Tag: cnn

Arbabsiar Plot Still Makes No Sense

Manssor Arbabsiar

I was as shocked as most other people to hear Tuesday the Department of Justice unveiling charges against Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year old Iranian-American apparently linked to Iran’s Quds Force. If the facts as described in the government’s complaint [.pdf] were part of a crime novel I were editing, I’d tell the author it was far too outlandish and to do some more research. Now we’re finding out that the administration itself had “expressed concern that the plot’s cartoonish quality would invite suspicions and conspiracy theories.”

And cartoonish it was. I had figured that maybe I was the only one who thought the government’s story was shot through with gaping holes, but now I read that basically the entire roster of non-neoconservative Iran watchers can’t make sense of the plot.

For their part, reflexive hawks have taken the news in stride. James Jay Carafano explained that this is what happens when you act like Jimmy Carter, and the neocons’ Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has essentially taken over  the WSJ op-ed page. (As one wag noted, the WSJ’s unsigned editorial invoked 9/11 in the first sentence.) But note the lack of critical thought in these pieces. Reuel Marc Gerecht uses the story as the latest hook for his “let’s bomb Iran” shtick, and another FDD/WSJ offering even says that “though details of the plot are still scarce,” “[t]o doubt the Iranian regime’s responsibility in the thwarted attack is to misunderstand its nature, or to somehow fall prey to the delusion that when an Iranian connection appears behind a terror plot, its perpetrators have gone rogue or are acting on behalf of some dark faction to undermine a nonexistent ‘moderate’ camp within the regime.” Well, maybe, but I like details.

I think there’s a pretty strong case for revisiting our assumptions about Iran, provided somebody can fill in the aforementioned holes. I had a bit more of a critical piece in CNN International, asking a number of questions that I’d like to see answered before deciding anything. I’ll just share with you one question I asked:

the accused seem to have believed that the [Mexican drug cartel the] Zetas would blow up [Saudi Ambassador Adel] al-Jubeir (and potentially a hundred people nearby, explicitly including possible U.S. senators) having only been fronted $100,000 of the $1.5 million payoff, and holding Arbabsiar as collateral.

There’s little evidence that the Zetas are stupid enough to cause themselves the trouble that blowing up a Washington restaurant containing the Saudi Ambassador and a hundred others would inevitably cause – especially for a potential payday of only $100,000 and a dead Iranian operative. Why did Arbabsiar or the IRGC think that the Zetas would be willing to do this deal?

To my mind, this is the biggest question out there, but I raise several others. For my provisional thoughts on the story, have a look at that piece.

On ObamaCare, David Frum Just Doesn’t Get It

David Frum knows that ObamaCare can’t be repealed.  But don’t worry, he also knows how to make it palatable to Republicans:

  1. Move up the start date of ObamaCare’s state waiver program from 2017 to 2014.  As I explain here, that program will only produce alternatives to ObamaCare that are equally or more anti-market, such as a single-payer system.  Frum wants that to happen sooner.
  2. Raise taxes, on everybody.  I swear I am not making that up.
  3. Replace ObamaCare’s individual mandate with an equally coercive tax credit that accomplishes the same thing, but which the courts would probably uphold.  Bra-vo.  Frum implies it is necessary to “work around” the fact that Republicans are not “entirely rational” when it comes to the individual mandate.  (True, but they’re getting more rational all the time.)
  4. Republicans should embrace government rationing of health care.  Frum counsels Republicans to “unleash the cost controllers” and become the “green eyeshade party willing to do the disagreeable work of squeezing waste from the system.”  How?  Well, he doesn’t call for Medicare vouchers, under which enrollees would ration their own care.  In fact, he has thrown cold water on that idea.  But the only alternative is to have the government ration care.  And Frum makes no distinctions between the elderly and non-elderly, which leads me to believe he wants Republicans to ration care to the under-65 crowd too.  Slap that on a bumper sticker!

In sum, Frum’s GOP-palatable alternative to ObamaCare is … ObamaCare.  But maybe more coercive.  And implemented sooner.  With higher taxes.  And less vulnerable to legal challenges.  And with Republicans playing the bad guy.

Frum laments that Republicans mistakenly threw away the opportunity to work with Democrats to implement these brilliant ideas in 2009 and 2010.  But Republicans did so because these brilliant ideas hurt people.  They were wrapped into a bill called ObamaCare, and Republicans rejected it.  They were right to do so.  And they are right that ObamaCare can’t be fixed.

(Related: Ramesh Ponnuru previously took down Ross Douthat’s ideas for fixing ObamaCare.)

(Also related: CNN has signed Frum to provide conservative commentary during the 2012 election.)

KFF/HRET Survey, Part III: Employers Can’t Shift to Workers a Cost that Workers Already Bear

In a previous post, I promised to address the negative spin that the Kaiser Family Foundation put on its annual Employer Health Benefits Survey, released this month.  I do so in an op-ed that ran today at the Daily Caller.  An excerpt:

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently issued its annual survey of employer-sponsored health benefitsdeclaring: “Family Health Premiums Rise 3 Percent to $13,770 in 2010, But Workers’ Share Jumps 14 Percent as Firms Shift Cost Burden.” That’s half-right — but the other half perpetuates a myth about employee health benefits that stands in the way of real health care reform….

[Y]ou pay the full cost of your health benefits: partly through an explicit $4,000 premium and partly because your wages are $9,770 lower than they otherwise would be.

Kaiser therefore claims the impossible when it says that firms are shifting costs to workers.  Employers cannot shift to workers a cost that workers already bear. Yet this year, as in past years, the Associated PressBloombergCNNKaiser Health NewsThe Los Angeles TimesThe New York TimesNPRThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post uncritically repeated the cost-shifting myth.

The bolded sentence is Cannon’s Second Rule of Economic Literacy.  (Click here for the first rule.)

I have also collected a series of excerpts from past Kaiser Family Foundation surveys showing this is a persistent issue.  Here are a few:

1998: “Workers in small firms bear a much larger share of the financial burden for health benefits than employees of larger firms.”

2005: “The average worker paid $2,713 toward premiums for family coverage in 2005 or 26% of the total health premium.”

2007: “Annual Premiums for Family Coverage Now Average $12,106, With Workers Paying $3,281”

The folks at the Kaiser Family Foundation were exceedingly gracious when I approached them to discuss this issue.

Problems with Nationalism?

I try to avoid Sunday morning talk shows like the plague, but somehow I happened to catch five minutes of Fareed Zakaria’s “GPS” show on CNN International.  Elliott Abrams and Peter Beinart were arguing about the Gaza flotilla and Beinart’s New York Review of Books article about liberal Zionism.

What I found interesting about the segment was the exchange between the two men about the argument Beinart made in the article: that many young Jews saw the choice before them not as being between liberal Zionism and conservative Zionism, but rather between conservative Zionism and no Zionism.  Beinart spelled out the argument, and this is what followed:

ZAKARIA: Elliott, you can briefly respond to this, and then we’ve got to go.

ABRAMS: OK. I think it’s quite historical.

What Peter is forgetting, that Jewish liberals have never supported Israel. They didn’t support the founding of the state of Israel. The reform movement was anti-Zionist for decades and decades.

Jewish liberals have a problem with particularism, nationalism, Zionism, and they always have. And it isn’t due to anything that is going on in Israel, it’s due to things that are going on inside their heads. They need to grow up and realize that Israel has a right to defend itself. (emphasis mine)

I’ve included his whole response for context, but I’m only really interested in the italicized part of the argument.  Aren’t all Americans supposed to have problems with nationalism?  Not our own nationalism, of course, which we have re-labeled “exceptionalism.”  But foreign nationalism?  Isn’t that supposed to be pernicious?

The way in which Abrams presented the argument struck me as being a normative claim, not positive.  That is, “particularism, nationalism, and Zionism” were not just things that Jewish liberals have problems with, but rather they were things that Jewish liberals have problems with but should not.

Abrams’ inclusion of Zionism alongside nationalism ought perhaps to caution him about Zionism’s susceptibility to the perils that have plagued other nationalisms through history.

Unfounded Government Plans to Take Control of the Internet

Wired News reports on another bill proposing to create government authority to take over the Internet—this time, because of “cyberattacks.”

Most revealing is the part of the report exposing how Senate staff must fish around for reasons why the authority would be exercised, never mind to what effect:

In order for the President to declare such an emergency, there would have to be knowledge both of a massive network flaw — and information that someone was about to leverage that hole to do massive harm. For example, the recent “Aurora” hack to steal source code from Google, Adobe and other companies wouldn’t have qualified, one Senate staffer noted: “It’d have to be Aurora 2, plus the intel that country X is going to take us down using that vulnerability.”

A second staffer suggested that evidence of hackers looking to leverage something like the massive Conficker worm — which infected millions of machines and was seemingly poised in April 2009 to unleash something nefarious — might trigger the bill’s emergency provisions. “You could argue there’s some threat information built in there,” the staffer said.

These scenarios will never happen. And we wouldn’t want the government grabbing control of the Internet if they did.

The idea of government “taking over” the Internet for security purposes is equal parts misconceived and self-defeating. It’s a packet-switched network, meaning that it routes around the equivalent of damage that would be caused by anyone’s attempt to “control” it. The government could certainly degrade the Internet with a well-coordinated attack, of course.

And that’s the way to think about government controlling the Internet in some kind of emergency: It would be an attack on the country’s natural resilience.

In February, CNN broadcast a bogus reality TV show produced by the Bipartisan Policy Center called “cyber.shockwave.” A variety of technically incompetent government officials talked about pulling the plug on the Internet and cell phone networks in response to some emergency. Commentator D33PT00T captured the idiocy of this idea, Tweeting, “ok my phn doesn’t work & Internet doesn’t work – ths guys R planning 2 run arnd w/ bullhorns ‘all is well remain calm!’”

The Internet may have points of weakness, but it is a source of strength overall. A government take-over of the Internet in the event of emergency would be equivalent to an auto-immune reaction in which the government would attack the society. Proposals for the federal government to take control of the Internet under any circumstance are unfounded and dangerous.

The Government Has Your Baby’s DNA

My 2004 Cato Policy Analysis, “Understanding Privacy – and the Real Threats to It,” talks about how government programs intended to do good have unintended privacy costs. “The helping hand of government routinely strips away privacy before it goes to work,” I wrote.

There could be no better illustration of that than the recent CNN report on government collection and warehousing of American babies’ DNA. “Scientists have said the collection of DNA samples is a ‘gold mine’ for doing research,” notes a sidebar to the story.

I have no doubt that it is—and that government-mandated harvesting of this highly valuable personal data from children is an unjust enrichment of the beneficiaries.

Obama’s Dilemma

Today Politico Arena asks:

State of the Union:  What Should Obama Say?

My response:

Obama’s in a difficult spot:  His head tells him to tack right, but his heart’s not in it – and he’s not the first Democrat to be in that spot.  That’s brought out today in a CNN Opinion piece, “When liberals revolt,” written by Arena’s (and Princeton’s) Julian E. Zelizer.  Tracing similar dilemmas that Johnson, Carter, and Clinton faced, Zelizer shows how they all paid a price for tacking right, which it looks like Obama may do.  Johnson faced primary challenges that led him to withdraw from the 1968 race.  Carter was challenged by Ted Kennedy.  He prevailed; but weakened, he then lost to Reagan in 1980.  And Clinton’s move to the center after the disastrous 1994 midterm elections helped him win reelection, Zelizer argues, but it also left him with a thin legislative record on domestic policy.

In short, moving right has its costs, Zelizer claims.  Many liberals are “deeply unhappy with the president, believing that he has already drifted too far away from the promises that animated his supporters in 2008.”  He’ll need those liberals in 2010 and 2012.  Pointing to the “long tradition of Democratic presidents taking the left for granted at a cost to their administrations,” Zelizer notes that they learned “that the ire of the left – a constituency that is very vocal, highly mobilized and politically engaged – can cause enormous damage.”

That it can.  But can the left do more than cause enormous damage?  In particular:  Can it govern?  Zelizer cites Ted Kennedy castigating Carter, saying that ”the Democratic Party needed to ‘sail against the wind’ of conservative public sentiment by using the federal government to help alleviate social problems.”  Fine speechifying.  But will it get you (re)elected – much less enable you to govern?  The evidence is not encouraging.  In fact, the deeper problem the left is facing is that self-identified conservatives in America outnumber liberals by better than two to one.  Cambridge may have voted against Scott Brown by 84 to 14, but that just shows how out of touch Harvard is with the rest of Massachusetts – to say nothing of the rest of the country.  Obama won not because the country was enthralled with his vague message, but because his opposition, like Clinton’s in 1996, was so uninspiring.  In sum, the left’s problem – and Obama’s – is that the country isn’t buying the message, now that it’s clearer.  And that’s the heart of the matter.