A more benign view of Obama's diplomatic approach. Given that, the author still writes: "Now comes the hard part."
But then another writer see naivety and questions the double standards Obama seems to apply when it suits his cause.
The post Iranian vote reveals the following:
The Administration was caught flat footed.
The Administration has yet to devise a credible response other than mouthing meaningless words.
Timidity towards Iran and toughness toward Israel now stand in stark contrast and reveal Obama to be a bully. But he has proven that time and again so nothing new there.
Iran and N Korea have taken Obama's measure and they seem unafraid of and undeterred by his empty suit diplomacy.
Netanyhau and Israel may prove a convenient penata but the more Obama beats up on them, directly, through Clinton and or Mitchell or both, the more difficult it will be for him to achieve his ultimate goal. Why? Because his two faced diplomacy will stiffen Arab resolve and serve to increase their demands. Obama can shove Israel only so far before Netanyahu must start shoving back. An isolated Israel is not good for Israelis but it will eventually come back to haunt Obama more so. When you stick it to friends and give passes to your friend's enemies this says something about your character and judgement.(See 1 and 1a below.)
Katrina Heuvel would not call Obama to fix a leaky faucet based on her view of his effort at financial reform. (See 2 below.)
Milton Friedman on how to fix the health care system! He offers three simple solutions but they conflict with political reality. Obama and Democrats love emersing themselves in the very guts of our health care conundrum. The fact that their Rube Goldberg tinkering may kill the patient is of no consequence. Ideologues, like suckling babies, cannot let go!
Obama and the Democrats will repeat what politicians always say prior to any legislative initiative - passing this legislation will save money, produce efficiencies and will solve the problem. Voters know it is all a pack of lies but, like the idiot in a barrel going over Niagra Falls, they feel helpless. If truth be told they are helpless because they decided to give one party veto control over their nation and elected a man who is hell bent on changing everything that made us a power. Strange isn't it? (See 3 and 3a below.)
1)The Obama World Order: The president’s rhetoric has helped make change seem possible in Iran and the Middle East. Now comes the hard part.
By Michael Tomasky
It’s a long-held piece of Washington conventional wisdom—and, unlike most long-held pieces of Washington conventional wisdom, this one actually happens to be true!—that Democratic presidents tend to be more interested in domestic policy, while Republicans like making foreign policy.
There are several reasons for this. The main one: Democrats have usually had far more ambitious domestic agendas. Meanwhile, foreign policy has taken up more oxygen in Republican politics ever since the dawn of the Cold War, when a tough line became one of the two or three central elements of the GOP Weltanschauung. Besides, a Democratic Congress has been the norm for most of that time, so Republican presidents got that foreign policy was the realm in which they had to worry far less about that meddlesome Congress. With certain asterisks here and there—the ill-traveled and internationally incurious George W. Bush was the main exception until a certain September morning—this division of labor has held true.
Now comes Barack Obama. It’s not that he isn’t engrossed in domestic policy, obviously. He’s announcing some new initiative every week. This week is supposed to be “energy week,” as the president puts more political capital behind cap-and-trade legislation. But we knew he’d do all that. It’s what Democratic presidents do, especially when they take office in the throes of economic crisis.
The biggest surprise of the early Obama era, though, has been the way he’s thrown himself into foreign policy. Here again one could well argue that he didn’t have much choice, given the number of messes he inherited and the new ones the world seems to have a habit of making, notably the simultaneously frightening and inspiring one in Iran, which Obama correctly calculated was not the right occasion for oratorical showboating. But he’s doing, or trying to do, more than clean up messes. His project is a new grand strategy that (in theory at least) reestablishes American moral authority in the world, uses it to build coalitions to settle disputes, and as a by-product makes the Democratic Party look a lot more like Harry Truman and a lot less like George McGovern.
Want proof of his seriousness of intent? Then look at the issue he’s most vigorously thrown himself into—only the world’s toughest: Israel and Palestine (this week is also Middle East week, as Special Envoy George Mitchell sits down with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in Paris to schedule a resumption of direct peace talks). Last week I spoke with about a dozen close observers (Jewish, Arab, and other) of the situation, and virtually all of them expressed surprise that Obama has moved so quickly, aggressively, and personally on the issue.
It’s a marked contrast to Bush, who let the Middle East grow mold for seven years and then pressed Condi to hurry up and do something at a time by which players in the region knew she carried no weight anyway. And, of course, it’s a marked contrast to the usual modus operandi of presidents of both parties because Obama opened the chess match with a high-risk, public dressing-down of Israel on settlements. “We were very surprised at how strongly Obama came out in that first meeting with Bibi,” says Ghaith al-Omari of the American Task Force on Palestine.
Naturally, this has produced some alarm. But my impression from my interviews is that it’s often overstated. For every Malcolm Hoenlein, who kicked up dust within the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations last week with some anti-Obama comments, there’s at least one counterpart willing to give the president a shot. Even mighty aipac is holding its fire. “I think most people are saying, ‘It’s good he’s starting this,’ ” says Congressman Jerry Nadler. “There are right-wing elements who want to read evil intent into everything. But in general the mood is: ‘We need movement.’ ”
Movement has commenced, no doubt about that. But what can we really expect? Says Aaron David Miller, who worked on the issue for six secretaries of State of both parties: “President Yes-We-Can is squaring off against a region and an Israeli prime minister saying No-You-Can’t.”
I heard a few theories as to why Obama went so public about the settlements. An intriguing one held that it wasn’t intended to be quite that public—that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, maybe in a slightly overeager attempt to please the boss, used language that was stronger than even Obama would have preferred at a late-May press conference, but that once she said it, the White House didn’t want to hang her out to dry as Bush had Colin Powell over North Korea. Once regionalists think that the secretary of State doesn’t have a president’s confidence, she’s cooked. (For the record, the unanimous verdict among my sources was that Clinton has Obama’s total confidence.)
Fascinating if true. But I have my own theory, which I’ve named the Easiest Log Theory. That is, you’re looking at a logjam. Under layers of timber, you can see the handful of logs that are really causing the problem. But you can’t start with those because you can’t get to them. You start with the ones that are easiest to remove. Water will flow, even if just a trickle. And eventually you’ll get to the big ones.
Israel and the settlements are the easiest log. There’s no point starting with the Palestinians: (a) They’re harder to deal with, and (b) who speaks for them anyway? (“They’re Humpty Dumpty,” said Miller.) Fatah and Hamas make the Republicans look coherent. So in my theory, the thinking is: Get a concession out of Bibi, which sorta-kinda happened when he used the words “Palestinian state” in his June 14 speech, and get the Israelis (and the key U.S. Jewish players) into a time-for-action mind-set. Then take that to the Palestinians—and, crucially, to other Arab leaders—and say: “Okay. They’ve moved. Your turn.”
Of course, I am not, and Obama is not, the first person in history to think of this. But two big factors are different now.
First, the Obama team. It’s strong. You have Clinton and Mitchell. You have a roster of second-tier players who were widely praised in my chats last week: Mara Rudman is Mitchell’s top aide; Fred Hoff is another; David Hale another (he’s moving to Jerusalem full time). On the National Security Council staff, Daniel Shapiro is widely respected, and Dennis Ross may be brought over, in a move presumably meant to placate Israeli hawks. As a group, they and others get high marks for knowledge, experience, and seriousness.
They do, some sources say, fall into different camps—not so much hawks and doves as, for example, those who want Obama to pursue broad regional deals simultaneously (that mostly means an Israel-Syria deal, which isn’t impossible); those who think the most important step is to elevate Palestinian moderates and isolate Hamas; those who are sensitive about pushing Israel too hard. This last category includes chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, but Emanuel, I’m told, is more intent on peace than people think. He’s called the Oslo Accords signing ceremony at the Clinton White House in 1993, which he choreographed, one his proudest moments. “[A solution] is sort of unfinished business from his earlier days,” says one insider.
Mostly, there’s Obama himself. He’s invested in getting a deal, and, unlike Bush, he’s deep in the details. “He’s advising the advisers,” says James Zogby of the Arab American Institute.
And the second thing that’s changed? Congress. Traditionally, Congress was, as one person told me, “the court of appeals for the Jews.” If Israel didn’t like what a president was up to, they went to Capitol Hill. They’d fix things.
That is suddenly and thoroughly different. If Netanyahu was surprised by Obama’s frankness, he was shocked to sit with Jewish members of Congress the next day and hear them say “It’s time to do this” instead of “We’ve got your back.” Nadler wasn’t present but confirms this reaction from friends who were. As long as Obama is showing leadership, and it looks like he might get results, Congress will watch his back more than Bibi’s.
No one expects miracles here. The paradox is that at this moment of resolve and openness in Washington, there is more fear and distrust in the region than usual. Obama will have to get tough on what’s called “Palestinian incitement” (anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, promotion of violence). And that’s even before getting to the real issues (borders, Jerusalem, the rest).
But at this early point, we can say this much. Obama wants to be a serious foreign-policy president. And his speech in Cairo, and his rhetoric of transformation in general, have clearly helped light a fuse that caught fire in Lebanon and in the demonstrations in Iran. But we’re now starting to enter the phase where the deeds need to match the speeches. This is emerging as the great tension of this presidency, from health care to the Middle East and now to Iran: Can he take advantage of the energies his words have set in motion?
1a) Obama Shows Naivete on Iran
By Rich Lowry
If only the Obama administration considered motorcycle-riding thugs beating demonstrators in Iran an offense on par with Israel's West Bank settlements.
Then it could speak with moral passion. It could unmistakably denounce the killings, and relieve its State Department spokesman of the trouble of dancing around the word "condemn." It could say that our relationship with the Iranian government depends on the unconditional end of its thuggery. It could explain that only if Iran stops the crackdown can we "move forward" in the Middle East.
But Iran is not an ally of the United States. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gets a rhetorical pass that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't. As hundreds of thousands of Iranian protesters march for democracy, in defiance of a government that is our committed enemy, Pres. Barack Obama resorts to lawyerly equivocations. He labors to avoid saying anything denoting untoward disapproval of the baton-wielding shock troops of Iran's theocracy.
In a perverse irony, we are witnessing the most serious threat to the Islamic Republic since its establishment, at the same time the first American president explicitly to accept the regime's legitimacy happens to be in office. Whatever credibility the mullahs have lost in the street, they have picked up in the Oval Office, where the president bizarrely seems less enthusiastic about a change in dispensation in Iran than much of Tehran's population.
Obama says he wants to avoid stoking a nationalist backlash. A legitimate, but overblown, concern. Iranians surely can understand the difference between the U.S. sending CIA operatives into the country to help stage an anti-democratic coup - as Obama constantly reminds the world we did in the 1950s - and speaking up against repression. Without undue "meddling," Obama could note that governments in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan honor election results, and exhort Iran to lead the democratic wave rather than resist it.
Obama's timidity speaks to a guilty conscience. At some level, he buys the post-colonial critique of the West as the root of the developing world's troubles, and thinks we lack the moral standing to judge non-Western governments that resent and envy us. Obama is perfectly capable of launching moralistic broadsides - just at his own country, especially under his predecessor. Who are we to condemn the abuse of peaceful demonstrators when we waterboarded three terrorists?
And Obama is so dead-set on negotiating with the current regime, he doesn't want to invest much in the hope of changing it. Obama is often compared to Jimmy Carter, but his approach in Iran is the opposite of Carter's. Carter was deeply moved by human rights and put the possibility of promoting them above other priorities, such as stability and maintaining an ally in Tehran. Obama is putting human rights behind stability, in the ultimate cause of a prospective bargain with the mullahs.
This isn't really "realism," but a stubborn commitment to an illusory belief in the power of talks with an ill-intentioned, reform-resistant dictatorship. Beneath the veneer of its hardheaded distancing from the protesters, Obama's policy has a goopy, naïve heart.
Whatever wan hope there was that we could talk the Iranian regime out of its nuclear-weapons program is diminishing. The regime doesn't appear to be in a compromising mood, and Obama's free pass for the crackdown is likely only to broadcast our weakness and pliability. If there is no cost to violating international norms in crushing flesh-and-blood protesters, why will there be a cost to defying the parchment strictures of the International Atomic Energy Agency?
Obama has gotten a preview of what extending his hand to a clenched fist looks like in North Korea. Six months into the era of Obama's irenic, world-calming diplomacy, Pyongyang has tested a long-range missile and a nuclear device, and announced it's going to weaponize its plutonium stock and proceed with a uranium-enrichment program. Kim Jong Il's family dynasty shows no sign of realizing that the advent of Obama was supposed to change its nature, interests, and behavior.
Why will the mullahs?
2) Americans for Financial Reform
By Katrina vanden Heuvel
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In April, President Obama delivered a speech in which he alluded to the Sermon on the Mount to describe the stronger, more just economy he envisioned: "We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand," he said. "We must build our house upon a rock."
But the regulatory reforms he laid out on Wednesday do not fully accord with those eloquent words. Indeed columnist Joe Nocera accurately described President Obama's new plan in the New York Times yesterday: "The Obama plan is little more than an attempt to stick some new regulatory fingers into a very leaky financial dam rather than rebuild the dam itself…. Everywhere you look in the plan, you see the same thing: additional regulation on the margin, but nothing that amounts to a true overhaul."
Yet, at a time when we are living amid the blowback of an overgrown financial sector that did more harm than good, and we've seen the failure of a whole model of banking -- the Administration has offered some useful reforms. Most promising is the creation of a Consumer Finance Protection Agency-- the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. But we don't see the kind of real revamping that is sorely needed. What we really need now -- as Obama himself indicated in April -- is a new foundation for a new economy. That means ensuring -- through tough regulatory reforms that Nocera pointed out would "make some bankers mad" -- that we have a financial sector that is more responsive to the public interest and the real economy; that is a servant, not master, of the people.
That is why it's so critical that a new national coalition of nearly 200 state and local organizations ranging from financial experts to community advocates announced its formation this week. Americans for Financial Reform is committed to working for reforms "that keep people in their homes and prompt smart investment in communities and businesses that create good jobs and strong neighborhoods."
"For too long the big banks have been making their own rules and gambling with your money," campaign director Heather Booth said. "We've come together today to tell them those days are over. The excesses of Wall Street have spilled over into our communities and now our communities are going to take on the fight for real financial reform."
This coalition is impressive -- far too many strong groups to name here -- it is also timely and critical. At best, the prospects for meaningful reform are uncertain, as evident in Senator Dick Durbin's recent description of Congress: "The banks are the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill…and frankly they own the place."
Indeed too many banker fingerprints are on the Administration's new plan as well. Rather than breaking up banks that place our economy at risk by being "too big to fail", those institutions simply get a new name and promises of more regulation as "Tier 1 Financial Holding Companies". (Contrast that with Senator Bernie Sanders' refrain: "If you're too big to fail, you're too big to exist.") Customized derivatives of the AIG variety -- which wreaked such havoc all over the world -- will still be permitted and will still be difficult to regulate.
Finally, too much power is centralized in the Federal Reserve despite its recent failures and coziness with the financial sector it is supposed to watch. As The Nation's John Nichols wrote, "The Fed is famously unaccountable and resistant to transparency…. What should be obvious to everyone is that Congress needs to get a grip on the Fed -- which is structured in a manner so that it faces little or no congressional oversight -- before it allows Obama's proposal to advance." (Note: Watch for William Greider's major piece in our end of month issue on the dangers of entrusting the Fed with too much regulatory power.)
The banking lobbyists are already lining up to put the kibosh on the good Consumer Finance Protection Agency proposal with ridiculous proclamations of the exorbitant costs it will impose on consumers. With Congress setting a goal for a signed financial regulatory reform bill by the end of the year, the creation of Americans for Financial Reform comes none too soon. Even if the table is flawed -- and the Obama Administration perhaps missed an opportunity to set it right -- consumers and citizens need a seat there nonetheless. Otherwise, it's business as usual, and we know precisely where that leads.
3)Medical Analysis By Milton Friedman
Peter Robinson, 06.19.09, 12:01 AM ET
President Obama, the press, all the Democrats and a fair number of the Republicans in Congress share the same assumption about health care. Whatever you believe should be done about the problem, it sure is complicated.
Yet one man figured it out.
In 2001 the economist Milton Friedman read up on health care, discovered that the inefficiencies in our system trace back to a single policy mistake, worked out a policy test that would help us correct it and then described his findings in a few thousand words of plain English.
Since the end of the Second World War, Friedman explained, medical care in the U.S. has displayed three features: technological advances, increases in spending and rising dissatisfaction.
The first of the three was common to one sector of the economy after another. Agriculture, manufacturing, electronics, communications--all had experienced technological progress. Yet the two final features proved unique to health care. While we were paying less and getting more when buying food or computers, in health care the opposite was happening.
Because, Friedman saw, most payments for medical care are made not by the patients who receive the care but by third parties, typically employers. Since, in Friedman's phrase, "nobody spends somebody else's money as wisely as he spends his own," this third-payer system by its very nature introduces inefficiencies throughout the health care system.
The reason for this wasteful third-party system? The tax code. Money spent on health care is exempt from the income tax only if the health care is provided through an employer. "We have become so accustomed to employer-provided medical care," Friedman wrote, "that we regard it as part of the natural order. Yet it is thoroughly illogical."
The policy mistake that produced this illogical mess took place during World War II, when the government imposed wage controls. Unable to compete for workers by paying them more, employers began providing medical care, and the new benefit spread rapidly.
When the Internal Revenue Service caught on, requiring employers to include the value of medical benefits as part of the wages they reported, workers, who had grown accustomed to the benefits, protested. Congress responded with legislation that made employer-provided medical benefits tax-exempt.
By the time the 1960s arrived, Americans were used to having third parties pay their medical bills. Thus the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid--under which the government, rather than employers, acted as the third party--seemed perfectly reasonable.
Friedman wrote: "Third-party payment has required the bureaucratization of medical care. ... A medical transaction is not simply between a caregiver and a patient; it has to be approved as 'covered' by a bureaucrat. ... The patient has little ... incentive to be concerned about the cost since it's somebody else's money. The caregiver has become, in effect, an employee of the insurance company or, in the case of Medicare and Medicaid, of the government. ... An inescapable result is that the interest of the patient is often in direct conflict with the interest of the caregiver's ultimate employer."
In that one paragraph of under 100 words, a diagnosis of our ailment.
What should we do about it? Ideally, Friedman argued, we should reverse the mistake that started all the trouble, repealing the tax exemption of employer-provided medical care. Yet Friedman was a realist. Vested interests, he recognized, would make such a radical reform impossible. Instead he believed we should seek incremental changes, asking of each proposal simply whether it would move health care "in the right direction."
Expanding savings accounts that allow individuals control over relevant spending, Friedman argued, would move health care in the right direction. So would extending the tax exemption to all medical expenses, whether they are paid by employers or individuals. A "sweeping socialization of medicine [such as that] proposed by Hilary Clinton"--and, now, by Barack Obama--would not.
Wherever possible, reduce the role of third parties. Increase the autonomy of individuals. Get the government and vast, bureaucratic insurance companies out of the way, permitting the free market to work its effects in health care, just as it does in virtually every other sector of the economy.
That's not too complicated, now, is it?
Peter Robinson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and contributor to RobinsonandLong.com, writes a weekly column for Forbes.
3a) Better get sick now, not later
By R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
If you have any sense that you may be getting sick in the years ahead, I suggest you get sick immediately. If you will need of surgery or any medical procedure, do it now! If not immediately, be certain that you hand yourself over to the health care professionals before Oct. 15. That is the date on which President Obama hopes to sign his health care bill once it has gone through the congressional baloney grinder.
At the heart of Mr. Obama's plan is his stated goal to cut medical costs. That might sound good to you, but it means cutting services, nurses, technicians, medical tests and, most prominently, the use of expensive technology. The president's top medical advisers are quite frank about this.
Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and a health-policy adviser in the Office of Management and Budget, has chided Americans for the expense of their "being enamored with technology." Dr. David Blumenthal, another key Obama adviser, charges medical innovations as being responsible for fully two-thirds of the annual increase in health care spending. Their solution is to limit expensive innovations. A 2008 Congressional Budget Office report agrees with their cost analysis but concludes happily that such innovations "permit the treatment of previously untreatable conditions." As I shall show, there are more humane ways to cut health care costs.
Also at the heart of Mr. Obama's plan is the restriction of services for older people, people 65 and older who, by virtue of modern medicine, may actually be 10 and 15 years younger in terms of good health than they would have been a generation ago. Alas, they still have higher health risks and costs than younger people. Thus, they are going to bear the brunt of the Obama administration's cost cuts, for 27 percent to 30 percent of Medicaid spending is spent for caring for people at the end of their lives.
With the government taking over more of the nation's health care costs under the Obama regime, it has already been decided that government monies are more economically spent on younger people than on older people. If a 65-year-old needs a hip replacement, the government will better spend that money on a younger person whose hip will last longer. Or perhaps the government will decide the money is better spent on preventive medicine for younger people.
In the federal stimulus legislation that the president signed Feb. 17, we find funding for a Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. "Comparative effectiveness research" is a term used by economists in health care for making health comparisons based often on age and for limiting care based on a patient's age. In Great Britain, comparative-effectiveness research is actually used to deny patients treatment for age-related diseases such as heart disease and macular degeneration.
When the federal stimulus bill was going through Congress, there were warnings regarding the consequences of comparative effectiveness research. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican and a heart surgeon, warned it would lead to "denying seniors and the disabled lifesaving care."
Yet the policy remained in the bill along with requirements for doctors' offices and hospitals to maintain data banks on patients while creating a national network to monitor patients' care.
The good side of that is that a central database can send out the latest information on treatments, although doctors who keep up with their medical journals already know about these treatments. The dark side is that it will allow the federal government to control how our doctors treat us. The bill speaks of "appropriate" and "cost-effective" care and provides penalties against doctors beginning in 2014. Now there is an Orwellian twist to the Obama promise of "hope" and "change."
As Betsy McCaughey has written in a groundbreaking analysis of the Obama health care proposals, draconian cost-control measures are not the answer to health care reform, and they are based on erroneous data. Health care's spending increases over the past five years have been about half what they were in the recent period before that. Average family spending on food, energy and health care have remained the same for decades. Moreover, contrary to myth, there are not 47 million uninsured Americans but actually about 22 million. Rather than pass a health care reform that will mercilessly limit health care to older citizens - and to chronically ill citizens - while still increasing federal expenditures by at least a trillion dollars, she suggests a modest reform, to wit, debit cards for the uninsured and the needy.
In a recent installment of Spectator.org, Ms. McCaughey wrote, "Providing sliding scale assistance, based on household income, to families to purchase coverage would cost $20 billion to $25 billion a year." That is one reform that will deal with our present problems. There are others, which I shall take up in later columns. What we do not need is George Orwell's Big Brother overseeing the rationing of health care to senior citizens, particularly senior citizens with years of life ahead of them.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor of the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.