An enraged Barack Obama just took to the nation’s airwaves to announce his effort to strike a deal with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has fallen apart. Perhaps for the first time in American history, this president is literally using this press conference to create a financial panic over the weekend about the opening of the markets on Monday. He is warning of disaster on Monday. Clearly, he wants to use this as leverage to frighten the GOP into passing the plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which will push the debt ceiling problem into 2013, but it’s still an entirely new and astonishingly reckless gambit.
Watching the insta-reaction on Twitter is very instructive. Liberals say this is good for Obama because it shows GOP recalcitrance. Conservatives say that he has remained so committed to enormous tax increases that he tanked the very possibility of a deal. Time will tell, but it strikes me that the heated rhetoric he is using—”I didn’t get my phone call returned,” “I’ve been left at the altar,” “there’s nothing Republicans will say yes to”—does not suggest he, Obama, feels he has been handed a gift by Boehner and the GOP. He claims to have put $1.5 trillion in cuts on the table, plus $600 billion in entitlement reductions, in exchange for tax increases of the same size. He says Republicans said they would accept a dollar in higher taxes (or “revenue”) for every four dollars in cuts, which isn’t exactly saying “no’” to everything. For their part, Republicans in the House passed their cut, cap and balance bill on Wednesday, and it included an increase in the debt ceiling, so even by his own account his criticisms of the GOP are not accurate.
The monstrous events today in Norway—as of this writing, word is that a gunman slaughtered at least 30 kids at a youth camp who had gathered to hear about the earlier bombing of government offices in Oslo—have stirred in me a kind of rage I haven’t felt this viscerally since the days after 9/11, when my apartment in Brooklyn Heights looked out directly on the violent purple gash in the sky that hovered over the wreckage like a demonic counterimage of the holy cloud that followed the Jews through the desert in the aftermath of the Exodus. Perhaps it is that my own daughter is, as I write, at her own day camp outside New York City, and so there is something visceral, primal, in my sense of connection to the dead and dying and their parents. This rage, which is accompanied by all manner of violent thoughts about what should be done and could be done to the living body of the depthlessly evil monster who committed this Satanic act, is disturbing in its intensity. I would like it to go away. But it won’t, and it shouldn’t, because without it–without a stark response to something so purposefully awful–we are unilaterally disarming ourselves. The monster and his comrades have the passion to commit their foul deeds. If we respond with dispassion, we are ceding to them part of the animating force that makes us human. If we decide to intellectualize our emotions rather than allow them to influence us, we are turning our back on our responsibility to those whose lives were stripped from them.
As so often happens during an intense political moment, like we’re now experiencing with the debt ceiling debate, there is exasperation from all sides of the political class about the unreasonableness of others. Meanwhile, the public, whose life is not focused on politics, scratches its head, bewildered and angry. Why the acrimony? Why don’t members of both parties set aside their political differences and strike a reasonable deal in the best interest of the nation? Why is the national interest so often subordinated to partisan interests?
Those are fair questions worth addressing.
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius seems to have forgotten one rule of thumb when dealing with the representatives of authoritarian regimes: Seriousness does not equal sincerity.
Ignatius recently met with Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov to talk missile defense. For the uninitiated, Rogozin has a Soviet charm, yet is a distinctly post-Soviet envoy; he functions as a sort of catch-all ambassador to anyone Russia is in the mood to talk to, as if he were a one-man ambassadorial kiosk floating around Moscow’s alleys in the Yeltsin years.
It seems like just yesterday Jon Huntsman was entering the presidential race with promises of civility. That was nice. But with just 1 percent of support in the polls, politeness hasn’t gotten him far. So, Huntsman replaced his initial campaign manager and is now kicking off an “aggressive phase”:
“This has to do with long-standing plans by [Campaign Manager] Susie [Wiles] and entering a more aggressive phase,” top strategist John Weaver told Politico in an email. Wiles’ departure is part of a major campaign shake-up. … Weaver has called a senior staff meeting for [today] in Washington, D.C., for the Huntsman high command to regroup and assess how to re-jigger the campaign.
Reflecting upon her work spearheading Israel’s outreach to new African nations in the years following Israel’s establishment, Golda Meir wrote, “Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves.”
That practice continues to this day. Following years of support for South Sudan’s struggle against the north, Ynet reports that Israel has welcomed the world’s newest nation by immediately establishing ties with its private sector as well:
According to Attorney Adi Braunstein, the legal advisor of the Israeli-Arab Friendship Association, military and moral support to the South Sudan rebels throughout the years is now expressed in economic cooperation.
This cooperation, he says, will lead to deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the payment of which will be guaranteed by the international community.
The required fields of cooperation include security, agriculture, medicine and even the capital market, as the South Sudan government is looking to establish a stock exchange in the new country.
As expected, the Senate killed the Cut, Cap and Balance Bill, with the votes falling along party lines, 51 to 46 today. So the big hope of conservatives has been dashed, leaving Republicans without a plan once again.
Meanwhile, President Obama reiterated his commitment to raising the debt ceiling at a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland, and Rep. John Boehner denied reports he’s nearing a deal with the president.
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. When it comes to the rampant anti-Semitism which the Islamic Republic of Iran promotes, one doesn’t have to look far, as this photo–apparently taken in a university and published by the semi-official Alef News Agency–shows. (Alef News Agency distinguished itself by being the first agency to “call” the fraudulent 2009 election for incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)
There’s an article coming out in the next issue of Communication Research that tries to untangle how and why foreign countries get covered by U.S. news outlets in general, and by NBC and the New York Times in particular. The peer-reviewed piece is a collaboration between researchers spread across Washington state and two Dutch universities, and – like all good academic work – has a soporific title, Foreign Nation Visibility in U.S. News Coverage: A Longitudinal Analysis (1950-2006).
The long timeline means that even regional wars get pushed down the list by Cold War and global diplomacy coverage. So the USSR, China, Britain, and France are all prominent because they’re nuclear powers on the Security Council. Germany and Japan show up a lot because we had just finished fighting them and had troops on their territory.
Though we’ve been told again and again how irresponsible, obstinate Republicans were blocking a deal on the debt ceiling, the New York Times admits this morning the Democrats have actually emerged as the primary obstacle to an agreement.
The home-page headline of the story is “Challenge to a Budget Deal: Selling It to Democrats.” Sure enough, as the third paragraph of the article tells us: “This time, the flak came mostly from senior congressional Democrats, who are angry at some of Mr. Obama’s concessions and at being excluded from the talks.”
The Washington Post reported earlier this week Governor Bob McDonnell announced that Virginia finished its fiscal year with a surplus of $311 million — its second straight year with higher-than-expected revenue. McDonnell said he expects the surplus to increase by at least another $35 million to $40 million after the state calculates taxes for June, the final month of the fiscal year.
“A key to what we have done in Virginia is we decided to budget conservatively, cut spending dramatically and to not raise taxes,’’ McDonnell said at a news conference. “I think, to me, that is the formula for why Virginia — and states like Virginia — have experienced this kind of growth.”
I’d like to add to Michael’s excellent reasons for why Israel shouldn’t apologize to Turkey about last year’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. As Michael noted, apologizing won’t restore the strategic alliance, because Turkey has made a strategic foreign-policy choice that precludes alliance with Israel. But apologizing wouldn’t merely be ineffective, it would be downright harmful – to both of Israel’s stated goals.
First, Israel wants to improve relations with Turkey. But by proving that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bullying tactics work – that Ankara can actively undermine every Israeli interest while promoting vicious anti-Israel sentiment at home, and Israel will still come crawling –apologizing will ensure more of the same.
In unpacking all the haphazard bumbling stopgaps that pass as the White House’s Smart Power diplomacy, we sometimes lose sight of the administration’s overarching foreign policy failures. It’s very difficult to think of even one geostrategically critical country, for instance, with which we have a substantially better relationship today than we did on the day the president was inaugurated. The unique alliances we had with the UK and Israel have been shaken in various ways, the Eastern Europeans think we’re abandoning them, Middle East countries have either slipped into radicalism themselves or are angry at Obama for abandoning moderates elsewhere, and so on.
One possible exception to that rule has been Russia, where there has at least been the veneer of improved relations. It’s questionable how much that pretense has actually gotten us, inasmuch as sucking up to ambitious global powers doesn’t stop them from pursuing their national interests. Ergo Moscow’s opposition to us on Syrian nuclearization, on Syrian human rights violations, on Venezuelan nuclear development, on Iranian proliferation both nuclear and conventional, on Central Asian arms sales, on isolating Hamas and Hezbollah, and on Japanese security.
The House Democratic Caucus released this audio clip of President Reagan’s September 26, 1987 radio address, in which Reagan said:
Congress consistently brings the Government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility – two things that set us apart from much of the world.
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has demanded an explanation from Yale University about whether the George W. Bush administration interfered with or intimidated the university prior to Yale’s rejection of University of Michigan professor and polemicist Juan Cole’s application to teach at Yale. (Curiously, MESA neglects to mention the failure of Juan Cole’s job application at Duke the same year, where professors found him arrogant, self-serving, and superficial).
The tempest in the teapot reignited after James Risen published a piece in the New York Times citing a single disgruntled CIA agent trying to sell a book suggesting the White House had demanded the CIA investigate Cole. Now make no mistake: If the CIA investigated a U.S. citizen, that is both illegal and unacceptable and should result in firings and legal sanction. In this case, however, the claims don’t pass the smell test. Risen too often lets his own politics interfere with his judgment about the motivations of his limited array of sources.
Mountain View may finally be tiring of the Montessori preschool model on which the company built its geek playground ethos. The search giant just announced it’s shutting down not only Google Directory, not only Google Toolbar, but all of Google Labs, part of a “spring cleaning” meant to streamline the company and help it focus on “making money from its greatest hits.”
Even more fundamentally, the company is being criticized for the concept and implementation of its informal Do No Evil motto. On the implementation side, and just as a small example, Google has begun putting up banners when it thinks users’ computers are infected with malware. That’s a very noble gesture, except it’s also the precise tactic actual malware uses to trick users into downloading – wait for it – more malware. Security experts have reacted predictably.