No Need For a Third Party —  We Have a New First Party.

 

 Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

Sort of.

We may very well have a new powerful political Party in the United States. The only glitch is that none of the members of this new Party know it exists. Not yet anyway. Actually, the party doesn’t know it exists yet either, but in many respects it does. What we do know is that both major political Parties have abandoned a huge swath of their members (and their supporters). Now, to be sure, we have had many elections in the United States where the nominee of a Party wasn’t the choice of everyone in the Party. But this time it is different. This time the nominees of both Parties have taken positions, subsequently codified by their Partys’ platforms that are contrary to the principles to which a significant portion of either Party subscribes. Succinctly put, the majority of Democrats and Republicans are far more centrist than their nominees and their Parties are as we approach this election. Sadly, according to a Pew research study conducted this summer, fully half of those describing themselves as likely Clinton supporters or Trump supporters consider their votes as votes against the other candidate and NOT a vote in support for their Party’s candidate. This has turned into an election in which voters will cast their ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. Most Americans eschew the extremes, yet, more and more, the extremes are setting the course of both Parties.

The Democratic Party has abandoned its traditional commitment to a safety net for the neediest among us, for a vast expansion of entitlements for, well, just about everyone. The Republican Party is embracing isolationism, a proliferationist rather than a non-proliferationist position on nuclear weapons, trickle-down economics and an extremely muscular presidency—far beyond what the Constitution, or the founders who wrote it, would tolerate. So aggravated are voters in both Parties with their government that they seem quite willing, in this election, to throw caution to the wind.

The Bipartisan Policy Center commissioned a study in 2013 to research the phenomenon of political polarization in America. It is described in Greg Orman’s very worthwhile book, “A Declaration of Independents.” The researchers devised two education reform proposals that described options on reducing class size, increasing teacher pay, and other disparities in our country. The first proposal they labeled Pan A; the second was described as Plan B. But when they asked voters about them, Plan A was described as the Democratic Party plan, and Plan B as the Republican plan to half the survey sample. The Plans were identical. Thus primed, Democrats preferred “their party’s plan 75% to 17%. Yet when the exact same details were called the Republican plan” only 12 percent of Democrats liked it. An identical dichotomy was evidenced among Republicans. Only Independents answered the question irrespective of which party label was put on it. The conclusion, “Policy positions are not driving partisanship, but rather partisanship is driving policy positions.” We’re better than that — or we should be.

So what does this mean? As Orman observes, “Republicans and Democrats have been maddeningly successful in their relentless habit of demonizing each other. As a result, political tribalism has infected millions of American voters, making them literally incapable of considering any position espoused by the other party. This threatens the possibility of intellectually honest government for the rest of us, the plurality of Americans—43 percent by last year—who want solutions to problems instead of political parties waging “permanent campaigns” designed to keep problems festering so they can raise money and stir up their respective activist bases. We’ll call those who constitute this strong plurality the nation’s New Centrists. An Esquire-NBC poll found that twenty-eight percent of these Centrists are currently registered as Republicans, thirty-six percent are Democrats, and thirty-six percent identify themselves as independents. Twenty percent call themselves liberals, 25 percent conservative, 55 percent moderate, and even 15 percent identify themselves as tea party members.

We do not remember a time when a solid majority of both Democrats and Republicans did not like the nominees of their own party. But that is where we are today. Sixty percent of Republicans and nearly sixty percent of Democrats (57%) are unhappy about who is leading their party into the 2016 presidential election.

To be sure, there is always some dissatisfaction by some within either Party with the nominee of each Party.

But this time the differences aren’t so much about which candidate has the better chance of winning, but about profound differences between what the members of each party believe and what their standard bearers believe. Most Democrats are not for vast expansions of entitlements, or greatly increasing the deficit or abandoning long-held positions on trade. Likewise, most Republicans are not economic isolationists, anti-immigration or very comfortable believing Russian Prime Minister Putin is now an ally. Eight years ago, a newly formed Obama Administration thought we could “reset” relations with Russia by merely willing it so. Seeing their standard bearer, Donald Trump, now pushing the same reset button is, to many Republicans, jaw-dropping nonsense.

Gary Johnson’s bid to be the Libertarian alternative isn’t resonating much either. The Libertarians eschew national leadership or responsibility by rationalizing that every gray, tough area of decision-making is probably best left to the states. By that logic we would still be a slave-holding country with that issue having been largely resolved by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. And how did that work out? Actually, it led to the demise of the Whig Party and the birth of the (then) far more forward-thinking Republican Party. We haven’t had a political environment as conducive to the formation of a third party since — until now.

In recent elections it was the right and left fringes of the body politic that constituted the disaffected part of the electorate. Not anymore. The left and right fringes aren’t fringes anymore. They have dominated the media. While less than 30% of the Democrat and Republican electorate urned out for the primaries that selected these two stellar candidates those determined voters were clearly dominated by the outer fringes of each party. It is not the far left and the far right that feels disaffected in this election. It is the centrist middle that finds itself sidelined, watching the political scrum that is now playing out before our very eyes.

There are new winds blowin’.

But from the sidelines thinking political activists, some Democrat and some Republican, have begun to talk about the game being played on the field, and they don’t like what they see. Neither do we. America’s political system is worse than polarized— it’s paralyzed. As best-selling author and public policy expert

Charles Wheelan writes in his best selling “Centrist Manifesto,“now is the time for a pragmatic Centrist party that will identify and embrace the best Democratic and Republican ideals, moving us forward on the most urgent issues for our nation.”

The Centrist Manifesto outlines a realistic ground game that could net at least five Centrist senators from New England, the Midwest, and elsewhere. With the power to deny a red or blue Senate majority, committed Centrists could take the first step toward giving voice and power to America’s largest, and most rational, voting bloc: the center.

Then there’s the No Labels movement, a national movement of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters dedicated to a new politics of problem solving. No Labels is building a movement for the legions of people who are tired of a political system that simply doesn’t respond to the priorities of the vast majority of the American people. No labels, now a national network of over a million citizens and local leaders across America and more than 80 supporters in the U.S. Congress, is focused on building a durable bipartisan bloc in Congress and getting our leaders to embrace and work toward a new National Strategic Agenda for America.

Hal Gershowitz’s “The Eden Legacy” now available at Amazon, Kindle and Apple Ibooks at ITunes Store.

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ObamaCare – The November Surprise

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThis is the time in every election cycle when the pundits begin drilling down on what possible “October surprises” might be lurking just around the corner to upend either of the presidential contenders. This year, will it be provocateur Julian Assange releasing embarrassing emails linking Hillary and the Clinton Foundation to some pay-to-play scandal?…or, maybe, some revelation that when Donald Trump files his tax return he doesn’t return any taxes with his return?

Actually, we’re not that focused on any anticipated October surprises this year. We’re, instead, rather intrigued by a probable November surprise. This won’t be a surprise sprung on the body politic by political dirty-trick operatives, but rather a surprise triggered by a provision embedded like a virus in the Affordable Care Act, aka, ObamaCare. You see, the open enrollment period for ObamaCare begins November 1, and that’s when most people will learn what their premium rates will be for the coming year. This year Election Day is November 8th, and we suspect that millions of voters are going to suffer some sticker shock just before they go to the polls.

ObamaCare might be the real November surprise. That’s because, until now, insurance premiums have been held in check by three provisions of ObamaCare, two of which expire just before Election Day. These three provisions are: (1) Reinsurance – that safeguards insurance companies from the impact of insuring individuals with inordinately high medical expenses (high-risk individuals). Insurance companies were to be reimbursed a substantial portion of the costs of insuring policy holders whose medical expenses were inordinately high; (2) Risk Corridors – which requires profitable insurance companies to share a portion of their profits with insurance companies that realize losses on the policy holders they insure and, finally (3) Risk Adjustment – which assures that insurance plans serving a population with lower than average actuarial risk, makes payments to those plans that have higher than average risks. Two of these three risk-mitigation plans (reinsurance and risk corridors) expired this year, so premiums going forward must now be calculated without these artificial protections.

Many companies have already applied in the states where they do business for approval of their new rates for 2017 and, well, the party’s over. California is a good example. For the past two years Californians enrolled in ObamaCare policies boasted that the ObamaCare premiums were very modest, increasing only about four percent a year. Not anymore. Californians’ ObamaCare health coverage policies are now scheduled to rise by an average of 13.2% next year — more than three times the increase of the last two years, or well over 20% for the three years. There really is no free lunch and not very many bargain lunches either.

Blue Shield of California and Anthem Inc. will both get large increases next year — more than 19%, for Blue Shield and 16% for Anthem. Los Angeles and the rest of southwest Los Angeles County will see an average increase of almost 14%. A Blue Shield spokeswoman said Blue Shield’s average 19.9% premium increase was driven by the phase-out of the federal mechanisms that had kept rates down. Fortunately, 90% of Californians getting insurance through the exchange will have their premiums largely offset by taxpayer-provided premium subsidies.

Frankly, we don’t know why anyone should be surprised by the sticker shock they are experiencing or are about to experience. It was always clear, as we wrote in these essays, that a program mandated to take all comers, healthy or infirm, and to make no distinction in the cost of risk, would become burdened with sicker policy holders than actuarially sound underwriting would dictate We believed, as did any sensible observer, that such a program would require substantial subsidies, and that when many of the subsidies were substantially lifted, many of the premiums would substantially increase.

According to rating agency, A.M. Best, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, which dominate many state exchanges, saw profits plunge by 75 percent between 2013 and 2015. Health Care Service Corp (HCSC), which operates Blue plans in five states, dropped out of New Mexico’s exchange this year after regulators refused to approve rate adjustments the company felt were justified. In Texas, Illinois and two other states where HCSC does business, medical costs for individual customers exceeded premiums by more than $1.3 billion last year. Just over half of the 23 nonprofit startups financed with Obamacare loans have folded. The 11 surviving plans continue to struggle, losing more than $400 million last year. Even Oscar, the much vaunted, tech-savvy health-care startup financed with billions in venture capital dollars, is sputtering. Medical costs for Oscar’s individual customers in New York, outstripped premiums by nearly 50 percent last year.

In many places, the situation is getting worse, because younger, often healthier people who would keep costs down are just not signing up In spite of all the hype only 12.7 million Americans signed up for Obamacare plans during the last open enrollment period. That’s far below the 22 million projected by the Congressional Budget Office, and it’s certain to decline because of rate hikes.

“The pool is far less healthy than we forecast,” said Brad Wilson, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which says it lost $400 million on its exchange business during the first two years and is weighing whether to compete for ObamaCare customers in 2017. “That’s an issue not just here in North Carolina, but all over. … We need more healthy people in the pool.”  The largest U.S. insurer, UnitedHealth, said  it would no longer sell exchange plans in New Jersey in 2017. It has now withdrawn from 27 states. Last year, UnitedHealth lost about $475 million on the exchanges; and this year it expects to lose $500 million.

Health insurance companies lost as much as 11% on their exchange plans last year. That’s more than double the amount they lost during the exchanges first year. So, no surprise—insurers are exiting the market. UnitedHealth is down to three states. Humana abandoned several markets after earnings dropped 46%. Premera Blue Cross is leaving Oregon and twelve counties in Washington State. Thirteen of ObamaCare’s 23 state-sponsored CO-OP health plans have failed, requiring three quarters of a million people to scramble to find new coveage.

Policyholders in Alabama and Alaska had access to at least seven insurers before ObamaCare. Now that’s down to one and the same pattern is emerging in many parts of Arizona, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Insurers remaining on the exchanges are asking for double-digit premium hikes. UnitedHealth wants to raise premiums 45.6% for exchange clients in New York, where the average rate-hike request is about 20%. In Detroit, Humana is asking for a 50% premium increase for its “low-cost” silver plan.

The list goes on.  Double-digit premium increases in Oregon have become the norm. Humana is seeking an average hike of 65.2% in Georgia. If Highmark’s rates are approved in Pennsylvania, its customers will pay nearly 40% more.

And because insurers are losing so much money on the exchanges, state regulators will probably have to approve these rate hikes, or these insurers may also leave. Many supporters of ObamaCare simply shrug their shoulders. As a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said the final rates are “not a reliable indicator,” since Obamacare’s subsidies obscure the actual cost of a plan for many consumers. What ever happened to the assurance President Obama gave to the American people that rates would substantially decline during his first term in office?

Today, one in two disapproves  of the law. More than half of Americans rate the coverage they’ve gotten through ObamaCare as only “fair” or “poor.”

The risk corridor was designed as a method of risk-pooling for insurance companies to entice them to join ObamaCare’s marketplace exchanges in order to create a competitive marketplace where consumers would have ample choices. Remember, the basic idea of the risk corridor was that overly profitable insurers would put their “excess profits” into a fund that would, in turn, pay out funds to insurers that were losing excessive amounts of money. Insurers wound up applying for $2.87 billion due to excessive losses, but wound up receiving just 12.6% of what they requested. There just were not many companies with such excess profits.

Small wonder more than half of ObamaCare’s healthcare co-ops had closed as 2016 began. Twenty-three co-ops that were designed to be a low-cost alternative to national providers closed. Recently, three more healthcare co-ops — Healthy CT in Connecticut, Land of Lincoln Health in Illinois, and Oregon Health Co-Op — announced that they were also shuttering their doors. Sixteen of Obamacare’s 23 alternative health-plan options have now shut down, costing taxpayers more than $1.7 billion, and causing more than 800,000 people to look for a new health plan in the coming months.

What is, to us, the most aggravating aspect of this experience isn’t the difficulty in establishing such a transformative program, but, rather, the calculated misrepresentations that were made to “sell” the program to the American people. The people were never going to be able to keep their plan if they liked it, or keep their doctor if they liked him or her, or, perhaps most disingenuous, save $2400 in premiums during the President’s first term in office.

49708710_high-resolution-front-cover-6286173-2-2-2-2  Now available at Amazon, Kindle and Apple Ibooks .

We’re Back! OMG What A Time To Have Been Away

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWhen we announced last year that we were going on sabbatical while co-editor Hal Gershowitz finished his historical novel, “The Eden Legacy,” we had no idea that a stranger-than-fiction drama was about to unfold within the American body politic. Our two major political parties each got the presidential opponent they could have only prayed providence would provide. Hillary, of course, was a forgone conclusion. It was her turn (again), and the most powerful political machine since the Society of St. Tammany was poised to deliver the White House. The only problem was (and is) that few voters (figuratively speaking) were very enthused about her candidacy. Her favorability ratings were hellishly low and her perceived untrustworthiness was (and remains) embarrassingly high. It was the GOP’S to lose. The Republicans, it seemed, would have to come up with an uncompromisingly  poor candidate to lose this one. And so they did.

So disgusted is the electorate with what its ruling class has wrought that the lowest coins in the favorability bank have become the golden calves of the day. That a senescent socialist curmudgeon like Bernie Sanders could have given Hillary Clinton the run for the money that he did, speaks volumes about her pre-Trump electability.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen at the national level in American politics. He was, during the primaries, absolutely gaff proof. Gaffs didn’t matter because so many primary voters were chaffing at the bit to stick in the eye what Donald Trump calls the rigged political system. Trump has become the Jesse Ventura of national politics; except there’s a difference –Jesse Ventura had some electoral experience (Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota), and he volunteered for military service as a navy seal during the Viet Nam War.

So, barring a surprise surge about the size of the Milky Way by Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, America is about to elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President of the United States of America and Commander-in- Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known. According to the most recent polls, it seems a majority of American voters will be casting ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. We are at a bad place.

We will not, in this essay, dwell on the complaints and criticisms that have been, and will be, leveled at these two candidates. You have, no doubt, heard them all and have determined (1) that you don’t believe they are substantive, or (2) you don’t care, or (3) you believe he or she will still be good for the country or (4) you will vote for the one you dislike the least. Fair enough.

So, as we wrote above, we believe that the country is in a bad place. Hillary Clinton was a hard-working, competent Senator, and acquitted herself well in the legislative branch of our government. The same cannot be said of her tenure in the executive branch as Secretary of State. There have really been few, if any, foreign affairs accomplishments to commend her to the presidency of the United States. Our foreign affairs are a shambles, and her administrative competence and, frankly, her judgment appears to be woefully lacking as evidenced by the disastrous management of State Department email traffic to and from her ever-growing and ever disappearing inventory of Iphones, iPads and Blackberrys.  Nonetheless, either Hillary Clinton’s vision for America or Donald Trump’s vision for America will, presumably, set our course for the foreseeable future. We can, and should, assume that to secure Bernie Sanders endorsement and Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement, Hillary is now pretty much committed to the Sanders-Warren side of the far left. And she has told us so. As she assured the reluctant Sanders supporters after she clinched the nomination, “Your agenda is my agenda.” At a minimum that agenda includes free college and a type of Medicare for all.

Denmark seems to be the model over which the far left swoons. Bernie extolled the Denmark model for America, and Hillary’s policy statements (which are quite detailed) mirror the Sanders embrace of Denmark, even if she likes to say, “We’re not Denmark, we’re the United States of America.” So let’s pause to think about whether a society roughly built on the Danish model is what we want to emulate. We won’t dwell on the reality that recent elections in Denmark show an ascendant movement away from Danish liberalism. Let’s just look at what an American economy and social order reconstituted on a Danish model would look like, given that increasing taxes on the very wealthy won’t begin to pay for what Hillary (and Bernie) have promised.

First, the government’s “take” (spending it controls) as a percent of our total economy would double from the current 25% to about 50% as is the case in Denmark. Danes also pay a top tax rate of 60% and that top rate begins at a much lower income level than in the United States. Here’s how it’s done in Denmark. The top tax rate applies to all income earned in Denmark over 1.2 times the country’s average income. Well, in America average income is about $50,000 a year, which would mean that everyone earning $60,000 (1.2 times $50,000) or more, would be taxed 60%, and that would be in addition to a 25% sales taxes as is imposed in Denmark. The Danish system would hit the American middle class very hard.

As innovation and technology increases in any society the premium paid for higher skilled workers also increases, while the wages paid to less skilled or marginally skilled workers stagnate or diminish. While so-called corporate greed is the popular focus of income-inequality scolds, the reality is that societies with the greatest portion of highly skilled labor and the greatest number of talented innovators and, therefore, fewer poorly or marginally skilled workers by comparison will have the least income inequality.

We can’t continue to graduate a high percentage of high school students who are ill equipped to do well in college or in the work place without inculcating greater income inequality. Nor can we continue to graduate college students who spend four to six years enhancing their knowledge without enhancing their ability to contribute to their own economic growth or that of the country. Income inequality is largely a curse we are inflicting on ourselves.

Denmark hasn’t escaped the problem of income inequality either. Denmark, along with Iceland, saw the largest increase in inequality in Europe — rising 12% in each country between 2008 and 2012, according to Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union.

Hillary seems, in many respects, to embody the morality of the ethical egoist. That is, one for whom moral decisions (like truth telling) are dictated by what is in the individual’s own self-interest. We recognize that, to varying degrees, this is probably true of many, if not most, politicians. But Hillary’s long track record of explaining away endless foibles with breathtaking explanations is, well, breathtaking. Whether it was Hillary telling us (with a straight face) that she learned how to turn $1,000 into $100,000 trading commodities by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, or landing in Croatia while dodging gun fire, or using a single communications device for convenience while really using 13 of them, or turning over all of her work-related emails to the State Department, she constantly gives credence to what one-time Clinton supporter David Geffen famously said — “everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) to it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

Most of the people we talk to who are Trump supporters seem to be supporting The Donald because he isn’t Hillary. When pressed, they tell us, well, he’ll make good deals, or, he tells it like it is (which it generally isn’t), or, simply, that he’s a businessman. Donald Trump is a hit- and-miss businessman. Sometimes his ventures are successful and sometimes they have failed. Sometimes his self-vaunted deal making prowess has been impressive, and sometimes apparently less so. On balance, he has made a lot of money. That alone neither qualifies him nor disqualifies him from roosting in the oval office.

His temperament is another story. It hints at how he thinks and how he views those with whom he interacts. He seems to think that “being” presidential is just an act — something he’ll do when the script calls for it. He doesn’t seem to realize that the being in being presidential” is first and foremost, actually who one really is. As Merriham Webster explains one’s being, “it is the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.” One has little confidence that his positions are the result of reflection or introspection, but rather simply what his instincts or polls or sycophants tell him will play well at any given time.

He has chosen demagoguery as the cornerstone of his campaign. Whatever people fear, real or imagined, he will vanquish for them. No one who has criticized him has escaped his fury. He calls it counter punching. Whether his snidery is directed at a war hero, or a physically disabled reporter, or the parent of a fallen soldier, or a political opponent; it seems more to us like gutter fighting.

His campaign has been built on the emptiest of promises. He will replace Obamacare with…something terrific. He will replace bad deals with…the best deals in history. He will improve employment in America by being…the best job creator God ever created.

Perhaps Trump is a deep thinker and a wise man, but he has gone the extra mile, time and time again, since declaring his candidacy to demonstrate otherwise. He blames the country’s chronic balance of payments problems on stupid trade negotiators making the worst trade deals in history. Well, we don’t think that’s quite true, and he knows it.  There are many factors that make the US dollar strong and therefore less competitive when we’re trying to export to other countries. He chalks it all up to currency manipulation by some of our trading partners. That’s just disingenuous. The United States is, and has been for quite awhile, the world’s safest harbor (to use a metaphor). Investors the world over, both private and sovereign, prefer to invest in American business and ventures because they believe that over time it will be a more reliable and productive deployment of capital than investing elsewhere. Anyone, private or sovereign, needs US dollars to invest in our economy. That’s primarily why the demand for US dollars is strong relative to other currencies. If people are going to hold currency as an investment, most people will choose to hold US dollars. That’s because US dollars are considered safer than most other currencies. It also means we as a nation are less competitive traders when we’re selling goods and services abroad because prospective foreign buyers of our goods and services have to use more of their currency to buy US dollar denominated goods and services. Chalking up our trade difficulties to inept negotiators is, well, rather inept.

Trump supports believe other world leaders will respect him. We doubt it. We think they would consider him the occasional oddity in American politics that he is. The world has seen demagogues and bullies bluster their way into power before. It has seldom ended well.

Frankly we hope Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the libertarians, make it to the debates. Not because we endorse them for President and Vice President, but rather because their inclusion seems to hold out the only hope for rational debate rather than what we fear will be the saddest spectacle in the history of Presidential election campaigns.

WE’RE BACK!… OMG what a time to have been gone

 

 Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

When we announced last year that we were going on sabbatical while co-editor Hal Gershowitz finished his historical novel, “The Eden Legacy,” we had no idea that a stranger-than-fiction drama was about to unfold within the American body politic.   Our two major political parties each got the presidential opponent they could have only prayed providence would provide. Hillary, of course, was a forgone conclusion.  It was her turn (again), and the most powerful political machine since the Society of St. Tammany was poised to deliver the White House.  The only problem was (and is) that few voters (figuratively speaking) were very enthused about her candidacy.  Her favorability ratings were hellishly low and her perceived untrustworthiness was (and remains) embarrassingly high. It was the GOP’S to lose.  The Republicans, it seemed, would have to come up with a comically bad contender to lose this one.  And so they did.

So disgusted is the electorate with what its ruling class has wrought that the lowest coins in the political realm have become the golden calves of the day.  That a senescent socialist curmudgeon like Bernie Sanders could have given Hillary Clinton the run for the money that he did, speaks volumes about her pre-Trump electability.  

 Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen at the national level in American politics. He was, during the primaries, absolutely gaff proof. Gaffs didn’t matter. About a third of Republican primary voters were, and are, chaffing at the bit to stick in the eye what Donald Trump calls the rigged political system.  Trump has become the Jesse Ventura of national politics; except there’s a difference –Jesse Ventura had some electoral experience (Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota), and he volunteered for military service as a navy seal during the Viet Nam War.

 So, barring a surprise surge the size of the Milky Way by Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, America is about to elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President of the United States of America and Commander-in- Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known.  According to the most recent polls, it seems a majority of American voters will be casting ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. We are at a bad place.

 We will not, in this essay, dwell on the complaints and criticisms that have been, and will be, leveled at these two candidates. You have, no doubt, heard them all and have determined (1) that you don’t believe they are substantive, or (2) you don’t care, or (3) you believe he or she will still be good for the country or (4) you will vote for the one you dislike the least.  Fair enough.

 So, as we wrote above, we believe that the country is in a bad place.  Hillary Clinton was a hard-working, competent Senator, and acquitted herself well in the legislative branch of our government. The same cannot be said of her tenure in the executive branch as Secretary of State. There have really been few, if any, foreign affairs accomplishments to commend her to the presidency of the United States.  Our foreign affairs are a shambles, and her administrative competence and, frankly, her judgment appears to be woefully lacking as evidenced by the disastrous management of State Department email traffic to and from her ever-growing and ever disappearing inventory of Iphones, iPads and Blackberrys.  Nonetheless, either Hillary Clinton’s vision for America or Donald Trump’s vision for America will, presumably, set our course for the foreseeable future.  We can, and should, assume that to secure Bernie Sanders endorsement and Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement, Hillary is now pretty much committed to the Sanders-Warren side of the far left.  And she has told us so.  As she assured the reluctant Sanders supporters after she clinched the nomination, “Your agenda is my agenda.” At a minimum that agenda includes free college and a type of Medicare for all (vastly expanding federally mandated access to healthcare).

 Denmark seems to be the model over which the far left swoons.  Bernie extolled the Denmark model for America, and Hillary’s policy statements (which are quite detailed) mirror the Sanders embrace of Denmark, even if she likes to say, “We’re not Denmark, we’re the United States of America.”   So let’s pause to think about whether a society roughly built on the Danish model is what we want to emulate. We won’t dwell on the reality that recent elections in Denmark show an ascendant movement away from Danish liberalism.   Let’s just look at what an American economy and social order reconstituted on a Danish model would look like, given that increasing taxes on the very wealthy won’t begin to pay for what Hillary (and Bernie) have promised.

First, the government’s “take” (or spending it controls) as a percent of our total economy would double from the current 25% to about 50% as is the case in Denmark.  Danes also pay a top tax rate of 60% and that top rate begins at a much lower income level than in the United States.  Here’s how it’s done in Denmark. The top tax rate applies to all income earned in Denmark over 1.2 times the country’s average income.  Well, in America average income is about $50,000 a year, which would mean that everyone earning $60,000 (1.2 times $50,000) or more would be taxed 60%, and that would be in addition to a 25% sales taxes as is imposed in Denmark. The Danish system would hit the American middle class very hard.

Denmark also is not escaping troubling economic inequality.  As innovation and technology increases in any society the premium paid for higher skilled workers also increases. While so-called corporate greed is the popular focus of income-inequality scolds, the reality is that societies with the greatest portion of highly skilled labor and the greatest number of talented innovators relative to the total work force will have the least income inequality.  

We can’t continue to graduate a high percentage of high school students who are ill equipped to do well in college or in the work place without inculcating greater income inequality.  Nor can we continue to graduate college students who spend four to six years enhancing their knowledge without enhancing their ability to contribute to their own economic growth or that of the country. Income inequality is largely a curse we are inflicting on ourselves.  

Denmark, along with Iceland, saw the largest increase in inequality in Europe — rising 12% in each country between 2008 and 2012, according to Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union.

Hillary seems, in many respects, to embody the morality of the ethical egoist.  That is, one for whom moral decisions are dictated by what is in the individual’s own self-interest.  We recognize that, to varying degrees, this is probably true of many, if not most, politicians.  But Hillary’s long track record of explaining away endless foibles with breathtaking explanations is, well, breathtaking.   Whether it was Hillary telling us (with a straight face) that she learned how to turn $1,000 into $100,000 trading commodities by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, or landing in Croatia while dodging gun fire, or using a single communications device for convenience while really using 13 of them, or turning over all of her work-related emails to the State Department, she constantly gives credence to what one-time supporter David Geffen famously said — “everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) to it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

Most of the people we talk to who are Trump supporters seem to be supporting The Donald because he isn’t Hillary.  When pressed, they tell us, well, he’ll make good deals, or, he tells it like it is (which it generally isn’t), or, simply, that he’s a businessman.  Donald Trump is a hit- and-miss businessman. Sometimes his ventures are successful and sometimes they have failed. Sometimes his self-vaunted deal making prowess has been impressive, and sometimes apparently less so.  On balance, he has made a lot of money.  That alone neither qualifies him nor disqualifies him from roosting in the oval office.  

His temperament is another story.  It hints at how he thinks and how he views those with whom he interacts. He seems to think that “acting” presidential is just that…an act — something he’ll do when the script calls for it.  He doesn’t seem to realize that “being presidential” is first and foremost actually one’s being.  As Merriam Webster explains one’s being, “it is the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.”  One has little confidence that his positions are the result of reflection or, introspection, but rather simply what his instincts or sycophants tell him will play well at any given time.

He has chosen demagoguery as the cornerstone of his campaign. Whatever people fear, real or imagined, he will vanquish for them. No one who has criticized him has escaped his fury. He calls it counter punching.  Whether his snidery is directed at a war hero, or the parent of a fallen soldier, or a political opponent; it seems more to us like gutter fighting. 

His campaign has been built on the emptiest of promises. He will replace Obamacare with…something terrific.  He will replace bad deals with...the best deals in history.  He will improve employment in America by being…the best job creator God ever created.

Perhaps Trump is a deep thinker and a wise man, but he has gone the extra mile, time and time again since declaring his candidacy to demonstrate otherwise. He blames the country’s chronic balance of payments problems on stupid trade negotiators making the worst trade deals in history.  Well, we don’t think that’s quite true.  He seems not to understand that there are many factors that make the US dollar strong and therefore less competitive when we’re trying to export to other countries.  He chalks it all up to currency manipulation by some of our trading partners. That’s just disingenuous.  The United States is, and has been for quite awhile, the world’s safest harbor (to use a metaphor). Investors the world over, both private and sovereign, prefer to invest in American business and ventures because they believe that over time it will be a more reliable and productive deployment of capital than investing elsewhere.  Anyone, private or sovereign, needs US dollars to invest in our economy.  That’s primarily why the demand for US dollars is strong relative to other currencies. If people are going to hold currency as an investment, most people will choose to hold US dollars. That’s because US dollars are considered safer than most other currencies.  It also means we as a nation are less competitive traders when we’re selling goods and services because prospective foreign buyers of our goods and services have to use more of their currency to buy dollar denominated goods and services. Chalking up our trade difficulties to inept negotiators is, well, rather inept. Trump supports believe other world leaders will respect him.  We doubt it.  We think they would consider him the occasional oddity in American politics that he is.  The world has seen demagogues bluster their way into power before.  It has seldom ended well.  

Frankly we hope Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the libertarians, make it to the debates.  Not because we endorse them for President and Vice President, but rather because their inclusion seems to hold out the only hope for rational debate rather than what we fear will be the saddest spectacle in the history of Presidential election campaigns.

 

 

“Of Thee I Sing 1776” Going On Sabbatical

There will be “a pause” in the publication of our weekly “Of Thee I Sing 1776″ essays while co-editor and essayist Hal Gershowitz completes the sequel to his current novel, “Heirs of Eden.” We plan to resume publication of our weekly commentaries later this year. “Heirs of Eden” and Hal’s earlier Bantam Books, award-winning novel, “Remember This Dream” are available at Amazon.com .

We want to thank all of our subscribers who have been loyal readers of our commentaries for the past 283 issues.

We’ll “see you” later this year.

Hal and Steve

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– See more at: http://www.oftheeising1776.com/of-thee-i-sing-1776-on-sabatical#sthash.87LOQv1o.dpuf

What In The World Is Going On In Yemen?

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsActually, a lot more than salmon fishing. – Dangerous stuff, and it probably won’t end any time soon. Yemen is host to a genuine, long-running civil war, a vicious intramural religious conflict in which Shia and Sunni interests are vying for hegemony, and a potential standoff between the US and Iran.  It also represents the loss of a key American base of operations in the US fight against radical Islam (yes, we are fighting radical Islam). In short, it’s a mess and it’s apt to get worse.

First, a little geography and a little history.  Yemen is huge. It occupies nearly quarter million square miles of the Arabian Peninsula, stretching from the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea (or the Persian Sea if you live in Iran) to the south, all the way to Oman in the east.  It has a long border with Saudi Arabia to the north, and therein lies much of the current tension.

Now, for some fascinating history.  While few people remember the Sabaeans who ruled the area a thousand years ago, most people will remember their kingdom and their queen – Sheba (who came calling on a king named Solomon). Toward the end of the 3rd century AD, the kingdom was ruled by Himyarites, which adds an interesting twist to Yemen’s history. The Himyarites converted to Judaism, which played a significant role in the history of Yeman for another 200 years or so.  In the 7th century Yemen fell under the influence of Islam as did most of the region.  

The 20th century ushered in much of the turmoil that has antagonized the entire Middle East.  Yemen was divided between the Ottomans and the British early in the last century.  The country was divided between two kingdoms, one constituting the Kingdom of Yemen in the north, which became the Yemen Arab Republic. South Yemen stayed in British hands until 1967. The Yemen of the north and the Yemen of the south combined to form the current republic of Yemen only 25 years ago.

Yemen, under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Three men, essentially, ruled Yemen under a power-sharing agreement. President Saleh, Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar, who was very close to the Saudis, which kept Saudi money flowing into the hands of Yemen’s power brokers. Yemen, which has long been corrupt, has been in severe crisis for most of the past five years. That’s because few people cared for President Saleh, and his plan to amend the constitution to create a presidency for life, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was forced to resign and the recently deposed And Rabbu Mansour Hadi was made President (he has since fled to Saudi Arabia, which brings us to the current crisis).

Keep two important facts in mind.

While the two Yemens (north and south) were combined into one nation in 1990, the people who inhabit the two regions are quite different, and, in many respects, don’t care for one another.

The rebel Houthis, about whom we read everyday, are actually a large sect of Shia Muslims from the north who follow a branch of Islam known as Zaidism.  They make up about one-third of the Yemini population, and actually ruled North Yemen for nearly 1,000 years. That ended in 1962.  They identify themselves as Houthis in honor of Badr al-Din al-Houthi who led an uprising in 2004.  In the south we find a large Sunni population.  All else aside, the current crisis is, in great measure, a battle between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims.

Why the antagonism? Simply stated, the two branches of Islam really despise one another.  They have despised one another from the very early days of Islam, all the way back to 680 AD.  Actually, it was all about the succession of leadership of the faith. A small group (several dozen) of Muhammad’s relatives (Shia), including supporters of the prophet’s grandson, Hussein ibn Ali, met in battle at Karbala in present day Iraq.  A much larger force of Muslims known as Yazidis (to whom Muhammad’s grandson Hussein refused to give allegiance) faced them in battle.  Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, his own infant son and all of his male followers were killed and, according to the history of the event, their bodies mutilated and their women taken prisoner.

Robbed of their succession rights, the Shia have been marginalized in much of the Islamic world, except where the Shia predominate such as in Iraq, Iran and Bahrain. There is also a sizeable Shia plurality (between 35% and 40%) in Lebanon.  So, much of the fighting represents the latest iteration of the interminable Shia/Sunni conflict.  And that is why Saudi Arabia and several other Sunni-dominated countries are duking it with the Shiite Houthis in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia believes Shiite Iran is arming and supporting the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia will go to any length (and we mean any length) to keep Iranian influence (Shia) from spreading onto the Arabian Peninsula, where Saudi-backed Sunni Wahhabism dominates. 

Enter al-Qaeda.  Al-Qaeda of Yemen is the strongest remaining faction of al-Qaeda, and the US has aggressively waged a largely successful drone-centric war against al-Qaeda from Yemen.  That was until the Houthis overran the place.  We’ve now lost our base of operations in Yemen and that is a huge problem for the United States.

Then there is the potential dust-up with Iran over what is happening in Yemen.  We have moved formidable naval forces into the area to keep Iran from assisting the Houthis.  Some have compared the current situation to a budding Cuban missile crisis, which we think is way overblown. We would think it far-fetched that Iran would take on the US navy, but the far-fetched often becomes routine in this part of the world.

The potential for al-Qaeda-sponsored mischief is huge.  Al-Qaeda in Yemen is considered the strongest, best organized and the most sophisticated al-Qaeda operation in the world today.  They are now pretty much free to move about without constantly having to look over their shoulders for American drones.  Our intelligence operation on the Arabian Peninsula has been substantially degraded.

So, in summary, we have civil war, religious war, Iranian mischief and a substantial degradation of our intelligence capability all evolving at the same time.  Not a good place to be, even for salmon fishing.

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A Day of Remembrance.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSo, it has been seventy years. That’s when it all ended – when the world began to learn what hate wrought just a few decades ago — hate on a scale unheard of in all of history. Winston Churchill called it a crime without a name. History has since given it a name – the Holocaust.

In Israel at precisely 10:00 am yesterday, a moment of solemnity descended upon the land of Israel when the entire nation paused, collectively, as it does every year on this date, to remember the victims of mankind’s greatest crime,  Solemnity as is experienced nowhere else in the world permeates every corner of this ancient land at this moment. Sirens wail and Israel comes to an absolute standstill as nearly eight million men women and children silently contemplate, each in his or her own way, the grotesque horror that befell their kin — mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins and even relatives so distant they didn’t even know they were Jewish—all six million of them. Automobiles, motorcycles buses, trucks and trams stop wherever they are. Surfers, boaters and swimmers stop – people stand knee-deep in the brine of the Mediterranean where moments earlier they swam, people praying at the western wall and soldiers at their duty stations –everywhere, everyone stops simply to remember.

A short distance away, in almost every direction, the voices of hatred and the violence of bigotry, both religious and political, rage on having learned nothing of the past, making a mess of the present and, quite possibly, condemning the future.

“Never Again”, once a universal moral commitment, has, today, descended into an almost trite slogan everywhere – everywhere except in this ancient land. Here Never Again is an article of faith. It has real meaning. Here Never Again doesn’t mean retaliation; it means prevention.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressing guests last night at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust reminded the large gathering “…we stand here tonight, in painful silence… in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. Exactly seventy years since April 15th 1945, a Sunday afternoon. The day when the first British soldiers crossed the gates of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The joy of liberation was replaced by horror. The horror that was revealed before their eyes was inconceivable.”

“Not just today, but every day, we walk the depths of the valley, extruded between two mountains. This mountain of memorial and remembrance, on one side and the mountain of revival and vision on the other. The mountain of memory, commands us…to remember. Remember the sounds. Remember the sights. Remember the names. And yet the mountain of vision and rebirth, of construction and creation, calls on us to look ahead, and step into the future. Continuing to build a magnificent country, continuing to strive to construct another world, a safe world, full of promise.

“The Holocaust is our lowest point,” President Rivlin said. “…the most dreadful, in history…Four months ago, I stood in Poland, whose earth is soaked in blood, and I said that the State of Israel will forever deplore Auschwitz, and everything it symbolizes: anti-Semitism in all its forms and manifestations; The desecration of human dignity, whoever and wherever it is found, the desecration of that which was created in the image of God. The State of Israel, will continue its struggle against these and will not surrender. We build our future here, with open and alert eyes. We will not belittle any threats. Nor belittle, shameful statements calling for the extinction of the Jewish people. Yet, while we are prepared, we are not scared. The horrors of the past and the threats of the present, will not dictate our lives, nor shape the lives of our children. They will not dim our hopes for a future of creation and prosperity.”

And creativity and prosperity thrive in this tiny land like few other places on earth. Israel, the 100th smallest state on earth with less that 1/1000 of the world’s population, leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 84 in the U.S., around 70 in Japan, and fewer than 60 in Germany. Israelis are prominent among Nobel Prize winners in every field, including medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and economics. This nation, living under unrelenting threat of extinction is second only to Silicon Valley in innovation.

But when Iran says it aims to destroy Israel, Israelis believe it. They have no doubt that Hamas, the partner of the Palestinian Authority means it as well, as does Iran’s proxy,  Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and ISIS too. The greater neighborhood in which they live is the most violent place on the planet. Hate is the common coin of the realm in so much of the neighboring areas. Hate speech, enslavement, forced conversions, mass murder, and every form of deadly grotesquerie are daily occurrences throughout much of the region. Israel is not apt to wait until its cities are in flames to protect itself. That is why this tiny, threatened nation maintains a formidable defense force populated by one of the most motivated citizen armies in the world.

The sirens wailed yesterday morning throughout the land. Millions of people, young and old, stopped, bowed their heads and remembered. They remembered the past, contemplated the present and dedicated themselves to a long future.

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US-Iran Interim Agreement: the Ayatollah Weighs In.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsTo paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, we Americans may really have to agree to the final nuclear deal with Iran so that we can see what is in it. There yawns a gap so wide between what we hear from Washington and what we hear from Tehran one could shoot an Iranian Soumar long-range missile through it. The Republican opposition should stop protesting and just let Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei do all the talking. His bellicosity is most instructive.

According to the Ayatollah, the phased lifting of sanctions commensurate with Iran’s step-by-step compliance with a final agreement, which has been a bedrock condition of the United States, is a non-starter for Iran. Sanctions are to be lifted as a reward for Iran signing an agreement, not for Iran complying with an agreement.

And, to add insult to injury, no UN inspectors will be allowed to step foot on any Iranian military base. Now, we have weapons testing facilities in many locations in the United States such as Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio and so on. Iran, of course, has its military proving grounds as well, but that really won’t matter because UN inspectors will not be allowed to set foot on any of them.

So just what is this impending historic arrangement with Iran about which the White House and its media sycophants are crooning?Based upon what we are learning from the Ayatollah, it may be little more than window dressing for an emerging modus vivendi between the United States and Iran, which, in effect will recognize Iran as the hegemon of the Middle East.

Those who are leery of the direction in which the negotiations have veered are castigated by liberal columnists, Administration spokespersons, and even the President as obstructionists and war mongers, but when the Ayatollah himself fires hyper-critical salvos at the Administration, his criticisms are shrugged off as rhetoric for local consumption. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu can only wish he might be accorded such understanding from the White House for his recent campaign excesses.

Let’s be very clear about just what the Ayatollah had to say about the Administration’s description of the interim agreement. “Americans put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks … this statement, which they called a ‘fact sheet’, was wrong on most of the issues.” That is how Khamenei characterizes what the Administration says was agreed to in Lausanne. Small wonder virtually all of our allies in the region are doing a slow burn over how the US has managed the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

The P5+1 have, up until now, insisted that Iran fully cooperate with a U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into past nuclear activities that could be related to making weapons. It is, according to the IAEA, known that Iran was doing (and may still be doing) considerable research into nuclear weapon detonation technology. The West needs to know what the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear research were, or are. But Iran has made it clear that “possible military dimensions” (PMD) are an issue it will not budge on.

“PMD is out of the question. It cannot be discussed,” an Iranian official said. Add to that (for good measure) Khamenei’s statement, “Iran’s military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision.”

Now, this adds a new and very troubling wrinkle for the US and the other members of the P5t+1. We have been told, repeatedly, that the inspection requirements we have negotiated are among the most intrusive in history. Yet we are largely silent when Iran’s Supreme Leader emphatically states that no inspectors will be allowed on any Iranian military site. Well, several of the sites the P5+1 have been most concerned about are on Iranian military bases including the deep-underground enrichment center at Fordo, just outside the religious city of Qum. So what in the world is going on here?

We don’t wish to criticize anyone for trying to forge a workable deal with the Iranians. However, any experienced negotiator knows that the strongest card any negotiator can hold is simply the willingness to walk away from an impending deal that has turned sour. Considering where we and the other P5+1 members were when this process began, it is not unreasonable to say the deal did, in fact, turn sour some time ago.

We must remember that for the past twenty years US policy encompassing three different presidents was predicated on the conclusion that an Iran capable of producing nuclear weapons was a danger to world peace, contrary to our national interests and to those of virtually all of our allies in the region. We would offer friendship and normal relations if Iran ceased sponsoring terrorism and abandoned its determined march to nuclear weapons, but we would stop them from developing nuclear weapons by force if necessary.

It has been clear for some time that we have been seriously out negotiated to the point that banning nuclear weaponization is no longer even the objective of the negotiations. The objective has slowly morphed into a pause or, perhaps, a slowdown to the reality of a nuclear-armed Iran.

There must be some commonality of interest for a negotiation to succeed. The Obama Administration entered these negotiations believing that Iran could, over time, be coaxed into living harmoniously with the United States and, at least, most of our allies. That belief probably has never been realistic. The Ayatollahs have never seen the Islamic Revolution that brought them to power as an end unto itself. It has never been considered as a terminus, but rather as a commencement of a revolutionary Islamic terrorist movement to be exported at every opportunity. Think Hezbollah and the estimated 100,000 Iranian-supplied rockets they now possess in Lebanon, think Buenos Aires bombing, think the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, think Iranian-backed bombing in Bulgaria, think support of Hamas, think Iran-sponsored bomb-plot in Azerbaijan, think attempts against Jewish targets in Georgia, India, Thailand, Kenya and even Cyprus. This is not just lawlessness, it is religious fervor, and we are not going to coax the Iranians into comity with the west.

Under the system of nation states that has been the international organizing principle since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, individual states interacted, sometimes peacefully, sometimes belligerently, but generally with rational interests, as ugly as they sometimes were – interest in more land, more resources, warm-water ports or whatever. They sometimes fought, generally made peace sooner or later, and were motivated to go to war or to make peace by rational standards. That’s why the doctrine of mutually assured destruction worked. But as Henry Kissinger and George Schultz eloquently wrote this week in the Wall Street Journal, “Previous thinking on nuclear strategy assumed the existence of stable state actors. Among the original nuclear powers geographic distances and the relatively large size of programs combined with moral revulsion to make surprise attack all but inconceivable. How will these doctrines translate into a region where sponsorship of nonstate proxies is common, the state structure is under assault and death on behalf of jihad is a kind of fulfillment?”

It is tempting to be reassured by the warm handshakes and smiles we were treated to as our diplomats posed with the Iranians for photographers in Lausanne ten days ago. But the Ayatollah is the real voice of the Iranian regime with whom we are negotiating. He dislikes us, doesn’t trust us and has publically proclaimed that inspections will not really be nearly as intrusive as the White House suggests. He says that all sanctions will be lifted as a condition of signing the agreement, not compliance with it. Furthermore, we are told by the Ayatollah that there is nothing sacrosanct about the June 30th deadline. “What has been achieved so far does not guarantee a deal or even that the negotiations will continue to the end,” Khamenei said, adding that an extension of the deadline should not be a problem. Is it any wonder that the Saudis and the Israelis are extremely concerned? Is it any wonder that, according to a just-released NBC poll,  68 percent of Americans believe that Iran was  not likely to abide by a nuclear agreement?

And to think — it has taken two years of negotiations to reach this level of agreement.

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The Iran Nuclear Framework Agreement: Chalk One Up for The Ayatollah.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe don’t really want to join the chorus of naysayers who are excoriating the Obama Administration for negotiating a bad agreement with Iran. Face it. President Obama was left with a somewhat limited hand to play by a succession of his predecessors, and he has had pretty limited support from our European allies for playing hardball at the negotiating table.

No, it is not a good deal, but it is, in some respects, a better deal than we had feared it might be. Iran will, after all, reduce its stockpile of enriched nuclear material to a fraction of what it had produced. Nonetheless, it does represent a stark departure from what the United States, Europe and virtually all of the Middle East stakeholders (Arab and Israeli alike) had hoped to see accomplished at the outset of the talks. So chalk one up for the Ayatollah.

In spite of all the rose-garden hype about the historic achievement the agreement represents, Iran dismantles nothing. It merely promises to recalibrate and retask some of its more worrisome facilities and infrastructure, and to substantially reduce its stockpile of enriched material. Metaphorically, Iran is switching its nuclear engine’s gears from drive to idyll or neutral. More ominously, its ballistic missile program was kept off the agenda, as was any discussion of its known research into nuclear detonation technology, and its deadly mischief throughout the region remained nonnegotiable. Iran has amassed an impressive nuclear infrastructure including hardened underground centrifuge complexes, and heavy-water reactors. It has very impressive break-out capability, which it keeps. The p5 +1 had one major negotiating chip short of war – sanctions. We’re lifting them and, in return Iran keeps its nuclear infrastructure and promises to curtail its activity – for a while. Not a terribly impressive outcome.

Ironically, according to Michael Morell, former CIA Deputy Director, we have negotiated Iran out of a robust nuclear energy capability and left them with a pretty robust nuclear weapons capability. Morell explained during a Charlie Rose interview “if you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 (centrifuges) is pretty much the number you need…if you have a (nuclear) power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon.”

The consensus among various nuclear experts concurs with Morell. Matthew Kroenig, Associate Professor at Georgetown University and author of “The Iranian Nuclear Threat: Choices and Consequences,” says Morell  “is absolutely correct.”   Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security also agree. Professor Matthew Bunn of Harvard University and Co-Principal Investigator of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concurs as well.

“People think surely you must need a bigger enrichment system to make 90 percent enriched material for bombs than to make 4-5 percent enriched material for power reactors,” Bunn said. “But exactly the opposite is true.” Bunn said there are two reasons. First, you need tens of tons of material to fuel a power reactor for a year, but just tens of kilograms to make a bomb. Bottom line: Making bombs takes fewer centrifuges. And without a lot of centrifuges, it’s hard to make nuclear power.

Then there is the matter of Iran’s general threat to the region. While Iran, like America, is fighting ISIS, it is no less a trouble maker in the region. That we would enter into talks with Iran and agree to abandon effective economic sanctions without even addressing the very real and present danger the radical theocratic regime represents to virtually every ally we have in the region is beyond troubling. Indeed, just days before the agreement was inked, Reza Naqdi, who commands the key Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, announced that “erasing Israel from the map is nonnegotiable.”

We hope the Obama administration recognizes that whatever the Israeli’s have to do to keep Iran from wiping their nation off the map is also nonnegotiable. The Basij militia, the reader might recall, were the official thugs who went after the unarmed protestors with such brutal and deadly vengeance after the corrupt 2009 Iranian presidential election.

President Obama’s new mantra that he has expressed directly to the Ayatollah, as well as to the American People, that, essentially, there are those who favor this agreement and those who favor war, is both disingenuous and deceitful. There are also those who would have simply preferred a much better agreement.

As the Wall Street Journal put it:

The truth, contrary to the President, is that the critics of his Iran framework do not want war. But they also don’t want a phony peace to lead to a nuclear Middle East that leads to a far more horrific war a decade from now. That’s why this agreement needs a thorough vetting and genuine debate.

Or, as the Washington Post opined:

Both Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry emphasized that many details need to be worked out in talks with Iran between now and the end of June. During that time, the administration will have much other work to do: It must convince Mideast allies that Iran is not being empowered to become the region’s hegemon; and it must accommodate Congress’s legitimate prerogative to review the accord. We hope President Obama will make as much effort to engage in good faith with skeptical allies and domestic critics as he has with the Iranian regime.

 Iran’s nuclear development activity began 60 years ago and we were complicit in its birth. We refer, of course, to the Atom’s for Peace Program, the idea for which was first introduced to the UN general Assembly in 1953 by none other than American President Dwight D. Eisenhower. We supplied information and equipment to friends throughout the world, including our good friend (at the time), the Shah of Iran. An American company built Iran’s first nuclear reactor.

Of course, everything changed after the fall of the Shah and the subsequent revolution in Iran. While the Ayatollahs publically forswore nuclear weapon development, work, of course, continued. Iran’s first nuclear power plant was opened on September 12, 2011 with Russian assistance. Three years ago, our intelligence agencies reported that Iran was pursuing research into weaponization, but saw no evidence that actual weaponization was being attempted.

At about the same time the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had undertaken research and gained experience geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability, but IAEA could not confirm whether that work had continued beyond 2003. What has become clear is that Iran did begin aggressively enriching nuclear material, declaring that its enrichment program was purely for peaceful purposes.

Its acquisition and development of thousands of centrifuges and its construction of at least one heavy water, plutonium-producing reactor makes it clear it has been developing the capability to produce weapons-grade material. That reality, and its support of, and involvement in, terrorist activity throughout the world, and its support of open warfare against American allies such as Yemen, as well as its genocidal threats against Israel make a nuclear-capable Iran a serious threat to American interests.

The American negotiating position has diminished from eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons development, to rolling it back, to, now, essentially holding it in place. Iran is (or is close to being) a nuclear threshold state. Iran has never needed an underground-fortified facility as they have in Fordow to make medical isotopes or to generate electricity. They didn’t need a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor at Arak for any peaceful purpose, nor did they need secret, hidden centrifuges spinning away underground so that more of their people could plug in electric toasters.

No other country in the world, today, overtly advocates the destruction of another country. Only Iran does that. And no other country is openly threatened with annihilation. Only Israel lives with that threat. No other country in the world, today, actively engages in support of terrorism on a worldwide basis. Only Iran does that.

The sanctions we and the other members of the UN Security Council imposed were entirely justified and they were exacting a very heavy toll on Iran. That is why Iran came to the negotiating table in the first place. But as we look at the framework for an agreement announced yesterday, it would appear that Iran has given up little, other than a pause, perhaps for a year, perhaps for ten years.

The die was cast for a weak deal when the President declared at the Center for Middle East Policy last December that Netanyahu’s demand that Iran dismantle its military nuclear capability was “unrealistic.” The alternative to dismantling is, when all is said and done, little more than mothballing that capability. As Dr. Emily Landau, senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and Director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project, says, “Iran will still have everything there to break out and use whenever it wants to.”

While the White House suggests the sanctions that we and the other P5 +1 are lifting can be “snapped back” at the drop of a hat, anyone who has even fifth-grade knowledge of how the UN Security Council works knows that that is just plain nonsense.

Iran gets its economy back, and the rest of the world lives with a nuclear capable Iran that can and, we believe, will continue with its nuclear weaponization at a time of its choosing.

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Netanyahu, Obama and Campaign Hyperbole

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign rant that there would be no Palestinian State while he was Prime Minister sounded, even to us, like finger nails screeching down a blackboard. It must have come across as startling as Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” was to Palestinians abroad and Arabists in our own country. Not surprisingly, both politicians hurriedly “walked back” their campaign blather within 24 hours.

It is generally axiomatic in American politics that politicians pander to their base when running, and tack to the center once in office. Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition of right-leaning and hard-right minorities within the Israeli electorate in order to win the right to try to form a government. No one knows for sure, at this time, whether he will succeed in forming a new government consisting of an allied cabinet of ministers and the factions they represent in the Knesset. We certainly expect, however, that he will.

The campaign alarm Netanyahu expressed over the large number of Arabs who were voting was reprehensible in a modern democratic society, but we give him credit for candor. It probably was alarming to him. He wasn’t trying to stop Arabs from voting, but he was desperately trying to get the rightists out to vote for him. But think about this. His sense of alarm demonstrated just how vibrant Israeli democracy is. The anti-Netanyahu Arab minority has the right to vote, and vote they did. Where else in the Arab world today, do heads of state really worry about the Arab vote? Where else in the Arab world today do they even vote? Nonetheless, it was sorry rhetoric in such a strong democracy.

The crassness of it aside, it was a rather obvious assessment of reality in that troubled and chaotic neighborhood. The fact is there will be no Palestinian State while Netanyahu is Prime Minister, nor would there be a Palestinian State if Herzog or Livni were Prime Minister. There will not be a two-state solution while Hamas is a partner in the Palestinian government, and not while the Palestinians demand the right of all Palestinians and their descendants to return to the homes they once occupied in what is now Israel, and certainly not while any Palestinian government refuses to agree that a peace settlement will end the dispute.

Actually, Netanyahu’s (immediately retracted) words are not the issue. His words are simply the excuse that President Obama now has to “rethink” the US position on supporting Israel in world forums, especially the UN Security Council. It is a fatuous excuse. Israel is either an ally of the United States or it is not. The campaign hyperbole of an Israeli Prime Minister was just that — campaign hyperbole. Its retraction should be taken at face value, not because the retraction evidences fidelity to a two state solution (it may or may not), but because of the interests and values that bind us as allies.

The Palestinian issue won’t be resolved until the Palestinian body politic and the Israeli body politic really want to resolve the dispute. There can be no question but that most Israelis yearn for peaceful coexistence. Each side, however, constantly gives the other side justification for not resolving the dispute, and as long as there is a strong rejectionist movement on both sides there will be no resolution. Progress toward peace has been, and will continue to be, subject to easy unraveling.

Every American administration seems to believe peace is simply a matter of process. Reagan pursued a plan that would have tied the Palestinians to Jordan, required Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied after the six-day war (following successful peace and security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians). Bush 41 pursued the Madrid peace process. Clinton pursued the Wye Plantation agreement (remember that one) and then the 2000 Camp David Talks. Bush 43 pursued the Annapolis peace talks and the so-called road map; and Obama pursued peace talks that collapsed last year encumbered by the expansion of some settlements by the Israelis, and the subsequent announcement by the PA (during the talks) that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas had secretly formed a unity government.

Small wonder Netanyahu assured his base in the waning hours of an election campaign that there would be no two-state solution while he was Prime Minister. This is the same Hamas that has regularly fired rockets at Israeli civilian centers ever since they took over the Gaza Strip following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. This is the same Hamas that is committed by its charter to genocide against Jews in general and against Israel in particular. And horrors of horrors, Netanyahu promises that there will be no Palestinian state while he is Prime Minister.

The UN and the EU may be ready to welcome into the family of nations a Palestinian state joined at the hip with Hamas, but no one should expect Israel to. President Obama’s high pique over Netanyahu’s recanted campaign excesses are, in our judgment, overwrought.

The idea of a Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government is anathema to Israelis, but cheered by almost all Palestinians. According to a reliable poll by Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) conducted last year, Three quarters of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza support integrating Fatah and Hamas security services and the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestine Liberation Organization. An even larger majority supports a Hamas-PA partnership even if it results in U.S. economic sanctions or Israeli political pressure.

So what does all of this tell us? It tells us that until the time is conducive, and the parties themselves want to make progress, there will be no lasting progress. Anwar Sadat’s readiness and determination to end the cycle of war with Israel paved the way for peace between Egypt and Israel. The ’94 Oslo accords, which had limited but important lasting value, was pursued by Israelis and Palestinians in Oslo to the surprise of the US and the rest of the world. Every US Administration, it seems, drags both parties to its own version of peace talks. What we’ve learned is that peace efforts orchestrated by Washington to which the parties themselves are not committed, are fraught with danger, rarely accomplish anything positive and create more friction then they alleviate.

President Obama seems determined to hang on to Netanyahu’s remarks even if the Israeli Prime Minister has let them go. Obama now considers Netanyahu’s campaign excesses a new statement of positions that justifies recalculation of America’s support of Israel. “We take him at his word,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said of Netanyahu.

Earnest also complained about Netanyahu’s remarks about the heavy Arab turnout. “These kinds of cynical, divisive election day tactics stand in direct conflict to … the values that are critical to the bond between our two countries,” he said.

Someone should ask Mr. Earnest if President Obama also thinks the “Death to America” remarks this week by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, might also be in direct conflict to the values that are critical to the bond he is seeking with Iran.

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Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.