Okay, I went after Hamas and the Palestinians pretty hard a couple of times in recent weeks, but now it's Netanyahu's turn. This announcement about building the E1 settlement development is madness. This development would close off East Jerusalem from the West Bank and split the West Bank in two, making the two parts accessible to each other via a road through the desert that doesn't exist yet. This is in supposed retaliation for the recent UN vote.
In other words, Israel will, with this construction, cut the future Palestinian state in half. Ban Ki-Moon said yesterday: "It would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution."
To give you a little more perspective here, George W. Bush's administration was against this project. Even Rahm Emanuel, as AIPAC-friendly as they come, called Netanyahu's recent behavior "unfathomable."
It's breathtaking. He's working overtime to alienate his few remaining allies. It's almost as if Netanyahu is a double agent secretly dedicated to Israel's destruction. And this madness is going to win the election early next year? Good God. And finally, according to our neocon war caucus, we're supposed to let this guy bomb Iran, eh?
When Tim Geithner proposed that Congress be denied power over the debt limit, he was speaking for a president who intends to push back against the pols who humiliated him in 2011.
Like all of you, I have no idea how this fiscal cliff (I know, I know, I’m not supposed to call it that!) business is going to work out. I dearly want to see President Obama win on the 39.6 percent rate for upper incomes. But there may be one thing I’d like even more: for him to win the fight over raising the debt ceiling. There are more important issues facing the nation, I’ll grant you. But nothing, and I mean nothing, symbolizes how extreme, arrogant, oblivious to precedent and reason the Republican Party has become than the position Republicans took on the debt ceiling last year. It’s made worse by the fact that they made a then-weak Obama eat dirt. He seems to know this, and I hope to high heaven he seeks and secures his revenge.
President Obama walks towards the Marine One prior to his departure from the White House November 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
The most interesting wrinkle in the package of proposals announced by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Thursday was the call for Congress to relinquish all authority over the debt limit. Of course this is not going to happen. The power of that debt-ceiling vote is the only leverage Capitol Hill Republicans have right now. They know this, and they certainly plan to use it to try to extract from the administration promises that it will agree to domestic spending or entitlement cuts in like proportion to the amount by which the limit is raised.
But Geithner and Obama, obviously, also know that the debt vote is the only leverage the GOP has, and therefore, they want to make it an issue now and get people to start thinking about it. It’s not yet clear the exact date by which a vote to raise the limit would have to take place—mid-February, maybe, at the very latest. But it’s close enough to the Jan. 1 tax and spending deadlines that the Republicans can surely threaten that they’ll be willing to take the country into default if the administration doesn’t go along on deep spending cuts.
Rather, the war on the war on Christmas started last night on, predictably enough, The O'Reilly Fraction, on which the host browbeat some poor atheist and called him a "fascist" and so on. O'Reilly can be relied on every late November/early December to return to his fantasty of liberalism's "war on Christmas."
I wonder what O'Reilly says to his Jewish friends. He must have some. Does he force a wish of Merry Christmas upon them? Or does he in fact respect the idea that they don't celebrate the holiday and say something else to them? Or does he avoid them altogether?
Personally, I like Christmas, in, I confess, all its secular manifestations. My Guardian faithful will recall the posts about cooking a Christmas goose, which my brother-in-law Jon and I pulled off rather stupendously two years ago, along with a delectable wild-rice stuffing of my creation. I like the music. Just earlier today I was humming "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas," which was written in 1952 by the great Meredith Willson, who also wrote what might be my favorite musical, The Music Man. I like the decorations. I even like going to the malls during the season. I'm a cornball and a sentimentalist.
At the same time, I'm a foot soldier in the war on Christmas, because I know that while whistling Meredith Willson Christmas songs suits me, it doesn't suit a lot of people, and to each his or her own. I wonder if the war on the war on Christmas will intensify this year, in this season right after Obama's reelection, with O'Reilly's America coming face-to-face with the reality that is not their country anymore. Obama voters, blacks, browns, gays, non-Jesus people...we're takin' over, Bill. By 2017, "Happy Holidays and Peace on Earth" will be the only seasonal greeting Americans will be permitted, via presidential executive order, if all goes to plan.
Fascinating piece in the Beast by Dilip D'Souza on the Hitler obsession in India. Pretty disturbing:
Consider Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography. Reviled it might be in the much of the world, but Indians buy thousands of copies of it every month. As a recent paper in the journal EPW tells us (PDF), there are over a dozen Indian publishers who have editions of the book on the market. Jaico, for example, printed its 55th edition in 2010, claiming to have sold 100,000 copies in the previous seven years. (Contrast this to the 3,000 copies my own 2009 book,Roadrunner, has sold). In a country where 10,000 copies sold makes a book a bestseller, these are significant numbers.
And the approval goes beyond just sales. Mein Kampf is available for sale on flipkart.com, India’s Amazon. As I write this, 51 customers have rated the book; 35 of those gave it a five-star rating. What’s more, there’s a steady trickle of reports that say it has become a must-read for business-school students; amanagement guide much like Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese or Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking. If this undistinguished artist could take an entire country with him, I imagine the reasoning goes, surely his book has some lessons for future captains of industry?
The financial plan that Tim Geithner advanced yesterday caught everyone by surprise in its suck-on-this boldness, so unusual for Obama in such situations. Up to $1.6 trillion in revenue; new stimulus spending; new mortgage help; and elimination of Congress' role in the debt limit! Wowza. What's behind this?
First of all it looks like the White House just figured, and correctly: Let's not get bogged down in technicalities like Medicare reimbursement levels. It's of course inevitable that these negotiations will eventually get bogged down precisely in Medicare reimbursement levels. But Obama seems to have figured, let's not start that way. Let's start with a package that amounts to a vision and makes a statement.
The statement is about putting jobs and growth ahead of deficit reduction; it's about saying that we believe these are the right ways to stimulate the economy; and it's about saying that we're not going to open these negotiations on Republican turf.
That is: If the White House had instead yesterday offered a modest set of specific entitlement cuts and domestic spending cuts, that would have started the negotiations on GOP turf, since those are the two things the GOP wants. This of course is exactly what Obama used to do: As in last year's debt negotiations, he started by offering the Republicans half a loaf, and the compromise ended up at 75 or 80 percent of the GOP loaf, and Obama looked weak and his voters were terribly dispirited. it took months for him and them to recover.
We're all pretty clear on what Barack Obama wants--a hike in the tax rate by 3.6 percent on dollars earned above $250,000. It's pretty clear and specific.
But what exactly to the Republicans want in return? Matt Yglesias observes that they're being pretty foggy about it, at least publicly:
If Republicans are going to agree to a deficit reduction bill containing a big tax increase, then obviously they're going to want large domestic spending cuts. And if we want the basic operations of the federal government to continue, large domestic spending cuts need to contain meaningful reductions in entitlement spending. But while Democrats have been out there banging the table for their preferred tax increases, it's not at all clear what Republicans negotiating objectives on the entitlement side are. Paul Ryan's budget, for example, cut Medicare spending by exactly $0 over ten years, promised small cuts in years 11-20, and then giant cuts in years 21-30. Obviously if Democrats proposed that timetable as their spending "concession" Republicans would laugh them out of the room. But that was their proposal!
Now of course, they may be saying specific things in private that Matt and I have no idea about. But here's the problem.
With opposition to Susan Rice mounting daily, Michael Tomasky proposes six alternative nominees for the top post at Foggy Bottom. Head of the list? The winner of the 2000 election.
Things maybe aren’t looking so great for Susan Rice. The throw-down yesterday by Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who extended the Republican case against Rice back to the Clinton years, is one of those Washington smoke signals, and it’s not a positive one. Let me therefore set aside for a day the question of the merits of Rice and raise another one: Who would make for some credible, interesting, outside-the-box choices to run Foggy Bottom? There are ample non-Rice options that would provide the nation with a strong chief diplomat and would piss off the wingnuts in the bargain. Here are half a dozen.
Michael Tomasky tells David Frum that Susan Rice deserves a pay day.
1. Al Gore. I first heard this suggestion from my friend David Greenberg, the historian who writes for Slate, and I though, nahhh. But it grew on me pretty fast. Tell me why not. He’d be great. He’s known around the world. He’s respected around the world, about 90 percent of which surely wishes he’d been the president instead of the guy he beat. I’m not saying he’d change the world; no one can do that. But he’d get a hearing everywhere. He knows a huge number of world leaders, and he knows the issues cold. He could dive right into the pool’s deepest end, in the Middle East, on Iran, you name it.
What about his climate-change crusade, you wonder? Far from having to drop his signature issue, Gore could use his new position to push it with even greater vigor in a global context. Gore, and probably Gore alone, would be capable of elevating the climate change issue to the position it deserves on the national and global stage.
Jokes aside, this could conceivably be a good thing, this lunch, and Romney can make a useful citizen of himself if he agrees to try to play some kind of moderating role in the Republican Party. Of course, Republicans will just not listen to him, and in a way why should they, but he's still one of the country's best-known Republicans, and while he lost handily he did come semi-reasonably close to becoming the president of the United States.
In other words, he has more juice with broader public than Mitch McConnell or John Boehner, each of whom would have won about 41 percent of the vote in a presidential election. Romney got (ain't it delicious!?) 47 percent.
So what could he do? I assume Obama is attempting to enlist him to try to get him to say a few constructive things nudging the GOP toward sanity on some fiscal matters. Of course that's a little hard for him to do considering the non-sane positions he took during the campaign. But it would be nice to hear him say some of those reasonably sensible things that so many insiders persuaded themselves he really believes deep down.
In fact, all this raises an interesting Romney character question. Now that he's done with politics, will he ever just say what he actually believes about anything beyond the "moocher class," the only matter on which he seemed to make his genuine views known? Will anyone care? Maybe. Al Gore and John Kerry lost presidential elections, but they're still important figures (obvious Gore is the better parallel here, since Kerry still holds office). Romney can be, too, if he wants to be. He could start this week by telling Republicans, hey, gang, let's drop the unceasing obstinacy.
So there was I, driving the kid to her little school this morning, listening to Steve Inskeep trying to squeeze some logic out of Saxby Chambliss. They got to the topic of tax rates. As you know, getting the media, especially prominent types like Inskeep, to understand and speak accurately about marginal tax rates is one of my crusades.
My heart soared like an eagle when I heard Inskeep press Chambliss on marginality and how an increase of 3.6 percent only on taxable dollars earned above $250,000 would affect the GOP's beloved small businessman:
Inskeep: If somebody is making 300, 400 thousand a year in a small business, and the marginal tax rate, the taxes on the upper part of their income, goes up a point or two points or three points, they're paying more in taxes but not a lot more…
[There's no transcript yet, and I noted verbatim only Inskeep's remarks, but Chambliss tried to argue that this small increase might make the difference between this business owner hiring one person or two people.]
So who is Kelly Ayotte anyway, to be threatening to place an unprecedented (in modern times) hold on a secretary of state nominee? She hasn't done much yet in the Senate, but the one thing she did really try to do was to pass an amendment that could have permitted the United States to torture suspects again.
This all unfolded in late 2011, and the amendment didn't become law. But it's instructive anyway. After Obama limited interrogation techniques to those found in the Army Field Manual, some on the right started barking about how since the field manual is available online, terror suspects would know what they might be subjected to, and somehow of course this added up to appeasement and so forth. Adam Serwer reported at the time for Mother Jones:
"When a member of Al Qaeda or a similar associated terrorist group, I want to them to be terrified about what's going to happen to them in American custody," said Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), explaining his support for the amendment. "I want them not to know what's going to happen, I want that the terror that they inflict on others to be felt by them as a result of the uncertainty that they can look on the Internet and know exactly what our interrogators are limited to." In an exchange with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ayotte acknowledged that part of her goal was to reauthorize some Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques" other than waterboarding.
Great. Something for us all to be proud of. No wonder she picked up where Lieberman left off. Quite a "worthy" successor to him as the third amigo.
This point bears emphasizing, I think. I suspect that the Republicans want to block Rice because they want Obama to name John Kerry because they believe that Scott Brown can win that seat back. And as I've written before, he probably can, in my admittedly somewhat removed view (but also in the view of certain Bostonians I've consulted on the matter).
McCain and Graham have other motivations: getting a scalp, keeping phony impeachment hopes alive, etc. But let's not forget that these guys are politicians, and senators, and they think of politics and the Senate first. One less Democrat in the Senate would make for a nice little cherry on their sundae.
Which raises another point that deserves attention. If Harry Reid is going to push filibuster reform next January, why should they not include a provision that the minority can't filibuster certain categories of major appointments? The number of vacancies in this administration, judgeships and other key positions, is mind-boggling, and it reached the point where the administration simply stopped trying to fill positions because some wingut senator was placing a hold on every single nomination.
This too needs exposure to the old harsh disinfectant. But if Ayotte really puts a hold on Rice, I spect that'll get lots of attention. Swell move by the party allegedly trying to reach out now to nonwhite voters eh?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will petition the UN on Thursday for some sort of elevated position for the Palestinian delegation at the UN. He'll get something. Bt Jeff Goldberg has what strikes me as a much better idea:
When Abbas goes before the UN, he shouldn’t ask for recognition of an independent state. Instead, he should say the following: “Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza 45 years ago, and shows no interest in letting go of the West Bank, in particular. We, the Palestinian people, recognize two things: The first is that we are not strong enough to push the Israelis out. Armed resistance is a path to nowhere. The second is that the occupation is permanent. The Israelis are here to stay. So we are giving up our demand for independence. Instead, we are simply asking for the vote. Israel rules our lives. We should be allowed to help pick Israel’s rulers.”
Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.
Israel’s response, then, can be reasonably predicted: Israeli leaders eager to prevent their country from becoming a pariah would move to negotiate the independence, with security caveats, of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and later in Gaza, as well. Israel would simply have no choice.
I predicted on Ed Schulz's show last night that today's meeting betwixt Susan Rice and John McCain would iron everything out, because, you know, that's how it usually works in this town--they emerge for the cameras all smiles, etc.
What I didn't realize is that the meeting wasn't just with McCain but also with Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, the new post-Lieberman third wheel on this little tricycle of mendacity. That's more complicated. And so, I was wrong. The Three Stooges emerged saying they still could not support Rice.
Not only that--but Ayotte went a considerable step farther than simply saying she'd be against Rice's elevation:
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who also attended the meeting, said of Rice: "I would hold her nomination until I had additional answers to questions."
Elections are supposed to have consequences. So why does the GOP think it can strong-arm the president into compromising on entitlements without first giving in on taxes?
On the one hand, it’s possible to look at all these Republicans distancing themselves from Grover Norquist and his famous pledge as an encouraging sign that they can read and understand election results. On the other, let’s not get carried away. The “compromise” they are offering is no compromise at all, really. And what they want in return from Democrats—which they are keeping intentionally vague—shows very clearly that they haven’t yet quite accepted the idea that elections have consequences.
It’s nice to see Norquist’s Maginot Line holding about as well as the real one did. It’s been a long time coming. But let’s break down what this really amounts to, because it’s not something to be celebrated in and of itself just yet.
Norquist’s anti-tax position all these years has been so totalizing that he has counted lots of things as tax increases that aren’t explicitly tax increases. You may remember the tiff he got into with Oklahoma GOP Senator Tom Coburn over oil-and-gas subsidies. Coburn, who is retiring, was willing to end those subsidies, which amount to a few billion dollars a year. To Norquist, this was a tax increase on oil companies. I can see the logic in a way, but if you’re going to go down that road, then you are taking loads of policy options off the table.
As fiscal cliff discussions heat up, one thing that both sides seem to agree on is that the domestic discretionary budget is going to be cut dramatically. How dramatically, they disagree on, and that remains to be seen. As usual, the people who need the government the most are the ones who are going to come out of this the biggest losers.
These are the people who lose nearly every battle in Washington because no one is representing them. The Democrats sort of do, but even then, Democrats have to "balance" these people's interests against the interests of the institutions that finance their campaigns. The Republican Party, of course, has open contempt for these people.
I say all this by way of introducing you to the symposium in the most recent edition of the journal I edit, Democracy, and specifically a symposium we call "The Forgotten 40 Percent." Undertaken with the generous help of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, or CFED, the package looks at many aspects of life for the poor and near-poor and the working class and asks what we can do better. You can read it here.
The field is called asset-building, and one can think of it, if one prefers, in civil-rights terms. Of course beneficiaries of such policies are hardly only black or Latino. But helping poorer people own homes and save more, and protecting them from predatory lenders and such is clearly an economic justice battle made all the more urgent by the fact that in the financial meltdown, so many of these folks lost whatever meager wealth they had.
The only surprise here is that this hasn't happened sooner. With the Obama administration trying to defend itself amidst multiple scandals, the Tea Party queen went on the attack, questioning the IRS's ability to oversee Obamacare and wondering about 'potential political implications.'
Comedian Dean Obeidallah reviews the former secretary of defense’s new book of rules.