Monthly Archives: November 2009
Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff in the New York Times:
With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.
It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.
Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.
While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.
I’m Not A Freeloader Like Those Other People
So many assholes in this country.
While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.
Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.
He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.
Jillian Bandes at Townhall
Brian Faughnan at Redstate:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is disgusting. The measure of a successful administration will be how many Americans don’t rely on food stamps, not how many more can be added to the rolls. It’s stunning that the program would be overseen by someone with so poor an understanding of priorities.
Furthermore, the federal government is making a mistake by imposing no work requirements on receipt of this assistance. Because money is fungible, there is little difference between food stamps (or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP) and welfare. While it should be available for those whose subsistence depends on it, it is appropriate to protect the taxpayer interest by imposing a work requirement on those who are able to work.
It shows that, indeed, assiduous bipartisan bureaucratic attempts to remove stigma from food stamps have at least partially succeeded, and the program has expanded rapidly, roughly doubling since 2000. (Amazingly, the Times never bothers to tell readers by what percentage the program has grown recently, though it barrages them with unassimilable stats from select counties and tedious anecdotes.) The paleoliberal undermessage of today’s NYT piece is basically: ‘Hah, hah, you conservatives and ‘values’ Dems. When times are tough all your stigmatizing of welfare goes out the window. Americans are learning to to love the dole.’
But a stigma placed on cash-like welfare (which food stamps are) remains a positive sign of a healthy work ethic. If you came across two societies–Society A, in which food stamps were stigmatized, with families reluctant to go on the dole even if they were eligible, and Society B, in which they weren’t, you would want to bet on (and live in) Society A. It’s one thing to relax the stigma on welfare in times of epic economic decline. It’s another if the stigma doesn’t return with the possibility of employment. The CBPP chart would also have demonstrated that food stamp rolls have risen rapidly before–in the slump from 1988 to 1994–only to fall just as rapidly when the economy picked up in the mid-90s. Of course, at that time we had a President (Clinton) who was campaigning against “welfare as we know it.”** It seems unlikely that President Obama will repeat the performance. …
One thing here is that I just doubt that Clinton’s campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it” was really all that decisive in the decline in food stamp enrollment. Objective economic conditions improved rapidly during this period, with the late-1990s being the only period of substantial low-end wage growth of the past several decades. Whether food stamp use declines or not as we enter an economic recovery depends first and foremost on how robust that recovery actually is.
But as for Society A and Society B, whether or not I would bet on Society A is going to have a lot to do with whether Society A is suffering from much larger quantities of undernourished children. If it’s able to scrimp on food stamps without achieving that result then, yes, its bourgeois stolidity looks promising. But if Society B is doing a much better job of ensuring that its kids are healthy, then Society B is going to have a better-educated workforce, lower crime, less disability, and a generally better-off population and economy for years to come.
Which I think leads to the conclusion that the problem with SNAP isn’t that it ought to be more stigmatized, but that it’s too much like cash welfare. It’s called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and a supplemental program to assist people with obtaining adequate nutrition is a good idea. But if you read ye olde eligibility guidelines you’ll see that “nonalcoholic beverages, snack foods, soft drinks, candy, and ice.” are all eligible. I like Fritos, I like Diet Coke, I like Twizzlers, but none of this is supplementing anyone’s nutrition. Conversely, you can’t use SNAP money to buy any “foods that are hot at the point of sale” even though this restriction has nothing to do with promoting nutrition. I don’t think we need to go all the way in the direction of turning this into a monastic “fruit, vegetables, and whole grains only” program but we could surely go a good deal further in the direction of targeting the money at actual nutrition assistance.
UPDATE: Razib Khan
UPDATE #2: Julian Sanchez
Peter Suderman at Reason:
According to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office this morning, the average price of insurance premiums bought on the individual market—that is, premiums not purchased through employers—would go up by 10 to 13 percent in 2016 if Congress passed health care reform legislation now in the Senate. This tracks with state-level reform efforts, which have almost always coincided with spikes in individual insurance premiums.
If the plan is the Senate plan, then according to the CBO, not much changes. Average premiums might be as much as 3% lower than they otherwise would be. On the other hand, they might not change at all.
That’s actually rather surprising. We’ve been hearing a lot over the last few weeks about the transformative power of the excise tax on high cost plans, which is supposed to really incentivize the kind of delivery services reform that could hold down medical cost inflation. Indeed, the effect is supposed to be so powerful that almost all the revenue estimated from the excise tax actually comes from employers buying cheaper health insurance than they otherwise would and passing those savings onto employees in the form of wages, which the employees then pay taxes on. By 2019, that excise tax is supposed to be generating $34 billion a year for the treasury.
But according to the CBO, while the excise tax will exert downward pressure on large group health insurance premiums, other factors–like the requirement that children be eligible for dependent coverage up to the age of 26–will push them upward. The result is a maximum savings of 3%, a minimum of 0%. The CBO notes that because so many people are affected, even small changes can produce significant revenue.
That zero does make me sort of wonder what might happen to all that revenue. The excise tax is basically the entire revenue side (there are a bunch of provisions that also effect revenues, but they roughly balance out; if the excise tax doesn’t raise as much as anticipated, there will be no extra revenue to cover new spending, unless something else also changes).
As far as the insurance premiums go, this is yet another example of ObamaCare bending the cost curve … upward. Why will premiums increase? Guaranteed issue and expansion of third-party payer services. Instead of exercising cost control through real reform, the new plan will intensify the existing structural problems of cost in the American health-care system. And since the covered won’t be paying that cost themselves, the rest of the taxpayers who don’t participate in the exchange system will be left with the bill through the federal subsidy program.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report (pdf) today estimating changes to average premiums under the Senate health-care bill. The report is going to prove very important, and is going to confuse a lot of people. So let’s be very, very clear about what it says.
The CBO’s analysis broke the health-care system into three parts: individual, small group and large group. The small- and large-group markets account for 159 million Americans, and have very little change in premiums. But what change they see is in the right direction: Health-care reform is expected to reduce premiums in the large group market by about 1.5 percent, and in the small group market by about 0.5 percent.
The individual market is where the big changes happen. In 2016, which is the year CBO examines, this market is expected to serve 32 million Americans. And in this market, average premiums are expected to rise by 10 to 12 percent. What’s important, however, is why.
The CBO sees the changes coming from three different sources. First, “the average insurance policy in this market would cover a substantially larger share of enrollees’ costs for health care (on average) and a slightly wider range of benefits.” This accounts for all of the increase in premiums. In fact, it accounts for much more than the projected increase: The improvement in the insurance obtained on the individual market would, on its own, raise prices by up to 30 percent.
But the increase is moderated by two other policy changes. First, the new rules governing the insurance market are expected to make the market more efficient, lowering prices by 7 to 10 percent. Second, the individual mandate, alongside the subsidies and the increased ease of purchasing insurance, is expected to bring in healthier folks, which should save another 7 to 10 percent. Add it all together and we’re looking at a 10 to 12 percent increase in premiums for insurance that’s about 30 percent better than what people are getting now. It’s a steal. And all this is before we get to subsidies.
The CBO estimates that 57 percent of people in the individual market will receive subsidies to help them purchase health-care insurance (folks on the individual market tend to be much lower-income, with much less stable employment). Those subsidies will reduce premium costs by between 56 to 59 percent for the average beneficiary. So in the final analysis, the effect of reform on your typical individual market purchasers is to give them insurance that’s about 30 percent better but only 10 to 12 percent more expensive, and then assure them subsidies that will lower their payments by more than 50 percent. And if you’re in the small group or large group markets, your premiums are expected to fall a bit.
Good deal, no?
The Congressional Budget Office has released its much-awaited estimate on how the Senate health care bill would affect premiums. It’s good news from the point of view of reform advocates: premiums would stay about the same for people with group coverage, while falling significantly for most of those in the small-group or individual markets. Jon Gruber has crunched the numbers, and produces this convenient chart (via Yglesias):
But here’s the thing: senior Republican politicians suffer from reading comprehension. (To be fair, the CBO report is written in a remarkably elliptical style). Several have already claimed that the report shows that premiums will rise.
And they probably won’t get called on it. More than that, in today’s Beltway, where David Broder can say that he can’t find an expert who believes the Senate bill is deficit neutral when the Congressional Budget Office says it is, the good news in this report may well just be ignored.
Anyway, for what it’s worth the CBO has now given the Senate bill a clean bill of, um, health on both its budget impact and its impact on families.
Jonathan Cohn at TNR:
These projections represent averages. The CBO expects considerable variation in each group, so that some people pay more and some people pay less. And, like all CBO projections, these are subject to both enormous uncertainty and CBO’s particular set of assumptions.
But that last part is actually encouraging, because CBO tends to have very conservative (small “c”) assumptions about the ability of government reforms to save money in the health care system. If measures like greater use of information technology and comparative effectiveness data are more successful than the CBO projects–and many experts believe they will be–premiums should come down even more.
Keep in mind, too, that CBO’s numbers are for 2016. But many of the cost-saving measures in the bill aren’t expected to yield savings until after that date. In other words, the savings in the future could be even larger.
We may not get to the point where reform, as currently written, delivers $2,500 in savings to the average American, as President Obama famously (and, perhaps, foolishly) promised on the campaign trail. But this analysis suggests reform can in fact deliver some savings–and that it certainly won’t raise premiums, as so many conservative critics have predicted.
Given the myriad ways in which reform will make both the uninsured and insured more secure, that seems like a pretty good bargain.
Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:
Before young officers at West Point, Obama will announce his decision about Afghanistan to an increasingly skeptical nation and a Democratic Congress that is threatening to condition its budgeting on identifiable off-ramps and timeframes. Obama is expected to announce that he’ll order several Army combat brigades to Afghanistan — about 30,000 troops in all, most of them to be tasked with more rapidly standing up Afghanistan’s indigenous army. His speech, as described in broad terms by advisers last week, will be short and serious. His challenge is to persuade Americans that the war in Afghanistan is winnable, as Americans tend to give their presidents significant leeway so long as they believe that the president is confident in his strategy. Officials said last week that while would outline a clear exit strategy, he would not tie troop withdrawals to any specific political developments in Afghanistan, which might run into opposition from Democrats in Congress, who are demanding benchmarks. Nor is the President likely to impose direct conditions on Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. An official said that Obama plans to try explain the interconnection between the the stability of Pakistan and the nexus of terror in Afghanistan. An explanation that the American people would accept has proven elusive.
I’m going to give the speech a chance. It’s a very difficult situation, and, after Bush’s grotesque mismanagement, no options are anything but varieties of awful. But everything I hear sounds like conventional drift to me – Bush’s policy with a much more interesting and intelligent discussion beforehand. So instead of staying in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with no real strategy, we will stay in neo-colonial occupation against an insurgency that now feeds off US intervention with lots of super-smart defenses of the indefensible. Great.
Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:
It’s tiresome to have to go back and rehash these old arguments. But it’s hard to avoid when the supposed lessons of Iraq are then inappropriately transposed onto Afghanistan. The debate over Afghan policy continues to suffer from General McChrystal’s curious decision to appoint a group of surgenik think tankers such as the Kagans, with virtually no Afghan expertise, to ghost-write a “strategy review” which has shaped so much of the subsequent public debate. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lengthy, critical evaluation in which the Obama administration has engaged — with many of the underlying assumptions challenged and debated, as they should be.
I’ve never agreed with the widely aired opinion that Obama should just make a decision, whether it’s right or wrong (as long as that decision is to escalate, presumably). I’m impressed that his team seems to have given serious thought to the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the legitimacy of the Karzai government, the lessons of the Soviet experience, how to pre-empt future demands for more troops, how to maximize leverage, and how to craft an exit strategy. It doesn’t mean that they’ll get the policy right — or even that there’s a right policy to find. I predicted weeks ago that the result of the strategy review would be a decision to add 30,000 or so troops, it wouldn’t work, hawkish critics would give Obama no credit for the decision, and next year we could have the whole argument over again. Here’s to hoping that Obama’s speech next week proves me wrong.
Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard:
You can’t fight a successful war unless the commander-in-chief is fully committed to it. So President Obama’s chief task in his speech Tuesday night on Afghanistan is to make it absolutely clear that he is.
This won’t be easy. Obama comes from the antiwar wing of the Democratic party that opposes the use of force in almost all instances. If he were still a senator and a Republican president were proposing a troop buildup in Afghanistan, Obama would probably be against it.
Obama has spent most of his political career comfortably inside the cocoon of his party’s left wing. And he brought that faction’s culture to the White House. It has created the unusual situation of a president and his advisers who are normally, even reflexively, antiwar but who now have a war on their hands, on their watch, and as their responsibility.
It’s true that Obama championed Afghanistan as the “good war” in his presidential campaign last year. And as recently as August, he called it “a war of necessity.” But his painful, three-month deliberation on what to do in Afghanistan severely undermined his prior statements.
The point is legitimate doubts about Obama’s tenacity in Afghanistan — his level of commitment — abound in the military, among allies whom Obama wants to deploy more troops, and with the American public. More than anything else, he needs to lay those doubts to rest in his address.
He won’t succeed if he dwells on how quickly he hopes to begin winding down America’s intervention in Afghanistan. Emphasizing an exit strategy would be counterproductive. He needs to concentrate on what’s required and what he’s ordering to prevail in Afghanistan.
Spencer Ackerman on Barnes:
I recognize arguing with Barnes is like trying to beat a chimpanzee in a shit-throwing contest, but really. Obama ran for president for two years vowing an increase in U.S. troops for Afghanistan. When he was elected president, one of the first things he did was increase troop levels in Afghanistan to an all-time high. Tomorrow night he’s going to increase troop levels again by something like 30,000. That means by the end of Obama’s first year in office, he’ll have ordered more troops into the Afghan war than were there when he was elected president. Believing that Obama would oppose a U.S. troop increase under a counterfactional conditional requires actively ignoring shitloads of evidence. In fairness, if you read Barnes’s book about Bush, you’ll learn that under the ex-president’s stewardship, “al Qaeda and the Taliban had been subdued in Afghanistan,” making this whole war thing rather hard to understand.
This war requires a serious commitment, much more so than Iraq did. It will take a generation or longer to stabilize Afghanistan and provide it an infrastructure to tamp down extremism and modernize a population more connected to the 14th century than the 21st. There is a serious question as to whether any American President could guarantee that kind of commitment, let alone one that has taken almost four months to decide whether or not to properly resource a strategy he himself demanded for over two years and officially imposed eight months ago.
Blundering around Afghanistan with no commitment to do anything except leave, and leave on some unknown combination of the stars and the winds, is about as bad a choice as it gets. It undermines the entire basis for COIN, which is to ensure stability through security and trust — trust based on our commitment to the security of the individual communities that resist the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It’s a waste of resources, and worse yet, a waste of fine men and women in our military who want to win this fight and defeat extremism and terrorism.
Kim Holmes at The Corner:
Then there’s the matter of troop strength. News reports based on White House leaks indicate that the president will tell the nation he is sending somewhere in the neighborhood of 35,000 troops, possibly arguing that these are only 5,000 fewer than General McChrystal asked for.
The political calculation is that sending a smaller number of troops would pacify the Democratic party’s leftist base, which wants an immediate U.S. withdrawal. But the military calculation should take precedence.
The New York Times has revealed that Gen. McChrystal’s original assessment called for an additional 60,000 to 80,000 troops to maximize the chance of success. A decision to send in less than that incurs a greater risk of failure.
General McChrystal was quickly muzzled by a White House apprehensive that he was asking for bigger numbers of troops. Some Democrats even called for the president to fire his general if McChrystal continued speaking to the press. None of this, however, should make us forget that the president reportedly will announce that he will send in fewer troops than his commander on the ground says is needed to achieve maximum success.
Scott H. Payne at The League:
Obama is a smart guy and a very nuanced and careful thinker, but the spin on his announcement just comes off as the worst of rhetorical hair-splitting, a fundamental unwillingness to take a position and defend it. No matter what he did on Afghanistan, Obama was going to draw criticism — welcome to politics. But this kind of “everything-to-everyone-at-all-times” game that results in flaccid, DOA decision making is precisely what has deflated every corner of Obama’s base and is going to kill his presidency, in the end.
I appreciate the desire to take all perspectives into consideration when charting a course of action for the country, I think that is not just the right thing to do, but, frankly, vital to good decision making. And as far as that front end work goes, Obama is unsurpassed. But the back end, and arguably the most important component of decision making, is to then wade through all that information and analysis, sift the options and opinions, make a determination about what seems to be the right (or at least best) course of action, and then make a firm decision to follow that course.
Increasingly, it seems like Obama’s back nine is lacking in direct correlation to the impressive and charismatic appeal of his front nine. In short, the man ain’t got no follow through. But this Afghanistan announcement just stinks of the most obvious and blatant attempt to dress a half-finished process up and call it strategic wizardry. I’ll be heartily surprised if it flies very far.
Josh Marshall at TPM:
You may have heard that four police officers were murdered in what under different circumstances would look like a mob assassination in Washington state coffeehouse this morning.
The man local police are seeking for questioning is Maurice Clemmons, 37, a man with a lifetime history of violence, burglary, aggravated robbery, theft and rape. Clemmons was serving what was essentially a life sentence in Arkansas before having his sentence commuted by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“This is the day I’ve been dreading for a long time,” Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley told the Seattle Times when told Clemmons was a suspect in the quadruple murder.
As far as I can tell, until today, Clemmons had never been accused of, let alone indicted for or convicted of a homicide. The record is rather one of an endless string of aggravated robberies, assaults and similar crimes.
Daniel Foster at National Review:
The clemency was granted in part because Clemmons was just seventeen at the time of his conviction. But within months of being released from an Arkansas jail, Clemmons was rearrested for parole violation. Three years later, he was released again, after an apparent procedural mistake led prosecutors to drop further charges that would have kept him incarcerated.
In Washington, Clemmons continued to run afoul of the law. At the time of the police killings, he was out on $30,000 bail on a charge of second-degree rape of a child.
The man being sought by police was granted clemency by former GOP Arkansas Mike Huckabee despite his violent history and vehement protestations from prosecutors and victims’ family members.
He was most recently in jail for alleged second-degree rape of a child.
This isn’t Huckabee’s first Horton moment, as I’ll remind you in a moment.
This disaster is just one of Huckabee’s ill-considered clemency legacies.
Remember Wayne Dumond?
Again, via the Arkansas Times circa 2005 — a closer look at how Huckabee tried to evade responsibility for setting a convicted rapist free…only to rape again
But based on the few facts I have available, this looks like a reasonable use of clemency authority:
In 1990, Clemmons, then 18, was sentenced in Arkansas to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft of property, according to a news account. Newspaper stories describe a series of disturbing incidents involving Clemmons while he was being tried in Arkansas on various charges. […]
When Clemmons received the 60-year sentence, he was already serving 48 years on five felony convictions and facing up to 95 more years on charges of robbery, theft of property and possessing a handgun on school property. Records from Clemmons’ sentencing described him as 5-foot-7 and 108 pounds. The crimes were committed when he was 17.
60 years for burglary and theft for an eighteen year-old seems incredibly excessive. In this case, of course, you can’t help but wish he were in fact still in prison. But it’s hard to see what about a record of involvement in burglaries would make you think this was a guy at risk of doing something like this.
Given Huckabee’s gruesome history on related matters, it’s tempting to say that he deserves any demagoguery he’s on the receiving end of because of this. But it would be wrong. As Matt says, on its face there’s nothing unreasonable about granting clemency to a someone given 6-0 years for burglaries committed when he was 17. Evidently, if you grant parole and clemency (or, for that matter, give out finite sentences) to significant numbers of people some percentage will commit more crimes, but individual cases can’t in themselves justify more draconian policies, and also don’t mean that Huckabee’s judgment at the time was wrong. Putting pressure on the the parole board to release a rapist because some wingers developed some quarter-witted Clinton conspiracy theories, on the other hand…
Someone used the word Hucked-up on Twitter the other day. I remember commenting at the time. If anything is “Hucked-up,” this is. Huckabee may not be the only individual guilty here and neither is Arkansas the only state. But why we keep returning this kind of scum to the street is a crime all by itself. They say the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact. Well, neither should be trumped up Constitutional Rights. Degenerates like Maurice Clemmons should be shot in the head and left for dead whenever they get caught.
The senseless and savage execution of police officers in Washington State has saddened the nation, and early reports indicate that a person of interest is a repeat offender who once lived in Arkansas and was wanted on outstanding warrants here and in Washington State. The murder of any individual is a profound tragedy, but the murder of a police officer is the worst of all murders in that it is an assault on every citizen and the laws we live within.
Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State. He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990, this commutation made him parole eligible and he was then paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him. It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state. This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Our thoughts and prayers are and should be with the families of those honorable, brave, and heroic police officers.
UPDATE: Heather MacDonald at Secular Right
Joe Carter at First Things
UPDATE #2: Instapundit on Coates
UPDATE #3: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads
UPDATE #4: Mara Gay at The Atlantic
UPDATE #5: Radley Balko at Reason
Partial results from the poll which closed at 1100 GMT indicated that the German-speaking canton of Lucerne accepted the ban, while French-speaking cantons Geneva and Vaud voted against….
What is it about minarets specifically?
There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning applications for new minarets are almost always refused.
The BBC could be clearer here. Is a Muslim place of worship “unofficial” if it lacks a minaret? Regulation of buildings can be neutral toward religion, and one can imagine a government regulation that happens to exclude the construction of minarets. But this is a case of targeting religion. (A ban like this in the United States would violate both the Free Exercise and the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.)
Supporters of a ban claim that allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system – Sharia law – which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.
So it is not only discrimination against religion, it is a restriction of the sort of speech that is most valued in a democracy — criticism of the government. This argument, an attempt to excuse discrimination against religion, makes the ban worse, not better
Is this a sign of the resurgence of hard-right anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe, or is it just an exceptional result from an exceptional country? Switzerland is a very socially conservative place (its famous multilingual tolerance notwithstanding), so in one sense it’s not a surprise that this referendum passed. Still, it was polling at only 37% support a week ago and ended up winning with 57% of the vote. That’s a big swing from just a few final days of campaigning,1 and it suggests that it would hardly be impossible for other European countries to follow suit.2
1Unless, of course, Swiss voters have a tendency to lie to pollsters on sensitive questions like this, as they seem to in America.
2If they had referendums, that is. Which most of them don’t. But obviously a referendum isn’t the only way to accomplish somethng like this.
If Sunday’s vote banning new minarets passes, it will be a small but significant step in setting Switzerland’s neutrality on the right side of the moral divide. As Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey points out on Twitter,
Switzerland is banning the … extension of a mosque. Not building the mosque itself. Muslim countries do that, to churches.Still, a Swiss ban on minarets would be a small but important step in the right direction.
Marty Peretz at TNR:
One thing is for sure: the banning of minarets, as announced a few minutes ago after a plebiscite in Switzerland, is precisely the wrong direction.
Charles Johnson at LGF:
Switzerland, the country that let everyone else in Europe do their fighting for them in World War II and turned Jews over to the Nazis to save their own skins, has now banned minarets.
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias
Daniel Pipes at The Corner
UPDATE #2: Rod Dreher
UPDATE #3: Ross Douthat
Laura Dean at Tapped on Douthat
Anne Applebaum in Slate
UPDATE #4: James Poulos on Douthat
Scott Shane at NYT:
As President Obama vows to “finish the job” in Afghanistan by sending more troops, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has completed a detailed look back at a crucial failure early in the battle against Al Qaeda: the escape of Osama bin Laden from American forces in the Afghan mountains of Tora Bora in December 2001.
“Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat,” the committee’s report concludes. “But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.”
The report, based in part on a little-noticed 2007 history of the Tora Bora episode by the military’s Special Operations Command, asserts that the consequences of not sending American troops in 2001 to block Mr. bin Laden’s escape into Pakistan are still being felt.
The report blames the lapse for “laying the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.”
Its release comes just as the Obama administration is preparing to announce an increase in forces in Afghanistan.
Laura Rozen at Politico:
In advance of Obama’s Afghanistan policy roll out this week, a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee report investigates Osama bin Laden’s December 2001 escape from Tora Bora. “Like several previous accounts, the committee’s report blames Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then the top American commander, and Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, for not putting a large number of American troops there lest they fuel resentment among Afghans,” the Times reports.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are scheduled to testify before the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees this week, the first time a Secretary of Defense has sat before the foreign relations committee in decades, one staffer said.
Meantime, under political pressure, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari turns over nuclear controls to the prime minister. But Pakistan’s nuclear controls are really in the military’s hands, South Asia hands say.
Towards the end of the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry tried to raise public awareness of an issue Americans hadn’t heard much about. In December 2001, the U.S. had pinned down Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora, but the Bush administration decided not to send additional troops.
George W. Bush, just two weeks before Election Day, was incensed by the criticism, and tried to characterize this as attacks on the military. “Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001 — and that our military had a chance to get him in Tora Bora,” the then-president said. “This is an unjustified and harsh criticism of our military commanders in the field.”
It was an odd thing to say. Far from being a “wild claim,” the Bush administration itself came to the same conclusion Kerry did — two years beforehand.
This is not to say that success at Tora Bora would have eliminated the threat posed by al Qaeda, but the fiasco allowed the terrorist network’s top leaders to escape and continue with their efforts.
The events at Tora Bora was largely ignored by major media outlets — perhaps because they were too embarrassing to the administration soon after 9/11 — but for the record, Kerry was right, and Bush was wrong.
We have kicked this around too many times. First, Kerry is being a retroractive genius – no one has produced any contemporaneous criticism from Kerry of the Pentagon/Administration strategy in Afghanistan, but he gave a Larry King interview from December 2001 that can certainly be read as supportive (or see Kaus or Geraghty; Media Matters questions the context). As a comic bonus, Kerry also ruminated about the importance of expanding the war beyond Afghanistan and cited the need to keep pressure on Saddam Hussein; I guess it was only later that he realized Saddam was a distraction and a Bush obsession.
So, eight years later, what’s the point?
The horse is still out, and going forward, the vaguely hinted-at suggestion is that it’s important to stay focused on barn door open-closed operations.
NYT notes this comes as President Barack Obama prepares to boost the number of troops in Afghanistan. AP says the report is not just about goring that dead Bush ox, it also “could also be read as a cautionary note for those resisting an increased troop presence there now.”
Sounds very thoughtful, responsible on Kerry’s part, maybe even senatorial. And it’s a novel approach. Instead of just bashing Bush, using Bush to bash anti-war Dems who might be inclined to bash Obama. Obliquely. The weird part is that, while Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were repeatedly whacked for going light both in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, neither news report indicates that Kerry is interested in whacking Obama, who after an exhaustive and lengthy period of review and revision, reportedly is getting ready to give his commander less than he asked for.* A quick glance at the 29-page report indicates it is entirely a rearview and doesn’t go so far as to suggest what Obama should be doing at all, beyond Kerry’s vague “hope that we can learn from the mistakes of the past.”
Which is always important. At the moment, the mistakes of the present and future are arguably of more pressing concern. Here’s a plan to avoid them:
Give your highly experienced field commanders what they ask for, a counterinsurgency plan to aimed at winning, rather than some fraction of a counterinsurgency plan aimed at exiting ASAP.
And get on with it.
I should hope that the absurdity of conservative commentary on Afghanistan is self-evident, but to summarize briefly, the Obama administration is currently under wingnut fire for a) under-resourcing the Afghanistan mission, and b) failing to do exactly what Stanley McChrystal wants (even as it, apparently, does pretty much exactly what Stanley McChrystal wants). The patent stupidity of these arguments is manifest, as the Bush administration evidently under-resourced the Afghanistan mission for some seven years before Greater Wingnuttia noticed what was happening, and the Bush administration further overrode the authority of local commanders when those commanders had unpleasant things to say, generally to the loud applause of aforementioned Wingnuttia (see, for example, the Bush administration’s decision to push forward with the Surge, in spite of the resistance of the larger US military establishment). There’s some risk, of course, in making it All About Bush, but then I suspect we’re not yet close to accounting for the lasting damage that the Bush administration (and its cheerleaders) did to US security.
The latest cause for re-examination comes with the utterly unsurprising news that the Bush administration completely botched the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 2001 and 2002 by failing to deploy sufficient forces to Tora Bora, and by relying on Afghan proxies to fight Al Qaeda forces. The administration was abetted in its ineptitude by Tommy Franks, who apparently didn’t believe that capturing or killing the man responsible for murdering 3000+ Americans was very interesting or worthwhile. Franks “genius” went down the memory hole around the same time that Donald Rumsfeld became persona non grata among the Wingnutty, but it bears recollection that Franks was, for a while, the Greatest American Hero Evah for Destroying the Mighty Legions of Saddam Hussein. I actually think that Franks’ execution of the early weeks of the Iraq War was more capable than the retrospective judgment allows, but nevertheless it’s fair to say that his inclusion in the pantheon didn’t last very long.
Jules Crittenden, Standard Bearer of the Knights of Wingnuttia, seizes the opportunity to blame this all on …. John Kerry. Rather than denying the now-consensus position that the Bush administration developed and pursued an utterly disastrous Afghanistan policy (and really, this holds regardless of your larger attitudes about the Afghanistan War), Jules describes examination of the failure in the following terms:
So, eight years later, what’s the point?
The horse is still out, and going forward, the vaguely hinted-at suggestion is that it’s important to stay focused on barn door open-closed operations.
Indeed. It’s never worth taking time to examine massive government failures.
UPDATE: Peter Bergen at TNR
Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy