Poll: Americans Okay With Body Scans, Divided on Pat Downs

Americans support the use of airport body scanners by a 2-to-1 margin, but a slight plurality think that pat downs go too far, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.

The poll finds that 64 percent favor the scanners, compared to 32 percent who oppose them; 50 percent say the agressive pat downs go to farr, compared with 48 percent who say they’re justified.

That said, the opponents of the pat downs are a bit more passionate about their feelings: “Among all adults 37 percent are strongly opposed, vs. 29 percent who strongly support the pat-down rule.”

Honoring Reagan

With the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth coming up in February, David Frum has a suggestion for how to approporiately honor his legacy:

Let me suggest something: A museum in Washington dedicated to the victims of communism.

The struggle against communism impelled American foreign policy for almost half a century. That struggle was also the central concern of Ronald Reagan’s political life. As much as Reagan cared about the geopolitics of the struggle, he cared even more about the human victims of communism’s brutal totalitarian ideology.

The countries of Eastern Europe are now memorializing their terrible experiences under communism.

A particularly impressive museum has opened in Budapest, Hungary. But Eastern Europe did not suffer alone. Cambodia, China, Cuba, Ethiopia and Afghanistan also have their stories to tell.

A “Ronald Reagan Museum of the Victims of Communism” in Washington would ensure that these stories were kept alive and made vivid for future generations.

I’d be all for it — as long as it’s privately funded.

Obama Administration Unveils New Insurance Regs

One of the biggest examples of government overreach under ObamaCare is one of the least talked about. Among many other intrusions into the market, the new national health care law imposes something called “medical loss ratio” requirements on insurance companies, which is a fancy way of saying that the government dictates to insurers the percentage of the premiums they collect that must be spent on medical care. Liberals argue that short of a fully government-run system, it’s the only way to pressure insurers into allocating enough of their revenue toward providing medical care, rather than on marketing expenses and high executive salaries. Today, the Obama administration has come out with the actual regulations stemming from the law: 85 percent for large employers, and 80 percent for other policies.

Among the many problems with medical loss ratio requirements, is that the way they’re designed makes it difficult for insurers to offer certain types of policies (especially plans which offer fewer benefits in exchange for cheaper monthly premiums). These requirements were at the root of the controversy that arose in September over McDonald’s having to drop 30,000 workers from its health plans. Eventually, they were granted a waiver from the requirements. But a lot of businesses won’t receive a waiver, meaning that insurers will have to stop offering some policies, and many of them will decide to exit the individual market entirely, due to the nature of the way the financing works. This will translate into less choice and competition, and is another way that the law will lead to people losing coverage they may like.

Also, it’s no accident that the requirements were set at 85 percent and 80 percent. Last December, the Congressional Budget Office issued a memo saying that if the requirements were set any higher than that, health insurers would have to be considered part of the federal budget — driving up the cost estimate of ObamaCare. As the CBO put it, referencing proposals for even more stringent requirements, “this further expansion of the federal government’s role in the health insurance market would make such insurance an essentially governmental program, so that all payments related to health insurance policies should be recorded as cash flows in the federal budget.” At the time, the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon pointed to the memo as a “smoking gun,” revealing that Democrats had deliberately hidden the true cost of ObamaCare by making sure the CBO wouldn’t factor in the cost of the private sector mandates imposed by the legislation.

Kaiser Health News has a roundup of stories on the new regulations. The journal Health Affairs put together a helpful issue brief on the topic.

Huck on 2012

Via the Politico, I see that:

In an interview with WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa, Huckabee would not discount the possibility of another presidential run – but added he would need evidence of a clear path to victory before jumping into the GOP race.

“I’m not ruling it out. And that’s not a yes, but it’s definitely not a no,”  Huckabee told WHO’s Steve Deace.

“The honest answer is: I’m keeping it open as an option; I’m looking at whether or not there’s a pathway to victory,” he added. “As I’ve told several people, I’m not jumping into a pool when there’s no water in it.”

When Huckabee sought the presidency in 2008, he had everything to gain and little to lose. He was an unemployed former governor without much name recognition who entered the race with low expectations. By the end of the campaign, he had emerged as a political force, a national celebrity with a cult following, and he landed a TV show and wrote several books. Now, looking ahead to 2012, things are a lot different. He’s earning good money for the first time in his life and people listen to what he has to say. Were he to run, he’d have to give up his Fox show, deal with the daily grind of the campaign, and once again open himself to more scrutinity and attacks. He’ll have to go through the process of explaining controversial past statements and defending his record, especially when it comes to pardoning violent criminals. And after all of that, it may be hard for him to improve upon his performance anyway. If he decided not to run, he could keep his television show and lucrative career, avoid being the subject of attacks, and still influence the race. His endorsement would no doubt be highly sought after, especially before the Iowa caucuses. So his statement seems pretty candid to me. There’s nothing to gain from running again unless he’s convinced he has a good chance of winning.

Is Israel Behind Sabotage of Iran’s Nuclear Centrifuges?

A computer worm has impaired the functioning of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, fueling speculation that it was a deliberate cyber attack and that Israel is behind it. The New York Times reports:

The paternity of the worm is still in dispute, but in recent weeks officials from Israel have broken into wide smiles when asked whether Israel was behind the attack, or knew who was. American officials have suggested it originated abroad.

The new forensic work narrows the range of targets and deciphers the worm’s plan of attack. Computer analysts say Stuxnet does its damage by making quick changes in the rotational speed of motors, shifting them rapidly up and down.

Changing the speed “sabotages the normal operation of the industrial control process,” Eric Chien, a researcher at the computer security company Symantec, wrote in a blog post.

Those fluctuations, nuclear analysts said in response to the report, are a recipe for disaster among the thousands of centrifuges spinning in Iran to enrich uranium, which can fuel reactors or bombs. Rapid changes can cause them to blow apart. Reports issued by international inspectors reveal that Iran has experienced many problems keeping its centrifuges running, with hundreds removed from active service since summer 2009.

The article later notes:

Ralph Langner, a German expert in industrial control systems who has examined the program and who was the first to suggest that the Stuxnet worm may have been aimed at Iran, noted in late September that a file inside the code was named “Myrtus.” That could be read as an allusion to Esther, and he and others speculated it was a reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.

Back in July, Eli Lake wrote an illuminating article about the U.S. and Israeli secret war of sabotage against Iran’s nuclear program. And if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense strategically. The diplomatic and operational difficulties of an Israeli air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities has been well documented. With the whole world speculating about if or when Israel may take military action against Iran, launching small scale sabotage operations with plausible deniability would be a clever way of retarding Iran’s nuclear development.

Poll Shows Americans Not too Keen on Actual Spending Cuts

Despite all the talk about Americans’ appreciation for limited government, a new CNN poll finds that they have little appetite for spending cuts to actual programs that would be necessary to reduce the deficit.

The poll gave respondents a list of government programs and asked whether they would prefer to reduce the deficit, or prevent significant cuts to the programs. The response was discouraging: 79 percent said they’d prefer avoiding cuts to Medicare; 69 percent said the same about Medicaid; 78 percent on Social Security; 61 percent wanted to preserve aid to farmers; 65 percent said that about college loans; and 61 percent about unemployment assistance.

The only programs in which a majority  favored cuts were funding to the arts, salaries and benefits for federal employees and “welfare programs in general.” Defense spending was closely divided, with 49 percent wanting to prevent cuts, and 48 percent willing to cut defense to reduce the deficit.

As I noted in a pie chart recently, if you take entitlements and defense spending off the table, that makes 83 percent of the federal budget untouchable.

Rove Warns GOP Not to Get Cocky About 2012

On the main site, I have an article up arguing that despite his many political liabilities, Mitt Romney is the slight frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination, given the weakness of the GOP field.

For an alternate take on the GOP race, check out Karl Rove’s latest, in which he warns Republicans not to get cocky about 2012 given that sitting presidents are typically hard to beat, and the GOP field is wide open right now.

I’d make this additional point. As vulnerable as Obama may seem right now, Republicans still have to unite around a candidate who can beat him. And right now, all of the Republicans who are mentioned as possible candidates have severe flaws that make them either unattractive to conservatives or to the public at large.

People always talk about how in 1980, a lot of people viewed Reagan as unelectable. Yet one thing is clear — if you were a committed conservative during that primary season, Reagan was your choice. Is there anybody like that today? I would argue that there isn’t.

The Unorthodox Frontrunner

Viewed in isolation, Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential candidacy is doomed.

In 2008, Romney earned himself a reputation as a flip-flopper as he dramatically attempted to reshape himself as a stanch conservative despite having previously staked out liberal positions on abortion, guns, immigration and a litany of other issues.

This time around, Romney faces the additional burden of trying to explain away his most significant legislative accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts — a big government health care plan that was a model for ObamaCare. In his last presidential bid he was largely able to get a pass, because health care wasn’t as big of an issue. But this time around, Republican voters are clamoring for repeal of the national health care law while conservatives are cheering on constitutional challenges to its individual mandate to purchase health insurance — a central element of MassCare that Romney defended during his first presidential run.

Despite these complicating factors, the reality is that Romney would not be seeking the GOP presidential nomination in a vacuum. In reality, if he’s going to lose, some other candidate is going to have to beat him, and right now, all of the other prospective Republican candidates have their own set of weaknesses.

A Gallup poll released this week showed a wide-open Republican field. Romney led the pack at 19 percent, with Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee at 16 percent, Newt Gingrich at 13 percent, and all other candidates in the single digits.

While Palin remains the biggest GOP star and has a passionate following, when you get beyond her core supporters, voters are deeply skeptical of her ability to be president. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken last month found that even conservatives are divided — with just 45 percent saying she’s qualified to be the nation’s top executive and 48 percent saying she isn’t. Tea Party supporters are split 48 percent to 48 percent on the question. Meanwhile, among the public at large, just 27 percent view her as qualified compared with 67 percent who say she isn’t. Were Palin to run, she’d have to prove that she could build a functioning national political operation and translate her celebrity into actual votes beyond her fan base.

When Huckabee ran the last time around, he built a strong campaign on a shoestring budget with little name recognition, but he had trouble competing in states that did not have a critical mass of evangelical voters. And national security and economic conservatives distrusted him. Were he to make a second bid for president, in addition to these obstacles, Huckabee’s penchant for pardoning criminals as governor of Arkansas would come under added scrutiny given that he commuted the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, who in 2009 was suspected of killing four cops in Washington state.

Gingrich, who in the past has exploited speculation about his presidential ambitions to promote himself and his books, may actually decide to run this time. But while he’s respected in some quarters for being a one man idea factory, he’s rankled many grassroots conservatives for such decisions as recording a television ad with Nancy Pelosi demanding action on climate change and endorsing liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava over conservative Doug Hoffman in a well-publicized special election, allying himself with the GOP establishment. Should he run for president, he’ll also carry a ton of personal baggage that he’ll be seriously questioned about for the first time since the late 1990s.

The list goes on and on. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will enter the race with lower name recognition than his rivals and a sense that he’s too boring to be president. His rightward shift over the past few years will also open him up to charges of being a flip flopper. Over the past several months, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has managed to anger key constituencies of the conservative movement by calling for a “truce” on social issues, saying that defense cuts had to be on the table, and flirting with a value added tax. At a time of unprecedented anti-Washington sentiment, it’s hard to see Republicans rally around a lobbyist in Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Thus, despite his many flaws as a candidate that may appear fatal at first glance, Romney benefits from the nature of his competition. And despite his weaknesses as a candidate, he also brings a number of advantages. Romney would enter the race with far higher name recognition than he did his first time around and a broad national political organization that has been building up good will by helping Republican candidates in key states. He also enjoys a vast fundraising network. Furthermore, in 2012, the focus is likely to be on the economy, a subject on which he’s much more comfortable talking about than social issues, immigration and Iraq, which dominated the conversation the last time he ran.

For better or worse, Republicans have a tendency to pick the person who is seen as the next in line for the nomination, which is one reason the GOP has ended up with lousy candidates such as Bob Dole and John McCain. And in 2012, this proclivity can benefit Romney.

While it will indeed be difficult to explain away RomneyCare, it should be noted that in the run up to the 2008 contest, many conservatives wrote off McCain’s chances of winning the nomination given his apostasies on taxes, campaign finance reform, immigration and a number of other issues. Yet in the end, McCain was able to emerge from a weak field to become the nominee.

Assessing each candidate individually, you could come away believing that nobody can win the GOP nomination in 2012. But in reality, somebody has to win. Romney may not be a strong frontrunner, and the field is certainly wide open enough for another candidate to take him down. Yet as bizarre as it may seem, despite his numerous weaknesses, Romney appears to be the most likely to win the right to challenge President Obama.

Pelosi Reelected Dem Leader

CNN reports:

Outgoing House Speaker has been elected by her colleagues to be the next minority leader, fending off a challenge from Rep. Heath Shuler.

The vote was 150-43.

This result isn’t surprising, and reinforces that in the wake of the shelacking in the midterm elections, liberals are actually in a stronger position within the caucus than they were when Democrats were in the majority. The news also serves as a gift to Republicans, given that Pelosi remains one of the most unpopular figures in American politics.

Poll Shows 2012 GOP Field Wide Open

As I’ve noted on a number of occassions, even if the economy doesn’t improve greatly and President Obama is deeply vulnerable in 2012, Republicans still have to agree on a viable candidate to replace him. And at the moment, Republicans aren’t particularly excited about any candidate.

A new Gallup poll of potential 2012 GOP condtenders shows now clear early frontrunner. Mitt Romney leads the pack at 19 percent, followed closely by Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee at 16 percent and Newt Gingrich at 13 percent. Everybody else on the list is somewhere in the single digits.

That said, I were to pick a frontrunner right now, I’d have to say it would be Romney. Huckabee and Palin both have intense supporters, but limited appeal beyond their core constituency, while Gingrich has alienated conservatives a number of times and carries tremendous personal baggage. Romney is a deeply flawed candidate, who, on top of all the issues he had in 2008, will have to answer for his health care plan that served as the model for ObamaCare. In a vaccuum, it’s hard to see how Romney could win the GOP nomination. At the same time, somebody has to end up winning the nomination, and since all candidates have weaknesses, one candidate with weaknesses will end up as the nominee. Remember, in 2008, John McCain overcame campaign finance reform, immigration, voting against the Bush tax cuts, and a litany of other failed litmus tests to become the nominee. So if McCain won in 2008, it’s easy to see how Romney could win in 2012, despite his many problems. And though it’s a wide open field and he’s clearly beatable, at this point it isn’t clear who the person is to beat him.

Also of interest, I went back and found a Pew poll of the 2008 GOP field taken in November 2006, and it had Rudy Giuliani at 27 percent, John McCain at 26 percent and Condeleezza Rice at 20 percent. Romney was at 7 percent and Huckabee didn’t even register.