Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 25, 2011

Democracy in America

As Harry Reid works on a Senate debt-ceiling plan, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein suspects he will reach his “savings” by counting reduced spending from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and making optimistic projections about the economy. As John Boehner works on a revised House plan, Hugh Hewitt of the Examiner fears Republicans may accept limitations on home mortgage interest or charitable contributions. Since nothing has been released to the public, we may have to watch whatever emerges enacted into law without time for review or comment, regarding legislation involving trillions over 10 years.

It was Keynes who warned about long-term projections, since “in the out years, we are all dead” (or something like that). One wonders what he would think of legislation enacted a week after the public (and most of its representatives) learned of the projections. We need a short-term solution providing time for public analysis and debate, the way laws with long-term consequences were once considered — until in recent years (two-and-a-half to be exact), when secret meetings followed by immediate votes became the new norm. The current crisis will be wasted if it is not used to restore a facsimile of the former process.

As Harry Reid works on a Senate debt-ceiling plan, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein suspects he will reach his “savings” by counting reduced spending from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and making optimistic projections about the economy. As John Boehner works on a revised House plan, Hugh Hewitt of the Examiner fears Republicans may accept limitations on home mortgage interest or charitable contributions. Since nothing has been released to the public, we may have to watch whatever emerges enacted into law without time for review or comment, regarding legislation involving trillions over 10 years.

It was Keynes who warned about long-term projections, since “in the out years, we are all dead” (or something like that). One wonders what he would think of legislation enacted a week after the public (and most of its representatives) learned of the projections. We need a short-term solution providing time for public analysis and debate, the way laws with long-term consequences were once considered — until in recent years (two-and-a-half to be exact), when secret meetings followed by immediate votes became the new norm. The current crisis will be wasted if it is not used to restore a facsimile of the former process.

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Which Side is Really Playing Chicken?

With eight days to go until the August 2 deadline to raise the deadline and with no solution apparently in sight, the spin contest is going full tilt. The White House is blaming House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans of irresponsible obstructionism by refusing to accede to the president’s demands for higher taxes while the GOP blames the White House for not accepting their plans for a debt ceiling increase accompanied by budget cuts but no new taxes. On the surface, it looks like both sides are being stubborn.

But if you want to know who is really playing chicken with the debt and the future of the U.S. economy, perhaps the answer can be found by asking which side is doing the most to use scare tactics to get their way in the negotiations: President Obama.

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With eight days to go until the August 2 deadline to raise the deadline and with no solution apparently in sight, the spin contest is going full tilt. The White House is blaming House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans of irresponsible obstructionism by refusing to accede to the president’s demands for higher taxes while the GOP blames the White House for not accepting their plans for a debt ceiling increase accompanied by budget cuts but no new taxes. On the surface, it looks like both sides are being stubborn.

But if you want to know who is really playing chicken with the debt and the future of the U.S. economy, perhaps the answer can be found by asking which side is doing the most to use scare tactics to get their way in the negotiations: President Obama.

By doing his best to inspire fear about the future of the markets, the president is playing the same card he has attempted to put into the game for the last two months. We have long suspected the president was using the 1995 government shutdown as his political model. Like President Clinton, who used that impasse to portray the GOP and its feckless leader as petulant extremists, Obama has been hoping to fit either Boehner or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for the Newt Gingrich clown suit. He hoped either the Republicans would buckle rather than accept blame for a financial meltdown or reap the political benefits if the deadline passed without an agreement.

House Republicans are being accused of being extremists, but all along it has been Obama who refused to either accept a short-term solution based on cuts or a grand deal that would not saddle a faltering economy with crippling tax increases.  While Obama will take heat from liberals who don’t want any move toward reform of entitlement spending, there are still enough Democrats who understand such expenditures are the heart of the problem and must be addressed. Obama has plenty of room to move to make common ground with the GOP if he wants to.

By contrast, Republicans know accepting tax increases would be considered a betrayal of their voters and doom their efforts to hold onto their majority next year. The media may dismiss such concerns, but the House leadership knows it simply cannot give in on taxes and survive.

So while it is true the Republicans’ unwillingness to give in on their principles is an obstacle to an agreement (albeit that a deal on those terms would be harmful to the economy both in the long and short term), there should be no doubt about their sincerity. While both sides appear to be dug in, only President Obama is actually playing chicken. He is the one daring the other side to drive over the cliff, not Boehner. But right or wrong–and I believe their position is right–the GOP leadership won’t jump.

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Whitewashing Richard Falk

The Forward presents a sympathetic portrait of Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, after he had embroiled himself in a scandal by posting an anti-Semitic cartoon on his blog. Even Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has denounced the cartoon Falk propagated as anti-Semitic. Only in passing does the Forward mention the controversy surrounding Falk’s embrace of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

The Forward presents Falk as an ethical man, deeply considered by social justice and the plight of the underdog. Citing Falk’s own explanations, the Forward explained, “His criticism of Israel is less a reflection of his Jewish identity than his posture as an American leftist, perennially dedicated to history’s underdogs — in his eyes, the Palestinians. Throughout his life, Falk has maintained a cool detachment from his own faith that has allowed him to critique Israeli policy with the same standards he brings to bear in his assessment of the U.S. military and its foray into Vietnam.”

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The Forward presents a sympathetic portrait of Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, after he had embroiled himself in a scandal by posting an anti-Semitic cartoon on his blog. Even Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has denounced the cartoon Falk propagated as anti-Semitic. Only in passing does the Forward mention the controversy surrounding Falk’s embrace of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

The Forward presents Falk as an ethical man, deeply considered by social justice and the plight of the underdog. Citing Falk’s own explanations, the Forward explained, “His criticism of Israel is less a reflection of his Jewish identity than his posture as an American leftist, perennially dedicated to history’s underdogs — in his eyes, the Palestinians. Throughout his life, Falk has maintained a cool detachment from his own faith that has allowed him to critique Israeli policy with the same standards he brings to bear in his assessment of the U.S. military and its foray into Vietnam.”

Alas, the Forward refuses to challenge Falk on his record.  Falk was a favorite of the Carter administration, somewhat akin to the Samantha Power of his generation. On February 16, 1979, he penned an op-ed in the New York Times encouraging the Carter administration to embrace Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution.  “The depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary, and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false,” Falk explained, adding, “His close advisers are uniformly composed of moderate, progressive individuals…who share a notable record of concern with human rights.”

Naomi Zeveloff, however, appears not to challenge Falk on his record.  Perhaps she might have asked him to explain on what basis he came to believe Khomeini was a paragon of human rights virtues; when (or if) Falk recognized he was mistaken in his assessment of Khomeini; whether Falk still believes the Islamic Republic is an underdog; and, if so, whether that should excuse Tehran’s noxious behavior.

Then again, Falk and the Forward article unwittingly illuminate what the UN is after: “My role is less presenting the facts than interpreting their legal significance,” said Falk. “That doesn’t depend on me having access. It would be humanly helpful to, but it wouldn’t alter my basic analysis or conclusion.”  In other words, for the United Nations, facts are extraneous; the decision to bash Israel is made without regard to them.

 

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