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Daily Archives: March 17, 2010

Scathing denunciation of Obama Israeli policy … in The New Republic

Written by Yosi Klein Halevi, it explores a theme I contended a few days ago – that the recent confrontation was premeditated.  He also briefly points out that another Israeli reporter is wondering the same thing I did:

The administration, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Yedito Aharonot, is making an even more insidious accusation against Israel. During his visit, wrote Yediot Aharanot, Biden told Israeli leaders that their policies are endangering American lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report has been denied in the White House. Whether or not the remark was made, what is clear today in Jerusalem is that Obama’s recklessness is endangering Israeli–and Palestinian–lives.

The last line is indicative of the entire tone of the essay. Halevi is merciless in his denunciation of the Obama administration’s handling of the recent confrontation.  “Recklessness” is not a term a contributing editor at TNR is likely to throw around lightly – especially when applying it to a Democratic president.

Astonishingly, Obama is repeating the key tactical mistake of his failed efforts to restart Middle East peace talks over the last year. Though Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze to help restart negotiations was legitimate, he went a step too far by including building in East Jerusalem. Every Israeli government over the last four decades has built in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; no government, let alone one headed by the Likud, could possibly agree to a freeze there. Obama made resumption of negotiations hostage to a demand that could not be met. The result was that Palestinian leaders were forced to adjust their demands accordingly.

Obama is directly responsible for one of the most absurd turns in the history of Middle East negotiations. Though Palestinian leaders negotiated with Israeli governments that built extensively in the West Bank, they now refused to sit down with the first Israeli government to actually agree to a suspension of building. Obama’s demand for a building freeze in Jerusalem led to a freeze in negotiations.

Finally, after intensive efforts, the administration produced the pathetic achievement of “proximity talks”—setting Palestinian-Israeli negotiations back a generation, to the time when Palestinian leaders refused to sit at the same table with Israelis.

Ignorance? Amateurism? Halevi thinks it’s probably the latter – sort of:

That Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur. But he has now taken his failed policy and intensified it. By demanding that Israel stop building in Ramat Shlomo and elsewhere in East Jerusalem—and placing that demand at the center of American-Israeli relations—he’s ensured that the Palestinians won’t show up even to proximity talks. This is no longer amateurishness; it is pique disguised as policy.

While I agree with the assessment that it was “pique disguised as policy”, but I think it was as much ignorance and amateurism. Perhaps your remember Honduras. Halevi lays out the history explaining why the demands of the Obama administration are clueless and have actually set the peace process on it’s rear.

But Halevi isn’t done with the Obama administration – he has more:

In turning an incident into a crisis, Obama has convinced many Israelis that he was merely seeking a pretext to pick a fight with Israel. Netanyahu was inadvertently shabby; Obama, deliberately so.
According to a banner headline in the newspaper Ma’ariv, senior Likud officials believe that Obama’s goal is to topple the Netanyahu government, by encouraging those in the Labor Party who want to quit the coalition.

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu. (Another 17 percent blame Shas leader Eli Yishai.)

The “popular assumption” goes directly to what I said a couple of days ago. Despite White House denials, most of Israel is convinced this was a pathetic attempt at muscle flexing. Instead, it probably impressed no one and has instead alienated the Israeli pubic – a citizenry which is, in the majority, for a two-state solution.

Brilliant.  Now the talks are back to square one after Rahm Emanuel bragged that the two-state solution would be realized in Obama’s first term (it better be since hopefully that’s all he’ll get).

As it turns out, this has become a fiasco. Instead of a cool head prevailing and calming the waters, the situation was inflamed and escalated.  Now the Palestinians have used it as a reason to desert the process and the administration is stuck demanding Israel do something it has always refused to even talk about.  It’s interesting that a denunciation of these idiotic demands by the administration isn’t just coming from the right, but from leftist publications such as The New Republic.

Even they could no longer ignore the amateur in the White House.



Happy St. Patrick’s Day

While my patronymic is McQuain (totally Scottish), I am a true Scotch/Irish descendant (and, of course, quite proud of being a true redneck as defined as “Appalachian Scotch/Irish”).  My mother’s maiden name was Mackey – about as Irish as one can get.    So, with my ties to the auld sod established I wish everyone a happy St. Patty’s day (especially you, Pogue). 

Of course none of that really matters today, since this is the one day of the year that everyone is Irish.

I’ll be having a Guiness, or two, later in the day to celebrate everyone’s elevation for the day.




Ezra Klein – Medicare was unpopular too but look at it now!

Ezra Klein says he’s been looking for polling data concerning Medicare prior to its passage to determine how popular it was at the time.  If it wasn’t particularly popular, his obvious intent is to use that to make the argument that Democrats have a good chance of surviving a vote on this monstrosity by saying “but people love Medicare now”.

He finds that Greg Sargent has beaten him too the punch:

In a last-minute effort to stiffen Dem spines, senior Dem leadership aides are circulating among House Dems some polling numbers from the 1960s that underscore how controversial Medicare was in the months leading up to its historic passage.

Dem leadership staff is highlighting a series of numbers from 1962 on President John F. Kennedy’s proposal. In July of that year, a Gallup poll found 28% in favor, 24% viewing it unfavorably, and a sizable 33% with no opinion on it — showing an evenly divided public.

A month later, after JFK’s proposal went down, an Opinion Research Corporation poll found 44 percent said it should have been passed, while 37% supported its defeat — also showing an evenly divided public.

Also in that poll, a majority, 54%, said it was a serious problem that “government medical insurance for the aged would be a big step toward socialized medicine.”

After Lyndon Johnson was elected, a Harris poll found only a minority, 46%, supported a Federal plan to extend health care to the aged. Today, of course, Medicare is overwhelmingly popular.

That brings me to the most important question: is Medicare “overwhelmingly popular” or is Medicare “popular” because it is what seniors are stuck with? There’s a big difference there. Is Medicare what seniors would have if they had a choice? Of course there’s no way to determine that, but the popularity (and, as many claim, the necessity) of “Medigap” insurance to cover the obvious holes in coverage speak to a clientel which may be less enamored with the mandatory system than we think.

Much has been made of seniors concerned about losing their coverage – government coverage, for heaven sake!  Supporters of the travesty now in Congress claim that senior’s fear of losing their coverage is driven by their satisfaction with it. Logically that’s a leap. When you have no choice in the matter and what you have is being threatened, you’re likely to want to at least keep that. That doesn’t necessarily mean you love it or you’re satisfied with it or you’d wish it on anyone else.  At most, it just means it beats the unknown.



Cognative dissonance: If the private sector can’t afford it, how can the public sector?

E21 points out the innate ignorance, or if you prefer, cognative dissonance, in the belief that government is the answer when private sector outlays get smaller in the areas of health care and pensions.  Their example is a recent column by EJ Dionne:

In a recent essay in the Washington Post, EJ Dionne argued that we had no choice but to accept that government would grow larger in the future “because the private economy will not offer the same security it once did through employer-provided health and pension plans.” It’s a viewpoint that is often repeated by others on the left of the political spectrum, who complain about corporations curtailing the benefits on which households had come to rely. Without businesses financing health care and retirement, Dionne believes the choice is between a larger government to fill that role or widespread illness and poverty.

The interesting aspect of this theory – which is hardly unique to Dionne – is the view that the government is some entirely disconnected entity that is able to finance obligations too weighty for households. If one assumes that government’s budget capacity comes entirely from the taxes it imposes on households – Dionne’s framework is unintelligible. If outlays are too great for the household sector to bear, how could these outlays be any more affordable for an entity entirely financed by the same households? The cash flow out to support households’ pension and health care expenditures has to be matched with an equal and opposite cash flow in from household taxes (including corporate taxes, which reduce the cash flow of households that are shareholders, employees, and consumers).

Where does this belief come from that government has the means to finance what the private sector can’t and that it must step up and do so when it comes to health and financial security? 

Government revenue, as I noted once before, is about 14% of the national income.  Government spending is about 25% (and rising).  How is government the answer then?  And if it were to raise taxes the commensurate 11% to equal spending, wouldn’t it be impoverishing the very households it plans on helping?  All the money we’re talking about government spending comes from the same place.  The other alternative involving government is massive borrowing which, at some point, has to be repaid.  By whom?  Well the same entity borrowing the money.  And from where does that entity’s money come?  The same place it always does – from the taxes it collects from its citizens.

Let’s get specific:

The idea of government as an entity entirely separate from the households that fund it is not only silly, but also exceedingly harmful, because it distracts from the serious business of confronting trade-offs and establishing realistic expectations. President Obama’s health care reform initiative depends, in part, on this fallacy. It expects people to believe that the interposition of government will allow for the same quality of care to be provided to a much expanded universe of beneficiaries at lower average cost for households. The problem is that households will end up paying for health care irrespective of the intermediary; the only way the government could reduce costs is if it does a better job rationing households’ access to care than private insurers and their anemic profit margins (The Obama Administration actually takes this fallacy a step further by claiming that it would “shrink the deficit by providing the world’s most expensive health care to 31 million additional people”).

What you’re seeing in the public opposition to this monstrosity of a health care bill is a realization and rejection of the counter-intuitive claims made by politicians (and not just the Obama administration) that there is such a thing as a free lunch.  The public recognizes the fallacy being presented as fact and is rejecting it outright.  That’s because unlike EJ Dionne and his ilk, they recognize a basic truth:

If something is too expensive for American households, it is too expensive for the government whose budget is financed by those same households.

It’s not rocket science.  However it is “smoke and mirrors” the way the administration is presenting it, and the public recognizes it as such.  The relatively simple concept above contained in that single sentence is reality.  The public lives in that world.  It’s time the politicians joined us.



Health care reform: Apparently the CBO isn’t cooperating

If Democrats want to have a vote on the bill this week, after a promised 72 hours availability on-line before the final vote, they have until tomorrow afternoon if they plan on voting Saturday. But Congressional Quarterly is reporting:

House Democratic leaders are still struggling to produce a final health care overhaul bill at an acceptable official cost estimate, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday they continue to plan a final vote this week. House leaders were to huddle late Tuesday afternoon, following a noon session of the full Democratic Caucus. There were reports they are having trouble drafting a bill that meets their budgetary targets….

Rank-and-file Democrats did not talk about the details, but said that the CBO scores had come up short. “They were less than expected” in terms of deficit reduction, said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who plans to vote for the bill.

In reality it isn’t the Congressional Budget Office that is coming up short, but the cost of the bill they’re proposing as a fix. As the American Spectator reports:

There are several things that Democrats are up against when it comes to the CBO score. The most important is that, based on reconciliation instructions, the “fix” bill must be shown to reduce the deficit by at least $1 billion. The challenge is, that’s after assuming that the Senate bill is law. In other words, the reconciliation bill can’t claim any of the deficit reduction from the Senate bill, but rather it must reduce the deficit relative to the Senate bill. Yet the changes that are being talked about will cost a lot of money. This includes eliminating the “Cornhusker kickback” and offering enhanced Medicaid subsidies to all states, increasing subsidies for the purchase of insurance, eliminating the so-called “donut hole” on Medicare prescription drug benefits, and whatever else they put in the bill. At the same time, delaying until 2018 the enactment of the “Cadillac tax” would be scored as a reduction in revenue, and thus add further to the deficit. They’d have to make up the gap through tax increases as well as try to siphon “savings” away from the student loan bill.

Yes, the rumors about the inclusion of a full takeover of the student loan program by government appear to be true and it has been included in health care reform. Look, if they’re going to trash the Constitution and the legislative process this badly, they may as well go all-in. Their problem is going all-in has apparently cost them much more than they thought it would and thus they still don’t have an acceptable bill.

Most likely they’re going to tinker with this until they get what they want in a score. Again keep in mind that this is reform which collects taxes for 10 years but only spends for 6 (benefits in full don’t kick in until 2014) thereby giving the appearance of bending the cost curve down within the 10 year window the CBO is statutorily limited to look at (and shooting the cost curve up after that). I have every confidence that House Democrats can come up with the same sorts of accounting tricks and nonsense that are in the original bill to get the score they want from CBO. But can they do it this week?

Everyday this is delayed means House Democrats are one day closer to the mid-terms and more and more Democrats are saying “no” to the original bill.