From the Israeli Prime Minister’s statement this morning at the Menachim Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem:
“Israel is prepared to live in peace with a Palestinian state, but for peace to endure, Israel’s security must be protected. The Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all. None of these vital interests, these vital interests of peace, none of them appear in the resolution that will be put forward before the General Assembly today and that is why Israel cannot accept it. The only way to achieve peace is through agreements that are reached by the parties directly; through valid negotiations between themselves, and not through UN resolutions that completely ignore Israel’s vital security and national interests. And because this resolution is so one-sided, it doesn’t advance peace, it pushes it backwards.
As for the rights of the Jewish people in this land, I have a simple message for those people gathered in the General Assembly today: No decision by the UN can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.”
After more than a year of campaigning for it, the Palestinian Authority will have its moment tomorrow when the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote to upgrade the PA’s status to nonvoting observer. Israel’s foes will rejoice and many of its friends will worry. Some of that will be justified, as the decision will be a symbolic triumph that the Palestinians will attempt to portray as tantamount to UN recognition of their independence in the areas Israel won in the Six-Day War. But after working hard to prevent this from happening, the Israeli government has decided to downplay the outcome. Some will interpret this as nothing more than a feeble attempt to spin a diplomatic defeat; the reaction is more than just politically astute. It is an accurate reflection of the real-world impact of the vote since it won’t change a thing on the ground in the Middle East or even at the UN itself.
The Palestinian Authority knows all too well that the victory they will win tomorrow is of minimal use to them. They can use it to create mischief for Israel in the International Criminal Court as well as bolster their already secure niche in the hearts of most UN member states and the world body’s bureaucracy. But it won’t get them one inch closer to actual independence or — more importantly — give them any credibility with Palestinians who will be quick to note that it will change nothing in the West Bank or in Gaza where the PA’s Hamas rivals rule over an independent state in all but name. Rather than seeking to punish the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas for effectively trashing the Oslo Accords, Israel can afford to ignore the vote since it will not move him any closer to a state or genuine international legitimacy. The only reason European nations and even some of the PA’s third-world allies are backing the move is because they know it has no significance. After all, how can any government claim to be independent when a rival group already exercises sovereignty over part of the territory it claims?
With negotiations over how to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff” intensifying, there’s a lot of attention on Grover Norquist and his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” in which lawmakers who sign it pledge to taxpayers that they will (a) oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and (b) oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
On the pledge, I have several thoughts.
1. Mr. Norquist has basically been a force for good, since he raises the price of tax increases and allows Republicans to get more in return for them. That said, I have never liked the idea of politicians signing pledges beyond their oath to support and defend the Constitution. It locks a person into a position that may seem reasonable at the time but eventually becomes unwise. I support lower tax rates, but they are not a talisman. And whether or not one should agree to higher taxes depends on what one is able to get in return.
Who could have possibly predicted that extending a practically unlimited line of credit to 18-year-old college students could have turned out so poorly? Yesterday, student debt levels reached a new milestone: “The proportion of U.S. student loan balances that are in delinquency — that is, unpaid for 90 days or more — surpassed that of credit-card balances in the third quarter for the first time, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”
The student loan bubble, largely financed by federal tax dollars, is an entirely predictable and avoidable financial catastrophe. Students, in spite of their estimated future earning potential, are given the ability to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to attend any institution of higher education in the country, regardless of that institution’s ability to produce degrees of equal or higher value. According to CBS Moneywatch, “for all borrowers, the average debt in 2011 was $23,300, with 10 percent owing more than $54,000 and 3 percent more than $100,000.” That’s an incredible statistic when you consider that two-thirds of students currently pursuing a bachelors degree are borrowing in order to do so — over 6 percent of students attending college right now will walk away with more than $54,000 in loans. The average amount of debt for a bachelors degree is $23,300; for students that went on to obtain medical, law or other specialized degrees, that average skyrockets.
There’s no doubt that a president who has just been re-elected has a lot more leverage in a negotiation than the House Republican leadership. But if President Obama is feeling confident that he can have his way in any deal that prevents the country from heading over the fiscal cliff, it’s not just because of his victory over Mitt Romney earlier this month. The spectacle of House Republicans starting to snipe at each other and tax activist Grover Norquist is evidence that the campaign to pressure Congress into backing tax increases being orchestrated by the White House appears to be working.
While the pushback against Norquist’s heavy-handed attempts to bludgeon Republicans into obedience is understandable, both the anti-tax purists and those more amenable to compromise are playing right into Obama’s hands. Rather than the debate centering on whether tax increases will hurt the economy and the need for Democrats to put entitlement spending on the table in any deal to prevent the country from heading over the fiscal cliff, right now the debate seems to center on a growing civil war within GOP ranks. Rather than sticking with House Speaker Boehner and strengthening his hand in negotiations, many Republicans are allowing themselves to be panicked into a stand that would effectively allow the president’s plans for tax increases to go forward without any commitments about reforming the tax code or entitlement spending. If the trend continues and a critical mass of Boehner’s caucus breaks, the result will not just be a tactical defeat on a point where Obama may have the country’s support, but a rout that will enable the president to avoid any commitment to significant spending cuts.
The New York Times has a hopeful but ultimately unconvincing analysis today proclaiming the rise of a more constructive Sunni “axis” in the Middle East. The theory is that Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt are challenging the hegemonic Iran and the civil war-torn Syria, and that this trio’s closer relationship to the Hamas terrorist gang running the Gaza Strip will prize diplomacy and stability over war while weakening Iran.
Of course this is what Western diplomats have hoped–and continue to hope–will one day become a reality. But at this point, not only is it premature to announce this new Middle East, but the thesis has actually taken quite a beating in the last two weeks. Here’s the Times describing the opportunity for a regional shift:
On November 19, I published an item taking issue with current calls to cut the ground forces. We should not repeat the mistake that Donald Rumsfeld almost made before 9/11, I argued, when he was planning to cut two divisions from the army. Now Rumsfeld has taken strong exception to my article, writing, “That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me.”
I was startled by Rumsfeld’s denial of what was commonly reported both at the time and since. See, for example, this Wall Street Journal article from Aug. 8, 2001, by ace military correspondent Greg Jaffe. He reported:
Aides to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are calling for deep personnel cuts to the Army, Navy, and Air Force in order to pay for new high-tech weaponry and missile defenses that are cornerstones of President Bush’s plan to “transform the military.”
The proposal to reduce manpower—part of a congressionally mandated defense review due next month—calls for the Army to trim as many as 2.8 of its 10 divisions, or about 56,000 troops. …. Mr. Rumsfeld and top generals of each military service were briefed on the recommendations for the first time yesterday.
The Israel Project has a poll out today on American views on the Arab Spring and Israel. As Mahmoud Abbas plans to launch another unilateral statehood attempt at the United Nations, a solid majority of Americans say they’re opposed:
Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.
Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.
It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:
Grover Norquist spoke at a Politico breakfast this morning, and it sounds like he’s leaving the door open for some creative tax compromises from Republicans. If tax rates go up, it would have to be without any active help from pledge-signers:
Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist said Wednesday Republicans need to have “credible” separation from any tax hike as part of a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff — in order to make a case to voters in 2014 and 2016 that their vision is distinct from that of Democrats.
The party “can’t have their fingerprints on the murder weapon,” Norquist told POLITICO’s Mike Allen at a Playbook Breakfast. …
Norquist said by having negotiations in public, Republicans would be able to “change the conversation” from raising taxes to holding Democrats feet to the fire over spending cuts.
“We have a spending problem, not a failure to raise taxes problem,” Norquist said.
He would not directly answer Allen’s questions if there was wiggle room for Republicans to raise taxes with out breaking his no-new-taxes pledge. But he did call Rep. Tom Cole’s proposal for Republicans to agree to a tax cut for 98 percent of Americans and negotiate the top rates later “an interesting tactic.”
Yesterday’s meeting between United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and leading Republican members of the U.S. Senate did nothing to defuse the controversy over her misleading statements about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain were not pleased with Rice’s explanations and appear poised to lead a spirited opposition to Rice should, as many expect, she be tapped by President Obama to be the next secretary of state. Along with other members of the administration, Rice has much to answer for when it comes to Benghazi, and Democrats should not be under the impression that the GOP will knuckle under to the president’s attempt to intimidate them or patently false charges of racism. But conservatives need to think carefully about what the key issue at State is before they decide to go all in on an attempt to stop Rice’s appointment.
As tempting a target as Rice is, there are far more important issues at stake in determining the future of American foreign policy than whether Foggy Bottom is run by her or Senator John Kerry, the other leading candidate for the job who is obviously favored by his Senate colleagues. The impending confirmation battle needs to be about something more than just an attempt to take down a vulnerable friend of the president. It is an opportunity for Republicans to initiate a debate about the direction taken by the administration in the Middle East. On Secretary Clinton’s watch the administration has done more than merely pretend that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden when its affiliates are alive and well and killing Americans. It has made nice with Islamists in the region, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and allowed a crucial nation to slip from the hands of a friendly authoritarian to an Islamist dictator linked to Hamas. It is on these big-picture issues that the Senate ought to take its stand and not just on what Rice said in September about Benghazi.
Susan Rice’s meeting with Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte yesterday might have set back her potential secretary of state bid even more than initially thought. Now Graham and Ayotte are promising to place a “hold” on her possible nomination, until Rice provides more answers:
If President Barack Obama selects United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he’ll face determined opposition from at least three Republican senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte and Graham would each place a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if she were nominated, their aides told NBC News Tuesday. McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dan Halper flags a Roll Call report that says Debbie Wasserman Schultz is expected to stay on for another two-year term as DNC chair, since Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn aren’t likely to give up their top leadership positions:
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida will reportedly stay on as Democratic National Committee chief for another two-year term.
“The House Democratic leadership mold continues to harden, as Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida are expected to remain in their current positions, which are effectively out of the upper echelon of caucus leadership ranks,” reports Roll Call.
That decision might be a little strange, since it was thought Wasserman Schultz was a weak surrogate for Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. “Internal polling rates her the least effective of all Obama campaign surrogates,” Politico reported during the campaign.
The headlines in the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz summed up the reaction of opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the latest twist in the lead-up to the country’s January Knesset elections. The consensus on the left is that the victory of right-wing candidates in the Likud’s primary to determine their Knesset slate spells doom for the PM. “Has the Likud gone too far right for Netanyahu?” was one. “Likud’s sharp shift to the right is political suicide for Netanyahu” was another, while a third read “Likud’s hawkish earthquake sparks new hopes for centrist alternatives.” Combined with the other major story in Israeli politics today — the return to electoral politics of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading a new party called “The Movement” — you might think that Netanyahu’s critics are right to assert that he is in big trouble.
But despite the hoopla over Livni and the worries about the changing of the guard in Likud, Israel’s electoral math appears unchanged. Netanyahu and his newly enlarged Likud and its coalition partners remain on course to win a smashing victory next month.
Last week, I wrote about the Washington Post’s decision to publish a large photo of a Palestinian toddler killed during Israel’s Gaza operation on the front page. The picture captures the most tragic aspect of war, the death of innocent civilians and the pain of the families they leave behind. But by not balancing this photo with an image of Hamas attacks on Israel, it also gave the impression that Israelis were fighting a war of aggression, rather than self-defense.
The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, responded to criticism on Friday:
Many readers asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.
The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.
Last week, our Max Boot wrote to disagree with a New York Times column that supported Pentagon budget cuts and praised former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s position on transformation of the military. Mr. Rumsfeld has written us to reply:
I was amazed to read in Max Boot’s blog post, “Technology is No Substitute for Troops,” that “Rumsfeld was actually planning to cut two divisions from an army which had already been cut by one-third since the end of the Cold War.” That is flat wrong. There was not any plan to cut the size of the U.S. Army that I was ever aware of. No such plan was ever presented to me. Further, I would not have supported it if such a plan had been brought to me. Nor have I ever uttered the words that “technology is a substitute for troops.”
When I arrived at the Pentagon in 2001, my focus was on increasing the budget for the Defense Department to undo the damage that cuts in the 1990s had inflicted on our Armed Forces. That included investing in technologies such as UAVs and precision guided munitions, and considerably strengthened our special forces—in numbers, equipment and authorities–but also increasing the size of our ground forces as necessary. Indeed, in 2004 and 2006, we increased the end strength of both forces by tens of thousands of troops.
Although the famous liberal intolerance for opposing ideas is often at its most stifling on American college campuses, there is one school with a free-speech track record so poor it outraged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That school is Columbia University, and its president, Lee Bollinger, has made a name for himself by fostering an atmosphere of censorship on campus in which speech is often suppressed by the faculty and student groups, sometimes violently. One such incident took place in 2006, when speakers from the Minuteman Project were rushed by protesters storming the stage.
Bollinger wasn’t bothered by it, but for many it was the last straw, and Bloomberg unloaded. “Bollinger’s just got to get his hands around this,” Bloomberg told the New York Times. “There are too many incidents at the same school where people get censored.” It wasn’t just conservative groups or others that transgress the university’s idea of political correctness. Jewish groups were the target of intimidation by faculty, and there are ideological litmus tests for university programs. Additionally, Bollinger famously brought one of the world’s leading censors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to campus while still banning the ROTC. No one in his right mind would consider Bollinger a friend of free speech except … Lee Bollinger. Here he is writing in Foreign Policy magazine advocating for free speech around the world.
With several proposed cuts to SNAP, better known as food stamps, a new fad has emerged among social activists: food stamp challenges. Among the most notable challengers is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who will begin the challenge on December 4 and is already hyping, on Twitter of course, his plan to budget a week’s food allowance according to what those on food stamps are able to spend on the program.
Booker and other challengers don’t seem to realize what SNAP actually stands for: Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The word supplemental is a crucial descriptor for the program, which was never meant to be the sole provider of nutrition for its enrollees. There are other ways fill the gaps between SNAP and full nutrition, including free lunch programs at schools and food banks and kitchens. Nutritional programs are not the only way for those on food stamps to feed their families, however. For those physically unable to work, there is the option of obtaining assistance through Social Security disability. For those who are able to work, there is no reason to completely rely on governmental assistance programs to provide for their families.