Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2011

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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Fort Hood Suspect Had Left-Wing Fan Base

The 21-year-old soldier arrested today for allegedly plotting to attack Fort Hood appears to be the same “conscientious objector” who was viewed as a peacemaker by anti-war activists last year, after he refused to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq because he claimed it violated his Muslim faith.

When Pfc. Naser Abdo applied for CO status last year, the utterly discredited Iraq Veterans Against the War organization posted a message in support of him on its website, and asked readers to donate to his legal defense fund. And Kimber Heinz, a writer for the far-left website Truthout, unluckily chose to profile Abdo in a 2010 article entitled, “One Year After Fort Hood: The Missing Story of Muslim Peacemaking.”

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The 21-year-old soldier arrested today for allegedly plotting to attack Fort Hood appears to be the same “conscientious objector” who was viewed as a peacemaker by anti-war activists last year, after he refused to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq because he claimed it violated his Muslim faith.

When Pfc. Naser Abdo applied for CO status last year, the utterly discredited Iraq Veterans Against the War organization posted a message in support of him on its website, and asked readers to donate to his legal defense fund. And Kimber Heinz, a writer for the far-left website Truthout, unluckily chose to profile Abdo in a 2010 article entitled, “One Year After Fort Hood: The Missing Story of Muslim Peacemaking.”

“We must lift up the stories and ongoing work of Muslim peacemakers like Naser Abdo,” Heinz wrote.

CNN and Al Jazeera also both featured glowing segments on Abdo’s quest to obtain CO status.

But there were others who immediately condemned Abdo’s attempt to dodge combat service. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an organization led by Dr. Zhudi Jasser, urged the military to reject Abdo’s request last year.

“[The AIFD] takes deep exception with claims from PFC Nasser Abdo regarding his application for Conscientious Objector (CO) status from the U.S. Army,” the organization wrote in a statement. “AIFD sees Abdo’s traitorous public assertions as a slap in the face to all American Muslims,especially those Muslims who fight in our armed forces for the liberty and freedom guaranteed by the American Constitution.”

The AIFD wrote that Abdo was only opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in order to qualify for CO status, a soldier typically has to oppose war in general. This raises questions about how and why he was given CO status in the first place. Did the military want to keep him in the country because it had reason to believe he could be a threat? Or were there concerns this might turn into a discrimination issue?

Either way, this story is a reminder that the U.S. must constantly remain vigilant against the threat of homegrown and lone wolf terrorism. The recent attack in Norway showed the extensive damage even one single, committed terrorist can cause.

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Twitter Duel Over West Bank Truth

Earlier this week, I wrote about the astonishing success of a new video promoting Israel’s side of the Middle East conflict produced by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Ayalon’s “The Truth About the West Bank” debunked Arab myths about Israel’s position and put forward a straightforward argument that whatever the ultimate disposition of the territories, the notion Jews have no right to be in the West Bank or their presence is “illegal” was false.

This video, which has already been viewed nearly 200,000 times, drove Palestinian advocates nuts, because it shows how wrong are the world’s assumptions about Israel. Apparently, it was also enough to drive some liberal Jews up the wall as well. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was driven to profanity to describe Ayalon’s efforts which contradicts, at least in part, the mainstream Jewish liberal conventional wisdom to which he subscribes. But in addition to snidely referring to the film as “cheesy” (it is anything but) and “sinister,” he claimed its production showed the Israeli Foreign Ministry had become settlement advocates and that in doing so it was telling the Palestinians to “f___ off.”

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Earlier this week, I wrote about the astonishing success of a new video promoting Israel’s side of the Middle East conflict produced by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Ayalon’s “The Truth About the West Bank” debunked Arab myths about Israel’s position and put forward a straightforward argument that whatever the ultimate disposition of the territories, the notion Jews have no right to be in the West Bank or their presence is “illegal” was false.

This video, which has already been viewed nearly 200,000 times, drove Palestinian advocates nuts, because it shows how wrong are the world’s assumptions about Israel. Apparently, it was also enough to drive some liberal Jews up the wall as well. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg was driven to profanity to describe Ayalon’s efforts which contradicts, at least in part, the mainstream Jewish liberal conventional wisdom to which he subscribes. But in addition to snidely referring to the film as “cheesy” (it is anything but) and “sinister,” he claimed its production showed the Israeli Foreign Ministry had become settlement advocates and that in doing so it was telling the Palestinians to “f___ off.”

Ayalon replied on Twitter that while the video demonstrated Jews were not colonizing foreigners in the West Bank, it said nothing about the future of the territories. He demanded Goldberg produce any line in the script that justified his accusation that it asserted Israel must hold onto all of it forever. This set off a long exchange on Twitter between the two that told us a lot more about Goldberg’s mindset than it did about Ayalon’s.

For Goldberg, the mere mention of Jewish rights (whose validity he later acknowledged during the course of the Twitter debate) is wrong. The fact that the West Bank is the heart of the historic Jewish homeland, that there never was a Palestinian nation to which this land should be “returned,” that Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank was illegal and that Israel came into the possession of it during a war of self defense may be true, but to Goldberg, it is a truth that should never, ever be mentioned. To speak of the West Bank as disputed territory rather than “occupied Arab land” is beyond the pale, because it hurts the feelings of the Palestinians and puts the two claims on a level playing field. According to this point of view, anything said that could in any way buttress the arguments of Jews who believe large parts of the West Bank must be retained by Israel in a peace settlement is the sort of information that clearly must be suppressed.

Goldberg’s side of the argument consisted mainly of him saying he knew what Ayalon really meant, and extremists agreed with him. But he never answered Ayalon’s question, because he didn’t have one. The assertion of Jewish rights to the West Bank doesn’t mean those rights can or will be exercised in all or even part of the land. But it does mean any negotiation over the land ought not to be conducted as a trial in which Israel is put in the dock for being in possession of stolen property.

That is the beauty of Ayalon’s video. It corrects the lies about Israel that have for too long gone unanswered even by its supposed advocates in its Foreign Ministry. But for those who want Israel to merely shut up and hand over all the land to the Palestinian Authority with no questions asked, the truth about the West Bank shouldn’t be told.

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Will the GOP Make Jim Jordan’s District Disappear?

Yesterday, I wrote about two instances in which Republican opposition to John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill had perhaps taken things a step too far and ended up strengthening Boehner’s hand in the process.

Unfortunately, tempers got so high they have yet to come back to earth, and some of the pro-Boehner Republicans who were targeted by the Republican Study Committee are talking retribution. To recap, staffers with the RSC were caught targeting members of the House GOP for their support of Boehner’s plan, and when this came to light, RSC chairman Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and his staff were treated to a hostile dressing down at a caucus meeting.

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Yesterday, I wrote about two instances in which Republican opposition to John Boehner’s debt ceiling bill had perhaps taken things a step too far and ended up strengthening Boehner’s hand in the process.

Unfortunately, tempers got so high they have yet to come back to earth, and some of the pro-Boehner Republicans who were targeted by the Republican Study Committee are talking retribution. To recap, staffers with the RSC were caught targeting members of the House GOP for their support of Boehner’s plan, and when this came to light, RSC chairman Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and his staff were treated to a hostile dressing down at a caucus meeting.

Now the Columbus Dispatch reports House Republicans may make Jordan disappear–in congressional terms, that is:

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s open defiance of Speaker John Boehner’s efforts to solve the debt-ceiling crisis could cost the Urbana Republican his safe seat in next year’s election.

Two Republican sources deeply involved in configuring new Ohio congressional districts confirmed to The Dispatch today that Jordan’s disloyalty to Boehner has put him in jeopardy of being zeroed out of a district.

“Jim Jordan’s boneheadedness has kind of informed everybody’s thinking,” said one of the sources, both of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity. “The easiest option for everybody has presented itself.”

Jordan’s rural 11-county district, which has a 60 percent Republican voter index, “is easy to cannibalize because it stretches so far,” said the other source.

There are legitimate reasons why they would do this. The state must eliminate two seats from its congressional delegation, and this would solve an actual problem for Buckeye State Republicans. The idea is to redraw the map so Jordan is put in a “competitive district” that would give the GOP even odds of winning. Jordan’s current district is a safe district, and the pro-Boehner officials are chuckling about that fact having encouraged the hubris in Jordan that may be his undoing. “The downside of being in an uber-safe district is you often don’t develop the strategic skills you need to survive in the arena, and in this case that is going to be painfully evident to Jim Jordan,” one source told the Dispatch.

So this is, perhaps, an idea whose time has come. But talking about it–especially in this gleeful manner (you can almost hear the mwah-ha-ha playing on a loop in this guy’s head)–is the wrong approach. Boehner hasn’t won yet. His bill may pass the House, but it will likely be voted down in the Senate, leading to the need for another compromise. Will the GOP have his back next time? Maybe sending this message will encourage them to get in line. But maybe it will only pour fuel on the fire of resentment the conservative caucus feels toward their compromising leadership.

Boehner, for his part, is doing his best to put a stop to the discussion (though it remains to be seen whether that means he is also not considering the option): “Jim Jordan and I may not always agree on strategy, but we are friends and allies, and the word retribution is not in my vocabulary. I look forward to continuing to serve with him in the U.S. House after the redistricting process in Ohio is complete, and for many years to come.”

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Perry: On Second Thought, Gay Marriage isn’t “Fine”

Gov. Rick Perry’s support for New York’s same-sex marriage decision seemed like a sign the Republican Party might be changing its stance on the issue. But the potential presidential candidate walked back his statements today and reiterated his commitment to a federal marriage amendment.

“I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue,” said Perry during an interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. “Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.”

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Gov. Rick Perry’s support for New York’s same-sex marriage decision seemed like a sign the Republican Party might be changing its stance on the issue. But the potential presidential candidate walked back his statements today and reiterated his commitment to a federal marriage amendment.

“I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue,” said Perry during an interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. “Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.”

But oddly, Perry also used the states’ rights argument to explain his support for a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to one man and one woman.

“To not pass the federal marriage amendment would impinge on Texas, and other states, not to have marriage forced upon them by these activist judges and these interest groups,” Perry said during the interview.

It’s true some judges have previously tried to impose these decisions. But a federal marriage amendment would also prevent state voters from having the option to allow same-sex marriage. It’s difficult to see how Perry could view this as a victory for states’ rights.

Even though Perry’s position on gay marriage may not have changed, there are indications the Republican Party as a whole is shifting on the issue. Pollsters Joel Benenson and Jan van Lohuizen found that support for gay marriage has accelerated among Republican voters in recent years, according to a study they released this week. And the ABC/Washington Post poll has found that Republican support for same-sex marriage has jumped 8 percent since 2006.

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Bachmann May Be Okay With Boehner Bill’s Passage, But Not With Her Vote

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s speech to the National Press Club might have been an opportunity for the Tea Party’s heroine to fire a shot across the bow of her longtime antagonists in the GOP leadership–coming only hours before the vote on House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal. Instead, the presidential candidate was careful to express her admiration for Boehner, even though she said she wouldn’t vote for any measure—including his—that raised the debt ceiling.

While almost all of her fire was directed at President Obama, Bachmann made it clear she wouldn’t vote for any compromise measure. If the cut, cap and balance plan passed by the House last week didn’t meet her approval, there was no way she was going to back Boehner’s second try at a debt ceiling solution. But her opposition to Boehner was not personal (she repeatedly praised Boehner’s efforts to solve the problem), nor did she treat the possibility of the House passing his bill as a calamity. In fact, she seemed to treat its passage as a fait accompli that would once again put the ball in the Democrats’ court. In other words, Bachmann gave the impression she would not be displeased were Boehner to succeed today but wanted no share of the responsibility for passing it.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann’s speech to the National Press Club might have been an opportunity for the Tea Party’s heroine to fire a shot across the bow of her longtime antagonists in the GOP leadership–coming only hours before the vote on House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal. Instead, the presidential candidate was careful to express her admiration for Boehner, even though she said she wouldn’t vote for any measure—including his—that raised the debt ceiling.

While almost all of her fire was directed at President Obama, Bachmann made it clear she wouldn’t vote for any compromise measure. If the cut, cap and balance plan passed by the House last week didn’t meet her approval, there was no way she was going to back Boehner’s second try at a debt ceiling solution. But her opposition to Boehner was not personal (she repeatedly praised Boehner’s efforts to solve the problem), nor did she treat the possibility of the House passing his bill as a calamity. In fact, she seemed to treat its passage as a fait accompli that would once again put the ball in the Democrats’ court. In other words, Bachmann gave the impression she would not be displeased were Boehner to succeed today but wanted no share of the responsibility for passing it.

Bachmann came into Congress as a purist on all sorts of issues, and her stand on the debt ceiling is no different than the rest of her positions. She can get away with that because unlike Boehner, she isn’t responsible for maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States. That allows her to say there will be no default while simultaneously asserting she will vote for no measure that would prevent one. There are those who will say that’s a ridiculous contradiction, but not to her.

Until she is elected president (an admitted long shot), she can afford to speak about the way she wants the world to work rather than how it does work. After all, Bachmann is right that Obamacare ought to be repealed, and a debt solution without eliminating that major new entitlement is absurd. She’s also right that the United States should spend less and the involvement of the federal government in so much of our lives needs to be ended. But if she were ever elected president, she’d have to accept the reality of divided government and deal with it. But until then, she’s free to run on her principles and to avoid getting her hands dirty, as Boehner must.

Yet, it must be noted her non-confrontational approach to the Speaker’s bill marks a distinct change in tone from her days as a bomb-throwing backbencher. It signals she is serious about being the GOP nominee and wants to be the person who will unite it next fall in the struggle against Obama. That may not happen, but it is clear despite her ideological purity on the issues, she is thinking about the big presidential picture–not settling scores with her critics in the GOP leadership.

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Obama Will Be Biggest Loser

Making predictions can be a perilous undertaking, but here are a few as the debt ceiling debate moves toward its denouement.

An agreement will be reached before the August 2 deadline. It won’t be ideal by any means — but all told it will be seen, and rightly so, as a substantive win for the GOP. Republicans will have outmaneuvered the president and his party, securing an agreement without tax increases, that includes some cuts, and creates a new precedent that spending restraint must accompany an increase in the debt ceiling.

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Making predictions can be a perilous undertaking, but here are a few as the debt ceiling debate moves toward its denouement.

An agreement will be reached before the August 2 deadline. It won’t be ideal by any means — but all told it will be seen, and rightly so, as a substantive win for the GOP. Republicans will have outmaneuvered the president and his party, securing an agreement without tax increases, that includes some cuts, and creates a new precedent that spending restraint must accompany an increase in the debt ceiling.

The president will have emerged from this episode significantly damaged. He will be viewed as far more impotent than he was at the outset of negotiations. His limitations as a negotiator will have been exposed. The distrust among Obama and congressional Democrats will have increased. And Obama’s effort to portray himself as a mature, unifying and bi-partisan figure — which was at the core of his appeal in 2008 — will have received a crushing blow.

Congressional Republicans will not emerge from the debt ceiling negotiations unscathed; no individual or institution that has been associated with it could. But when we look back on this drama six months from now, the biggest loser of all will be America’s 44th president. And very few people predicted that at the outset  of the negotiations.

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Religion and the Debt

In today’s online edition of the New York Times, University of Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting attempts a takedown of those who attempt to inject religion into secular political debates. His clear target is the religious right and the Tea Party who believe in limited government. Gutting writes that it is irritating to be confronted with “the irrationality of claims that distinctively modern questions about capitalist economics and democratic government were answered in the Bible 2000 years ahead of time,” such as those by the conservative Christian group The Family Leader’s Voting Guide.

Gutting has a point, but the problem with the piece–and much of the liberal disdain for conservative Christians and their Tea Party allies–is the same argument can be used to dismiss liberals who employ religious arguments on behalf of their own positions on the profoundly secular question of taxes, entitlements and the public debt. Coming as it did the day after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced congressional efforts to cut back on entitlement spending as part of a solution to the debt ceiling crisis, the omission was an extraordinary example of bias. The religious left is just as guilty as those on the right of trying to depict God as being on their side of the aisle.

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In today’s online edition of the New York Times, University of Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting attempts a takedown of those who attempt to inject religion into secular political debates. His clear target is the religious right and the Tea Party who believe in limited government. Gutting writes that it is irritating to be confronted with “the irrationality of claims that distinctively modern questions about capitalist economics and democratic government were answered in the Bible 2000 years ahead of time,” such as those by the conservative Christian group The Family Leader’s Voting Guide.

Gutting has a point, but the problem with the piece–and much of the liberal disdain for conservative Christians and their Tea Party allies–is the same argument can be used to dismiss liberals who employ religious arguments on behalf of their own positions on the profoundly secular question of taxes, entitlements and the public debt. Coming as it did the day after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced congressional efforts to cut back on entitlement spending as part of a solution to the debt ceiling crisis, the omission was an extraordinary example of bias. The religious left is just as guilty as those on the right of trying to depict God as being on their side of the aisle.

As even Gutting concedes, the last thing we should want is a “naked public square” in which persons of faith and faith perspectives are marginalized in our political life. The movements to end slavery and segregation in this country would be unimaginable without the religious fervor that was the greatest single motivating factor for those who protested those evils. So let’s stipulate that both the left and the right have the right to invoke moral arguments on behalf of their priorities.

The problem arises when religious advocates distort debates about the proper rate of taxation or government spending into questions of religious principle. The Family Leader has every right to speak up on behalf of limited government as a moral imperative, just as the Catholic Bishops or the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism have the right to argue that cuts to entitlement programs are immoral. But when such groups speak in the name of their faiths in such a way as to depict their opponents as somehow immoral or irreligious, then a line has been crossed. It is no more the duty of an evangelical Christian to choose one side in the debt ceiling debate than it is of a Catholic or a Jew to be on the other.

Gutting is correct to question Family Life’s crossing of this line, but one is left wondering why neither he nor anyone at the Times thinks the same behavior is noteworthy when it is committed by far more influential groups on the left.

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Bris Ban Off the Ballot

Circumcision opponents suffered a legal defeat yesterday when a California court ruled the proposed referendum on banning the practice in San Francisco was to be taken off the ballot. Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi decided the referendum ran afoul of state law that forbids municipalities from banning legitimate medical procedures and was therefore “expressly pre-empted.”

While those who have promoted the referendum will probably appeal, the ruling may mean the bris banners may not have the opportunity to prevent Jews from performing their covenantal obligations by circumcising baby boys. Had the law been passed, performing a circumcision would have been a punishable offense.

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Circumcision opponents suffered a legal defeat yesterday when a California court ruled the proposed referendum on banning the practice in San Francisco was to be taken off the ballot. Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi decided the referendum ran afoul of state law that forbids municipalities from banning legitimate medical procedures and was therefore “expressly pre-empted.”

While those who have promoted the referendum will probably appeal, the ruling may mean the bris banners may not have the opportunity to prevent Jews from performing their covenantal obligations by circumcising baby boys. Had the law been passed, performing a circumcision would have been a punishable offense.

Although most of the arguments on behalf of the proposal have revolved around bizarre notions about male sexuality, the anti-Semitic intent of the measure was made clear by a comic book published by one of the measure’s main proponents. As we wrote in June, the adventures of “Foreskin Man,” an on-line publication, depicted an Aryan-looking hero whose mission was to thwart the efforts of a sinister ritual circumciser named Monster Mohel. The comic book employed all the tropes of traditional anti-Semitism in a manner reminiscent of the literature of Nazi Germany.

The legal grounds for stopping the referendum appear solid, but it must be pointed out that had it been left on the ballot, the result would have been a law that was an unconstitutional act of religious bias. While we hope this ruling settles the question for the foreseeable future, given the motivation of its backers, we probably haven’t heard the last of this effort.

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Senate Democrats to Blame if They Block Boehner Plan

It’s getting harder for Democrats to blame Tea Partiers for blocking a debt ceiling deal, now that all 53 Senate Democrats (and independents) have signed a letter saying they will not support Boehner’s plan. But Sen. Harry Reid gave it a final try this morning:

“A small group of radical Republicans who don’t represent mainstream America… have refused to move one inch towards compromise,” said Reid.

“There has been a spate of these members of the House of Representatives that have said they would rather see the nation default on its financial obligations than cooperate,” he continued.

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It’s getting harder for Democrats to blame Tea Partiers for blocking a debt ceiling deal, now that all 53 Senate Democrats (and independents) have signed a letter saying they will not support Boehner’s plan. But Sen. Harry Reid gave it a final try this morning:

“A small group of radical Republicans who don’t represent mainstream America… have refused to move one inch towards compromise,” said Reid.

“There has been a spate of these members of the House of Representatives that have said they would rather see the nation default on its financial obligations than cooperate,” he continued.

This argument won’t be able to hold up for much longer. If Boehner’s plan passes the House and Democrats don’t accept some variation of it, then the responsibility for default will lie squarely on their shoulders. Marc Thiessen writes in the Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the Boehner proposal “dead on arrival” in the Senate, but this more accurately describes his own plan. Reid does not have the votes to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate — and if Reid cannot pass his plan, then the Boehner plan is the only game in town. If the House passes the Boehner plan, and Reid’s plan is stalled, Senate Democrats will face a choice: Pass Boehner’s bill and send it to the president or take responsibility for causing a government default. Here’s my prediction: They will pass it. And Obama will sign it.

With default looming, I’ll even wager that his senior advisers will “recommend” he do so.

Senate Democrats have boxed themselves into a corner on this. By mounting such a strong opposition to Boehner’s plan, they’re actually helping to unify House Republicans. There may be an out if Sen. Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden – who are still in discussion – come up with a compromise deal by tomorrow.

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The Slow-Motion Meltdown of the President’s Press Secretary

Most commentators agree congressional Republicans would be blamed for the consequences if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. This morning, Matt Lewis has a post reminding readers why the GOP is at such a disadvantage: the mainstream media will blame the GOP; the Republicans have a branding problem on these issues since they appear to strongly dislike government and the entitlement checks it writes; and the president is a Democrat, so his party has the bully pulpit.

He’s right, of course, though it seems at times the White House is trying to lose that last advantage. Press Secretary Jay Carney has been an even less amiable spokesman than his predecessor, Bob Gibbs. Fresh off telling MSNBC’s Chuck Todd he was parroting Republican talking points by asking what the president’s plan was, Carney has dusted off the old “Republicans are Nazis” insult in what I can only imagine was an attempt to alienate as many people as possible. Lewis’ colleague Neil Munro reports:

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Most commentators agree congressional Republicans would be blamed for the consequences if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. This morning, Matt Lewis has a post reminding readers why the GOP is at such a disadvantage: the mainstream media will blame the GOP; the Republicans have a branding problem on these issues since they appear to strongly dislike government and the entitlement checks it writes; and the president is a Democrat, so his party has the bully pulpit.

He’s right, of course, though it seems at times the White House is trying to lose that last advantage. Press Secretary Jay Carney has been an even less amiable spokesman than his predecessor, Bob Gibbs. Fresh off telling MSNBC’s Chuck Todd he was parroting Republican talking points by asking what the president’s plan was, Carney has dusted off the old “Republicans are Nazis” insult in what I can only imagine was an attempt to alienate as many people as possible. Lewis’ colleague Neil Munro reports:

Without ready cash to pay for every government program, he said at the White House’s daily press conference, “It’s a Sophie’s Choice. Who do you save? Who do you pay?”

‘Sophie’s Choice’ refers to a 1982 movie that depicts a Jewish mother being forced to choose which one of her two children should be saved from one of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist death-camps.

And Carney repeated the comparison later in the briefing, which means it was his talking point of the day. Carney’s bizarrely angry daily performances probably make most of those reporters in the briefing room wish the Democrats had someone like Tony Snow, the affable press secretary in George W. Bush’s second term.

In 2006, Newsweek reported an exchange between Snow and Helen Thomas after Thomas accused the U.S. of bankrupting the Palestinians by refusing to give financial aid to Hamas. Snow responded that Hamas is a terrorist organization:

“They were democratically elected,” Thomas insisted.

“They were democratically elected, and they’re still a terrorist organization,” Snow replied.

“By your designation,” Thomas snapped.

“Yes, thank you very much, Helen,” Snow shot back.

That could have been a scene straight out of one of Scott McClellan’s combative press briefings, if it weren’t for what happened next. From the podium, Snow looked down at Thomas sitting in her front-row seat and noticed the veteran reporter was clutching a shiny red apple.

“By the way, that’s a nice apple,” Snow grinned.

“Here,” Thomas instantly replied, offering the new press secretary her apple.

As the press room erupted in laughter, Snow dramatically leapt from the podium and grabbed the apple, placing it front and center on the lectern. “Whoever thought that Helen Thomas would kiss up to me,” Snow said, laughing. “An apple for the teacher.”

“Hardly!” Thomas shouted from the front row. But she was smiling–and so was every other reporter in the room.

This was typical of Snow. Those who had the pleasure of interacting with Snow–as I did–were well aware of his almost preternatural ability to light up a room, even while he was suffering from cancer. Despite the way the press felt about his boss, when Snow stepped down from his post, the mostly liberal reporters behaved as if they were losing their best friend. “Thank you, Tony. I will really miss you,” said one reporter. “God bless you,” said another.

And now they have Jay Carney. The administration’s thin skin has come to define its interactions with the public, the opposition and the press. If the Nazi references keep flowing from the White House, owning the bully pulpit will not be much of an advantage for the Democrats.

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Whatever the Fate of al-Qaeda, the Islamist Terrorist Threat Remains

There is a clear and present danger of premature triumphalism when American counter-terrorism officials proclaim  al-Qaeda is “on the brink of collapse.” As Daveed Garstenstein-Ross notes  at National Review, we have been hearing such proclamations since 2003, and each time, al-Qaeda has managed to defy reports of its demise. In fact, the al-Qaeda network has shown an impressive ability to regenerate itself–hardly surprising since the resources needed to carry out a single terrorist attack, even one as high-profile as 9/11, are fairly small.

The only point I would add to Garstenstein-Ross’s excellent analysis is that we should remember ”Islamist terrorism” does not necessarily mean “al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda is the most famous such group, and with 9/11 it managed to pull off the most damaging terrorist attack ever. But numerous other radicals are setting off bombs with scant direction or assistance from al-Qaeda Central. These organizations range from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, Hezbollah, Kataib Hezbollah and Hamas. None of these groups has pulled off an attack on the scale of 9/11, thank goodness, but several of them have undoubtedly killed far more people–and dominated far more territory–than al-Qaeda Central ever did.

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There is a clear and present danger of premature triumphalism when American counter-terrorism officials proclaim  al-Qaeda is “on the brink of collapse.” As Daveed Garstenstein-Ross notes  at National Review, we have been hearing such proclamations since 2003, and each time, al-Qaeda has managed to defy reports of its demise. In fact, the al-Qaeda network has shown an impressive ability to regenerate itself–hardly surprising since the resources needed to carry out a single terrorist attack, even one as high-profile as 9/11, are fairly small.

The only point I would add to Garstenstein-Ross’s excellent analysis is that we should remember ”Islamist terrorism” does not necessarily mean “al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda is the most famous such group, and with 9/11 it managed to pull off the most damaging terrorist attack ever. But numerous other radicals are setting off bombs with scant direction or assistance from al-Qaeda Central. These organizations range from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, Hezbollah, Kataib Hezbollah and Hamas. None of these groups has pulled off an attack on the scale of 9/11, thank goodness, but several of them have undoubtedly killed far more people–and dominated far more territory–than al-Qaeda Central ever did.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq managed to take over a substantial portion of Sunni territory in Iraq before suffering devastating defeats in 2007-2008, but it continues to set off bombs. Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah is the most powerful force in Lebanon. The Pakistani Taliban are steadily undermining the government in Islamabad. Lashkar-e-Taiba has almost sparked war between India and Pakistan with its terrorist attacks in India. The Afghan Taliban and  Haqqani Network are on a counteroffensive to reestablish control of Afghanistan–a task made easier for them by President Obama’s premature withdrawal of troops. Khataib Hezbollah, along with other Shiite terrorist groups, is reasserting its power in Iraq as the U.S. prepares to withdraw.

In short, whatever the fate of al-Qaeda, the Islamist terrorist threat–of both the Shia and Sunni variety–remains very much with us. The only mistake worse than writing off al-Qaeda prematurely is to conflate its possible demise with the demise of the violent ideology it represents.

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Debt-Ceiling Politics—Churchill or Animal House?

With 88 hours or so left to go until the White House’s declared deadline of August 2 for the debt ceiling to be raised, here’s the state of play:

Speaker of the House John Boehner is desperately trying to defuse the crisis with a split-the-baby piece of legislation that raises the debt ceiling for six months, matches its increase dollar-for-dollar in cuts (over 10 years), does not increase taxes, and takes it all up again at the end of the year—with an evenly divided partisan panel determining where things go now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has declared Boehner’s bill dead in the water, because he has a bill that features cuts too but raises the debt ceiling high enough to take the country through until after the 2012 election. He is vowing to undertake a parliamentary maneuver in which the Senate takes up the House bill, strips it of all its provisions, replaces them with Reid’s provisions, and sends it back to the House—at which point the House will either have to accept it or vote it down. I call this a maneuver because Reid could also bring his proposal up in the Senate as its own bill and then bring his bill and Boehner’s bill into a conference committee where the terms can be hashed out between them, voted on again by both chambers, and sent to the president for a signature.

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With 88 hours or so left to go until the White House’s declared deadline of August 2 for the debt ceiling to be raised, here’s the state of play:

Speaker of the House John Boehner is desperately trying to defuse the crisis with a split-the-baby piece of legislation that raises the debt ceiling for six months, matches its increase dollar-for-dollar in cuts (over 10 years), does not increase taxes, and takes it all up again at the end of the year—with an evenly divided partisan panel determining where things go now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has declared Boehner’s bill dead in the water, because he has a bill that features cuts too but raises the debt ceiling high enough to take the country through until after the 2012 election. He is vowing to undertake a parliamentary maneuver in which the Senate takes up the House bill, strips it of all its provisions, replaces them with Reid’s provisions, and sends it back to the House—at which point the House will either have to accept it or vote it down. I call this a maneuver because Reid could also bring his proposal up in the Senate as its own bill and then bring his bill and Boehner’s bill into a conference committee where the terms can be hashed out between them, voted on again by both chambers, and sent to the president for a signature.

Reid’s plan is risky. Republicans in the House will not vote for it but will have a credible case to make that they had a perfectly good plan of their own that Reid hijacked in an almost immoral way—solely to protect Obama’s reelection chances. And if they don’t vote for it, there literally isn’t time to manage a debt-ceiling increase before Sunday/Monday at midnight. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who proposed simply raising the debt ceiling without cuts or taxes two weeks ago and is therefore deserving of being considered an extremely moderate voice in this debate, said this morning that Reid’s strategy ensures the U.S. will go into default.

The White House has no plan and is getting into ridiculous and embarrassing fights with journalists lying bald-facedly about how it has one. It seems to be relying almost entirely on its own salvation in this mess on a compliant press telling an anti-Republican story from his perspective. That too is risky, because he’s been very public about all this and is certain to be tied in the public consciousness to whatever happens. Meaning, if it’s bad, he’s going to pay a heavy price.

Conservatives are terribly split. Some think Boehner has done his best to be responsible, to consider the concerns of his members, to find a path out of an unprecedented morass. Others think he is a sell-out, that he should be “holding the line” and insisting on a plan that actually eats into the burgeoning national debt and not merely the deficit (i.e, the interest owed on the debt). One of the leading voices of the “hold the line” side, Erick Erickson of Red State, suggested yesterday that those who feel differently—like Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Sowell, among others—should be sent to “a mental ward.” He and other hardliners seem intent on staking out the position that a) a debt-ceiling collapse won’t be a disaster, or b) it will and it should because we need to get our house in order, or c) it’s somehow not fair that Republicans keep submitting plans and Democrats keep rejecting them without putting forward a plan of their own.

The long-term hardliner view of the crisis and the necessity to address systematically through the lowering of the actual debt are correct without question. No one on the Right disagrees. The problem is that Sunday night looms. And while the hardliners may feel like Churchill, saying “We will fight them on the beaches…” to my ears they are increasingly sounding like Otter, the devil-may-care Lothario of National Lampoon’s Animal House, who is stirred to revolt against his college dean: “We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!”

To which Bluto, the barely sentient Id of the dorm, says, “We’re just the guys to do it.”

Clock is ticking. 87 hours to go…

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