Published for The Washington Post’s Post Partisan, June 14th, 2010:
My Post colleague Eva Rodriguez defends former president Bush from the charge that his administration engaged in Nazi-like medical experimentation on CIA detainees, and she scores our colleague Katrina vanden Huvel for “raising the specter of Mengele.” Rodriguez opposes enhanced interrogation, but writes that there is no comparison between the Bush administration’s actions and those of the Nazis. We must distinguish between “the misguided acts of a president intent on protecting his country from another devastating attack and the impulses of a psychopath who whiles away the hours by making lamp shades out of human skin.”
Rodriguez is right in making a distinction between Bush and the Nazis, and courageous to say so. But she would be surprised how many freely make the comparison between Bush and the Nazis. In 2008, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) declared in a speech on the Senate floor, “Waterboarding [is] a technique… banned for excessive cruelty by the Gestapo!” (Consider that for a moment: Dodd actually believes that the techniques applied by his own country were considered excessively cruel by the Gestapo). In 2005, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, stood on the Senate floor and compared the techniques used by our military at Guantanamo Bay to those “done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings.” (A few days later, Durbin slunk back to the floor and delivered a partial apology: “I am sorry if anything I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy.”) No apology to the men and women of Guantanamo.
Published for Post Partisan on washingtonpost.com, June 8th, 2010:
Yesterday’s Post story on the cost of Guantanamodetailed how many U.S. tax dollars had been invested in the naval base. When I traveled to Guantanamo last September, I also saw a lot of money being spent — mostly to improve conditions for detainees who were supposedly leaving in a few months.
Visiting Camp 4, I saw bulldozers lined up for a construction project. The officer in charge explained they were preparing to bulldoze away the gravel in the exercise yard and replace it with sand. Why were they going to such expense, I asked, since the facility is supposedly going to be closed in January? He said the terrorists — 95 percent of detainees are terrorist leaders, operatives or fighters — had complained that it was too hard to play soccer on the gravel, and they wanted sand instead.
The food the terrorists receive at Guantanamo is better than what American forces eat in the camp dining facility — and twice as expensive. The chef in charge of detainee food showed me how she prepared exotic Middle Eastern meals according to the Islamic standards of halal. In addition, terrorists receive special communal “feast” meals twice a week. According to one officer I spoke with, the military at one point spent $125,000 on baklava for the terrorists to enjoy each night during Ramadan.
Published for the Corner on nationalreview.com, June 8th, 2010:
In today’s Washington Post, I write about how the wolves are circling the CIA’s Predator program, and how the Obama administration is endangering the CIA officials involved in the program by expanding operations while shrinking the legal ground on which their efforts are based. The administration refuses to invoke the president’s Article II powers under the Constitution to defend the country, relying instead on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The problem, former StateDepartment Legal Advisor John Bellinger has explained, is that Congress authorized the use of force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But many of those currently targeted — particularly outside Afghanistan — had nothing to do with those attacks. The President has authority to target these individuals under his Constitutional powers as Commander in Chief, but the case is murkier if relying on the AUMF alone.
As examples, I cite the Pakistani Taliban leaders who sent a terrorist to blow up a car in Times Square, but were not involved in 9/11. (On these pages, Andy McCarthy hascalled for updating the AUMF to cover all branches of the Taliban.) And I note that, “The American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi was not involved in Sept. 11 — yet he has reportedly been put on the targeting list.”
On this last point, Tom Joscelyn writes to correct me:
Your point before this stands, but Awlaki clearly was involved in Sept. 11. The intelligence community and FBI consistently messed up their analysis of him beginning in 1999. He hosted two of the hijackers in San Diego beginning in Jan. 2000 and became, according to the Joint Inquiry, their “spiritual advisor.” When Awlaki left for Falls Church, VA, one of the two followed him there. Awlaki’s congregation then assisted both this hijacker (Hazmi) and another hijacker in their tour of the Northeast.
Published for ObamaCareWatch.org, June 8th, 2010:
This week, we learned that the Obama administration is orchestrating a $125 million propaganda campaign to sell the recently enacted health-care law to the public. That effort will be funded by labor unions and other groups from the Democratic political orbit. It comes on top of the misleading government mailer sent to the nation’s seniors, at the expense of taxpayers, touting the supposed benefits of ObamaCare for the elderly. On Tuesday, the president himself will join the fray again to make the sales pitch, this time promoting the colossal waste of taxpayer money associated with $250 per senior bribes to be issued this summer and fall.
The problem the White House has, however, has never been insufficient public relations spin. The problem is the substance. Americans care deeply about their health care, and they have seen right through the Democratic rhetoric on ObamaCare from day one. They know that it is a poorly conceived experiment, built on the flawed assumption that the problems in U.S. health care can be solved with heavier regulation, subsidization, and micro-management from Washington, D.C.
In Medicare, the results of the new law will be disastrous. ObamaCare will cut payments to the private insurance component of the program (called Medicare Advantage, or MA) by nearly $200 billion over ten years. The chief actuary of the program says this cut will eventually drive 7 million seniors — many with low-incomes — out of the plan they would prefer to enroll in. And it will mean thousands of dollars in benefit reductions for every MA enrollee, beginning next year. These seniors won’t be silenced with patronizing and one-time checks. In addition, the new law imposes arbitrary price cutting for all manner of Medicare services, which the chief actuary says will harm access to care by forcing scores of institutions to stop taking Medicare beneficiaries.
Last week, we learned that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has postponed issuing guidance on the ill-conceived “medical-loss ratio” requirement in the new law because, as passed by Congress, it will cause massive and unnecessary disruption to millions of current insurance enrollees. One estimate is that 1 to 2 million people with individual insurance will lose their coverage if the requirement is imposed because national insurers will be forced to exit the market to avoid large business losses.
Published for The Washington Post, June 8th, 2010:
CIA Director Leon Panetta made an unusual visit to the agency’s Counterterrorism Center last year to buck up his troops. Morale had been devastated by the release of highly classified details of the CIA’s interrogation program and the growing calls for prosecution of those involved. According to one top intelligence official, a senior officer involved in targeting terrorists asked Panetta what would happen to him in five years when the political winds shifted. Would he be hung out to dry like those in the interrogation program? Panetta said he could not promise the officer would not be hung out to dry — only that it would not happen while President Obama was in office.
Only a year later, the wolves are already circling. Last week the CIA celebrated one of its biggest successes when al-Qaeda confirmed that a drone had killed its No. 3 leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, in Pakistan. Yet also last week, the United Nations issued a scathing report demanding that the CIA stop using drones and declaring that agency officials involved in targeted killings of terrorists such as Yazid may be in legal jeopardy. The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions questioned whether the United States was engaged in an “armed conflict” outside of the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, and declared that, outside the “exceptional circumstance” of such an armed conflict, “killings by the CIA would constitute extrajudicial executions assuming that they do not comply with human rights law. If so, they must be investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. and the State in which the wrongful killing occurred.
Published for The Wall Street Journal, June 3rd, 2010:
Voters will understand plenty about the hidden costs of the law by November.
White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod argued earlier this year that health-care reform would become more popular after it passed, boosting Democrats in the midterm elections. “We have to go out and sell it,” he told the National Journal, adding in an interview in Newsweek that “people [will] see the benefits that accrue to them.”
That’s not quite how it has worked out. ObamaCare is becoming more, not less, unpopular. The Rasmussen poll reported the week after health reform’s passage in March that 55% of likely voters supported its repeal while 42% did not. A Rasmussen poll last month showed that 56% backed repeal; 39% did not.
Some may argue that President Obama has been able to extol the legislation’s supposed virtues only sporadically, instead having to confront other challenges from the Gulf oil spill to foreign policy controversies. But the real problem is ObamaCare’s substantive defects, some only now coming to light. Consider the April 22 analysis by Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, which blasted to smithereens many of Mr. Obama’s claims for the bill.
For starters, Mr. Foster estimated Americans would pay $120 billion in fines for not having adequate insurance coverage and that 14 million people would lose their coverage as rising costs led companies to dump it. Those effects are not in keeping with Mr. Obama’s promises that if people liked the health insurance they had they could keep it, and that the reforms would provide universal coverage.
As published for Contentious on commentarymagazine.com on May 28th, 2010:
There is certainly a valid point made by those who argue that there are limits to what government can do in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the oil-rig explosion and oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. No government — and indeed no human institution — can respond perfectly to such emergencies. And even if it did, it could not undo much of the damage. All of us, but especially conservatives, should recognize this.
The problem for President Obama, though, is that his comments on the government response to Hurricane Katrina were not terribly understanding of the limits of government to stop bad things from happening during a disaster. For example, then Senator Obama cited what he called the Bush administration’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina. And during the 2008 campaign, Obama said, “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.”
It’s reasonable to assume, I think, that if the oil spill had happened on John McCain’s watch instead of his, Obama would be on television and giving speeches, lacerating the McCain administration for its weak and slow response, talking about a trust that was broke, the fact that our government was not prepared, that it focused on spin rather than competence.
The “tax extenders” bill, which yesterday I relabeled The Hypocrisy Act of 2010, contains some little-discussed provisions that would allow certain firms to further underfund their employee pensions. Advocates for the legislation promote this as a virtue, continuing a longstanding bipartisan trend of Congress rewarding bad pension behavior by both management and labor bosses in firms with a certain type of pension plan. These provisions are irresponsible and should be removed from the bill.
I’m going to use this as an opportunity to provide a crash course in a few aspects of pension policy. Let’s begin with some background on defined contribution and defined benefit pension plans.
In a defined contribution (DC) pension plan, an employer commits to contributing specific dollar amounts into an employee’s pension account. The employee then makes investment decisions for the funds in his account. The employee has both the upside and downside investment risk: if he invests well, he will have more for retirement. If he invests poorly, he will have less. The employer usually contracts out to a private investment firm (like Fidelity) for the account and investment management.
In a defined benefit (DB) pension plan, an employer commits to pay the employee a specific benefit amount at retirement. The employer owns both the upside and downside investment risk.
If a worker is risk averse toward investment, then the advantage goes to the DB plan. If he thinks he can manage his investments better than his employer can, then the advantage goes to the DC plan. Many workers are risk averse with their retirement planning. Also, if you hate private investment firms (as some on the left do), then you probably don’t like that aspect of a DC plan.