Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who Is Responsible for al-Qaeda's Attack?

The recent attempted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound flight has served as ample fodder for attacks on the Obama administration and the TSA. While there are grounds for criticism, the knee-jerk reaction to begin the blame-game, alongside the TSA’s predictable reactionary response, needs to be evaluated in a more rational light.

Without going too far out on a limb, the administration does need some defending. Critics on the right, and even the left, have been lambasting the administration’s snafu. Bloggers, such as Karl DeVries at The Bootleg Press, have (tentatively) called for Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s sacking. Other critics  have demanded explanations for why the terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not on the no-fly list.

The problem is that in American political culture, the impetuous urge to find a scapegoat ubiquitously overrides true insight into a potential (or actual) disaster. When dealing with issues like security, particularly when threats come from disparate sources, there is always some probability that the ‘bad’ event will occur. No matter how secure a system is, it will never be foolproof.  If a system is 99.99% perfect it means that 1 in 10,000 times the law of averages dictates that the bad guy will get through.  This is especially true when having to weigh tradeoffs between security and issues such as efficiency and personal liberty. An extremely cumbersome yet vastly more secure process could be designed (Maybe have everyone disrobe, wear TSA issued jumpsuits, and be forbidden to have any personal effects on planes); however, the costs in terms of money, time, and personal freedoms would most likely outweigh the added security.  For instance, it is absurd to demand that a single phone call from an individual’s father should warrant inclusion on a no-fly list. Such a precedent would overburden the system with meaningless names added to the list. [And, it might prompt fathers of rebellious teenagers across the globe to literally ‘ground’ their children.]  Furthermore, such an inane system would still fail to be foolproof as some committed terrorist would inevitably find a way to beat it.

Likewise, the TSA has clamped down on security in the most arbitrary and ineffectual way.  For instance pilots are now allowed (and have) to prevent passengers from keeping anything in their laps during the last hour of flight.  It is not clear how keeping a Grandma from the Midwest from reading her copy of Going Rogue during the last hour of flight, is going to stop the next Abdulmutallab from blowing up a plane one and half hours before arrival.

The problem is not the current system, per se.  Potential terrorists will inevitably find new and ingenious ways to breach our systems in the never ending game of cat and mouse. We should continue to monitor their methods and tactics and respond by altering our strategies.  However, the unavoidable infiltration does not necessarily mean the system has failed.  What it means is that the laws of probability have finally caught up to us.  Instead of rashly throwing the baby out with the bathwater, mistakes like this need to be studied, understood, and used to incrementally alter the system. The costs of proposed changes need to be carefully understood and weighed against the perceived benefits.

More importantly, we have to dampen our urge to see heads roll. The fact is that the TSA is our defensive force. They will never be the ones to win this war for America. Their successes will be largely unheralded, while their failures painfully public. If every time a mishap occurs we reflexively burden ourselves with arbitrary restrictions and decapitate our leadership, we only raise the costs to the American people without actually addressing the source of the problem.

The real war is in the offense; America needs to stop these young, disillusioned men from becoming Allah’s warriors. The failed foreign policy that has yet to reap the grandiloquently stated rewards is where the Obama administration deserves its criticism.  Regardless of who is on duty – whether Napolitano or her successor, Obama or the Republican President that follows him – no American airline will be one-hundred percent safe when there are still young Muslim’s willing to take their own lives to satiate their hatred of the West. The culture of scapegoating is futile. Let’s focus on the real problems.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Where is Voltaire: Leave Lieberman Alone

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) could not be less popular amongst the Democrats. For obstinately refusing to buy into an irredeemable Democratic healthcare package, Sen. Lieberman has been lambasted by both Democratic leaders and their sycophantic leftist foot soldiers. Lieberman expresses real, genuine concern with the current proposals – specifically the public option and an expansion of Medicare. His refusal to blindly jump on board the faltering plan has earned him much reprobation from his own (former) party.

The attacks, although nothing new, have been, at times, quite vitriolic. A quick survey of the blogosphere yields a steady stream of angry tirades against the Senator. However, this juvenile behavior reaches all the way to the halls of Congress. Recently, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called for Lieberman’s recall. The inanity of her remarks is palpable.  She most certainly knows that there is no way to recall a Senator.  Instead her ridiculous rant displays a deep-seated group-think mentality. Democrats have called for stripping Lieberman of his chairmanships and other punitive measures. For the current Democratic majority, any dissent is castigated and punishable by banishment [And no, I do not think the Democrats are unique in this anti-intellectualism].

The attacks have not been limited to Lieberman, but also have been directed at his wife, Hadassah.  Liberal bloggers have assailed Mrs. Lieberman, demanding action be taken against her involvement in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity. This is a disgusting display of political abuse. Why has it become acceptable in America to molest a leader and his family, because of his political differences? Where is Voltaire when he is needed?

Democrats are understandably upset with Lieberman. They need his vote to pass the socialized healthcare package that many on the far Left are salivating over. His refusal has all but eliminated the possibility of such a bill passing. Their quest to force a bill through at all costs has driven many of this bill’s supporters to trample the very democratic principles that supposedly underpin our political system.

Lieberman should be commended; certainly by those on the right who oppose this plan, but more importantly by those on the left who value politicians who think for themselves and vote, not on party lines, but for what they believe is right. Contrary to what many on the Left claim, Lieberman acknowledges that healthcare needs reform; however, he will not be browbeaten into supporting a plan that will do more harm than good, just to appease the political establishment. Once again, Lieberman has shown that he is not, as so many politicians are, a mindless fool, but an upstanding politician who is a true leader.  Lieberman stated:
But like each of them, I had to do what I thought was right… I didn’t run for reelection — and no one here did — asking the voters of my state to vote for me because I would always do what a majority of members of the caucus did, even if I thought some of those things were wrong. None of us would pledge that to our constituents.
It is sad that the best and brightest are often disparaged for refusing to toe the line. In a nation where anti-intellectual populists run rampant, leaders such as Lieberman are a true breath of fresh air. It takes real fortitude to continuously stand against one’s party (or caucus) for what one believes in. Many politicians seemingly cannot handle such dissent, and revert to childish attacks rather than logic and reason. What a sad state of affairs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Right Medicine for Healthcare - Part IV: Get 'Em the Money

A final necessary step in healthcare reform is to devise and enable new forms of healthcare financing. Health insurance is not a health-related but a financial issue. Generally speaking, the quality of healthcare in America is quite good. Although there are certainly instances where it could be more efficiently provided, few Americans question the available technological level of American health services or the requisite knowledge and skill of American doctors.

Under the American model, personal financial decisions are left to the individual (or family) to manage. While some base level social-safety nets are provided by the government, the majority of an individual’s financial decisions are left to one’s own planning. Individuals are responsible for saving and spending within their means, as well as preparing for their futures.

Insurance is one model that allows people to remove the financial risk of large, unforeseen circumstances. This is why millions of Americans purchase a wide range of insurance products – from auto, to natural disaster, to life. All of these are financial decisions based on an individual’s relative probability of some event happening, the perceived cost, and ability to pay. In any rational model, insurance should only be purchased if the math indicates that it is financially cheaper.

Health insurance should be no different. It should be one tool, out of many, that Americans can choose to rely upon if financially sensible. A number of new, financial tools should be developed to facilitate an individual’s access to affordable healthcare. All of these can and should be established in the private markets.

One of the current problems with health care provision is nonpaying emergency room patrons. This has sparked calls for a legislative individual mandate, where all Americans are required to purchase healthcare. The mandate, while undoubtedly unconstitutional, is a gross misappropriation of government power. Not only does it invade on the fundamental liberties of American citizens, but it drastically distorts the market. It forces individuals to make unwise financial decisions.

Without a mandate, proponents argue that hospitals have to unjustly bear the cost of these freeloading individuals. Ultimately, these costs get passed on to consumers via higher hospital bills and insurance premiums. This is undeniably a correct assessment of the current system; however, the mandate does little to allocate the costs of health to the appropriate recipient.

This is precisely where new financial instruments can alleviate some healthcare cost issues. Arguably, every individual (except for maybe the most indigent) should be responsible for paying for their own healthcare. This is particularly true for those who, under the current system, can afford health insurance but for personal reasons decide not to purchase any. If some do not buy private health insurance, due to poverty or personal decision, the burden of their health care should not fall on those who made the financially astute decision to invest in insurance.

However, under the current system there are few, if any, methods for those who gambled and lost to pay for expensive procedures. Providing new methods would not only benefit willing financiers (and the economy) but those who decide to opt out of the health insurance path.

First of all, private hospitals need to have greater say in how their emergency rooms treat patients. Within limits, private hospitals should be able to refuse care to individuals who cannot pay. [For instance, I don’t necessarily think hospitals should be able to refuse care if such refusal would lead to imminent death.] Hospitals should have the ability to decide whether they will open their doors to everyone and eat the costs or refuse care to the non-paying. From the hospital’s perspective there would be a tradeoff between cost savings and image. Like many environmentalists who pay a premium to ‘save the environment’, some individuals may feel comfortable paying higher prices to use the services of hospitals that cater to the common good.

Much of this tradeoff, however, could be erased with new financial mechanisms. Hospitals, for instance, should be encouraged to accept credit cards in lieu of health insurance [imagine the frequent flier miles!]. Likewise, hospitals could establish on-site financing departments that provide emergency care funding. Such funding could come in the forms of loans – like mortgage loans – that allow individuals to pay their hospital bills with interest over time.

This would enable individuals to take personal responsibility for their health care and prevent freeloaders from weighing down the rest of the system. It would allow individuals to design financially responsible systems for providing for their own health care. People would be able to choose what the most sensible way of covering potential expenditures, given their health and ability to pay. For instance, young, healthy individuals who want to save or invest extra disposable income could purchase minimalist health insurance policies given the low probability of needing coverage. They would be able to supplement this risky decision with on-site funding in the rare case of disaster.

Naturally, such credit related solutions could have significant impacts on individual’s debt situations. Bankruptcy laws would need to be reworked in order to make financing opportunities appealable to lenders. Alternatively, payment systems can be designed that move away from the fee-for-service model. For instance, rather than purchasing health insurance individuals could buy access to unlimited care at specific full-service facilities. Monthly membership dues – like a gym membership – would give individuals access to healthcare whether they use every specialist or just an internist.

While such proposals will not be a complete panacea, they will help to alleviate some of the issues. More importantly they may encourage people to be more proactive in planning and managing their health and finances. Ultimately, the goal is for each American to be able to pay for and afford healthcare, not necessarily health insurance.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Right Medicine For Healthcare - Part III: Lower the Costs

The second needed step to reform healthcare is to directly assault certain aspects of the current system that cause excessively high costs. In particular, tort reform, medical record digitization, and realigned incentives are stepping stones that will help alter the healthcare landscape.

Tort reform is one of the most widely discussed and easily implemented solutions. The current legal system leaves doctors overly exposed to frivolous lawsuits and often gargantuan penalties. Many of these litigations go after doctors who made innocent mistakes or procedures where bad results were simply the result of probability. After all, medicine is innately subject to human error. While doctors should certainly be held accountable for gross negligence or irresponsibility, America’s overly litigious society has gone too far with malpractice suits. Lawyers looking for a quick settlement and some spare pocket change are aided by a compliant system in squeezing money out of generally well-meaning doctors.

This has indubitably led to an increase in defensive medicine and higher malpractice insurance costs. Defensive medicine – when doctors perform or require unnecessary procedures in order to protect themselves from litigation – is both expensive and potentially harmful to patients. Likewise, malpractice insurance is extremely burdensome to doctors. Together, these cause patients, both directly and indirectly, to have increased medical expenditures.

Tort reform is a relatively easy fix. According to The Washington Post, such reform would save anywhere from $100 to $200 billion. Litigation can be made more difficult, laws can be more narrowly defined to prevent abuse, and losers could be forced to pay opposing attorney fees. Penalties can also be applied to litigants who bring frivolous lawsuits. By restricting litigation to the truly deserving instances, doctors would be freer to practice safe and cost effective medicine (and even try high-risk procedures that might help some patients).

The second aspect to tackle is the digitization of records. Currently, according to CNN, the lack of digitized records costs the industry some $200 to $300 billion a year. While converting to a completely digital system will have implementation costs, in the long-run it is a clear cut necessity. Currently, the time spent by doctors and support staff in reviewing and transmitting paper documents is completely inefficient.

Not only would digitization impact overhead costs but it would have at least two direct health related impacts. First, it would enable a patient’s doctor to more closely monitor the patient’s health. It would facilitate communication between different doctors and potentially prevent life-threatening mistakes, such as conflicting medications. With digitization a doctor would immediately have a patient’s full medical history, thereby allowing better and more accurate diagnoses. This would not only directly improve the quality of healthcare but would lessen the cost.

Likewise, digitization would supply researchers with a vast wealth of information. With the proper privacy controls in place, such information could help researchers develop new procedures, medicines, and techniques. It would also allow potentially harmful cross reactions between medications and harmful procedures to be rapidly flagged and removed from the doctor’s toolbox. Ultimately, this would allow doctors the needed insight to refine their craft and focus on the most effective and helpful remedies.

The final, and by far the most challenging, aspect is to realign doctors’ incentives. Presently, the fee-for-payment system incentivizes doctors to perform repetitive and often useless procedures. With each test doctors receive more money in their pockets. A payment system needs to be developed that induces doctors to only run tests that are beneficial to a patient.

Harmonizing the incentives for a doctor to perform at his best with disincentives to go overboard is extremely difficult. However, some models already show promise. Institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic, are not only successfully but highly admired. Payment systems that are based on access to an institution’s resources, rather than per procedure can limit unnecessary expenditures. Alternatively, diagnoses can be detached from the testing and curing of illness. For instance, individuals could have one doctor, a so-called coordinator, who would evaluate a patient’s issues and then prescribe certain procedures or tests in which he has no financial interest. The tests and procedures would then be performed by other doctors on a fee-for-service basis. Naturally, legal regulations would have to be made to prevent procedure-doctors from unfairly influencing coordinator-doctors (as many pharmaceutical companies do today).

These three aspects are important steps that need to be addressed in any healthcare reform. While certainly only a start, they deserve far more focus than they currently receive. A solidly reformed system will only be successful by tackling the underlying costs of healthcare in America.

The discussion continues with Part IV: Get 'Em the Money.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Right Medicine for Healthcare – Part II: A More Competitive Market

Any successful healthcare reform needs to formulate a more competitive health insurance market. A more competitive market will drastically alter the cost structure for health insurance. In order to remain in business, insurance companies in a competitive market will need to drive costs downward. A multitude of new insurance products will be offered which will provide consumers with an array of choices with varying levels of amenity and price. There are at least three ways in which the markets can be made more competitive.

The first, and easiest, step would be to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines. The current, useless restrictions only serve to drive costs upwards. By allowing cross-border competition, the number of insurance providers available to any one individual will immediately increase. Companies will then have to compete with more market participants in order to capture a sufficient segment of the now larger pool of potential clients. This will force insurance providers to develop new types of insurance products and cut their own costs to improve margins.

The second step would be to end the employer-based system of the provision of health insurance. Many Americans currently get their health insurance as a fringe benefit from their employer. However, there are a number of problems with this method of provision. First, those that cannot get insurance through their employer often have to pay exorbitant fees in the private market. Second, health insurance is contingent on employment. When an individual loses his or her job, it becomes a double hit with the elimination (or increased cost) of health insurance. Third, employer provision necessarily limits an individual’s options. Most companies only offer three or four options – all generally from the same insurance company. The individual has little say in terms of picking an option that suits his or her financial and medical needs. Insurance companies therefore only need to offer plans that appeal to a few Human Resource managers, and do not need to offer specialized coverage for unique requirements.

All of these issues can be resolved if individuals or families obtained health insurance on the free market. Like auto, homeowner, or other forms of insurance, health insurance should be an individual’s personal decision. If insurance companies competed for individual policyholders, rather than for corporate HR managers, they would be forced to diversify products to meet individual needs. Insurance policies that ran the gamut from expensive with maximum coverage to limited cost and coverage would be widely available for individual purchase. This would help lower costs as individuals would self-segregate into policies that better meet their needs and budgets [for instance why does a single man need health coverage for an OB/GYN?]. Likewise, entrepreneurial insurance providers will be able to successfully target niche markets that formerly went uncovered.

The end of the employer-based system can be easily achieved through simple legislation. A law that requires employers who provide health insurance to offer an employee opt-out clause would allow individual employees to select their form of compensation. If the individual chose not to receive his employer’s health insurance policy, he would receive the money which the employer would have spent on health insurance. The employee could then turn to the private market to purchase his own policy.

This coincides with the third step: ending tax exemptions for employers. This will further facilitate the transfer from an employer-based system to a free-market system. Not only will this end the incentives for employers to provide insurance, but it will also increase revenues (or allow tax cuts) for the government. Employees will naturally receive higher salaries as their compensation switches from a fringe benefit to direct pay.

All of these steps will facilitate a more competitive environment. Insurance companies will need to compete with a larger number of competitors and for a larger number of potential customers. This will help force costs downward, as only the most efficient and cost-effective insurance companies will be able to survive. Consumers will be offered a wider array of choices, with varying degrees of price and services. Customers will therefore be better able to afford, at least, minimal coverage. A increase in competitiveness would drastically alter the health insurance landscape and promote free-market reform.

The discussion continues with Part III: Lower the Costs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Right Medicine for Healthcare – Part I

With the Senate now beginning debate on a healthcare bill, it is time to step back and really think about where America could end up. The bills – and ideas – that are prevalent in Congress are devoid of commonsense. Under the current system of thinking, any bill, such as the current one on the Senate floor will be disastrous.

No one disagrees with the fact that American healthcare is in desperate need of reform. However, the current proposals do not offer good solutions. They attempt to patch a broken system without understanding what is not working. Like a charlatan doctor peddling a homemade cough syrup, they offer the wrong medicine.

The essential problem with America’s healthcare system is cost. Some may frame it in terms of accessibility – too many people do not have health insurance. However, accessibility is, in essence, an issue of cost. People that want, but do not have, insurance are precluded due to prohibitive prices. However, the present top-down approaches advocated by Congress do not address the fundamental cost issues. Instead, they attempt to make healthcare “more-affordable” by redistributing costs between different parties - whether taxpayers, the young, insurance companies, the poor, etc.

Not only is this a divisive and politically-charged (as we all know) approach, but it ultimately will fail to make substantial, lasting change. For instance, if insurance companies are simply forced to ignore pre-existing conditions, they will need to find ways to pay for these more expensive patients. This means either increasing premiums for everyone or lowering services across the board. In essence the current Congressional proposals create a zero-sum game, with clearly defined winners and losers.

What needs to be done is to develop a solid system of proposals that counter the inanity in Congress. America needs a reform that fixes the system and benefits all. The fundamentals of any successful reform rely on the mechanisms of the free market to create a cost efficient system. As Soviet Russia has shown us, centrally planned economies end in dismal failures. Regulatory bodies that determine maximum prices, public-options, individual mandates, and outrageous restrictions on private enterprise will not solve the problem, but exacerbate it.

Over the next few articles I will try to outline a few points that may serve as a rough skeleton for some detailed reform. In particular, (1) greater competition needs to be created between insurance companies by ending the employer based system, (2) medical costs need to be driven downward through tort reform, digitization of records, and realigning incentives, and (3) new financial instruments should be established to cover emergency room visits of the uninsured.

Ultimately, healthcare is a financial not a health-related issue. Insurance is one tool to make healthcare affordable. However, it is not the only, nor always the best way, to pay for healthcare costs. The desirability of health insurance is, and should be, an individual’s decision, based on relative risk and one’s financial situation. By failing to acknowledge and address these issues, Congress is suppressing true reform that could have a lasting impact on America’s future. The government should serve as an impartial referee, not a troublesome participant, in the realm of healthcare.

The discussion continues with Part II: A More Competitive Market.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Real Justice is in a Military Court, KSM Does Not Belong In NYC

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that 9/11 terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM”) will stand trial in New York federal court. This is an egregious mistake on the part of the Obama administration.

The trial will surely become a show – a mere opportunity for KSM to have a platform to spout his anti-American gospel. KSM, who has admitted to being the 9/11 mastermind, has long wanted the opportunity to preach his hatred. A trial will not be about finding justice – everyone from Obama down to the average New Yorker knows KSM is guilty. Instead, it will become an opportunity to put the U.S. on trial and attack the legacy of the war on terrorism.

Additionally, a civilian trial has different standards of admissibility of evidence. This will require the government to introduce classified information in order to successfully convict KSM. Likewise due to higher standards, certain evidence will be excluded. Any confessions or information extracted through ‘coercion’ will be inadmissible. The change in admissible evidence will only put the U.S. at risk, by exposing sensitive information and making a clear-cut case open to legal technicalities and loopholes. Just imagine what will happen if some wily attorney manages to free KSM (who, by the way, has asked for death).

However, more important than either of these issues is the general, theoretical concepts that are at stake here. By trying KSM in a civilian court, the government is explicitly stating that acts of terrorism – the brutal murder of U.S. civilians – are not acts of war, but criminal acts. This is not only untrue, but creates dangerous precedents and incentives.

First and foremost, military trials, despite critics’ claims, are not above the law. They are a long-present instrument of the U.S. legal system and have justly and successfully been used before. Trying an individual in either system is not an issue of following law or not following law, but a matter of what type of crime and law needs to be addressed. Holder does not disagree with this concept as he has simultaneously sent a number of other Gitmo detainees to military trials.

The problem is that the Justice Department does not seem to believe that KSM is an enemy combatant, but rather a common criminal. According to Politico, Holder admitted that KSM could have been tried in a military court, but felt justice would be better attained in a federal court. In his mind, in order to be an enemy combatant one must attack a military target. This is a gross distortion of reality. The 9/11 terrorists were members of an enemy army. Just because they did not wear uniforms or have a physical nation to call home, does not negate the fact that this was an act of war.

By failing to correctly address this, Holder has created perverse incentives for the enemies of the United States. Those who wish to bring harm to the U.S. will now have greater incentives to avoid the rules of war (such as the Geneva Conventions). After all, what right-minded (if there is such a thing) Islamist terrorist would chose to fight Marines in Afghanistan and then face military laws, rather than bring the battle to American civilians and civilian courts?  William McGurn stated in the Wall Street Journal that Holder’s decision creates a world where, “If you kill civilians on American soil you will have greater protections than if you attack our military overseas.”

These perverse incentives create greater risk for American civilians. The current administration unfortunately seems more concerned with appeasing a misguided notion of fairness, rather than protecting the American people. Ultimately, they will reward a terrorist movement by providing a way for our enemies to wage war without suffering the appropriate penalties. The real path to justice is through the military court system – a system designed to handle war criminals. By avoiding this fact, Holder is flying in the face of justice and endangering our success in the war on terror.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Win Two, Lose One - A Recipe For Big Tent Republicanism

With both Virginia’s and New Jersey’s governor races won by Republican candidates and the loss by the Conservative candidate, Hoffman, in NY-23 Congressional district, the results of yesterday’s elections have interesting implications for the Republican Party. In short, these results have reflect a distaste with the Democrats’ agenda, coupled with a call for greater Republican cohesiveness.  This bodes well for the moderate Republican movement.

The Republican win of both governorships is a clear indictment of Obama’s policies and Congress’s rule. Both states went to Obama last year. Of the two, New Jersey has historically been ‘bluer’. Virginia on the other hand has swung more widely. It is thus less surprising that Virginia elected a Republican governor. What is surprising is the magnitude of Republican Robert McDonnell’s win. McDonnell won Virginia with an astounding 59% of votes, a massive swing from the percentage of Virginia voters that supported Obama last year.

However, the Republican triumph in the historically staunch blue state of New Jersey is the more significant of the two. New Jersey has long been considered a Democratic stronghold. They fact that the state could go red only a year after Obama’s election supposedly stamped a new mandate on America, reflects a strong repudiation of the past year’s policies. Both Virginia’s and New Jersey’s results signify America’s distaste with the overreach of government and the inability of the administration to solve the most pressing issues.

So what is one to make of the loss of Congressional district NY-23, a long-time Republican district? Democratic pundits will most certainly claim it counters any message sent by the governor races. However, the story more directly reflects the internal problems within the Republican Party than national politics.

The muddled race began with liberal Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, running against former Independent-cum-Democrat Bill Owens. A rebellion by Republicans prompted Conservative Party candidate Hoffman to jump into the fray at the last minute. Scozzafava was immediately overshadowed and dropped out of the race; ironically throwing her weight behind Owens. The result of theRepublican infighting split the Republican vote. Furthermore, Hoffman’s candidacy never had the time needed to fully get off the ground. Voters were undoubtedly unclear about where he stood. Ultimately, this handed the race to a Democrat for the first time since the Civil War.

Yesterday’s elections send a clear message to the activist wing of the Republican Party. The branch of the party that wants to see a smaller, more ‘ideologically pure’ party has been dealt a heavy blow. The failure in NY-23 is clearly an issue of party infighting. Hoffman or Scozzafava most likely would have won if they were the sole right-wing candidate; however, by taking the fight outside of the Republican Party all conservatives lost.

This election is a resounding success for the Big Tent Republicans. Republicans have won where they have appealed to all and have lost where they have become narrow and isolated. This will become increasingly important as conservative Republicans aim to challenge moderate Republican candidates, such as Charlie Crist, next year. The challenges are welcomed, but should stay within the party. Republican candidates should be selected that can appeal to their electorates. As the wins in New Jersey and Virginia show, America has soured to the liberal excesses in Washington. Republicans can win by being true to their principles and reaching out to independents and Democrats. But they cannot win by being exclusionary and fighting amongst each other.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back from the Dead - Harry Reid's Public Option

Just in time for Halloween, Harry Reid has raised the dead. Like a zombie from a cheesy horror flick, the public option is now once again roaming the halls of Congress. In a recent announcement, Senate Majority leader Reid stated the newest version of health care legislation would be heading to a vote in the Senate with a government-run public option included.

Setting aside for a moment the foolishness of a public option, Reid’s insistence on including this provision in a plan is utterly baffling. The public option was killed over the summer when Democrats realized the political infeasibility of the concept. The Democrats simply did not have the votes in the Senate to avoid a Republican-led filibuster. The Democrats need every single member of their caucus (58 Democrats and 2 Independents) to agree with the plan in order to push it through without Republican support. The political reality indicated that this just was not possible. If one Democrat wavered the entire plan would fail. And so, wisely the Democrats seemed to move on from the public option. After all, they profess that their real goal is to achieve much needed health-care reform.

Reid’s move to bring back the discussion on the public-option is a step backwards. Nothing has changed to indicate a different political environment. In fact, shortly after his announcement Olympia Snowe, the sole Republican to have voted with Democrats on some health-care related issues, backed off from her cross aisle move. She indicated she would work with Republicans to quash any health care reform that included a public option. Snowe’s rebuke was quickly followed by one from Joe Lieberman – one of the two Independents who caucuses with the Democrats. With Lieberman’s defection a public option is undoable.

So what are the left-wing Democrats trying to accomplish? The inclusion of a public option will sink any reform bill. If the Democrats truly want to reform healthcare, they need to face the reality that it cannot (nor should not – see a prior post on ANR) include a public option. Reid’s gambit seems to lead to nothing but a dead end – torpedoing the Democrats’ and Obama’s crown jewel.

Ironically, it appears that Reid is sabotaging any chance at Democrat-led healthcare reform. One possible explanation is that the Democrats are in such internal disagreement that they cannot design any plan that is amenable to all wings of the party. The tensions between the leftists and the centrists are running high. In order to avoid a failure based on the Democrats’ inability to compromise, Reid is setting up a surefire way to fail that can be pegged on supposed Republican obstructionism. At the end of the day, Democrats will point to the ‘anti-reform’ Republicans who successfully filibustered their plan, rather than their own ranks for the political failure to pass a reform bill. If one is going to fail, at least make it look like it is someone else’s fault.

The Wall Street Journal offers another relatively plausible explanation for Reid’s maneuver. Reid might be offering the plan knowing full well that he will have to drop the public option. The WSJ writes;

He could then tell the left that he did his best, only to have been beaten back to the unreliable likes of Mr. Lieberman….Meanwhile, such endangered swing-state Democrats as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas could claim they won a great concession if the public option fails, making it easier for them to vote for a final bill that would still do enormous harm to private insurance and the federal fisc.
Reid and his cronies could be trying to push the negotiating grounds leftward in order to achieve a more Democrat-friendly outcome. This is a risky move, but opens an opportunity for Republicans. Senate Republicans should point out the foolishness of Reid’s insistence for a public option. They can easily turn the tables on the Democrats, by branding them obstructionist. How can the Democrats claim to be solving our health care problem if they are offering proposals that clearly are not passable? However, such a strategy necessitates a counter-proposal – something the Republicans have been lacking. A successful Republican-led reform will offer America the right kind of health care fix and deal the final deathblow to the leftist Democrats’ socialist ambitions. Let’s put a nail in this coffin for good.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fed Up!

The economic meltdown was caused by the underestimation and mispricing of risk. The small town broker,  the average family, and the Wall Street banker were all responsible for taking on too much risk. The government has correctly diagnosed the ailment – in part. While the Fed and Treasury both point to the excessive risk taking, they only seem to place the blame on Wall Street.

As The Financial Times reports, the Federal Reserve has unveiled new rules aimed at limiting and controlling executive pay at all institutions under its purview. This follows sharp controls from the Treasury for executive pay at institutions who still have bailout money.

The Fed defends the proposed rules by claiming they will reduce the excessive risk taking that caused the meltdown. Chairman Ben Bernanke, stated that “…compensation plans that encourage, even inadvertently, excessive risk-taking can pose a threat to safety and soundness.” The argument implies that economic downturn was the direct result of risk taking that was driven by high-pay packages for greedy executives.

This perspective is downright foolish. It is unquestionable that mismanagement and so-called ‘fat cat’ bankers played a role in causing the economic mess. However, they are no more culpable than ‘covetous’ housewives who took out a home-equity loan to buy the flat-screen TV or new Mercedes or the ‘greedy’ loan originator who turned a blind eye to the proper documentation in order to make a quick sale. The fact of the matter is all of America is to blame. Most Americans – individuals and companies – did not make smart investment decision.

The Fed’s new pay policy is simply an attempt to make it appear like the government is doing something productive. In reality, it is simply to appease voters who, egged-on by the finger-pointing Obama, are looking for a scapegoat. It is politically and logistically easier to go after a few, big-target banks, than a million or so credit card owners.

Unfortunately government meddling in executive pay will not make things better. It is the wrong medicine for the correct diagnosis. Such a narrow shot at poor risk-management completely misses the fundamental problem. It obscures the fact that the underlying issues are not and will not be addressed. Even more concerning is the fact that it nestles the government far too deep into the private sector.

Not only will the plan fail to address systemic problems, but it will most likely fail to solve the problem at companies. In fact, it is more likely to exacerbate problems. CBS News reports, that talent is already being driven from top firms. Furthermore, individual executives will find ways around the system. They will find alternative ways of compensation or establish unconventional institutions that do not fall under the purview of the Fed. This will move the main banking industry out of the regulatory eye of Bernanke. At the end of the day the risk will still be incorrectly accounted for and nothing will have changed.

Bernanke is correct that excessive risk is to blame. But let’s step back and stop pointing fingers. Smarter policy that is not punitive and spiteful needs to be designed. Flashy regulations that scapegoat a few individuals while absolving the rest of America from responsibility are counterproductive and will only lead to the next bubble and burst. This is particularly true if our government is simultaneously diminishing risk by bailing-out companies. Any market distortions will misprice risk – why doesn’t the Fed understand this?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Right is a Restriction

The use of the term “right”, as in ‘Americans have a right to…,’ has become watered down and incorrectly used in far too many instances. Generally, a right is a restriction on the authority of the government. By reserving certain powers to individuals, a right limits the strength of the government and prevents abuses of its citizens. However, a right is not an obligation to provide. While governments are, in some instances, obligated to provide certain items, these obligations are not rights. The distinction, while seemingly slight, is an important one that is often muddled in the popular arena.

Rights, as properly understood, are simply a restriction. They offer no direct provision to individuals. To understand this better one only needs to understand the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. For instance, Americans have the right to free speech and the right to religion. In the first instance, the right prevents the government from limiting what any individual can say. In the second instance, the right prevents the government from imposing a religion on any individual. In neither case is the government required to provide something to an individual. Other rights, such as the right to bear arms, can be understood in the same way. The right to bear arms is a restriction on the government’s monopolization of power. It prevents the government from encroaching on the personal lives of individuals, by restricting power.

However, many politicians incorrectly use the term ‘right’ to refer to certain things the government provides. Often this language is used in an attempt to expand entitlements and services. By using this language, politicians aim to make the provision of such items unassailable. This use, however, is incorrect when dealing with the rights an individual has vis-à-vis the government.

The ‘right to a minimum wage’ and the ‘right to healthcare’ are two such false rights. The reason these are not true rights is because they require the government to provide a service. A ‘right to a minimum wage’ demands that the government provide the means and structure for an individual to be provided with a certain wage. The ‘right to healthcare’ that is generally discussed when politicians try to cobble together a health reform package essentially demands that the government either directly or indirectly (eg. by establishing a legal system to force the provision from private sector) provides healthcare to every American. Since rights are defined as the restriction not the expansion of government roles, these claims cannot be rights. A properly defined right to healthcare would simply be defined as a restriction on the government not to prevent individuals from purchasing healthcare. Obviously, this is a relatively meaningless right and not what most proponents of a ‘right to healthcare’ discuss.

Civil rights are also an area where this distinction is very often incorrectly applied. Citizens undoubtedly have the right not to be persecuted or discriminated against based on racial, sexual, or other characteristics. The government is not allowed this power. However, civil rights do not mean that the government has an obligation to provide anything to people based on these same characteristics. In fact, if such an obligation existed it would most certainly violate other citizens’ rights (read: affirmative action).

The point of such a distinction is to correctly define the use of the term ‘rights’ in order to better understand the role of the government. Many policies on the left, and some on the right, tend to dismiss this definition of ‘right’ in order to expand the role of government and provide benefits to narrow slices of the electorate. However, by applying such a definition it is relatively easy to come to a conclusion as to the appropriate role of the government.

[As an added caveat the correct use of the word ‘rights’ does not imply that the government has no positive obligations. What is not a right reserved to the people (or states) is often a role for the government to play. For instance, the government has an obligation to protect its citizens from each other (policing) and from external threats (military). This positive action is something the government must provide its citizens. However, it does not mean that such a positive obligation is a right that the citizens possess.]

Monday, October 19, 2009

What is the Point of Attacking Fox?

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Fox News, the Obama administration’s repeated assaults on the cable news network are unwise and bad for the country. Over the past few weeks, members of the Obama administration have gone on the record attacking Fox News. Amongst other statements, David Axelrod has said “It’s really not news. It’s pushing a point of view,” while Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has said that Obama does not want “the CNNs and the others in the world [to] basically be led in following Fox.”

These attacks are unwise for the Obama administration. They accomplish little except to galvanize support around (or against) Fox News and draw partisan lines in the sand. For an administration that apparently strives for bipartisanship, getting mired in the muck with Fox only speaks of desperation and partisanship. The battle has only been a boon for Fox, while making the administration look foolish.

The continuation of such desperate behavior emphasizes the perceived threat the administration feels from Fox. Fox News has revealed numerous scandals and stories, such as ACORN and Van Jones, which are damaging to Obama. The administration’s attacks read as a response to the political costs wrought by Fox News. This not only adds a level of legitimacy to Fox’s reporting, but makes the administration appear as if it is trying to portray a false image to America by demonizing its enemies rather than actually dealing with real issues. Neither is a perspective that the administration wants to foster.

More concerning is the fact that the executive branch is attempting to quash anti-administration (if they may be called that) perspectives. While certainly not yet violating freedom of the press, the administration is treading on dangerous ground. Freedom of the press is one of the most prized rights. Americans of all stripes bristle when it is attacked. Even if the administration’s indictments of Fox News are entirely correct, its behavior is not. No government should be meddling with the news sources that its citizens choose to use.

An open society has numerous voices and perspectives, some of which are correct and others which are not. No news source can be free from biases. Since every incident entails interpretation and perspective there is no such beast as completely objective news. It is up to the consumer of news – the voter – to distill and analyze the multitude of news. Accuracy and correctness will be awarded; while bogus news outlets will be marginalized. The government, and any other body or individual, can choose to play a role in the competition of ideas; however, it can not rightly use its power and position to attempt to silence a perspective that it does not like. Such abuses of power are characteristic of third world military dictatorships, not the United States of America.

Fox News may or may not be what the administration claims it is. Regardless, it is a voice in the mix. Obama’s administration would be wise to drop the attacks on the network; if not for the sake of fostering an open society, then at least to preserve its own image. Let Americans decide for themselves what they want to hear and from whom. America is educated and mature enough to judge Fox for what it is.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What Were Obama's Advisors Thinking?

The news has been abuzz with Obama’s failure to bring the Olympics to Chicago. The President has correctly been questioned on at least two fronts. First, why did he spend so much political capital and energy focused on such an insignificant issue when there are so many more pressing issues? Second, does his inability to bring home the Olympics signify a damaging inability for the administration to influence foreign bodies? There is, in addition, at least one more question that has not been readily addressed: What were Obama’s advisors thinking?

Even before Rio was awarded the Olympics and Obama journeyed to Copenhagen, pundits were questioning the merits of his quest. No sitting American president had attempted such a feat. Not only did it entail political risk, for relatively little gain, there are far too many pressing issues for our President to spend time on such a trivial issue. Even the Huffington Post, darling of the left, criticized Obama’s thinking.
The GOP also got it right in knocking Obama for wasting time chasing Olympic windmills when his time should be spent on health care reform, fixing the economy, confronting the Iran nuclear threat, and doubling his efforts to wind down two crippling wars.

Second, his failure to convince the IOC weakened his credibility on the international stage. As Fox News reports, critics question whether a President who cannot deliver something as menial as the Olympics will be able to deliver a nuclear-free Iran or a globally responsible China. Such claims, however, are probably overblown. After all, the levels of intricacy of negotiations, not to mention government effort, are most certainly leagues apart when negotiating with Iran versus the IOC. That being said, the failure does reduce the aura that surrounds Obama. Furthermore, Obama has most likely lost a little credibility with those that analyze his every move. Such a snafu is not really indicative of his inability to be an international force (there are myriad of other indicators that serve this purpose); however, it may lead to more friction for his agenda down the line.

All this being said, one of the most interesting questions is: “What were his advisors thinking?”. Where was the wise advisor cautioning him against the vast risks and costs and the minimal benefits inherent in such a ploy? Why did no one stand up and tell him it was not worth it? Did his team foresee the GOP attacks? Or were his advisors simply unable to convince him otherwise?

Either way is problematic. Obama selected an award winning set of advisors to run his campaign. They ran a tight, effective campaign that will most likely be a guide for years of future campaigns to come. However, upon ascent to the White House his ability to find strong advisors seemingly has fizzled. Obama has gone through far too many scandalized czars to make anyone comfortable. From the socialist Van Jones to the animal-friendly Cass Sunstein, Obama has surrounded himself with incompetent and downright scary individuals.

The failure of his advising team is becoming increasingly distressing. Every modern president needs to rely heavily on his advisors. It is clear that Obama’s inexperience and his reliance on an out-of-touch, incapable team, is contributing to his mounting political failures. If Obama wants to succeed with his agenda and not solidify his place as the next Jimmy Carter, he must seriously reconsider who he surrounds himself with. After all, if his team could not foresee the political damage of going to Copenhagen, how are they going to handle real issues?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Iran's Ahmadinejad, a Jew? Exports Anti-Semitism

In a recent report, the Daily Telegraph revealed that Iran’s anti-Israel, hardline ruler, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does in fact have Jewish roots. The surprising discovery is based on an identity card, displayed by Ahmadinejad, during his election ‘campaign’ last year. According to the Daily Telegraph, the Iranian President’s family name, prior to conversion to Islam in the 1950s, is clearly indicative of Jewish origins.

The discovery that the number one enemy of the Jewish people comes from a Jewish family highlights a sad and unfortunate political reality in the Muslim world. It has always been true that the political establishment in Iran and other despotic Muslim countries use anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism to control and oppress their people. By creating an imaginary common enemy, the despotic rulers from Egypt to Iran to Pakistan divert focus from the abuses of their authoritarian regimes.

However, now Ahmadinejad’s extremely intense vitriol can be understood in a new light. Ahmadinejad has long been one of the most vocal opponents of Israel. While for the average Muslim despot an occasional fanning of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic flames is sufficient to direct his peoples’ attention elsewhere; Ahmadinejad apparently has a real liability with his family roots. Like any bully he tries to maintain his power and keep his distance from what he hates about himself by attacking others. His intense anti-Israel tirades and Holocaust denial can be understood as a pre-emption against his own weakness.

What is most worrisome is that Ahmadinejad is now exporting his disturbing use of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism to some newfound political allies. The right-wing Ahmadinejad has long been cozying up with Venezuela’s leftist Hugo Chavez. The union has largely been one of anti-Americanism, shared nuclear knowledge, and assistance with terrorist activities. Now, as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal discusses, the union is sharing a growing hatred of the Jews.

Chavez, along with his allies in Honduras, is using the same tactics as the Muslim authoritarian regimes, and as the Nazis did before, to maintain power and control. Like their Muslim counterparts, the Latin American rulers are hoping to solidify their power and direct domestic unrest towards a scapegoat population. Furthermore, by allying themselves against the same common enemy, Chavez and his cronies are drawing themselves closer to Iran.

No good can come from this disturbing trend. As has happened many times throughout history, expanded persecution of Jews is often a harbinger of worse things to come. The growing Latin-Muslim axis is a threat to world Jewry and global peace. A common test of the freedoms of a nation is how the country treats its Jews. As Gandhi said, “The measure of a country's greatness should be based on how well it cares for its most vulnerable populations.” Iran and Venezuela are failing this test.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Local Cops Enforce Immigration Laws

A controversial illegal immigration program has been expanded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The program, referred to as Section 287(g) allows local law enforcement officers to be trained by and work with federal immigration nforecement agencies. The aim is to enable local agencies to assist with the capture and removal of criminal illegal aliens.

Critics of 287(g), which has been in existence since 1996, hoped the Obama administration would end the program. Pro-immigrant and civil rights organizations have been outraged at the support for 287(g). However, DHS and the administration should be commended for supporting a program that helps maintain the rule of law and removes illegal criminals from America’s towns.

The critics’ main argument, as reported by The Economist, is that 287(g) weakens already strained relationships between immigrant communities and law enforcement. The Economist states, “Crime victims and witnesses are likely to be reluctant to come forward if they fear that they may be deported for their pains.” This relatively weak argument can be extended to claim that enforcement of any law can lead to weakened communication between criminals and law enforcement. While it is sometimes advisable for police officers to give petty criminals, such as minor drug dealers, a break in order to obtain information about more heinous crimes, no one supports blanket disregard for law enforcement to facilitate open communication channels. At their extreme conclusion, such arguments utterly prevent any form of law enforcement.

Policies, such as 287(g), may push illegal aliens further “underground”; however, this will only help to create disincentives for future immigrants to choose to migrate illegally. Likewise, it will make legal methods of immigration more appealing. Both of these effects are end-goals that America’s immigration policy should strive to achieve. After all, there is no reason to support policies that make illegal immigrants comfortable living unlawfully in America.

Ultimately, Section 287(g) helps stop illegal activity. As a report by the Heritage Foundation points out, 287(g) fulfills one aspect of a triumvirate of immigration policy goals: “internal enforcement of immigration laws, international cooperation, and border security.” By reducing the burden on federal agents, it creates efficiencies that limit tax dollar waste and facilitates the maintenance of law and order. While the original intent of the program may have been to enforce actions against major criminals, it is acceptable that the program has also been used to nab petty illegal immigrants. Residing in this country illegally is, despite pro-immigrant group’s claims, illegal.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Nuclear Free World Won’t Be a Blast

One of the prominent themes throughout this week’s sessions at the United Nations was a nuclear free world. The Security Council passed a resolution today, reaffirming the support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The underlying message, bolstered by President Obama’s remarks, was clear: the guiding policy is to create a world without nuclear weapons. While noble in aim, there are two main questions surrounding the legitimacy of such a policy.

First, there is a question of feasibility. It is highly unlikely that the world community will be able to rid itself of every single nuclear weapon. While many, if not all, nations publically state agreement with this principle, practice is much more difficult. Global insecurity causes hesitation in many leaders. The delicate disarmament negotiations between Russia and the United States are a stark example of this difficulty. Even so, if every party was truly committed to a nuclear free world, the issues of mistrust might eventually be worked out. However, there are many global actors – both state and non-state – that want to possess nuclear weaponry. Terrorist organizations and rogue states would gain much power in a world where the major countries reduce their nuclear stockpiles. The global leaders, such as the US, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China, understand this and are thus hesitant to reduce their arms. The nuclear threat between the US and Russia may be diminishable through negotiations; the nuclear threat from Iran to the US most likely will not be. Furthermore, even if every nuclear weapon is dismantled nuclear technology will still exist. It will be far too easy, and tempting, for countries [particularly when tensions are high] to restart a nuclear program.

The lack of feasibility makes a goal of a nuclear-free world foolish. It is far better to focus on more meaningful controls of nuclear power than disarmament. Nuclear disarmament should be a distant goal behind non-proliferation and increased security measures for nuclear stockpiles. Relatively new nuclear powers, such as Indian and Pakistan, should be assisted in developing internal controls to prevent ‘misplacement’ of nuclear weaponry and technology and failsafes to prevent the use of nuclear weapons in conflict.

Second, it is questionable if it is desirable to have a nuclear-free world. While controversial, there is much support to suggest that nuclear weaponry actually reduces conventional warfare and makes the global community safer. No country has used nuclear weapons since World War II. Conventional wars between major powers have been nonexistent. The threat of nuclear war persuades powerful states to negotiate before launching missiles. The successes of global integration and communication rest on the threat of nuclear destruction. As bad as relationships have been during the past fifty years, the United States, Russia and China have not gone to war with each other.

A nuclear-free world could unravel all of this stability. The threat of a conventional counterattack is not, nor ever has been, significant enough to preclude wars between major powers. While the international and supranational institutions formed over the past 70 years are strong, there is little reason to believe a resurgent Russia would continue to abide by a US dominated system without the nuke as a balancing act. The demise of nuclear power would herald an rise of conventional armies. Our international community would once again see the large scale wars that wrecked havoc across the globe one-hundred years ago.

While seemingly contrary to logic, a nuclear-free world is a lot scarier than one without nuclear weaponry. The presence of nuclear weapons is something the world must accept and work with. Rather than deluding ourselves with utopian views of a nuclear-free world, steps must be taken to create a stable international community where nuclear weapons exist but are not used. A world with few nuclear powers that are stable and in control of their stockpiles is ideal. Any other world is a recipe for disaster.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blame the Israelis - The Goldstone Report

The results of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, published in what is being called the Goldstone Report, were unsurprising to say the least. The report, under the auspices of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, a notoriously biased institution, predictably slams Israel. It places undue blame on the Jewish state for the conflict, accusing the nation of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The report, which essentially claims that Israel used disproportioned force and directly targeted civilians, is another entry in a long list of systematic anti-Israel bias propagated by the UN and other international bodies. According to the press release announcing the report,
The report underlines that in most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of “distinction” in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times.
While the report does cite war crimes committed by Palestinian terrorists, it largely focuses on the alleged Israeli actions. The anti-Israel sentiment is deep-seeded and unlikely to go away. It is relatively clear that the Human Rights Council has little interest in promoting human rights, but has a predisposed agenda to target the tiny nation. This is exemplified by the fact that the Council recently congratulated the Sri Lankan regime after a war to rout the insurgent Tamil Tigers left thousands of civilians dead. The fact that the Council has such inconsistent standards is stark evidence of their inbuilt biases.

Israel, which refused from the beginning to participate in the prejudiced ‘fact-finding’ that led to the report, lashed out at the publication. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu claimed “[The report] put Israel in a kangaroo court and was a prize for terrorism…” The report’s central conclusion of Israeli aggression is a gross misstatement of reality and a complete avoidance of the facts that surrounded the conflict. The Israelis operated one of the most civilian friendly attacks- particularly given the high propensity of Hamas to hide fighters and military targets alongside or within civilian facilities. The Israeli army consistently warned civilians to leave areas that were to be attacked and avoided attacking targets that would severely harm civilians. While civilians were unfortunately killed, the culpability lies with Hamas, not Israel. Hamas routinely tries to inflate civilian injury and death counts- both through manipulation of statistics and by directly putting the people they supposedly lead into harms way. The report does little justice to this fact.

The fact of the matter is that, as The Economist points out, Israel has overwhelming military superiority. If Israel’s aim was to cause civilian suffering they certainly would have inflicted much greater damage. The imbalance between the strength of the Palestinian forces and the Israeli military only speaks to the restraint exercised by Israel. Israel’s sole goal is to prevent Palestinian attacks and protect its citizens. To assert otherwise is simply an act in self-delusion motivated by anti-Israel sentiments.

The Human Rights Council’s report only serves to obfuscate the facts of the conflict and prolong unnecessary hardship in the region. Israel is already reluctant to engage with the biased international community. If the UN aims to find a solution for the crisis in the Middle East, it is better served by toning down its prejudiced attacks on Israel and allowing the tiny nation to feel that it can turn to the international community for assistance with its grievances. The current international approach only serves to push Israel away, feed the nation’s insecurity and solitude, and increase the likelihood that Israel will take defensive actions (read: attack Iran) on its own.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Do Iranians Hate Israel or Their Own Regime?

There was a new chant this year at the annual anti-Israel Quds Day demonstrations in Iran. Alongside the familiar “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” was the new “Death to the Dictator.”

Quds Day is a government sponsored day of rallies and Israel bashing in Iran. While the anti-Israel nature of the event was certainly not diminished, it was challenged by a brief resurgence of the Iranian reformists, who used the opportunity to continue their protest of the unjust clerical regime.

The protests highlight the illegitimacy and oppressiveness of the Iranian regime. Even reformist former president Mohammad Khatami was not immune from the hard-liners abuses as he was attacked during the protests. Despite the fact that the Iranian regime has successfully cracked down and solidly maintains control, the reformist movement has not been obliterated.

This speaks to the tenacity of the movement. They were deserted by the West three months ago when they were at the peak of their fervor and the Iranian regime was at its weakest in 30 years. Despite acknowledging the electoral fraud, the Obama administration chose not to support the protestors because it wanted to keep a ‘good’ relationship with the current regime.

This realist policy seems to have yielded little. In a recent interview with NBC’s Ann Curry, Ahmadinejad refused to state that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons. The slippery President generally refused to answer any questions directly. The relationship with Iran continues to stagnate, as the regime persists in its dance with the West. This will surely continue with Ahmadinejad’s upcoming speech to the UN General Assembly in New York next week. It is easy to expect another round of provocations of the US, anti-Israel rhetoric, and Holocaust denials.

The fact that the US still feels the need to tiptoe around Iran and fails to provide any real consequences for the regime’s defiance and its repression of its people is unacceptable. The revolutionary spirit still lives in Iran. So much so that some of the notorious enemies of Israel, have given up an opportunity to bash the small Jewish state in favor of condemning their own government. Our fear of challenging Iran only strengthens its hand.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Cracked Nut: ACORN's Implosion

In a recent series of sting-operation videos, ACORN, the community organizer association affiliated with President Obama, was exposed for being corrupt and aiding people in committing illegal acts. The videos, posted on Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, show a young couple, posing as a prostitute and pimp, get advice from ACORN workers on how to avoid paying taxes, run a prostitution ring, engage underage girls in prostitution, smuggle illegal immigrants into the country, and other heinous crimes.

ACORN has been forced to respond, naming a self-appointed ‘independent’ auditor to review the organization. It is doubtful that this auditor will uncover anything truly independent. However, the damage has seemingly already been done as Congress voted to cancel the copious funds that were earmarked for the organization.

ACORN’s actions are shameful, yet unsurprising. The left-leaning group, which has strong ties, to the Obama administration, has been continually been connected with controversy and corruption. The scariest part is that the tentacles of ACORN and its sister organizations run deep into the administration. Obama’s choice of allies and advisors is becoming increasingly damnable as more corruption is revealed.

ACORN’s sleaze, the resignation of Obama advisor Van Jones , and other Obama disasters, raise the question of the President’s competency in choosing his associates. He is either grossly inept at vetting his connections or is ideologically committed to their atrocious worldviews. Either way, it is a scary fact that these people are so tied into the leadership of our country.

This has given Republicans much fodder to lash out at Obama and has resonated strongly with many Americans. Obama’s popularity is in a steady decline, falling at an extremely fast rate. In fact, as The Economist points out, if Obama’s popularity continues its descent he will fall below the 50% approval rate faster than any post-War President except Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford.

This trend was somewhat predictable. As more controversies in Obama’s inner circle come to light, it is clear that America did not really understand the relatively unknown candidate when he was running for the presidency. Whether it was implicit bias in the media or simply anti-Bushism, Obama was given a free pass that is coming back to haunt America. As has been argued here before Obama was not elected on his own merits, but on a rejection of the prior eight-years. America, having duped itself, is regretting this mistake as the administration’s ideologies and associations are becoming clearer. Hopefully, we can avoid some of the damage still to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Carter: Wrong on Race, Loved by Bin Laden

The worst post-war President is at it again. Jimmy Carter cannot avoid looking like a fool. Rather than gracefully retiring to private life (George Bush) or serving as a relatively quiet, respectful behind-the-scenes political force (Bill Clinton), Carter is drawn to political controversies like a moth to a flame. He has recently been back in the news in two most unpleasant ways.

Having caused uproars with his biased anti-Israel book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” a few years ago and with his visit with the terrorist group Hamas this past June, Jimmy Carter is well known for his warped worldviews. Fortunately for Carter, his book now has the honor of making a top-three recommended reading list. This past Monday, Osama Bin Laden included “Peace Not Apartheid” alongside Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” as recommended reading. Bin Laden claimed that “After you read the suggested books, you will know the truth, and you will be greatly shocked by the scale of concealment that has been exercised on you.” President Carter should feel proud of the striking support from one of America’s greatest friends.

If Bin Laden’s endorsement was not enough, Carter stirred-up a hornet’s nest of controversy by claiming that the majority of opposition to President Obama is based on racism. In an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, Carter stated, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he is African-American.” Obama’s administration has naturally distanced itself from his comments, patently denying a racial link.

As discussed in a prior post, “You Lie” Is Joe Wilson a Racist?, Carter’s infusion of racism into political debates is reprehensible. It is unclear what Carter is attempting to accomplish, as such divisive talk cannot be helpful to the President. Such remarks are patently absurd and have only enraged most Americans. After all, President-elect Obama held an approval rating of 70% in November 2008. The roughly 20% that have since changed their minds and currently disapprove of his policies could not have become rampant racists over the past year. Likewise, it is highly unlikely that the 30% that did not approve of Obama to begin with are all racists. Contrary to Carter’s and his asinine cronies’ beliefs, most disagreement with Obama is politically, not racially, motivated.

The fact of the matter is that Carter is entirely disconnected with reality. Time after time he proves that he has no understanding of what goes on outside of his narrow world-view. Carter is an embarrassment to the Democratic Party that he professes to support. He was a miserable failure as a President. What makes him believe that he can do any better now as the senile “elder statesman”? Maybe he should just stick to peanut farming.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"You Lie" Is Joe Wilson a Racist?

In an overwhelmingly partisan vote, the House of Representatives expressed its disapproval of Representative Joe Wilson’s outburst during President Obama’s speech last week. Wilson’s interruption of the President was certainly inappropriate, prompting the Representative to properly apologize to Obama. Some Democrats, however, are increasing the poisonous atmosphere in Congress through their insistence on drawing race into the picture.

Before Congress’s vote, Hank Johnson, D-Ga absurdly stated that without action taken against Wilson people would be wearing “white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside" – a direct reference to the Ku Klux Klan. Likewise, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Barbara Lee, D-Ca, said that we “can't sweep race under the rug — racism is still a factor and must be addressed.” While not directly in response to the Wilson affair, former President Jimmy Carter echoed this sentiment. He stated that “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."

The Left’s fixation with bringing race into the discussion is disingenuous and reprehensible. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to suggest that Rep. Wilson’s or any American’s disagreement with Obama’s and the Democrat’s policies have anything to do with race. Wilson’s outburst, while unacceptable in that forum, was the result of well-thought out policy differences, not a deep-seeded racism. The fact that this was the first time a President has been shouted down while speaking on the floor of the House is a testament to the divisiveness and partisanship that has grown under the current administration. The fact that a Representative, who by all accounts is respected and respectful, broke such rules of decorum only speaks to the fact that the administration’s policies are threatening to a vast swath of America.

The Democrat’s endeavors to paint this as racism, is simply an attempt to stifle discussion. By trying to divert the discussion, they are seeking to avoid real discourse over the issues. While Wilson should have addressed his concerns in another forum, Democrats are willing to pull out every stop to silence him. President Carter’s blanket statement is even more dangerous. To label any disagreement with the President as racism takes America down a perilous path. Under such a Carteresque world-view dissent is not allowed and the opposition is silenced.

The only issue of race in any of this is in the heads of these Democratic statesmen. Whether they truly believe these disagreements with the administration are race-based or whether they are simply using race as a political tool to silence Republicans, the Democrats are sorely misguided. It is time for the Democrats to mature past the siren’s call of race as their fall-back explanation for every disagreement with Republicans. Americans care far more about good policy than the skin-color of the individual proposing it. If Democrats are so naïve to think otherwise, they are hurting themselves and America.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Yale Offends the West: The Muhammad Cartoons

The infamous Muhammad cartoons are back in the news again. This time the Danish caricatures that were implicated in the worldwide uproars in 2005 were edited out of a new book by the Yale University Press. Yale’s decision is a despicable display of spinelessness.

Yale offers two unsatisfactory explanations for its actions. First, the university cites fear of violence. This implies that if someone has something controversial to say, one only needs to threaten violence to silence the perspective. This is counter to the very basis of American free-speech. Since when do we silence a voice because one group throws a tantrum? If Muslims respond to the republication of the cartoons with violence they are in the wrong- not the publisher. Using potential violence (even if highly likely) as a reason for non-publication, gives those who wish to silence others an unimaginable power.

Second, Yale claims it does not want to offend. This is patently absurd. How many books have been published that offend someone, somewhere? Is it even possible to find a book that is agreeable to everyone? The publishing of any quality piece of writing is bound to offend someone. If literature, journalism, or research were uncontroversial they would seek to have an appeal. Yale’s decision to avoid publication soothes the egos of radical Islam by offending the sensibilities of the free West.

Yale’s dastardly editing speaks to a deeper seeded problem. The West is being brow-beaten into disregarding its own founding principles. Muslim leaders and countries attempt to argue that incidents, such as the publishing of the cartoons, should not be allowed. They perversely argue that blasphemy is discriminatory against Muslims and repressive of their freedoms. Rather than rightfully challenging this warped view, many in the West are conceding to these demands.

This poses a number of problems. First of all, it gives dangerous powers to groups to oppress minority views. Religions are entitled to believe what they will; they are not entitled to demand global orthodoxy. As The Economist points out, those attempting to limit ‘defamation’ of religion represent the antithesis to individual and human rights. These arguments are often couched in the language of freedom, but they serve the opposite aim. Instead, by tiptoeing around the supposed sensitivities of a group and preventing individuals to voice their dissent, we are creating a system that allows repression and forced conformity.

Second, by acceding to this perspective Yale is helping the reactionary forces of the Muslim world demolish years of Western progress. Yale is implicitly replacing the individualism that has defined Western culture with a foreign collectivism. This is a small piece in a dire threat to Western civilization. Western society is built on the individual. If we cannot support the individual in some of the more innocuous facets of life, it is only a matter of time before the assault on our core beliefs begins.

While some may dismiss this event as insignificant, it is anything but. It is a sign of the weakening spirit of the West. Yale’s cowardice is inexcusable. Their actions have granted the enemies of the Western society an easy win.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Carrots in North Korea: Some Smart Foreign Policy

Although Obama’s foreign policy is often off-base, the administration must be commended for its recent handling of the North Korean journalist-cum-hostage situation. Two American journalists, held by Kim Jong-Il’s regime were released after Former President Bill Clinton descended on North Korea.

The exploit was truly a move of smart diplomacy. It allowed the United States to stick course with its current spoken strategy, while enabling sufficient stroking of Kim Jong-Il’s ego to facilitate the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee. While the Obama administration has generally claimed non-involvement, it is clear that they played a predominant role in approving and developing the mission. Apparently, much pre-planning occurred; including discussions with the North Koreans on what unofficial American envoy would have high enough stature to make the trip.

This recent event highlights an important characteristic of North Korea – they want things from America. Unlike Iran which views itself largely as a counter-weight and antagonist of America, North Korea sees, at least some aspects of the West which it desires. While not all of North Korea’s behavior can be understood as motivated by wanting something from America, in this instance that is precisely the case. North Korea wanted recognition from the United States– represented by the visitation of a prestigious emissary.

The North Korean desire for items of value gives the United States considerable power over the regime. The U.S. can use these “shiny objects” to coerce North Korea into behaving in an acceptable fashion. In many ways, North Korea is like a defiant child. It wants recognition; it wants to feel important. If it fails to get what it wants it throws a temper-tantrum. However as most parents know, the logic in dealing with such a child (although not always the practice) is straightforward. Misbehavior is punished; good behavior is rewarded.

This is something that the Obama administration needs to exploit. While Bill Clinton's journey into the third pillar of the Axis-of-Evil demonstrates the administration’s understanding of rewarding good behavior, the administration, as has been argued before, has yet to show a strong commitment to punishing misbehavior. A failure to punish misbehavior severely weakens the equally important goal of rewarding good behavior. In fact, it encourages misbehavior. Nations (and people) will misbehave if they can then backtrack and be rewarded for ‘good behavior’.

Because of this, the two tactics in conjunction are necessary when dealing with North Korea. Carrots and sticks will help push the regime in the right direction. Too many carrots, however, will deplete America’s ability to influence North Korea’s behavior. After all, if Kim Jong-Il gets everything he wants he’ll have no incentive to listen to us. While this episode of Clintonian mediation may be a strong and successful example of diplomacy at its best, care must be taken to avoid the mistaken belief that anything has fundamentally changed in the relationship with North Korea. The regime will test the United States again. The administration must be ready to respond with punishment and show the regime what behavior is and is not acceptable.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What Are They Thinking?!! – Socializing and Destroying Our Economy

On Friday, the House voted to give the government sweeping control over pay in the private sector. This plan continues the radical-leftist Congress’s assault on free enterprise and the capitalist system. Essentially the bill, H.R. 3269, prevents large companies from rewarding their employees in ways that may cause excessive risk taking. What excessive risks are is undefined.

Such a power grab greatly hampers the abilities of companies to structure their businesses according to what works best. While companies certainly have, and will continue, to make mistakes, there is no reason to assume that the government can make better decisions. In fact, there is much reason to believe that government interest does not coincide with what is best for a company. Governments have a whole host of groups that they must pander to; including, constituents, lobbyists, party members, and others.

Government meddling in corporate business strategy can only lead to bad situations where politics trump good business sense, sapping initiative and dampening the industrious and innovative American spirit. In such instances, the government role is inefficient, impractical, and downright foolish. It brings politics into a realm where they don’t belong. The very motivation for greater government involvement is completely imbued with political motivations. Such bills are precisely motivated by the populist rage that the Congressional Democrats are nurturing and harnessing, rather than any objective logic. Destroying the fictitious ‘fat-cat Wall Street’ apparently wins votes, even if it hurts the very Americans who cry for blood.

The damage that this bill could cause is foreshadowed by the government’s meddling in the relationship between Citigroup and one of its prime breadwinners, Andrew Hall. Hall, who runs a division of Citigroup called Phibro, which often earns a large chunk of revenue for the company, is admittedly a well compensated man (he owns a castle). He is now demanding a contractually committed bonus of $100 million. Citigroup, which received a lot of taxpayer cash through the bailout, is under immense pressure to renege.

The tensions in this are obvious. However, whether he is right or wrong, Hall, and his massive amounts of revenue, will leave Citigroup if his contract is not upheld. Citigroup is naturally in a tough position– stuck between the same populist anger that is pressuring the government and a large capital outlay that may reap future rewards. This tough decision is only complicated by the presence of government decision makers who, motivated by reasons not necessarily in line with Citigroup’s financial success, can severely influence what happens.

Proponents argue that government intervention is necessary to mitigate excessive risk taking on Wall Street. However, the excessive risk taking that this bill attempts to eradicate, is the very same excessive risk taking that Congress has helped build into the system. The financial bailout and other such programs encourage risky behavior. After all, if one knows one will not have to suffer the consequences, one will be more likely to take risks. When the suffered consequences do not match the risk level it encourages individuals to have a surplus of hazard. The bailout encourages just that.

Congress is in the process of establishing such a backwards system. If a system cushions the consequences of missteps, it simultaneously encourages missteps to be taken. Ultimately, people and institutions need to be able to feel the pinch in order to learn to avoid behavior in the future. The only alternative to eradicate risk is to have one party dictate every action– compensation, production, consumption. This is a failed political system often called communism.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Not a God - Part II: Obama’s Descent from Heaven

As recent polls, including Rasmussen Reports, suggest Obama’s support is on a steep downward trend. From the beginning of his campaign, Obama has built his own demise into his presidency. As is clearly being seen today, the Obama administration has greatly over promised and severely under delivered. Such a mismatch between pledges given and kept is expected and unsurprising given the near god-like image cultivated by his campaign. The world was promised and for many Obama was viewed as a savior. It is only natural, that given the realities of politics, such promises could not be kept.

Nevertheless, such a relative failure is turning out to be quite harmful for Obama. In at least some circles, the Obama facade is chipping, stripping his godliness and reverting him to a man–a failing man. America is beginning to see Obama for what he is; a politician with ideas, often ideas that do not resonate with the American people. Having fallen from such high regard, the loss of faith in the president is continuing to hamstring his policy objectives and weaken his presidency.

Obama has shown such miscalculation in a wide swatch of policy. While he has always been strongly criticized on foreign policy, Obama’s recent handling of the economy and healthcare and his insertion into the Gates-Crowley affair have proven disastrous.

Having missed the opportunity to fix the national healthcare on a self-imposed deadline, Obama is losing traction in overhauling the system. Successful attacks from the Right have hampered his attempts to hammer through a sweeping change. Furthermore, his own party is severely at odds with him and with each other. But most importantly, most Americans are happy with their current healthcare and see no need to implement the socialist programs that would destroy the private system. If ObamaCare follows the path of HillaryCare, it will destroy much of Obama’s remaining political capital.

Likewise, Obama made a huge mistake with the Gates-Crowley affair. Without reiterating the issue, Obama’s handling of the situation was a disastrous mistake. He inserted himself into a mediator role where no president should be. While his Beer Summit may have humorously corrected for some of his mistake, his snafu was at an inopportune time causing a loss of momentum on more important things on his agenda. It also showed that he is grossly out of touch with America, as some 62% of Americans believe race relations are improving.

As Obama’s presidency continues, he is showing and convincing more and more Americans that he is not the god that was he was portrayed as in his campaign. His human and policy failings are showing through his veneer at an ever increasing rate. This is good news for Republicans. As the saying goes, “The higher you climb, the farther you fall.” Unless he can pull some magic rabbit out of his hat, Obama’s decline will become precipitous. Obama seems to lack the political insights and understanding of policy to do this. The Republicans need to keep chipping away at him and firmly create the modern day Jimmy Carter.