Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: April 15, 2010

Obama and Israel

I’ve been watching the news since last week when stories appeared in the press talking about President Obama “imposing” a solution on Israel and Palestine. My first reaction was, “really, how would that work”? Short of invading and occupying Israel (and the Palestinian lands), how does one “impose” a solution? I mean think about it – what’s his leverage? Aid? I think Arab states would take care of making up any aid to the Palestinians, and I don’t think threatening to cut off aid to Israel would do anything but make Israelis even more intransigent:

A huge majority of Israelis would oppose an attempt by US President Barack Obama to impose a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, a poll sponsored by the Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA) organization found this week. Leading American newspapers reported last week that Obama was considering trying to impose a settlement if efforts to begin indirect proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians proved unsuccessful. The option was discussed in a meeting with current and former advisers to the White House. Asked whether they would support Obama imposing a plan dividing Jerusalem and removing the Jordan Valley from Israeli control, 91 percent of Israelis who expressed an opinion said no and 9% said yes, according to the poll of 503 Israelis, which was taken by Ma’agar Mohot on Sunday and Monday and had a 4.5% margin of error.

So how, in a practical sense, would this “imposition” of a solution be achieved? And, without long simmering problems being resolved, would it actually bring peace to the region?The excuse given by the administration, or so says the NY Times, is to be found in a phrase Obama used in a recent speech:

Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure” — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Mr. Obama’s words reverberated through diplomatic circles in large part because they echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States. He has denied reports that he was suggesting that soldiers were being put in harm’s way by American support for Israel.

But the impasse in negotiations “does create an environment,” he said Tuesday in a speech in Washington. “It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.”
But that “overall environment”, at least where Israel is concerned, has existed there since its founding in 1948. It’s not like it is a new environment that is suddenly effecting our soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, an imposed solution, even if Obama could somehow make it stick, isn’t going to solve that problem. Americans were attacked in Saudi Arabia simply for being infidels, not because of Israel. And our removal of them from that land hasn’t changed that perception one whit. So this is pretty thin water to be trying to float a justification for imposing a solution to this long festering problem. Israel is never going to put itself in a position that makes it vulnerable to Arab attack and anyone, given their history since 1948, should understand and appreciate that point.Any solution is going to be complex and require intensive negotiations that satisfy both sides. Elliot Abrams, fisking a David Ignatius column, gives just a tiny indication of the level of complexity this oversimplified and naive talk of “imposition” glosses over:

First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

Given where the relationship is now, and it isn’t good, how would you answer Abrams last question if you were an Israeli? See poll cited above. The trust factor between Israel and the Obama administration is at a dangerously low point. Israel is well aware that the US is its most powerful benefactor and has been its most loyal supporter. But it is also a pragmatic state that understands that in the final analysis its survival is its own responsibility and its alone. Israel is not going to agree to anything that puts its existence in mortal danger just to please an American president – and certainly not this one.

Meanwhile reports are circulating that Syria is arming Hezbollah in Lebanon with SCUD missiles. The reports first surfaced in the Arab media in November. 300 SCUDS were being transferred to Hezbollah – a terrorist faction whose primary mission is the destruction of Israel- and Hezbollah crews were being trained to deploy and fire them. Israel just confirmed the reports. To this point it is believed the missiles haven’t yet been moved out of Syria. But does anyone have any illusions whatsoever that there’s a purpose behind such a transfer except to attack Israel?

Peace, in this case, is a multi-sided process. Not only must the Palestinians and Israelis come to an agreement that both are happy with, but the Arab states in the area must also buy into the process and support any agreement fully. When you have states which still refuse to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist and do what Syria is attempting with the SCUDS, it’s hard to imagine how an “imposed settlement” on Israel and the Palestinians would have any beneficial effect at all or, more importantly, change the “environment in which we operate” in the least.



Waxman cancels CEO hearing, ObamaCare remains unpopular (update)

I guess after he finally read the health care bill he’d voted for, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Never Never Land), chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to grill CEOs whose companies had apparently read it and complied with its provisions:

The cancellation came after they realized what everyone already knew – that the companies were required to do what they did because of accounting rules. Waxman and others had reacted with outrage and accused the companies of doing it – in essence, to make health care reform look bad.

Right.  Companies normally take $1 billion dollar hits against their profits just to “make health care look bad”.   And, of course, it must have been a conspiracy, since so many did it, right Mr. Waxman?

House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a statement which gets to the crux of Waxman’s now cancelled plan:

“Chairman Waxman thought he could intimidate businesses into keeping quiet about this new job-killing health care law, but when they called his bluff by continuing to speak out, he chose to pull the plug.”

Sounds about right.  Meanwhile another poll shows the specific health care legislation recently passed and signed into law, remains deeply unpopular to a majority of Americans:

Fifty-eight percent of Americans (96 percent of Republicans, 10 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Independents) support repealing the health care reform legislation that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March, according to a new national survey conducted April 6 – 10 by researchers from Indiana University’s Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research (CHPPR).

Americans 18 to 34 years of age were most supportive of repealing the legislation with more than 70 percent supporting its repeal.

“This is somewhat surprising given that some of the most vocal opposition to reform in the past came from older Americans while younger individuals seemed less opposed,” said Aaron Carroll, M.D., director of CHPPR.

Despite claims that this sort of opposition would quickly and quietly fade away after passage,  it doesn’t appear that’s the case.  The last demographic quoted in the poll is interesting, because it means that younger people are aware of the impact the legislation will have on them (mandate) and the vast majority don’t support it at all.  These sorts of numbers, and the fact that few of the so-called “benefits” this bill provides don’t start till 2014, make repeal more “doable” than if the benefits had already begun to take hold – a cost of gaming the CBO numbers in an effort to claim this monstrosity decreases the deficit.

GOP – can you say “silver platter?”

UPDATE: Even AP has noticed:

Opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care law jumped after he signed it — a clear indication his victory could become a liability for Democrats in this fall’s elections.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds Americans oppose the health care remake 50 percent to 39 percent. Before a divided Congress finally passed the bill and Obama signed it at a jubilant White House ceremony last month, public opinion was about evenly split. Another 10 percent of Americans say they are neutral.

Disapproval for Obama’s handling of health care also increased from 46 percent in early March before he signed the bill, to 52 percent currently — a level not seen since last summer’s angry town hall meetings.



The teacher’s rotten apple

Another in a long line of reasons I don’t want government running anything that has to do with pensions, health care, railroads, post offices, etc. When it comes to running something properly and to fulfill the purpose for which it is formed, any examples which exist can most likely be counted on one hand. Public teacher’s pensions aren’t one of them:

The crux of the problem is the gap between assets and liabilities affecting the fifty-nine pension funds that cover most public school teachers in America. Some of these are general state-employee pension funds, while others cover only teachers. Among the findings of our study of these funds:
* All fifty-nine pension funds studied face shortfalls.
* California, the most populous state, has the largest unfunded teacher pension liability: almost $100 billion.
* The worst-funded plan in our sample is West Virginia’s, which we estimate to be only 31 percent funded.
* Five plans are 75 percent funded or better: teacher-dedicated plans in the District of Columbia, New York State and Washington State and state employee retirement systems in North Carolina and Tennessee that include teachers.

The general picture is not a good one. According to the fifty-nine funds’ own financial statements:

– Total unfunded liabilities to teachers—i.e., the gap between existing plan assets and the present value of benefits accrued by plan participants—are $332 billion.
According to our more conservative calculations:
* These plans’ unfunded liabilities total about $933 billion.

And for those who would like to blame this all on the beating the stock market took, huh uh:

* Only $116 billion, or less than one quarter, of this $600 billion discrepancy is attributable to the stock market drop precipitated by the 2007 financial crisis.
* The Dow Jones Industrial Average would have to nearly double overnight to make up for the present underfunding of these plans.

Instead it is another example of “what is law for me is not for me” governance:

Under current guidances, which are prepared by separate bodies, state pension funds are able to set aside fewer assets than their counterparts in private companies to cover equal liabilities. Private pension plans may invest in stocks and other higher-risk assets, but those plans may not reduce their pension funding on the basis of the superior performance expected of these types of assets. This is because those higher returns are accompanied by greater risk that returns will fall short of expectations. Yet pension funds’ obligation to retirees present and future does not diminish accordingly.
By contrast, public pension plans are permitted to base the amount of money they need today to meet their future obligations on the higher expected performance of stocks, allowing sponsors to cut their contribution rates and hope the markets perform as anticipated.

And when the markets don’t “perform as anticipated”, you, dear taxpayer, are left holding the empty bag while government, which feels bound to keep its promises, reaches for your wallet. Either that, or teachers don’t get the pensions promised.

So we have Social Security in a deep, deep hole, state pension funds in a deep hole and teacher’s pension funds right there beside them. Add to that the unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Medicaid.

Something’s got to give.