs with a BRI. Chicken-related injuries (3,463) led the category, but recorded bagel injuries were otherwise exceeded only by potato, apple and onion injuries. Bagels, in fact, were implicated in more finger cuts than pumpkins (1,195) or cheese (1,236). … (Of course, many BRI victims skip ERs and go to urgent-care offices. Or they stay home and eat breakfast anyway.)”

Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that in objecting to building in Gilo, within Jerusalem, Obama “doesn’t seem to understand that all settlements are not created equal. Palestinian negotiators have fairly consistently recognized that Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb built over the 1967 Green Line, but south, not east, of the city, would remain inside Israel in a final-status peace deal.” What’s worse is Obama’ justifying, or at the very least predicting, Palestinian violence. (“Obama’s statement reads almost as a kind of preemptive rationalization for violent Palestinian protest.”) Is there anyone who thinks the Obami haven’t made the Middle East “peace process” worse?

Not so fast: “Senators may have agreed to have the debate; but the parameters of the debate have not been set. The leaders have to agree on which amendments to consider when. The first two amendments were formally introduced Monday afternoon, but when votes will occur remains unclear.” One of those is an amendment by Sen. John McCain to strip out the Democrats’ draconian Medicare cuts: “Stripping the Medicare cost savings (cuts) would essentially kill the bill and send it back to committee.” Because the bill, you see, depends on hundreds of billions being slashed from Medicare. So don’t expect a vote too soon.

Well, he did say he was leaning against running: “The conservative blogosphere unleashed a torrent of criticism against Mike Huckabee Monday after a man whose sentence he commuted as Arkansas governor was suspected of gunning down four police officers in Washington state over the weekend.”

What a difference less than a year of one-party liberal rule makes: “Republicans can take a bit of satisfaction from a new survey by Democracy Corps. … The survey found that voters now say, by a three-point margin (45% to 42%), that Republicans would do a better job on the economy than Democrats. That’s a change from the 16-point lead Democrats had in May on the question of managing the economy, and marks the first time since 2002 that Republicans have had a lead on the issue in Democracy Corps polling.”

The Afghans, I think, have reason to worry: “Afghan officials hope President Barack Obama’s address on Afghanistan won’t be weighted too heavily on an exit strategy — even though that’s the message many Americans and Democrats in Congress want to hear. If he talks extensively in his speech Tuesday night about winding down the war, Afghans fear the Taliban will simply bide their time until the Americans abandon the country much as Washington did after the Soviets left 20 years ago.”

The latest on radical jihadism at a taxpayer-supported college: “Siraj Wahhaj, a radical Muslim cleric who authorities in 1995 identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was last week invited to Queens College to speak on the subject ‘How Islam Perfected Thanksgiving.’ Wahhaj testified in 1996 for convicted terror plotter Omar Abdel Rahman, who was charged with attempting to bomb New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and the United Nations.” He was invited by the Muslim Student Association, a member of which was reported to have declared after the showing of a radical Muslim film: ‘If I had enough money I would be part of the jihad army, I would kill all the Jews.’ … Another spoke of getting a ‘bomb.’” Read the whole outrageous account.

The CBO’s latest: “Individual insurance premiums would increase by an average of 10 percent or more, according to an analysis of the Senate healthcare bill. The long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) also concluded that subsidies provided by the legislation would make coverage cheaper for those who qualify.” And more expensive for everyone else.

The epidemic of BRIs (Bagel Related Injuries): “In 2008, according to an analysis of fingers cut by knives as reported in the government’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, 1,979 people appeared in ERs with a BRI. Chicken-related injuries (3,463) led the category, but recorded bagel injuries were otherwise exceeded only by potato, apple and onion injuries. Bagels, in fact, were implicated in more finger cuts than pumpkins (1,195) or cheese (1,236). … (Of course, many BRI victims skip ERs and go to urgent-care offices. Or they stay home and eat breakfast anyway.)”

Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that in objecting to building in Gilo, within Jerusalem, Obama “doesn’t seem to understand that all settlements are not created equal. Palestinian negotiators have fairly consistently recognized that Gilo, a Jerusalem suburb built over the 1967 Green Line, but south, not east, of the city, would remain inside Israel in a final-status peace deal.” What’s worse is Obama’ justifying, or at the very least predicting, Palestinian violence. (“Obama’s statement reads almost as a kind of preemptive rationalization for violent Palestinian protest.”) Is there anyone who thinks the Obami haven’t made the Middle East “peace process” worse?

Not so fast: “Senators may have agreed to have the debate; but the parameters of the debate have not been set. The leaders have to agree on which amendments to consider when. The first two amendments were formally introduced Monday afternoon, but when votes will occur remains unclear.” One of those is an amendment by Sen. John McCain to strip out the Democrats’ draconian Medicare cuts: “Stripping the Medicare cost savings (cuts) would essentially kill the bill and send it back to committee.” Because the bill, you see, depends on hundreds of billions being slashed from Medicare. So don’t expect a vote too soon.

Well, he did say he was leaning against running: “The conservative blogosphere unleashed a torrent of criticism against Mike Huckabee Monday after a man whose sentence he commuted as Arkansas governor was suspected of gunning down four police officers in Washington state over the weekend.”

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What Happened to Bending the Cost Curve?

Megan McArdle has a typically thoughtful post on bending the cost curve, or not, through the Democrats’ health-care reforms. She explains:

What passes for delivery reform consists mostly of slashing reimbursement rates to providers, and then putting Medicare Advantage on the same plan. There are two problems with this.  The first is that there’s no reason to believe that providers will find ways to efficiently provide care at the new, lower rates, rather than just stop serving Medicare patients. That was the core point of the recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and though a lot of bloggers developed sudden suspicions about the integrity of government reports, in fact, this pretty much jibes with the warnings that Doug Elmendorf has been issuing, and also, reality. . . The second is that the treatment cuts — and any further cuts recommended by the cost effectiveness commission — can be undone by Congress.

Well what about the tax on so-called Cadillac plans? Maybe that’s going to discourage overspending, but as McArdle points out, it’s also quite possible that it “ends up just being a heavy tax on a random group of people who happen to have expensive health insurance, [and] then it won’t cut health care costs, and also, will probably end up being repealed.”

There’s really nothing in sight that will influence the cost of health care, because the Democrats refuse to address two issues: tort reform (with the ensuing problem of defensive medicine and unneeded procedures) and expanding markets (e.g., interstate sales, changing tax treatment of individually purchased plans).

What we are doing here is spending gobs of money, raising hundreds of billions in taxes, slashing Medicare payments, and empowering government bureaucrats to influence health-care treatment all in the name of expanding coverage. It isn’t remotely what Obama promised, and it’s not what voters seem to want. But we may get it anyway.

Megan McArdle has a typically thoughtful post on bending the cost curve, or not, through the Democrats’ health-care reforms. She explains:

What passes for delivery reform consists mostly of slashing reimbursement rates to providers, and then putting Medicare Advantage on the same plan. There are two problems with this.  The first is that there’s no reason to believe that providers will find ways to efficiently provide care at the new, lower rates, rather than just stop serving Medicare patients. That was the core point of the recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and though a lot of bloggers developed sudden suspicions about the integrity of government reports, in fact, this pretty much jibes with the warnings that Doug Elmendorf has been issuing, and also, reality. . . The second is that the treatment cuts — and any further cuts recommended by the cost effectiveness commission — can be undone by Congress.

Well what about the tax on so-called Cadillac plans? Maybe that’s going to discourage overspending, but as McArdle points out, it’s also quite possible that it “ends up just being a heavy tax on a random group of people who happen to have expensive health insurance, [and] then it won’t cut health care costs, and also, will probably end up being repealed.”

There’s really nothing in sight that will influence the cost of health care, because the Democrats refuse to address two issues: tort reform (with the ensuing problem of defensive medicine and unneeded procedures) and expanding markets (e.g., interstate sales, changing tax treatment of individually purchased plans).

What we are doing here is spending gobs of money, raising hundreds of billions in taxes, slashing Medicare payments, and empowering government bureaucrats to influence health-care treatment all in the name of expanding coverage. It isn’t remotely what Obama promised, and it’s not what voters seem to want. But we may get it anyway.

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Now It Is Clear

Bill Kristol observes that Obama’s tenure is proving even worse than many conservatives had expected. (“His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial.”) He asks what the “loyal opposition” should do:

Oppose Obama’s destructive proposals (health care, cap and trade) and try to defeat them. Expose the foolishness of Obama’s ineffective policies (the stimulus, cash for clunkers) and show the American people their failure. And try to influence Obama’s policy choices by persuasion (Afghanistan), embarrassment (political correctness in the fight against jihadists), or legislation (Guantánamo), so as to minimize the damage done to the country on his watch.

In other words, be the movement of “no.” We had an interesting but highly unproductive argument at the end of the 2008 within conservative ranks. Throw out social conservatives! No, banish squishy liberals! Return to first principles. No, that’ll be the ticket to nowhere — innovate and problem-solve. On it went, based on nothing but the pundits’ own preferences and hunches. It had an air of unreality, for the discussion ignored the context, which, in fairness to those partaking in the debate, had yet to unfold.

Now it has unfolded. We know what Obamaism looks like. On the domestic side, it is liberal statism: higher taxes, mammoth bureaucracies, and a vortex of government regulation that sucks up private enterprise and transforms business decisions into political ones. It comes with an ungracious and sneering contempt for opposition. On the international scene, we have the intersection of incompetence and folly, with a strong element of cynicism. The Obami have deployed aggressive and losing gambits (Honduras and the Middle East), betrayed friends (Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), snubbed allies (the Churchill bust goes home), thrown ourselves at the feet of adversaries (Russia, Iran), jettisoned human rights and the defense of democracy (Burma, Sudan, Iran), projected angst-ridden indecision (Afghanistan-war formulation), damaged our fighting ability (defense cuts and missile-defense withdrawal), and shown deference to debased institutions (the UN). Most alarmingly, Obama and his attorney general have scarred and scared our intelligence community and placed Lefty pie-in-the-sky moralizing above the safety of Americans (trying KSM, closing Guantanamo, and halting enhanced interrogations).

And so what should conservatives be doing? Well now it’s obvious — oppose, obstruct, warn, and cajole. There aren’t many weapons at conservatives’ disposal, but there are some. And the greatest is to be found in the reservoir of common sense and decency of the America people, who, when stirred, have risen up to oppose pernicious legislation and those whom they mistakenly trusted to behave in a responsible fashion. As Kristol points out, three years is a long time, but the congressional elections are approaching and the argument has begun. And now conservatives know precisely what must be done: as best they are able, slow and stop Obamaism until reinforcements arrive and the voters can render their verdict.

Bill Kristol observes that Obama’s tenure is proving even worse than many conservatives had expected. (“His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial.”) He asks what the “loyal opposition” should do:

Oppose Obama’s destructive proposals (health care, cap and trade) and try to defeat them. Expose the foolishness of Obama’s ineffective policies (the stimulus, cash for clunkers) and show the American people their failure. And try to influence Obama’s policy choices by persuasion (Afghanistan), embarrassment (political correctness in the fight against jihadists), or legislation (Guantánamo), so as to minimize the damage done to the country on his watch.

In other words, be the movement of “no.” We had an interesting but highly unproductive argument at the end of the 2008 within conservative ranks. Throw out social conservatives! No, banish squishy liberals! Return to first principles. No, that’ll be the ticket to nowhere — innovate and problem-solve. On it went, based on nothing but the pundits’ own preferences and hunches. It had an air of unreality, for the discussion ignored the context, which, in fairness to those partaking in the debate, had yet to unfold.

Now it has unfolded. We know what Obamaism looks like. On the domestic side, it is liberal statism: higher taxes, mammoth bureaucracies, and a vortex of government regulation that sucks up private enterprise and transforms business decisions into political ones. It comes with an ungracious and sneering contempt for opposition. On the international scene, we have the intersection of incompetence and folly, with a strong element of cynicism. The Obami have deployed aggressive and losing gambits (Honduras and the Middle East), betrayed friends (Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), snubbed allies (the Churchill bust goes home), thrown ourselves at the feet of adversaries (Russia, Iran), jettisoned human rights and the defense of democracy (Burma, Sudan, Iran), projected angst-ridden indecision (Afghanistan-war formulation), damaged our fighting ability (defense cuts and missile-defense withdrawal), and shown deference to debased institutions (the UN). Most alarmingly, Obama and his attorney general have scarred and scared our intelligence community and placed Lefty pie-in-the-sky moralizing above the safety of Americans (trying KSM, closing Guantanamo, and halting enhanced interrogations).

And so what should conservatives be doing? Well now it’s obvious — oppose, obstruct, warn, and cajole. There aren’t many weapons at conservatives’ disposal, but there are some. And the greatest is to be found in the reservoir of common sense and decency of the America people, who, when stirred, have risen up to oppose pernicious legislation and those whom they mistakenly trusted to behave in a responsible fashion. As Kristol points out, three years is a long time, but the congressional elections are approaching and the argument has begun. And now conservatives know precisely what must be done: as best they are able, slow and stop Obamaism until reinforcements arrive and the voters can render their verdict.

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French “Youth” Alert

European Jewish Press reports that on February 22, a Jewish teenager was captured and tortured in France:

Six youths from the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux, aged 17 to 25, are accused of locking up 19-year-old Mathieu Roumi in a storage room on February 22, beating and sexually tormenting him.

Aged 17 to 25, the six youths — who knew the victim — had falsely accused him of stealing from them in order to lure him into a trap, judicial sources said.

Somehow, I don’t think we’re dealing with a bunch of young South of France suburbanites. For starters, these mischievous kids are pretty much men. Second, Bagneux is the same Muslim ghetto in which a gang kidnapped, tortured, and killed 23-year-old French Jew Ilan Halimi in 2006. Here’s more on the February attack:

With a pen, the aggressors scrawled “dirty Jew” and “dirty faggot” on the face of their victim. Later they forced him to swallow down cigarette butts and to suck a condom on a stick. The man’s ordeal reportedly lasted nine and a half hours.

From the Halimi case:

 . . . For three weeks, the “Barbarians” detained and tortured Ilan Halimi. When he was found on February 13, he was naked, handcuffed after being dumped near railway tracks in a Parisian suburb. He suffered from severe burns covering 80 percent of his body. Traces of cigarette burns, iron burns, and various cuts (made by knives and scissors) covered his body. He passed away in an ambulance before reaching the hospital…

In 2006, Ilan Halimi was one of four Jews potentially targeted for the attack. The gang that killed him called his family and read them Koranic verse while he was in captivity. But apparently we shouldn’t necessarily concern ourselves with that or consider the larger implications of French “youth” culture and environs like Bagneux, because the city’s Communist Mayor, Marie-Hélène Amiable,  is quoted as saying “one should not make a confusion between the two cases.” Not only are the cases nearly identical–so is the French government’s dismissive response. So far, the only difference I see is that the recent victim was lucky enough to survive.

European Jewish Press reports that on February 22, a Jewish teenager was captured and tortured in France:

Six youths from the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux, aged 17 to 25, are accused of locking up 19-year-old Mathieu Roumi in a storage room on February 22, beating and sexually tormenting him.

Aged 17 to 25, the six youths — who knew the victim — had falsely accused him of stealing from them in order to lure him into a trap, judicial sources said.

Somehow, I don’t think we’re dealing with a bunch of young South of France suburbanites. For starters, these mischievous kids are pretty much men. Second, Bagneux is the same Muslim ghetto in which a gang kidnapped, tortured, and killed 23-year-old French Jew Ilan Halimi in 2006. Here’s more on the February attack:

With a pen, the aggressors scrawled “dirty Jew” and “dirty faggot” on the face of their victim. Later they forced him to swallow down cigarette butts and to suck a condom on a stick. The man’s ordeal reportedly lasted nine and a half hours.

From the Halimi case:

 . . . For three weeks, the “Barbarians” detained and tortured Ilan Halimi. When he was found on February 13, he was naked, handcuffed after being dumped near railway tracks in a Parisian suburb. He suffered from severe burns covering 80 percent of his body. Traces of cigarette burns, iron burns, and various cuts (made by knives and scissors) covered his body. He passed away in an ambulance before reaching the hospital…

In 2006, Ilan Halimi was one of four Jews potentially targeted for the attack. The gang that killed him called his family and read them Koranic verse while he was in captivity. But apparently we shouldn’t necessarily concern ourselves with that or consider the larger implications of French “youth” culture and environs like Bagneux, because the city’s Communist Mayor, Marie-Hélène Amiable,  is quoted as saying “one should not make a confusion between the two cases.” Not only are the cases nearly identical–so is the French government’s dismissive response. So far, the only difference I see is that the recent victim was lucky enough to survive.

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