State of the Union

Pelosi Health-Insurance Bill Summarized

Happily, you need not invest the next few weeks of your life reading the 1,990-page House overhaul of the health-insurance — and by implication, the healthcare — industry. A convenient summary has been provided, compliments of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans
and reduce the growth in health care spending, and
for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that the American people shall henceforth be:

Watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. … [A]t every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. … [U]nder pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, … place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored.

All in favor say aye. The rest of you can go to hell.

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The Fruits of Intervention

If we had it to do over, would we send an army into Afghanistan to build a nation?

Would we invade Iraq?

While these two wars have cost 5,200 dead, a trillion dollars and a divided America facing an endless war, what have we won?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal needs 40,000 to 80,000 more troops, or we risk “mission failure” in Afghanistan. At present casualty rates — October was the worst month of the war — thousands more Americans will die before we see any light at the end of this tunnel, if ever we do.

Pakistan, which aided us in Afghanistan, now has a war of its own to fight. Its army is in a battle in South Waziristan, while the country is wracked by terror bombings, the latest in a Peshawar bazaar that specialized in women’s clothing and jewelry and toys for kids. So horrific was the toll even the Taliban and al-Qaida denied any role in it.

The 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are, after almost seven years, to begin pulling out two months after January’s election. But a hitch has developed. Iraq’s parliament missed the deadline for setting the rules. At issue: Will voters be allowed to choose individual candidates, or will they be allowed only to vote for slates of candidates?

Gen. Ray Odierno implies that postponement of the election may mean postponement of U.S. withdrawals.

Ominously, in August, terrorists bombed the foreign and finance ministries in Baghdad, and last week blew up the Justice Ministry and Baghdad Provincial Governorate. And the Kurds are now claiming their control of oil-rich Kirkuk is non-negotiable, which crosses a red line in Baghdad. Read More…

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Timmy’s taxing teaser

Here in the Upper Midwest its Packers-Vikings week so pretty much everyone is gearing up for the big NFL game Sunday in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. Minnesota is 7-1 and Green Bay is 4-2 and Brett Favre is making his first trip back to Green Bay since 2008. You can see how this affects football fans in my neck of the woods, the border area between the two states, with this video.

What’s been interesting about Favre’s season with the Vikings is the political subtext just below the surface. Many sports and political observers (sometimes the two intertwine) believe the Vikings signed Favre because the team its has just one year to get to the Super Bowl and he’s the man to lead them there. They need to get to the Super Bowl not just for their own pride and egos and gratification but also to convince the governor and the state legislature to approve the money to support a new Vikings stadium to replace the Metrodome when the Vikings’ lease on the building runs out in 2011. A Super Bowl run will also make sure that fans in Minnesota will put pressure on state officials to come up with a plan to build a new stadium unless they wish to see the team become the “Los Angeles Vikings” and lay in the new facility being planned for the Left Coast.

But will the state’s fans, and the rest of taxpayers pay for it? Even with a Super Bowl team it’s still an open question. East Coast billionaire real estate magnate Zigy Wilf, who owns the Vikings, said he will only put up a quarter mil on the new facility, which may cost a billion to build in downtown Minneapolis. That leaves $750 million for the state’s taxpayers to fund.  How, pray-tell, will the state of Minnesota find that kind of money? Well certainly not under a mattress. No, they will have to ask the taxpayers for it in some fashion or form (sales taxes, fess, etc).

This puts Governor Tim Pawlenty in a bit of a bind. Unlike his rivals for the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination, he still has his day job. Certainly he doesn’t want the Vikings to leave the state on his watch so he’s on board with building a new facility, but he’s not offering any solutions on how to pay for it. If new taxes are the only way it gets built, will the Club for Growth forgive him because it was all to pay for a new football stadium? Well, if they didn’t let Mike Huckabee off the hook because of a measly food tax, you can imagine what their reaction will be and what the attack ads in Iowa and New Hampshire will look like. Pawlenty knows this as well as anyone, so it is quite the taxing teaser the young Minnesota governor and would-be president faces over the next two years.

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J Street Runs in the Wrong Direction

I was pretty positive about J Street when it launched 18 months ago. And of course, on balance I prefer J Street to the bellicose AIPAC. The former does not advocate that America launch wars (Iraq) that are not in its interest to fight.

But J Street’s premises may be flawed. This “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby exists for two reasons. 1) To give American Jews, most of them progressive, a sane alternative to AIPAC. 2) To convince Americans, and American policymakers that a two-state settlement is both desirable and–contrary to other pro-Israel groups–that it is achievable if only America really tries.

In a country that happens to control the largest, best equipped, and most hubristic military apparatus in the world, J Street finds itself banging on the table, shouting, “Yes, we absolutely agree with AIPAC that it is vital for America to protect Israel’s interests. And yes, we agree that many Arab state actors are monsters.” Then, in an embarrassed whisper, it adds “We think there are diplomatic solutions that America should begin imposing.” Finally, it concedes in footnotes to be released later, that “No, we don’t think America should really threaten to withhold its money or technology from Israel to accomplish any of this.”

I’m sorry. This won’t work.

The fix for Washington’s obsession with protecting Israel is not a series of panel discussions on what is really in Israel’s best interest. Instead, our political class should focus on what is in America’s best interest.

J Street’s problem is its internationalism.  In J Street’s view, America is supposed to throw its weight around the region toward a two-state solution. Its supposed to stand up to the Israeli right. Once America initiates this process, guides it, subsidizes it, and perhaps defends it – then America will reap some rewards. In other words, J Street absolves Israel and Israelis from responsibility for their own peace process.

My own view is that radical Palestinians may be just as aggrieved at an American-imposed peace process, as by an American-enabled Israeli occupation. If by some miracle the dust ever settles in the Middle East, it would be better for us if our fingerprints were not discovered there.

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More J Street

I agree with some of the points  Phil Giraldi makes  here,  (and have been receiving some mail today on the question of  what are the American interests in the whole deal).   But I think J Street is a  big and dynamic enough phenomenon that it could well burst whatever  boundaries its most conservative backers hope to keep it in.  I’ve posted something on mondoweiss that gives another reason why I think it’s very good for all of us.  Shorter version: since much of American establishment  culture is Judeo-Christian, J Street’s effort to excise the hypocritical from the Jewish social justice narrative is something that ought to benefit all Americans.

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Obama: More ‘Analysis’ of Afghanistan Required

This curious nugget from today’s Washington Post:

President Obama has asked senior officials for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle.

Obama made the request in a meeting Monday with Vice President Biden and a small group of senior advisers helping him decide whether to expand the war. The detail he is now seeking also reflects the administration’s turn toward Afghanistan’s provincial governors, tribal leaders and local militias as potentially more effective partners in the effort than a historically weak central government that is confronting questions of legitimacy after the flawed Aug. 20 presidential election.

Let’s put aside, for now, the discussion of the merits of what would be a dramatic shift away from McChrystal’s vaunted COIN recipe. The question here is obvious — shouldn’t there have been a sufficient “province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan”  included in McChrystal’s long awaited strategy “assessment”? Better yet, shouldn’t this have been part of a National Intelligence Estimate? Is there one for Afghanistan to speak of? The last time there was mention of such a report, it was 2008, and its “grim” findings left unclassified and seemingly forgotten.

To be sure, Obama has had a entire think tank (the Center for a New American Security) at his disposal — why wasn’t this information on the provinces and its local leadership and political conditions filtering through before? Ah, because every impulse of that think tank is to support and promote what Jeff Huber is now calling Stan McChrystal’s Flying Circus. Perversely, Obama actually assisted in creating this counterproductive divide between the White House and military by populating the Department of Defense and Foggy Bottom with the founders of CNAS, which seems only to exist to push this hybrid counter-insurgency/nation building kool-aid cocktail, patented by Gen. Petraeus in Iraq. And we see how well that’s going.

Then there is this second take-away quote from this morning’s WaPo piece:

“There are a lot of questions about why McChrystal has identified the areas that he has identified as needing more forces,” said a senior military official familiar with the review, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations candidly. “Some see it as an attempt by the White House to do due diligence on the commander’s troop request. A less charitable view is that it is a 5,000-mile screwdriver tinkering from Washington.”

Get those violins out. You mean, Obama isn’t ready to accept an assessment by a guy who obviously stacked his crack study group with people who thought exactly the way he did? One should be surprised that CNAS COIN-pusher Andrew Exum and neoconservatives Fred and Kimberly Kagan did not come up with anything but Surge II from their 60-day “staff ride” with the general?

Shame on Obama for putting up with this square ball jazz in the first place. Now, while he has to commission another report to make up for the gaps in the first one, coalition soldiers are being picked off and the Afghan people are no closer to peace than they were when Obama walked into the Oval Office.


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Meet me on J Street

I’ve spent the last two days at the first  J Street Conference, an exciting and historic event.  For those who don’t know, J Street is the new “pro_Israel, pro-peace” lobby formed by a younger group of American Jews, supportive of a two state solution, and willing to grapple with the idea that Israel has done a serious wrong to the Palestinians.  As I’ve long believed that America’s knee jerk support of the Israeli occupation is a big reason for this country’s terrible reputation in the Muslim world, I am enthusiastic about the group—which is generally much more calm and lucid about the supposed threats emanating from the Muslim world than the more established and more powerful AIPAC related lobbies.

There’s much to post about J Street and I hope to  get to some of it here and elsewhere.  But there is one element that might be especially interesting to fans of Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West.   J Street and other Israeli two state solution advocates often couch their arguments not in terms of justice, or fairness, or even peace, but in terms of the demographic threat to Israel.  As of now, about half the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are Muslim or Christian Arabs, so Israel can maintain control only by denying the Arabs the right to vote or elementary political rights.  (The Arabs who live within the green line, west of Israel’s 1967 borders,  do enjoy  basic  political and civil rights).  So one J Street argument is to play on Israel’s great fear that Arabs will being lobbying in earnest for a one state solution and a right to vote.  Liberal Israeli politicians refer to it fearfully as the “Nelson Mandela scenario” – as in what will happen in ten years time if a Palestinian comes to Washington and says we want nothing more than the right to vote.  What will Washington say?

I  don’t believe that such co-mingling and one state could work in the near term – and that for at least a generation or two and perhaps indefinitely  the Palestinians should have their own state, with time to  gradually learn to get along with and actually benefit from Israel’s presence. This is the goal of Obama’s policy. But the element of demographic fear is  ironic to contemplate—especially in a liberal and  progressive audicence that would be mortified to hear Jared Taylor make  directly parallel assertions about the fearful day when whites will become a minority in North America.  (Pretty soon, I think.)  For the record, I think America will survive quite decently without a white majority, though this isn’t the course I would necessarily have chosen. And I’m not sure Israel would survive a one-man one-vote situation sharing a land with a people they’ve oppressed for sixty years. And of course there are liberal Israelis, (the brilliant Bernard Avishai for one) who find this demographic threat talk  offensive.  But it is becoming mainstream, so that a liberal Israeli argument has some surprising similarities to a racialist American one.

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Chic Lit

The literary journal is dead, long live the literary journal. Here’s a fairly hearty plug in the New York Times today for something called Electric Literature, a desperately trendy new journal aimed at hipster intellos. It is marketed solely for the e-readers — Kindle owners and so on — and endeavors to pay authors handsomely ($1000 a piece) with the money saved on printing costs.

“We have an optimistic message at a time of pessimism,” Mr. Hunter [one the founding editors] said. “As writers, we got tired of the doom and gloom. The future is not something you acquiesce to, it’s something you create.”

One thing Electric Literature seems good at is getting people to read serious literature, making it less like homework. As Sara Nelson, the books director of O, the Oprah Magazine, and former editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, said, “Anything that takes the starch out — go for it.”

It all looks a mite too “creative” for my tastes, but best of luck to them. If, however, you want to read some high-quality literary journalism of old school — maybe starchy, but not like homework — then I can think of nothing better than TAC’s new books issue. (Helen Rittelmeyer, in fact, has a excellent piece inside about coming to terms with Kindle.)

Why not subscribe now to enjoy full print and on-line access to TAC and its books section every month? You won’t regret it.

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What the CIA Should Be Doing

The NYT’s story about how the CIA has had Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali on the payroll for much of the past eight years is intended to shock because Ahmed Wali has frequently been linked to drug trafficking.  Well, he is also linked to his brother, which is why he is important.  As the intentions and maneuverings of Afghanistan’s ruling kleptocracy more-or-less headed by Hamid must be a major concern for Washington, I would expect the CIA to make every effort to have an informant within the inner circle.   Indeed, given the level of corruption within the Afghan government, I would be shocked if they hadn’t been able to pick up a top level source.  I would also assume that every room in the presidential palace is wired for sound and even video to keep tabs on those rascals.  Let’s face it, Afghanistan is not a nice place and we shouldn’t be there at all but as long as the US has 60,000 troops in country the CIA should be making every effort to learn what is actually going on, if only to protect our soldiers and diplomats.

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Politicians Aren’t Popular

Barack Obama’s disapproval rating has been notching upward during the summer and fall, to the point where about 44 percent of Americans polled now have an unfavorable opinion of his performance. Republicans have rejoiced, but there’s bad news for them, too — the GOP’s favorability rating is now a 25-year-low 36 percent, according to CNN/Opinion Research. How would Americans vote if there were a “none of the above” option on their ballots?

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