Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 29, 2011

Dragging Israel Back to Its Socialist Past

Just as the United States is solely focused on the debt-ceiling crisis, judging by press reports, Israelis seem equally oblivious to foreign policy this week. Protests about a housing shortage have been making quite a ruckus and forcing the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scramble to deal with the problem. The housing demonstrations–on the heels of other complaints about the price of food–make it appear as if Israel is in dire economic straits. But by all accounts, Israel’s economy is in good shape. Economic growth continues at a steady pace, and the stewardship of the country’s finances by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have been widely praised.

So what’s behind this effort to undermine Netanyahu? Leftist commentator Gershon Gorenberg gives us a clue with his piece in the American Prospect. According to Gorenberg, the problem is not just this government, but the last two decades of efforts to transform Israel’s economy from a third world socialist basket case to the first world dynamo it is today. To this way of thinking, the inequities that can occur when free enterprise is allowed to create new wealth are abhorrent. His piece (which attempts to pick up the fraudulent theme championed last week by Ethan Bronner in which the protesters are seen as an echo of the Arab Spring), and the tone sounded by many of the protesters, reflect nostalgia for the good old days–when profit was a dirty word.  Like the demonstrators in the streets of Greece, their goal isn’t a more prosperous Israel but an expansion of an already bloated welfare state.

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Just as the United States is solely focused on the debt-ceiling crisis, judging by press reports, Israelis seem equally oblivious to foreign policy this week. Protests about a housing shortage have been making quite a ruckus and forcing the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scramble to deal with the problem. The housing demonstrations–on the heels of other complaints about the price of food–make it appear as if Israel is in dire economic straits. But by all accounts, Israel’s economy is in good shape. Economic growth continues at a steady pace, and the stewardship of the country’s finances by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have been widely praised.

So what’s behind this effort to undermine Netanyahu? Leftist commentator Gershon Gorenberg gives us a clue with his piece in the American Prospect. According to Gorenberg, the problem is not just this government, but the last two decades of efforts to transform Israel’s economy from a third world socialist basket case to the first world dynamo it is today. To this way of thinking, the inequities that can occur when free enterprise is allowed to create new wealth are abhorrent. His piece (which attempts to pick up the fraudulent theme championed last week by Ethan Bronner in which the protesters are seen as an echo of the Arab Spring), and the tone sounded by many of the protesters, reflect nostalgia for the good old days–when profit was a dirty word.  Like the demonstrators in the streets of Greece, their goal isn’t a more prosperous Israel but an expansion of an already bloated welfare state.

Netanyahu understands the shortages of housing are not the fault of the greedy capitalists who are blamed by the Israeli left but the vestiges of the government-run economy that still acts as a brake on growth. He wants to eliminate regulations, while Gorenberg and the protesters want more regulation that would return the nation to its “social democratic roots.” That’s not just bad housing policy; it is, if applied to a broad range of criticisms of Netanyahu’s domestic policies, a recipe to put Israel in the position of a bankrupt state such as Greece.

As anyone who knows its history, Israel has already been there. If it is currently in the best economic shape of its short history, it is because its recent governments have understood there can be no going back to the “social democratic” nightmare that once created multi-year waits for phone installations and other vestiges of a largely state-run economy. As the Jerusalem Post notes in an incisive editorial, the protesters and those egging them on have no coherent program to offer as an alternative to the government’s policies. Instead, all they have are “empty populist slogans articulating nothing more than inchoate discontent.”

If Israel is to continue on its current path toward greater prosperity, Netanyahu should stand his ground. While there can be no denying that problems exist and must be addressed, those who care about Israel’s future should not give encouragement to those who are trying to drag the Jewish state back to its troubled socialist past.

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More Evidence of Obama’s Eroding Support

Here’s further evidence the debt ceiling debate is badly hurting the president: His job approval rating is at a new low, averaging 40 percent in July 26-28 Gallup Daily tracking. (His prior low rating of 41 percent occurred several times, the last of which was in April.)

Obama’s job approval rating among Democrats is 72 percent, which is okay, but not great. And his approval rating is only 34 percent among independents, which is alarmingly low. (Thirteen percent of Republicans approve of Obama, which is about what one would expect.)

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Here’s further evidence the debt ceiling debate is badly hurting the president: His job approval rating is at a new low, averaging 40 percent in July 26-28 Gallup Daily tracking. (His prior low rating of 41 percent occurred several times, the last of which was in April.)

Obama’s job approval rating among Democrats is 72 percent, which is okay, but not great. And his approval rating is only 34 percent among independents, which is alarmingly low. (Thirteen percent of Republicans approve of Obama, which is about what one would expect.)

Gallup reports Obama’s approval ratings “has stumbled in the past few days, coinciding with intensification of the debt ceiling/budget battle in Washington.”

In addition, Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index averaged -49 July 26-28, down eight points in the last week and down 19 points since early July. The current index score is the worst Gallup has measured since March 2009.

“The inability of U.S. lawmakers to agree on the debt ceiling has apparently shaken Americans’ confidence in the economy and now seems to be taking its toll on the president’s public support,” according to Gallup.

The dismal growth figures released earlier today will as well.

 

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Reid’s Plan Likely to See Action

Not only would Sen. Harry Reid’s plan let Democrats avoid another debt-limit debate until after the 2012 election, but it will also allow them to avoid coming up with a new budget for the next two years. The Republican Policy Committee writes:

After over 800 days of no budget, the Reid plan “deems” a budget for this year AND next year – Democrats signal they want to avoid doing a budget next year.  Since the Reid bill puts in place discretionary spending caps for the Senate’s purposes for this year and next year, the Democrats are trying to avoid the need to do a budget resolution this year or next.

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Not only would Sen. Harry Reid’s plan let Democrats avoid another debt-limit debate until after the 2012 election, but it will also allow them to avoid coming up with a new budget for the next two years. The Republican Policy Committee writes:

After over 800 days of no budget, the Reid plan “deems” a budget for this year AND next year – Democrats signal they want to avoid doing a budget next year.  Since the Reid bill puts in place discretionary spending caps for the Senate’s purposes for this year and next year, the Democrats are trying to avoid the need to do a budget resolution this year or next.

In other words, the plan hitches the budgets to the level of growth projected by the Congressional Budget Office, so Democrats can dodge the budget blowup we saw last spring. But it will also let them avoid making necessary long-term changes to get the deficit under control, a scenario that’s unacceptable to most Republicans.

“The congressional budget act will be violated for the third straight year. This is an abrogation of the responsibilities of the Senate, and of the budget committee of the United States,” said ranking member Sen. Sessions of the Budget Committee on the floor this morning. “We were not elected to the Senate and chosen to serve on the Budget Committee to see most of the budget levels automatically raised.”

And that’s not the only landmine buried in the plan. It looks as if it also includes some hidden taxes:

Because it follows the CBO baseline, the Reid bill also assumes: the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, higher estate taxes, and the Alternative Minimum Tax hitting middle-class taxpayers.

This isn’t a surprise, but it would be another violation of Obama’s promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. And it also raises questions about what else is obscured in the proposal. Most of the focus today has been on the drama in the House, but Reid is moving quickly, and his plan will likely see action soon.

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Hardship Lies Behind Economic Data

The most recent economic news is figuratively, if not quite literally, depressing.

According to the Commerce Department, the economy expanded 1.3 percent in the second quarter of this year. We also learned that the economy came close to contracting in the first quarter. The government revised the first quarter growth figures downward to just 0.4 percent, a huge downward revision from what we were orginally told (an increase of 1.9 percent).

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The most recent economic news is figuratively, if not quite literally, depressing.

According to the Commerce Department, the economy expanded 1.3 percent in the second quarter of this year. We also learned that the economy came close to contracting in the first quarter. The government revised the first quarter growth figures downward to just 0.4 percent, a huge downward revision from what we were orginally told (an increase of 1.9 percent).

From the first quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2011, we experienced five consecutive quarters of slowing growth (3.9 percent, 3.8 percent, 2.5 percent, 2.3 percent, and 0.4 percent).

The combined growth for the first six months of the year was the weakest since the recession ended in the summer of 2009. This year, the economy will grow at a weaker pace than last year. And the economy is far too sluggish to make significant inroads into the unemployment rate, which now stands at 9.2 percent.

“The economy essentially came to a grinding halt in the first half of this year,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

In addition, in July, consumer confidence fell to its lowest point in more than two years. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s final reading on the overall index of consumer sentiment came in at 63.7, down from 71.5 in June, the lowest reading since March 2009.

Considerable human hardship lies behind this economic data. And that will properly translate–for the president and his party in 2012–into considerable political hardship.

 

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Iran’s Al-Qaeda Connection

As Max wrote, the triumphalist statements emanating from the administration about the supposed imminent collapse of al-Qaeda are both premature and besides the point, because the Islamist terrorist threat is bigger than this one organization. But yesterday, the Washington Post gave us another reminder of al-Qaeda’s resourcefulness and an even more ominous threat to American security: Iran. The Post reported Iran is now helping al-Qaeda funnel cash and recruits into Pakistan. According to the Treasury Department, the terror group’s money transfers have been handled out of Iran. Tehran is also allowing the free flow of al-Qaeda operatives through its borders, principally into Pakistan’s tribal region.

Iran’s direct aid to Hamas and Hezbollah has long been considered a fact of life in the Middle East. But its ties to al-Qaeda illustrate that this Islamist terror network isn’t limited to groups on Israel’s borders. Americans understand the nature of the al-Qaeda threat to the West, but this revelation ought to re-focus our attention on Iran’s goals as it moves closer to nuclear capability.

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As Max wrote, the triumphalist statements emanating from the administration about the supposed imminent collapse of al-Qaeda are both premature and besides the point, because the Islamist terrorist threat is bigger than this one organization. But yesterday, the Washington Post gave us another reminder of al-Qaeda’s resourcefulness and an even more ominous threat to American security: Iran. The Post reported Iran is now helping al-Qaeda funnel cash and recruits into Pakistan. According to the Treasury Department, the terror group’s money transfers have been handled out of Iran. Tehran is also allowing the free flow of al-Qaeda operatives through its borders, principally into Pakistan’s tribal region.

Iran’s direct aid to Hamas and Hezbollah has long been considered a fact of life in the Middle East. But its ties to al-Qaeda illustrate that this Islamist terror network isn’t limited to groups on Israel’s borders. Americans understand the nature of the al-Qaeda threat to the West, but this revelation ought to re-focus our attention on Iran’s goals as it moves closer to nuclear capability.

The Iranian nuclear threat has been under the radar of American foreign policy in the last few months as President Obama obsessed about his plans to pressure Israel. The idea that either the Stuxnet virus or the weak international sanctions imposed on the country have put an end to the problem can’t be taken seriously. Iran’s role in fomenting trouble for the United States in Afghanistan and Iran is well-documented. But what the administration must understand is that although many in Washington labor under the illusion a nuclear Iran can be contained, such a development will have implications for every aspect of our security. This doesn’t mean Iran would give its weapon to al-Qaeda, but the extension of an Iranian nuclear umbrella will destabilize every Arab nation not already allied with Tehran and strengthen Islamist factions that may align with the group in countries we now believe are secure. And it will embolden the terrorists just at a time when many of us think they are already beaten.

The connection between al-Qaeda and Iran is more than just a problem for our troops in the Middle East. Unless the United States is prepared to start taking the Iranian threat more seriously, the consequences may be unimaginable.

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Bachmann: The Anti-Sharia Candidate

After Mitt Romney suggested he was in favor of pulling out of Afghanistan during the first presidential debate, there was speculation about whether a new isolationist streak was coursing through the Republican presidential field. But at The New Republic, Eli Lake finds the national security issues dividing the candidates aren’t necessarily as simple as being for or against the drawdown.

There are numerous new debates that have cropped up within the party, and one subject unique to the 2012 field is the “threat” of sharia law in America. Namely, there’s a split among candidates who feel that sharia – Islamic religious law – is an imminent danger that could potentially overtake our Constitution, and those who disagree.

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After Mitt Romney suggested he was in favor of pulling out of Afghanistan during the first presidential debate, there was speculation about whether a new isolationist streak was coursing through the Republican presidential field. But at The New Republic, Eli Lake finds the national security issues dividing the candidates aren’t necessarily as simple as being for or against the drawdown.

There are numerous new debates that have cropped up within the party, and one subject unique to the 2012 field is the “threat” of sharia law in America. Namely, there’s a split among candidates who feel that sharia – Islamic religious law – is an imminent danger that could potentially overtake our Constitution, and those who disagree.

So far, Mitt Romney has avoided the issue in favor of more traditional concerns. Tim Pawlenty has dabbled in the anti-sharia movement, shutting down a sharia-compliant finance program when he was governor. His spokesperson told Lake that “he does think there is a threat from sharia or any religious law or international law of undermining U.S. law and the Constitution. The threat is the courts would look to sharia law instead of the U.S. Constitution, and the governor would vigorously oppose this.”

But based on the article, Rep. Michele Bachmann seems to be the top candidate for the anti-sharia movement. The Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney – whose group focuses on the threat of sharia law – told Lake he’s advised Bachmann on the issues in the past:

And, of Bachmann, [Gaffney] said this: “She is a friend and a person I admire. I hope she is getting the best counsel she can.” He added, “We are a resource she has tapped, I’m assuming among many others.” When I asked him whether Bachmann had been briefed on the Team B II Report, he replied, “We’ve spent hours, over several days with her. I think she’s got the bulk of what we would tell her in one of the more formal presentations.”

Other leaders in the anti-sharia movement also praised Bachmann’s stances on the issue in the article:

“She really gets it that there is a stealth jihad by radical Islamists in this country,” says Sarah Stern, the president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Stern recalls a conversation that she had with Bachmann in the congresswoman’s office in October 2010. Stern says Bachmann was talking about “the depth of radical Islam in Minneapolis.” (Minneapolis was the site of a longtime operation by Al Shabab to recruit Somali-Americans to fight in Somalia.) “She actually said, ‘Right here, coming to a theater near you, we have stealth jihad in Minnesota,’” Stern told me approvingly.

This is one position that differentiates Bachmann among the other top candidates. So far, her campaign hasn’t spent a lot of time emphasizing it, but it could become a major point of contention (especially with Romney) when national security issues begin to take a more prominent role in the race. It’s also an issue her opponents and critics will likely seize on as yet another way to portray her as a far right-wing figure.

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Your Community Organizer-in-Chief

Throughout this crisis, President Obama has urged the American people to call, email and tweet Republican congressmen to demand a bipartisan compromise.

Within minutes of the Business Insider reporting the Apple Corporation currently has more cash on hand than the U.S. Treasury, the president reiterated his request via Twitter for Americans to contact their legislators via Twitter to express their views.

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Throughout this crisis, President Obama has urged the American people to call, email and tweet Republican congressmen to demand a bipartisan compromise.

Within minutes of the Business Insider reporting the Apple Corporation currently has more cash on hand than the U.S. Treasury, the president reiterated his request via Twitter for Americans to contact their legislators via Twitter to express their views.

After the president’s first request for Americans to contact their representatives, the phone lines both on Capitol Hill and at the White House were inoperable for days due to the high call volume. Despite the failure of this first request to force either side to reach a compromise, President Obama has again asked Americans to deluge congressional offices with calls.

As members of Congress and staff work long hours trying to pass plans and reach a compromise, resources are again being diverted to answering constituents’ calls, voicemails and tweets. If the president was as anxious as he claims to be to reach a deal, it would be advantageous for Congress to actually be able to do their jobs.

Earlier, Jonathan asked if it really is a disaster the president is seeking. With his latest request for a siege on Congress, it appears Obama is rooting for Armageddon.

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Senate Democrats Proposing a Plan?

Sen. Harry Reid, pushing ahead with his plan in the Senate, said this morning he’s open to “tweaks” to the bill if it will bring in the Republican support he needs to prevent a potential filibuster:

 “I have no pride of authorship,” Reid said on the floor. “If somebody can figure out another way to improve that suggestion I have, I will work with them.”

Speaking in personal terms, Reid said he’s spent his “entire adult life” finding consensus, even at times feeling like a “failure” in his previous career as an attorney.

Referring to his plan, Reid said, “This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default.”

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Sen. Harry Reid, pushing ahead with his plan in the Senate, said this morning he’s open to “tweaks” to the bill if it will bring in the Republican support he needs to prevent a potential filibuster:

 “I have no pride of authorship,” Reid said on the floor. “If somebody can figure out another way to improve that suggestion I have, I will work with them.”

Speaking in personal terms, Reid said he’s spent his “entire adult life” finding consensus, even at times feeling like a “failure” in his previous career as an attorney.

Referring to his plan, Reid said, “This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default.”

If the top concern for Democrats right now is to avoid having a round two of the debt debate in the middle of a general election, then some serious compromises from their side are crucial. Politico reports Senate Democrats are trying to work out some hybrid between Sen. Mitch McConnell’s plan – which would let Congress skip an election-year debate – and Rep. John Boehner’s:

Under the possible compromise, Congress could still get a second crack at voting on the debt limit within months. But rather than linking the vote to Congress approving the recommendations of a new 12-member committee — as it would be in Boehner’s bill — Democrats prefer McConnell’s proposal that allows President Barack Obama to lift the debt ceiling unless two-thirds of both chambers override his veto of a disapproval resolution, the officials said.

Obviously, if Boehner is having so much trouble getting Republican support for his plan, one coupled with the even less popular McConnell plan would be much harder to sell to the House GOP. But that might not even be necessary if the combo proposal is able to garner enough Democratic support. This might sound crazy – and undesirable to both parties – but if all else fails, it could be the best option left.

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Obama: Why Isn’t Anyone Thinking About My Reelection?

President Obama used an interesting phrase to describe John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill today: “It’s a plan that would force us to relive this crisis in just a few short months… in other words, it does not solve the problem.”

This is a patently ridiculous statement on its face; the debt ceiling has to be raised regularly–as Obama has frequently reminded the American people during this debate. Does that mean “the problem” is never solved? If so, the GOP has nothing to do with it. Is Obama pushing for the elimination of the debt ceiling? No, what he meant to say was: “In other words, it does not solve my problem.”

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President Obama used an interesting phrase to describe John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill today: “It’s a plan that would force us to relive this crisis in just a few short months… in other words, it does not solve the problem.”

This is a patently ridiculous statement on its face; the debt ceiling has to be raised regularly–as Obama has frequently reminded the American people during this debate. Does that mean “the problem” is never solved? If so, the GOP has nothing to do with it. Is Obama pushing for the elimination of the debt ceiling? No, what he meant to say was: “In other words, it does not solve my problem.”

Obama has realized–I think he figured it out a while ago, actually, and said so here–that with the shape the economy is in, he stands to lose big with the voters in 2012. He doesn’t much care if Republicans take heat for this impasse now, if he’s going to take heat next year if the economy doesn’t turn around. So what may have started as “the problem” has quickly become “Obama’s problem”–that the debt ceiling will have to be raised again before the next election.

This is quite a frank admission from the president. He is making it abundantly clear he is not winning this debate. (It’s possible nobody is, though.) If the president were confident about the way he has approached this issue, we would be seeing a calmer politician. But Obama is openly panicking. He has gone on TV over and over and over again practically begging the American people to do something about the evil Republicans threatening action that would hurt his reelection campaign.

“Please, to all the American people, keep it up,” he said. “If you want to see a bipartisan compromise, a bill that could pass both houses of Congress, and that I can sign, let your members of Congress know. Make a phone call, send an email, tweet. Keep the pressure on Washington.”

“Tweet.” In other words, “I’m desperate.” I don’t think Obama wants just any deal, which is why he’s been so intransigent on Boehner’s proposals. But I think he has noticeably shifted his priorities to getting this debate postponed until after the election.

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Obama Still Politicizing the Debt Crisis

President Obama is still trying to pose as the adult in the room–blaming partisans for the debt ceiling crisis. But in his latest speech on the situation, in which he scorned the Republicans for playing politics, the president stuck to his own political agenda rather than playing a constructive role in a standoff in which he has been reduced to the role of an impotent spectator.

Obama’s advocacy this morning for higher taxes — a stance that even congressional Democrats have abandoned — and insistence a deal must give him a pass on the debt until after he is re-elected illustrated his detachment from the real problem of dealing with the government’s addiction to spending. But while he didn’t go overboard with class warfare rhetoric in quite the same way as he did on Monday, the president repeated his call for Congress to be deluged with calls and e-mails this weekend. What good will come from a transparent attempt to pressure Congress as it struggles to find a compromise the White House has done nothing to advance? Like almost everything else the president has done during this showdown, this speech strengthens the suspicion Obama’s goal is exactly the disaster he says he’s trying to avert.

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President Obama is still trying to pose as the adult in the room–blaming partisans for the debt ceiling crisis. But in his latest speech on the situation, in which he scorned the Republicans for playing politics, the president stuck to his own political agenda rather than playing a constructive role in a standoff in which he has been reduced to the role of an impotent spectator.

Obama’s advocacy this morning for higher taxes — a stance that even congressional Democrats have abandoned — and insistence a deal must give him a pass on the debt until after he is re-elected illustrated his detachment from the real problem of dealing with the government’s addiction to spending. But while he didn’t go overboard with class warfare rhetoric in quite the same way as he did on Monday, the president repeated his call for Congress to be deluged with calls and e-mails this weekend. What good will come from a transparent attempt to pressure Congress as it struggles to find a compromise the White House has done nothing to advance? Like almost everything else the president has done during this showdown, this speech strengthens the suspicion Obama’s goal is exactly the disaster he says he’s trying to avert.

From the start of the negotiations over the debt, the White House has seemed to be aiming toward a repeat of the 1995 government shutdown in which President Clinton turned the public against the Republican Congress. Replicating that very different situation was always a long shot; especially since the House GOP leadership was far more savvy and responsible than their predecessors. But by stoking the partisan divide, Obama has made it more difficult for House Speaker John Boehner to rally Republican hard-liners on the debt and discouraged Democrats from working with the GOP majority. By again seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Congress in this manner, Obama’s goal again appears to be to blow things up rather than bring the two sides together.

If, as now appears likely, the latest proposal from Speaker Boehner passes the House and Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Democratic plan passes the Senate, it will be up to the two bodies to make a deal and end the crisis. President Obama remains on the sidelines playing a largely passive, if destructive, role. His only hope to gain politically from this mess is if Congress fails to pass a bill for him to sign by Tuesday. Unfortunately, his speeches, like his destructive economic policies, appear to reinforce the impression this is exactly what he wants to happen.

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Perry Candidacy, Still Not Official, May Begin In Earnest Tonight

Rick Perry made a shrewd decision to officially stay off the ballot in the Iowa straw poll next month, as a way to escape expectations and cause his potential rivals to underperform (since his supporters are planning to write him in). But that tactic is not an option this weekend in Denver. Perry will give one of two keynote addresses tonight, on the opening day of the Western Conservative Summit, which will be held through Sunday.

The conference will also feature Herman Cain, John Bolton, and Rick Santorum, as well as a host of conservative media personalities. The conference, sponsored by a think tank affiliated with Colorado Christian University called the Centennial Institute, will also include a straw poll, and Perry’s name will be on it–the first such test of his (as yet unofficial, but likely) candidacy.

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Rick Perry made a shrewd decision to officially stay off the ballot in the Iowa straw poll next month, as a way to escape expectations and cause his potential rivals to underperform (since his supporters are planning to write him in). But that tactic is not an option this weekend in Denver. Perry will give one of two keynote addresses tonight, on the opening day of the Western Conservative Summit, which will be held through Sunday.

The conference will also feature Herman Cain, John Bolton, and Rick Santorum, as well as a host of conservative media personalities. The conference, sponsored by a think tank affiliated with Colorado Christian University called the Centennial Institute, will also include a straw poll, and Perry’s name will be on it–the first such test of his (as yet unofficial, but likely) candidacy.

“With all the signals from Gov. Perry that there may be an announcement in August, we thought he belonged in the poll,” John Andrews, the organizer of the event, told the Texas Tribune. “The sense here in Colorado among political observers is that Perry is almost in.”

Perry has had a few news cycles roll his way recently, and this is one sign of how seriously conservatives–among whom Perry is quite popular–are taking his presidential prospects. Another indication, however, is the media microscope. While Perry may be waiting to officially enter the race, the scrutiny that comes with a presidential candidacy has begun. As Alana noted yesterday, Perry came under fire from social conservatives for his initial response to New York’s legalization of gay marriage–essentially that states have the right to do what they want on the issue. So Perry revised his statement, saying he should have been more careful about exactly what he said. He is learning just how closely every syllable of a candidate–especially a conservative one–gets pored over.

Ben Smith reported this week Perry may also take some heat for his ties to various Christian leaders. (One expects the New York Times to treat Perry a bit differently than they did Obama, when the paper ostentatiously refused to report on Jeremiah Wright’s assorted racist, anti-Semitic and other hateful comments made while Obama was a congregant.)

Perry has presided over robust job growth in Texas and retains an impressive fundraising network. Early polling has him within striking distance of Mitt Romney. This weekend will be the first test as to whether Perry can turn buzz into genuine momentum.

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Tea Party Should Listen to George Will

George Will — after having recapitulated to Laura Ingraham his conservative credentials, which are impressive –said he supports the legislation being pushed by Speaker Boehner and explains why:

I happened to adore the Tea Party. I have no substantive difference with them on any important matter. But it’s important to understand how much they’ve won already. Harry Reid has proposed what the president denounces as an unbalanced idea. That is … all cuts and no new revenues. They’ve moved, in other words, the Senate Majority Leader, far in their direction. They should remember it seems to me that Barack Obama got into terrible trouble by overreaching with the stimulus, and then overreaching with the health care plan and the country recoiled from it. And our Tea Party friends don’t want to seem to the country to be similarly overreaching.

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George Will — after having recapitulated to Laura Ingraham his conservative credentials, which are impressive –said he supports the legislation being pushed by Speaker Boehner and explains why:

I happened to adore the Tea Party. I have no substantive difference with them on any important matter. But it’s important to understand how much they’ve won already. Harry Reid has proposed what the president denounces as an unbalanced idea. That is … all cuts and no new revenues. They’ve moved, in other words, the Senate Majority Leader, far in their direction. They should remember it seems to me that Barack Obama got into terrible trouble by overreaching with the stimulus, and then overreaching with the health care plan and the country recoiled from it. And our Tea Party friends don’t want to seem to the country to be similarly overreaching.

Will, a student of Burke, went on to say, “It really is fanciful to believe that the regulatory welfare state that has been built over 80 years can be substantially
deconstructed in August over a debt ceiling vote. It’s going to take a little longer than that.”

“We ought to pocket these gains and prepare for the next fight – and to understand, nothing fundamentally will be changed until we change the president who is determined to veto fundamental change,” Will added.

George Will has been right far more often than he has been wrong, and the Tea Party would be wise to listen to his counsel. He is, after all, among the finest minds (and finest writers) the conservative movement has ever produced.

 

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The President’s Collapsing Support Among Independent Voters

The most recent poll by the Pew Research Center finds that 41 percent of registered voters say they would like to see Barack Obama re-elected, while 40 percent say they would prefer to see a Republican candidate win in 2012. In May, Obama held an 11-point lead. This shift is “driven by a steep drop-off in support for Obama among independents,” according to Pew.

Only 31 percent of independent voters want to see Obama reelected, down from 42 percent in May. And where Obama held a seven-point lead among  independent registered voters two months ago, a generic Republican holds an eight-point edge today. And for the first time in his presidency, a majority (54 percent) disapprove of Obama’s performance. (Only 36 percent of independent voters approve of Obama, down from 42 percent last month and 49 percent in late May.)

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The most recent poll by the Pew Research Center finds that 41 percent of registered voters say they would like to see Barack Obama re-elected, while 40 percent say they would prefer to see a Republican candidate win in 2012. In May, Obama held an 11-point lead. This shift is “driven by a steep drop-off in support for Obama among independents,” according to Pew.

Only 31 percent of independent voters want to see Obama reelected, down from 42 percent in May. And where Obama held a seven-point lead among  independent registered voters two months ago, a generic Republican holds an eight-point edge today. And for the first time in his presidency, a majority (54 percent) disapprove of Obama’s performance. (Only 36 percent of independent voters approve of Obama, down from 42 percent last month and 49 percent in late May.)

The president’s collapsing support among both his base and among independents complicates his re-election efforts, because efforts to win back support from one group may further alienate the other. And the debt-ceiling negotiations have probably hurt Obama’s standing with both.

It isn’t easy being David Axelrod these days.

 

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Obama’s New Economic Scapegoat

There has been nothing but bad news lately for Barack Obama. The economic picture darkens almost daily as the recovery has slowed to a halt with little growth and high unemployment. His personal approval numbers are terrible, making his re-election uncertain at best. But this week he did get one break. Republican purists who have blocked passage of a debt ceiling increase may have given Obama the one thing he needed most this summer: a new scapegoat for the economy.

For two and a half years, Obama has been blaming George W. Bush for America’s economic straits. It was a reasonable, if unfair, position to hold for about a year. But after the passage of his billion dollar stimulus boondoggle and then the adoption of his cherished national health care plan, there was no denying that Obama “owned” the economy. The vast expansion of the debt and of entitlement spending on Obama’s watch is unprecedented, and it was the cause of the massive electoral backlash that put the Republicans back in control of the House of Representatives last fall. But by allowing their caucus to be saddled with the blame for the failure to deal with the summer’s debt crisis, the GOP may have given the president a new narrative with which he will attempt to explain the disastrous economy he has presided over. Though it will be the rankest piece of historical revisionism heard in years, it may be that in the coming weeks and months, the story coming out of the White House will be one in which it was the House Republicans who destroyed America’s economy in the summer of 2011.

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There has been nothing but bad news lately for Barack Obama. The economic picture darkens almost daily as the recovery has slowed to a halt with little growth and high unemployment. His personal approval numbers are terrible, making his re-election uncertain at best. But this week he did get one break. Republican purists who have blocked passage of a debt ceiling increase may have given Obama the one thing he needed most this summer: a new scapegoat for the economy.

For two and a half years, Obama has been blaming George W. Bush for America’s economic straits. It was a reasonable, if unfair, position to hold for about a year. But after the passage of his billion dollar stimulus boondoggle and then the adoption of his cherished national health care plan, there was no denying that Obama “owned” the economy. The vast expansion of the debt and of entitlement spending on Obama’s watch is unprecedented, and it was the cause of the massive electoral backlash that put the Republicans back in control of the House of Representatives last fall. But by allowing their caucus to be saddled with the blame for the failure to deal with the summer’s debt crisis, the GOP may have given the president a new narrative with which he will attempt to explain the disastrous economy he has presided over. Though it will be the rankest piece of historical revisionism heard in years, it may be that in the coming weeks and months, the story coming out of the White House will be one in which it was the House Republicans who destroyed America’s economy in the summer of 2011.

In this telling, the horrible economic picture that confronted the country at the beginning of the summer never existed. Instead, all the country’s troubles–including the lack of growth and the high unemployment–will be put down to the debt crisis. That was itself largely the result of Obama’s scaremongering on the issue throughout the course of the failed negotiations he presided over. During this period, the president appeared more interested in causing a government shutdown rather than preventing one, provided he could pose as the adult who couldn’t control the irresponsible Republican adolescents. Yet, he may well go to the people next year claiming everything about the bad economy he helped create is the fault of a GOP that stood its ground on cutting spending and refusing to raise taxes.

Will this ploy work? Hopefully, the memory of the voters will be good enough that most will recall the economy was already in the ditch before the debt ceiling debate. But the intense attention given the events of the past week lends credence to the notion that what happens now will influence the public’s perception of reality.

The Republicans needed to act to restrain Obama’s tax and spend instincts without getting the country close to a default or a shutdown. So far, they have failed to do so. There may still be enough time for House Speaker John Boehner to rally his troops and avert the disaster Obama has been luring them into all along. If they don’t wake up soon, they may spend the next year and a half hearing about how they wrecked the economy Obama had already ruined.

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Re: What’s the Plan?

John’s post reminds me of the time when the man with the plan rode to the rescue from Wall Street.

The United States has had the world’s largest economy for so long (at least 125 years) that no one now alive remembers when we didn’t. You’d have to be well  0ver ninety to remember a time when the center of the financial world was somewhere other than New York. The dollar has been the world’s reserve currency for more than 60 years. So few remember when the “almighty dollar” wasn’t so almighty or when the country’s credit rating was less than triple A. But such a time did indeed once exist.

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John’s post reminds me of the time when the man with the plan rode to the rescue from Wall Street.

The United States has had the world’s largest economy for so long (at least 125 years) that no one now alive remembers when we didn’t. You’d have to be well  0ver ninety to remember a time when the center of the financial world was somewhere other than New York. The dollar has been the world’s reserve currency for more than 60 years. So few remember when the “almighty dollar” wasn’t so almighty or when the country’s credit rating was less than triple A. But such a time did indeed once exist.

In 1895, gold was flowing out of the Treasury so fast the country was nearly forced off the gold standard, under which countries promised to redeem their currency on demand, in unlimited amounts, for gold at a set price. For the United States to have gone off the gold standard would have been a huge national  embarrassment and would have raised interest rates on all dollar-denominated securities. But Democrats in Congress were wedded to the doctrine of the “free coinage of silver at the ratio of 16-to-1,” basically a scheme to ensure inflation and thus help debtors. The gold standard, however, makes inflation effectively  impossible. Because the free-market ratio for silver to gold was more like 22-to-1 at that time, people were turning in silver for gold, which flowed relentlessly  out of the Treasury (a beautiful example of “Gresham’s Law” at work). Wall Streeters were making bets on exactly when default would take place.

But one Wall Streeter, J. P. Morgan, took the train to Washington and insisted on seeing President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was a Democrat, but a sound-money man through and through. However much he hated the idea of asking Wall Street’s ultimate symbol for help, he didn’t have a choice. Default was  possibly only hours away, and Congress wouldn’t cooperate. Morgan’s attorneys dredged up a forgotten Civil-War-era statute that allowed the issuance of bonds without congressional approval in order to purchase coin. He, acting for the Morgan bank and the Rothschilds, offered to buy 3.5 million ounces of gold for the Treasury’s benefit and to insulate the Treasury from market forces so the gold would stay there. In effect, Morgan was offering to act as the central bank the United States lacked.

It worked. The market trusted Morgan more than the government. The American economy, in deep recession since 1893, began to turn around, and gold began to flow back into the Treasury.

So where is J. P. Morgan when we need him?

 

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Re: Twitter Duel Over West Bank Truth

The Twitter Duel between Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and blogger Jeffrey Goldberg about Ayalon’s widely-viewed video (214,000 views and counting) illustrates the difficulty of holding a debate in 140-character increments — particularly when arguing the video asserted Israel would retain the West Bank “forever” and Palestinians should “f— off,” which the video did not.

The video explained the history supporting the characterization of the West Bank as “disputed territory.” One would think the term “disputed territory” inherently acknowledges the existence of competing arguments and the consequent need for negotiation, but we need not speculate: Ayalon reviewed the same history in a December 30, 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Israel’s Right in the ‘Disputed’ Territories,” which concluded with these words:

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The Twitter Duel between Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and blogger Jeffrey Goldberg about Ayalon’s widely-viewed video (214,000 views and counting) illustrates the difficulty of holding a debate in 140-character increments — particularly when arguing the video asserted Israel would retain the West Bank “forever” and Palestinians should “f— off,” which the video did not.

The video explained the history supporting the characterization of the West Bank as “disputed territory.” One would think the term “disputed territory” inherently acknowledges the existence of competing arguments and the consequent need for negotiation, but we need not speculate: Ayalon reviewed the same history in a December 30, 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Israel’s Right in the ‘Disputed’ Territories,” which concluded with these words:

[T]here is this perception that Israel is occupying stolen land and that the Palestinians are the only party with national, legal and historic rights to it. Not only is this morally and factually incorrect, but the more this narrative is being accepted, the less likely the Palestinians feel the need to come to the negotiating table. Statements [referring to the "occupied Palestinian territories”] are not only incorrect; they push a negotiated solution further away.

Ayalon’s tweet to Goldberg asked, “Can you please give me the reference to the future of the West Bank that you allege is made during the video?” Goldberg responded he did not understand the question. Ayalon tried again: “What in the video made you state ‘The West Bank belongs to Israel now AND FOREVER’ and then launch into expletives?” Goldberg responded there was only one expletive. And so it went.

At Tablet (where Goldberg is moving his blog next month), Marc Tracy awarded the fight through the first eight rounds to Goldberg, using a boxing score system that gave Goldberg rounds for twit-zingers such as this: “Have you done more to end the West Bank occupation, or solidify it?” Since Ayalon’s point was the territories are “disputed” rather than “occupied,” Goldberg’s question was on the order of, “Have you done more to stop beating your wife, or continue beating her?” Wow, a TKO — cue the “Rockymusic!

Goldberg is not a careful reader of diplomatic statements, having egregiously mischaracterized Benjamin Netanyahu’s November 11, 2010 statement and now Danny Ayalon’s video. He owes an apology, if not to Netanyahu and Ayalon at least to his own readers, who deserve a more trustworthy analysis, even if limited to 140 characters.

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What’s the Plan?

In the great 1979 comedy The In-Laws, New Jersey dentist Alan Arkin finds himself enmeshed in a global plot by intelligence agent Peter Falk, who maintains his calm in the face of all difficulties. Finally they find themselves in front of a firing squad in Central America. “What’s the plan?” Arkin says eagerly.

“There’s no plan, Shel,” says Falk. “”I’m all out. What you got?”

I understand why 25 or 30 House Republicans don’t like Speaker John Boehner’s plan to raise the debt ceiling. It doesn’t do enough to deal with lowering the nation’s indebtedness, they say. Even though it doesn’t raise taxes, it represents a capitulation to liberal attitudes about government, they say. And so on. So they won’t support it, and so Boehner has put off a vote on it.

But what I want to know from them is what Arkin wanted to know from Falk: What’s the plan? What happens now? And I fear the answer is: There’s no plan, Shel.

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In the great 1979 comedy The In-Laws, New Jersey dentist Alan Arkin finds himself enmeshed in a global plot by intelligence agent Peter Falk, who maintains his calm in the face of all difficulties. Finally they find themselves in front of a firing squad in Central America. “What’s the plan?” Arkin says eagerly.

“There’s no plan, Shel,” says Falk. “”I’m all out. What you got?”

I understand why 25 or 30 House Republicans don’t like Speaker John Boehner’s plan to raise the debt ceiling. It doesn’t do enough to deal with lowering the nation’s indebtedness, they say. Even though it doesn’t raise taxes, it represents a capitulation to liberal attitudes about government, they say. And so on. So they won’t support it, and so Boehner has put off a vote on it.

But what I want to know from them is what Arkin wanted to know from Falk: What’s the plan? What happens now? And I fear the answer is: There’s no plan, Shel.

The problem with the caucus that wants to vote “no” and their supporters is that they have no alternative plan. Or rather, their only alternative plan is the firing squad—which is to say, the debt ceiling is not raised. In which case we are entering uncharted territory that involves not only a threat to the nation’s credit rating but also panic in the worldwide markets and a kind of triage when it comes to federal spending that could have all kinds of frightening consequences we can’t anticipate.

Some of the no votes on the GOP side want the crisis. They think it will force deeper spending cuts. Others don’t want to vote one because they promised in no uncertain terms during the 2010 election cycle that they wouldn’t. Still others don’t want to because they’re afraid of a primary challenge from the right. And some wondered with merit why they should vote for a bill that Senate Democrats had declared dead on arrival even before it had been sent to the Senate.

Boehner and the House leadership were clearly hoping that four or five right-wing Democrats would go along with them and give the entire “no” caucus permission to vote no while the bill would still pass. Two things happened to make that impossible. First, the Democratic party made it clear it was taking the line that the Boehner bill was evil and stupid and dead. Second, the worst thing a right-wing Democrat in a right-wing district could do is cast a “moderate” vote, as it would create the perfect condition for a Republican candidate in his district to get to his right and oust him.

For weeks now, I’ve been hearing and reading all manner of “hold the line” and “Boehner is a sellout” rhetoric. But what I haven’t heard is a plan that gets us beyond the moment when the debt ceiling deadline is reached. It’s true here are always possibilities. But if the Boehner vote fails today, those who torpedoed it had better have an answer to Falk’s question: “What’s the plan?” Because if they don’t have one other than the hope that the firing squad will miss, they are going to bring a lot of people down with them when the gunfire starts.

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