One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:
1. A lot of saber-rattling in the world today. Iran test-fired missiles on three separate occasions over the weekend, missiles capable of delivering a warhead to Israel, parts of Europe, and U.S. military bases throughout the Middle East (the missiles have a range of 1200 miles). Initially, even after the announcement of Iran’s second nuclear facility (which was known to U.S. intelligence beforehand), the Obama administration spoke of a deadline of December for Iran to change its ways. Of course, we had a deadline of early September, but that came and went with a 5-page joke of a letter agreeing to talk about anything but their nuclear program. Others are pressing for much swifter action from Iran.
My impression is that the Obama administration is trying not to do or say anything too provocative, for fear that it would derail the plan to sit down with the Iranians in a week or so. Even though the Iranians have said they will not discuss their nuclear program, we are assuming this is a public front. We are assuming that once the honey pot gets sweet enough, the Iranians will be willing to cut a deal. I’m not so sure this is true. Saddam refused to fully cooperate in large part (according to insider accounts) because he believed that we would never attack. Ahmadinejad may be even more justified in such an opinion. But will Israel not strike at the nuclear facilities? If Israel does it, it risks igniting a regional war. If the United States, or NATO or the UN undertook to bomb them, the chances of a war are lower, lower still, and lowest. We need to be careful not to put Israel into a position where it feels that it faces extinction unless it strikes first; the consequences could be devastating.
2. At the same time, India claims it now has high-yield warheads, in the 200 kiloton range. At the UN General Assembly, Obama proposed that India enter into the Non-Proliferation Treaty (it is not a signee) as a non-nuclear state, and India vehemently refused.
3. OBAMA: MUSLIM COMMUNITY ORGANIZER? Muslim Prayers in DC in front of the Capitol building. Some controversy over the organizers, one of whom has defended terrorists in court, but what I found interesting was that some of the Muslims in attendance were convinced that Obama himself had organized the event. The conspiracy theorists are going to love that one!
4. CATCHING POLANSKI. Roman Polanski was seized at a film festival in Switzerland, and extradition proceedings are soon to begin on whether he can be returned to the United States to be held accountable for fleeing the U. S. justice system and living as a fugitive for over three decades. There is an unfortunate tendency amongst our cultural elites, in regards to themselves and others, to believe that the elites are above not only the laws but also the common moral standards that govern the hoi polloi. Not love, but talent covers over a multitude of sins in our society.
Polanski has had a difficult life, to be sure. Born to agnostics in Poland, a Jewish father and a mother of Jewish and Catholic descent, his childhood was warped by the specter of Nazi oppressions and atrocities, as he lived in the Krakow Ghetto after the Germans invaded Poland; his mother died in Auschwitz, his father survived a different camp, and Roman himself survived with the help of Polish Catholic families. Even after he became a successful Polish director and then a successful American director, tragedy followed after him. His first wife left him for another man after two years of marriage; his friend Bruce Lee died, and his actress wife, a pregnant Sharon Tate, was killed in the Manson murders. Manson had been angry with the previous residents, one of whom had refused to record his music; he ordered his followers (not knowing there were new residents there) to enter the house and kill everyone there. After the others were slain, Tate pleaded for the life of her unborn child, and Susan Atkins said she felt no pity and set about stabbing her repeatedly. Roman was in London at the time, and he was briefly a suspect, until the Manson group was arrested on other charges and the evidence of their participation came to light.
But no tragedy in his own life, and certainly no amount of artistic genius, can justify pedophilic rape. The story is that Polanski was photographing a 13-year-old model (31 years his junior at the time) at Jack Nicholson’s house while the latter was out of town. He gave the girl alcohol and a part of a Quaalude, and then raped and Sodomized her. The lawyers agreed to a plea bargain on the sole charge of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.” The DA’s office agreed to the lesser charge because of Polanski’s fame, and the girl was reluctant to testify when it became clear that the details of her anal rape would be thrown about in the national media. Before sentencing, anyway, Polanski fled to England and then to France, where French citizens are rarely extradited. The U.S. requested extradition, and the French have refused. Polanski recently won an Oscar and the Palme D’Or for The Pianist. He is a legend in the film-making industry.
Some had been talking about appealing to President Obama for clemency, on the basis of supposed judicial misconduct “uncovered” by a dubious 2008 documentary. I can’t imagine that Obama would really want Polanski, a hero to a community (Hollywood) that adores him and lines his pockets, dragged back to Los Angeles and put through a trial, or sentenced to prison. Nor can I imagine that Swiss authorities, not to mention the French, really want that. Thus, my prediction: Polanski refuses extradition, forcing a hearing, and the hearing fails to grant extradition, after which the case is dropped (perhaps with an agreement that Polanski is not to return to the United States, since that would be bad PR).
Remember, you heard it here first.
UPDATE: More info on the case from Michelle Malkin, including some background to Anne Applebaum (of the Times) and her defense of Polanski (namely, Applebaum fails to mention that her husband is the Foreign Minister in Poland, who has been pushing for the charges to be dropped). Also, a writer for the Los Angeles Times says the charges should be dismissed because the state is short on money. It may be the case that Polanski was arrested this time (he has gone to Switzerland often, and owns a home there) because of the whole UBS disagreement between the US and the Swiss.
5. OLYMPIOBAMA. Where I can root for Obama wholeheartedly: in Copenhagen this weekend as he presses for the International Olympic Committee to award the honor of hosting the Olympics to Chicago. I’m not sure whether America should host it yet again, and I’m sympathetic to the argument that Rio should get it, since the IOC has long neglected South America — but if it were in Chicago, I would be able to go. Finally. So…GO BARACK! These votes are practically all about cronyism, and I don’t like the way that media are being hushed about widespread opposition amongst Chicagoans, but hey, I want to go, and Chicagoans are just spoiled.
Another area where I support him: in pushing for more school time, including longer school days and shorter summers. We should have a balanced perspective:
Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.
“Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” Duncan told the AP. “I want to just level the playing field.”While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school.
Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).
Still, kids in some nations do have more hours, and results with charter schools and public schools too show consistently that increasing the school day by an hour, for instance, thus extending each period/subject by ten minutes, leads to marked improvements.
6. A NEW LOW for popular support of the health care reform championed by Obama and congressional Democrats: 41%. What might Democrats do now to change popular perception? Obama can hardly go on television and radio more often than he has already done. The PR blitz has not worked. Democrats face two options: they can (1) press ahead and bend enough elbows to get the Baucus bill passed, and hope that people like the legislation better after it’s passed, or they can (2) withdraw the issue for a little while and come back later with a leaner, more moderate, more limited bill.
I prefer #2. The rancor would only grow if Democrats forced the bill through now; all the people protesting are starting to believe that they have turned the tide; if the White House forced this through, the anger we’ve seen up until now will pale in comparison to what we would see. A lot of arms would have to be twisted, a fair number of Blue Dogs (at least) would lose their seats in 2010, and what emerged would probably be an extraordinarily complicated and compromised piece of legislation. That said, once the bill is passed, the issue of health care reform will fade from public attention for a while, since the changes would begin to take effect in 2011 (for taxes) and 2013 (for health insurance). The rancor would fade slowly, and the Democrats could engage in a sort of slow-motion PR campaign and then hope that people like the changes once they set in. But 2010 would be rough, and few will be fond of the tax changes in 2011 either.
The second option gives the Democrats a graceful way to press reset. They could return with a more gradual approach that moves in deliberate, accountable steps. If you think you can cut hundreds of billions from Medicare and Medicare Advantage without reducing quality of care, then show me you can do that first, and start saving up money for your big program. If you think you can improve matters by structuring physician compensation differently, then show me that first with Medicare and military care. In other words, in those places where we can test whether these claims are true, let’s do so — before we completely redesign 1/6th of the American economy on some fairly dubious propositions. I understand, some changes have to be made in concert. But not all.
7. ILLEGAL COVERAGE. Relatedly, I’m sure that the Democratic leadership would rather not have the words “illegal immigrants” in the air during the health care reform debate (to be addressed later, presumably). But one group of congressional Democrats is pushing back, arguing that (1) legal permanent residents (non-citizens) should be able to purchase health insurance on the government exchange, with government subsidies, and (2) illegal immigrants should be able to purchase health insurance on the same exchanges, without federal subsidies.
I agree on both points, actually. The second point would keep illegal immigrants, or at least those who could afford health care plans, from using the emergency room every time they’re sick. What bothered me earlier was not the notion of giving health care to illegal immigrants, it was the duplicity in claiming they would not be covered.
8. GENERAL DISREGARD. The rift between Obama and General McChrystal seems to be widening; otherwise it’s hard to understand why General McChrystal would let it be known, during a television interview, that he has only spoken with President Obama once since he took over command of the Afghanistan war. Conservatives, of course, question what this says about Obama’s priorities.
In the meantime, the White House officially received McChrystal’s report and request for more troops, and they have officially put the report on the back burner until they have reconsidered their entire approach to the region. As Ed Morrisey writes:
Shelving the request makes it clear that Obama and the White House want to conduct a political review of the mission. That’s not illegitimate; after all, part of the consideration has to be whether our allies have the political will to support us in the Af-Pak theater, as well as whether Americans have the political will to continue the fight. If neither exists, then the entire question of strategy is moot, and the focus will shift to retreat from the theater.
The problem with this is that the Obama administration has already had plenty of time for political calculation. They have been in office since January, and Obama campaigned for two years on the pledge to fight in Afghanistan with more resources and focus than the previous administration. The politics of the war have not changed much, at least in terms other than polling.
Obama wanted to be Commander in Chief, and he has had that role for eight months. The question of politics should have already been well settled by this time. So far he has done a good job of fighting the war in Afghanistan, but this very public vacillation undermines the projection of American strength in the region and encourages a defeatist attitude. It’s time to fish or cut bait on the politics and start seriously addressing the strategy, if we’re going to fight and win this war.
9. If you want to see the very definition of fawning news coverage, check out this article from the French news service, AFP, about former President Bill Clinton. Yikes.
10. Background info on the strange “Hymn to Obama” that made the YouTube rounds. I can’t manage to get too upset about it. The lyrics were vaguely worshipful, but apparently the song was made and performed at an assembly in recognition of Black History Month in February. It makes sense to have a song about Obama and his historic achievement. I could have done without the “Jesus Loves the Little Children” reworked lyrics, but it’s probably more a matter of poor lyric-writing than political indoctrination.
11. TODAY’S TWO-SIDES, I. From the Right, Eliot Cohen on the options that remain with Iran.
13. COLUMN OF THE DAY: This remarkably clear essay from one former Secretary of Health and Human Services and two former members of the White House Economic Council. I made this argument long ago: that the health care reform proposed right now is another form of income distribution.