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.
So I finally saw Lincoln yesterday, and I found it pretty great. I hadn't read any reviews, so I had no idea what it was going to be about, except, you know, Abraham Lincoln, but what I mean is that I came in expecting something that was at least a semi-biopic and instead found something that took place in just one month of his life and really should not have been called Lincoln at all but something like Lame-Duck Session, but I suppose that wouldn't have tested very well.
Anyway, it was interesting politically, but the movie really got its momentum from the performances. Day-Lewis of course, but many others. Sally Field was just amazing. If Oscar should be calling anyone first, I think it's her. Kudos to Kushner on that front, because her character was extremely well written, too. I don't think I'd seen her in anything since Soap Dish. She was just phenomenal. Also Tommie Lee Jones and the awesome David Strathairn and James Spader, playing a character not unlike his oleaginous Office character, Robert California.
Even the minor actors were fantastic. This guy Jackie Earle Haley played the vice president of the CSA, Alexander Stephens, and he was just perfectly reprehensible. Watching him, almost half-man, half-snake, hiss out his imprecations against Lincoln and union and black people and rights, he looked and sounded exactly like some of these egregious hate-mongering nincompoops we have to deal with today, which I'm sure Spielberg intended. The pro-slavery people look so small. Some years from now, someone will make a movie about same-sex marriage, and today's bigots will look just as tiny.
Yes, it showed that Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens understood that you have to compromise your principles in order to advance them, and yes, that's a useful thing for people to see. But it's not a world historically profound political insight. For all these dimestore pundits trying to write about how Lincoln applies to today's situation, I think it really doesn't. That was a pretty unique situation in American history. Entitlements don't quite compare to war and slavery. (UPDATE below the fold!!)
Wanted to bring to your attention this excellent HuffPo report on the demands of the overclass, embodied by people such as Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and David Cote of Honeywell, demanding entitlement cuts while they accept many millions in government subsidies:
During the past few days, CEOs belonging to what the campaign calls its CEO Fiscal Leadership Council -- most visibly, Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein and Honeywell's David Cote -- have barnstormed the media, making the case that the only way to cut the deficit is to severely scale back social safety-net programs -- Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- which would disproportionately impact the poor and the elderly.
As part of their push, they are advocating a "territorial tax system" that would exempt their companies' foreign profits from taxation, netting them about $134 billion in tax savings, according to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies titled "The CEO Campaign to ‘Fix’ the Debt: A Trojan Horse for Massive Corporate Tax Breaks" -- money that could help pay off the federal budget deficit.
Yet the CEOs are not offering to forgo federal money or pay a higher tax rate, on their personal income or corporate profits. Instead, council recommendations include cutting "entitlement" programs, as well as what they call "low-priority spending."
Reasonably thorough Politico piece today on Harry Reid's plans for filibuster reform. Forget the fiscal cliff. The filibuster reform fight, if pursued, could be far bigger and way, way, way more acrimonious.
The situation here is that nothing is more needed than filibuster reform (not quite outright elimination), so the Democrats are absolutely in the right. But it's hard for me to see how they can win the spin battle on this one, for two reasons I'll explain below. So in sum: a righteous cause, but very inpropitious circumstances.
First, what Reid isn't proposing. He's not proposing eliminating the filibuster. He's proposing limiting it, and even then, not really all that dramatically. The rules are very complicated, but in essence, the Senate minority can filibuster a piece of legislation at a few different steps in the process. Reid would seek to end filibusters at the beginning of the process, on so-called motions to proceed, when a bill is first introduced.
The most common filibuster threat, the one that gets the most attention, comes later in the process, as a bill moves toward final vote. That's when 60 votes are required to end debate and schedule a vote for final passage. Reid wouldn't change that.
A new report appears to exonerate Susan Rice for public statements following the Benghazi attack. Will John McCain apologize for his reckless crusade against her? Don’t bet on it.
We don’t yet really know as a society what a person has to do to completely and utterly cancel out a record of war heroism, but we may be about to find out. If this CBS News report is even close to accurate, John McCain’s arguments of the last few weeks about Susan Rice are thrashingly demolished. He has, or should have, zero credibility now on this issue. It will be fascinating to see if he emerges from the holiday weekend subtly chastened, attempting to shift gears a bit, or whether he keeps the pedal to the paranoid metal. He’s getting toward the sunset of what was once a reasonably distinguished career, a career (if we count his time in Vietnam) that began in the highest honor and has now descended into the darkest farce.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters after a hearing on the Benghazi attack before the Select Committee on Intelligence on November 16, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
The CBS report found the following. It was the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that took the words “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” out of Rice’s talking points for those Sept. 16 talk shows. It found also that both the CIA and the FBI approved of these edits, following standard operating procedure. The report states emphatically: “The White House or State Department did not make those changes.” One source told the network’s Margaret Brennan that the controversy over the word choice employed by Rice has come to the intel world as “a bit of a surprise.” Another source said that there were “legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.”
There’s one bit of irony introduced to the saga by all these details, which is that this report crystallizes the fact that Rice did indeed hide some information from the public on Sept. 16—but it’s the kind of information that has always been concealed from public consumption, for the kinds of national-security-related reasons that the Washington establishment has always agreed upon. Historically, of course, if any person or persons have objected to this kind of filtering, they’ve typically been on the left. Think Daniel Ellsberg first and foremost. The right always defended this practice, on the grounds that making possibly sensitive information public too soon without the proper running of all the intelligence traps could only provide aid and comfort to the commies or the terrorists, as the case may be.
This Gray Thursday business that Matthew Zeitlin reports on for the Beast doesn't categorically offend me. That's America for you. One of these days, they are indeed going to start opening stores on Christmas night. Who'll be the first to take this tawdry step, I wonder? Accepting nominations.
The implications of this that most people don't think about have only to do with the workers who have to give up their holidays. Naturally, these tend to be the lowest on the totem pole. I was in a Nordstrom's last weekend, and they had these signs boasting that they don't put their Christmas things up until after Thanksgiving because they believe in only one holiday at a time.
That's nice and tasteful of them. But on the assumption that they have all the Christmas finery up Friday, I wonder how many shoppers think about the workers who have to go in on Thanksgiving, probably taking extremely long bus rides to the mall, and spend hours putting all that stuff up.
Meanwhile, you've probably heard about the Wal Mart actions planned for Friday. I wish them luck, while doubting they'll have much impact on people. I think the message that needs to be communicated here is not that WalMart wages are unjust, which no more than about a quarter of the population at most will ever care about, but that people paid higher wages can spend more money and become better and more active consumers.
Furious that Obama paid no electoral price for Benghazi, Republicans are threatening to filibuster his presumed secretary of state nominee, Susan Rice, as a scapegoat. Michael Tomasky on the real scandal.
There would seem to be little connection between Nate Silver and Susan Rice, but hear me out. The New York Times electoral savant was said to be “controversial.” No one adduced a lick of factual evidence for why he should have been thought to be so, but people on the right just didn’t like his electoral predictions, so they tried to make him controversial. With respect to Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, much the same is true. In reality land, she’s done nothing that ought to be considered all that controversial. But again, conservatives don’t like the outcome—Democrats having the upper hand on foreign policy and national security—so they’re trying to make her controversial.
Let’s start at the beginning. What did Rice have to do with the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack? In all likelihood, absolutely nothing. Consular security is a State Department matter. The U.N. ambassador has no authority over such questions. If the matter of security in Benghazi was ever the subject of a principals-level meeting of the top national-security team, then maybe she was privy to a discussion. But it’s certainly not her decision. The only outpost whose security she’s responsible for is the one in Turtle Bay.
For a while one heard conservatives ask, well, if this wasn’t her gig, then why did the administration send her out there on those Sunday shows Sept. 16? It didn’t prove much, this question, one way or the other, but it was a fair enough point. This past Sunday, The New York Times’ reporting answered it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should have been the one to do those shows, and she was asked first, but she said no.
By now perhaps you've seen these embarrassing comments Marco Rubio made to GQ:
GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?
RUBIO: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
Now, this is another sign that the GOP isn’t maybe quite as ready for change as some of its members are saying it is. If it were, he'd have simply said, "About four and a half billion years." Or if he didn't know that, as many people don't, I guess, something like: "I don't know, but in the billions, I think." But you cannot say that if you are a Republican who aspires to higher office. (Imagine!).
Don't have an hour to watch President Obama pontificate on the future of national security? No worries! Watch the key moments from his speech in less than 250 seconds.
The White House abandoned Democrats fighting for the closing. What’s different this time? By Josh Rogin.