|1:47 PM, Nov 25, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Max Boot, writing for the Los Angeles Times:
Analogies between Secretary of State John F. Kerry's negotiations with Iran and the negotiations the Reagan administration undertook with the Soviet Union have become commonplace. But is Hassan Rouhani really another Mikhail Gorbachev — another leader of a dictatorship with whom the U.S. can (and should) "do business," in Margaret Thatcher's phrase?
Recall that Gorbachev was not just interested in achieving arms reductions with the U.S. He was intent on a thorough reform of Russian society. The Encyclopaedia Britannica summarizes his initiatives: "Under his new policy of glasnost ("openness"), a major cultural thaw took place: freedoms of expression and of information were significantly expanded; the press and broadcasting were allowed unprecedented candor in their reportage and criticism; and the country's legacy of Stalinist totalitarian rule was eventually completely repudiated by the government. Under Gorbachev's policy of perestroika ("restructuring"), the first modest attempts to democratize the Soviet political system were undertaken; multi-candidate contests and the secret ballot were introduced in some elections to party and government posts."
The success of these policies was limited because they were resisted by the apparatchiks — the communist bureaucrats — but there is no question that Gorbachev sent a signal that the old days of repression at home and adventurism abroad were at an end. From his first day in office in 1985, he was intent on pulling Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, a goal he achieved in 1989.
That same year, as revolts rippled across Eastern Europe, Gorbachev allowed the fall of communist regimes from East Berlin to Warsaw. Instead of sending the Red Army to impose order, he pulled out Soviet troops and allowed democracy to blossom and the Cold War to end.
Have there been any similar indications of a change of heart on the part of Rouhani and his master, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? Hardly.
Whole thing here.
11:06 AM, Nov 25, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
George E. Condon Jr. at the National Journal delivers a piece of Beltway analysis that is sure to gladden the hearts of all those living and working (or looking for work) out beyond the Potomac. The insider news is that, while the Obama administration has been through a bit of a rough patch, there is a way to turn things around. David Axelrod, the ace insider, sees it like this:
They've sort of hit the nadir, and the website is going to get better. I think you see signs of that already …If you look back, right from the beginning of the year, there has been a series of events—shootings, natural disasters, international events, the shutdown, and the self-inflicted wounds of the website—all of those have conspired to take him off the main message.
And what might that "main message" be?
The economy of course. So the administration would like to change the subject (pivot?) from a discussion of Obamacare (nothing more, really) than a bum website and it’s getting better) and get everyone talking about the economy. Again.
President Obama, Condon writes, has “always benefited from reminding Americans that jobs are his highest priority.”
"That," says Axelrod, "is home base. But it is very hard to deliver that message in a sustained way when events keep taking you off. So you have to have the discipline to stick with your message." Additionally, he acknowledges, you have to understand that you can't control news coverage. "As intent as the media is now on this health care issue, it is hard to get to other issues.
The health care thing is distracting, no question about it. But one does wonder just how the administration plans to frame its main message, come State of the Union time, and account for the fact that the percentage of the work for actually employed is at a 35 year low.
With jobs being the president’s “highest priority.”
10:25 AM, Nov 25, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
The terrorist attack against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, awakened renewed interest in the security of overseas consulates and embassy facilities. A recent report by the State Department's Office of the Inspector General spotlights some major concerns regarding the safety of American diplomats and staff in Minsk, Belarus, as well as the security of communications. The report notes that some progress has been made during the last year, but more remains to be done.
The report lays out the difficult conditions for the diplomatic mission in Belarus, noting that to visit the "Embassy Minsk is to step back in time to an era when American diplomats in Eastern Europe operated in inhospitable environments." The government of Belarus is often hostile and imposes severe restrictions, including a five-person limit on American staff. This has produced a ratio of five Americans to 119 locals staff members, too high by normal standards, and has also resulted in the five Americans (down from 35 in 2008) serving long hours and often double duty. The limit remains despite assurance from the Belarus government that it was only temporary, and is largely responsible for the staff's inability "to comply with numerous security, consular, information technology, reporting, and management requirements.”
The American staff is generally praised by the inspector general for excellent work and ingenuity under difficult conditions. For instance, the report relates an incident where consul foiled "the kidnapping of an American citizen by repeatedly calling his cell phone until the kidnappers, alarmed by the U.S. Government label appearing on his phone’s screen, released him unharmed." Additionally, the chargé d’affaires is credited with improving security since arriving in 2012:
The chargé has also reinforced embassy security measures. When he arrived at post in 2012, access control was haphazard. Badges were not issued to visitors, and the local guard force used familiarity as a criterion for granting personnel access to the compound. The chargé and management officer/post security officer moved quickly to implement the required access control policy and procedures. The chargé has also worked with the Kyiv-based RSO to enhance mission security.
Security concerns, however, remain as noted elsewhere in the report:
The 2012 chief of mission controls statement of assurance noted that a physical security survey has not been performed within the past 3 years. As discussed earlier in the report, there are serious facilities, [portion redacted] deficiencies that did not appear in the 2012 statement. The OIG team stressed that, in preparation for the 2013 statement, it is important that the mission review, document, and establish an improvement plan to resolve current deficiencies.
9:04 AM, Nov 25, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
A Virginia employer is being forced to cancel the health care plan it offers its employees due to Obamacare. As a result, WDBJ reports, one cancer victim will be forced off her employer's plan:
"We've heard about the computer glitches associated with the Affordable Care Act website, now some are saying, you can add broken promises to the list of problems," says the WDBJ anchor. Reporter "Susan McGinnis visits a Virginia Beach woman who says her work insurance was fine until ACA came along."
"At her office in Virginia Beach, Debra Fishericks often sneeks a peek at her 3 year old grandson. ... Debra is battling kidney cancer. During the 10 years she's worked at Atkinson Realty, the company has provided group health insurance with manageable premiums," says reporter Susan McGinnis.
"We were happy," says the business owner. "We had great insurance. We had continuing care for our employees."
Says the owner, "Great--until owner Betsy Atkinson learned the policy would be terminated because it doesn't meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act."
8:38 AM, Nov 25, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Danielle Pletka on the Iran nuclear deal:
When word came that Secretary of State John Kerry was winging his way back to Geneva, there was little doubt a deal had been reached with Iran for some nuclear concessions in exchange for a modicum of sanctions relief. Reaction was predictable from most quarters, with those concerned about Iran’s bona fides slamming the de minimis requirements of the agreement — particularly a failure to secure Iran’s agreement to cease all enrichment, a key demand of all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. Naturally, both Iran’s and Obama’s friends in Washington were equally quick to praise the “historic agreement”.The good in the dribs and drabs reported about this agreement are straightforward:
- a halt of work at Arak, the heavy water reactor that provides Iran a second route to a bomb
- A suspension of installation of new centrifuges
- Intrusive new inspections
- A cap on the stockpile of enriched uranium
The bad is in what is left out:
- all enrichment
- cooperation in revealing details of Iran’s military work at Parchin
- Construction (though not installation) of new centrifuges
- Reversal of nuclear progress
Chatting last week with a prominent nuclear expert in Washington (a Democrat), we talked about the problems with the then prospective deal. Ironically, we were in complete agreement:
- Phased deals such as this buy more time for the would-be nuclear state to advance its program while giving key concessions on the sanctions front.
- Sequenced agreements of this kind don’t work (viz: North Korea).
- The administration was too desperate for a deal.
- There will be no phase two.
In reality, Iran has given nothing of substance other than a “pause” in its program.
Whole thing here.
8:01 AM, Nov 25, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Bill Kristol, with Donna Brazile, Cokie Roberts, and Matthew Dowd, yesterday on ABC News:
7:27 AM, Nov 25, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton believes the nuclear deal with Iran isn't a good one. "With this agreement, the United States has suffered an unmitigated, humiliating defeat and Iran has won a total victory. The United States will ease sanctions and give the mullahs billions of dollars in return for their empty promises. Iran will keep enriching uranium, keep its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, keep its plutonium-producing reactor, and keep its missile program," says Cotton in a statement.
“President Obama promises that sanctions will be reapplied if—really, when—Iran violates this agreement, but his promises can no longer be trusted. Thus, it’s up to Congress to protect our country. The way to stop Iran from going nuclear and to avoid military action by any nation is to tighten sanctions, not ease them. The House earlier this year passed the bipartisan Nuclear Iran Prevention Act with 400 votes. I urge the Senate to pass similar legislation immediately by a similar veto-proof majority. If President Obama won’t protect America, then Congress must.
“I fear that future generations may view what happened in Geneva as we have viewed Munich for 75 years. What makes this moment worse is that the West appeased Hitler at Munich out of fear and weakness. President Obama capitulated at Geneva even though we were in a position of strength given the sanctions regime. One can only imagine the thinking behind this grievous, historic mistake.”
12:38 PM, Nov 24, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
New York senator Chuck Schumer is "disappointed" with the nuclear deal with Iran, according to a statement released by his Senate office.
"I am disappointed by the terms of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations because it does not seem proportional," the Democratic Schumer says in a statement.
"Iran simply freezes its nuclear capabilities while we reduce the sanctions," he said. "This disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December. I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues." ...
"It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced," he said. "A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability."
Via Talking Points Memo.
11:16 AM, Nov 24, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reports that "Syria welcomes Geneva agreement between Iran and P5+1 countries." SANA is an organ of the Syrian regime.
"An official source at the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said that Syria welcomes the agreement which was struck in Geneva between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 countries," reads the report from the propaganda machine.
The source added that Syria considers the agreement as "historic" and it maintains the interests of the Iranian brotherly people, adding that the agreement recognizes the right of the Iranian people to use the nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
Syria believes that reaching such agreement is evidence that political solutions to the crises of the region are the best means to ensure the security and stability of the region far from foreign intervention and threats to use force, the source said.
In a statement to SANA, the source added that the agreement paves the way for international efforts to free the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction, particularly after Syria's accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and Israel remains the only obstacle preventing this objective from being achieved because it is the only side that possesses nuclear weapons and rejects to put its nuclear facilities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"Syria congratulates the Iranian brotherly people and their wise leadership on this historic achievement which reiterates Iran's role in the stability and security of the region," the source concluded.
What does Israel do now?8:50 AM, Nov 24, 2013 • By JOHN BOLTON
Negotiations for an “interim” arrangement over Iran’s nuclear weapons program finally succeeded this past weekend, as Security Council foreign ministers (plus Germany) flew to Geneva to meet their Iranian counterpart. After raising expectations of a deal by first convening on November 8-10, it would have been beyond humiliating to gather again without result. So agreement was struck despite solemn incantations earlier that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
This interim agreement is badly skewed from America’s perspective. Iran retains its full capacity to enrich uranium, thus abandoning a decade of Western insistence and Security Council resolutions that Iran stop all uranium-enrichment activities. Allowing Iran to continue enriching, and despite modest (indeed, utterly inadequate) measures to prevent it from increasing its enriched-uranium stockpiles and its overall nuclear infrastructure, lays the predicate for Iran fully enjoying its “right” to enrichment in any “final” agreement. Indeed, the interim agreement itself acknowledges that a “comprehensive solution” will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program.” This is not, as the Obama administration leaked before the deal became public, a “compromise” on Iran’s claimed “right” to enrichment. This is abject surrender by the United States.
In exchange for superficial concessions, Iran achieved three critical breakthroughs. First, it bought time to continue all aspects of its nuclear-weapons program the agreement does not cover (centrifuge manufacturing and testing; weaponization research and fabrication; and its entire ballistic missile program). Indeed, given that the interim agreement contemplates periodic renewals, Iran may have gained all of the time it needs to achieve weaponization not of simply a handful of nuclear weapons, but of dozens or more.
Second, Iran has gained legitimacy. This central banker of international terrorism and flagrant nuclear proliferator is once again part of the international club. Much as the Syria chemical-weapons agreement buttressed Bashar al-Assad, the mullahs have escaped the political deep freezer.
Third, Iran has broken the psychological momentum and effect of the international economic sanctions. While estimates differ on Iran’s precise gain, it is considerable ($7 billion is the lowest estimate), and presages much more. Tehran correctly assessed that a mere six-months’ easing of sanctions will make it extraordinarily hard for the West to reverse direction, even faced with systematic violations of Iran’s nuclear pledges. Major oil-importing countries (China, India, South Korea, and others) were already chafing under U.S. sanctions, sensing President Obama had no stomach either to impose sanctions on them, or pay the domestic political price of granting further waivers.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s earlier warning that this was “the deal of the century” for Iran has unfortunately been vindicated. Given such an inadequate deal, what motivated Obama to agree? The inescapable conclusion is that, the mantra notwithstanding, the White House actually did prefer a bad deal to the diplomatic process grinding to a halt. This deal was a “hail Mary” to buy time. Why?
12:41 AM, Nov 24, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The nuclear deal with Tehran is a "pause that refreshes" for Iran, says the Emergency Committee for Israel in a statement released tonight:
"The Geneva Agreement is a defeat for the United States and the West. It fails to uphold even the minimum demand of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions that Iran must stop enriching uranium. For the next six months, the centrifuges will not be dismantled and will continue to spin, uranium will be enriched, the 20 percent enriched uranium will stay in Iran, and a reactor designed to produce bomb-ready plutonium will remain just months away from completion. Iran will continue its march to nuclear weapons, with perhaps a brief pause in some parts of the program -- but it will be a pause that refreshes, since Iran will be rewarded right away with significant sanctions relief, with the additional likelihood that the rest of the sanctions regime will begin to crumble.
"Congress should make clear that it does not support this deal. Congress should make clear that just because the Obama administration seems to have taken all our options off the table, our allies need not follow us down this futile path of accommodating the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions. In particular, Congress should make clear the United States will support Israel if Israel decides she must act to prevent a regime dedicated to her destruction from acquiring the means to do so."
The statement is from Emergency Committee for Israel executive director Noah Pollak. The chairman of ECI is Bill Kristol.
12:22 AM, Nov 24, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
U.S. Rep. Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on the Iran-deal reached tonight:
"I have serious concerns that this agreement does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and our allies. Instead of rolling back Iran’s program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability. Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling – relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years. This sanctions relief is more lifeline than ‘modest.’ Secretary Kerry should soon come before the Foreign Affairs Committee to address the many concerns with this agreement."
12:00 AM, Nov 24, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
In light of the Geneva Agreement, I went back to read Winston Churchill's October 5, 1938, speech in the House of Commons on the Munich Agreement. Here are a few highlights:
I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat. ...
It is the most grievous consequence of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years - five years of futile good intentions, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance, five years of uninterrupted retreat ... five years of neglect of our defences....
Our loyal, brave people...should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history ... and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:
"Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting."
And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.
Read the whole thing.
9:28 AM, Nov 23, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Scott Johnson calls attention to a column in the Roanoke Times by Sharon Ingerson, a registered nurse in Salem, Virginia.
Here's the gist of Ms. Ingerson's piece:
I am a registered nurse and I buy my individual policy with Optima Health....
My plan does not qualify under the Affordable Care Act because it does not include maternity coverage. I am a 41-year-old woman with three children (one with moderate-severe autism and mental retardation). I am not having any more children.
This is ridiculous. However, it gets worse. Optima gave me my options. Now I have a $2,500 deductible with 100 percent coverage after the deductible is met. The family deductible is $5,000. The plan costs $209 per month. This is not a substandard plan.
I have a health savings account where I have saved more than $12,000, so if my family needs health care, I can provide for them.
The new Obamacare plans are worse in every regard....
Here is the closest plan to mine: $3,250 deductible (worse), $6,500 family deductible (worse), and the premium is an outrageous $674 per month (far worse). Essentially, I will pay $465 a month or $5,580 a year more for insurance. Obama promised the average family (I’m a nurse; we’re average) $2,500, but I will pay $5,580 more?....
This will ruin my family’s health care options. I will lose the ability to save any money in my health savings account. Instead of saving for my family’s needs, I will have to give that money to an insurance company....
Anger doesn’t begin to describe how I feel....
And disgust for Obamacare shouldn't begin to describe how the rest of us feel. Disgust needs to result in determination, a determination to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Obamacare Delenda Est!
12:00 AM, Nov 23, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Go into almost any shop and hear Christmas carols and read signs trumpeting enormous discounts. Unusual, since the scramble for discounts traditionally begins after, not before, the first turkey has made the ultimate sacrifice to celebrants of Thanksgiving. By the end of next week, 45 million turkeys will have moved from farm to plate to palate, and the discount wars will be in full flow. Best Buy, the recovering appliance chain, has vowed to match the prices of discounter Walmart’s, which in turn pledges to undersell Best Buy and everyone else who dares to compete with it during what it is predicting will be a shopping season battered by political paralysis, government spending cuts and a weak recovery. Lest those pledges of competitive mutual assured destruction result in a downward price spiral to zero, the various sellers will offer slightly different, difficult-to-compare models, a ploy that will not prevent margins from becoming razor-thin.
Still, slight profits are better than none at all. Most merchants can live with thin margins if they have to, so long as merchandise is flying off the shelves. That is especially important this year: retailers’ inventories shot up recently, and will leave stores with unwanted stocks of unsold goods as they enter the new year unless trade is brisk.
Therein lies a tale of the weakness of our forecasting and polling tools. We know that consumers are in a sour mood, gloomier than they have been in some time. So they tell pollsters. But we know, too, that consumers don’t always behave as they tell pollsters they plan to. A poll by the National Retail Federation produced considerable gnashing of teeth by its members: consumers say they plan to spend 2% less than they did last year. Analysts at Morgan Stanley say that this year’s holiday shopping season will be the weakest since 2008, meaning that retailers will be scrambling for a larger slice of a shrinking pie. Or so the bank believes.
But most economists expect consumers to do what their economic models say those consumers will do once fortified with their Thanksgiving dinners and after surveying the bargains on offer, rather than follow up on their abstemious intentions. Plug a variety of variables, including recent increases in share prices and after-tax incomes into economists’ somewhat different models, and out comes a forecast of a more-than 5 percent increase in sales this month and next, the largest gain in eight years. Economic models have not been sure guides to the future in the past, but neither are they always fallible.
And in this case, there is reason to give them some weight. The American economy is in the midst of a battle. In one corner, wearing red-white-and-blue trunks, are the politicians and policymakers. They are battling to produce a budget, both for the next year and for years to come, with accompanying forecasts of apocalypse soon if their opponents prevail. Deficits are falling, which pleases Republicans but has Democrats arguing that the economic recovery is too weak to tolerate cuts in government spending. The disagreement won’t produce another government shutdown, or the threat of default when the debt ceiling is reached. But the politicians will take things to the brink, making consumers more than a little uncertain as to whether future policy will accelerate the recovery, or slow it further.
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