It’s certainly true that negotiations over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff were particularly difficult ones for Republicans. President Obama had a huge negotiating advantage: If a deal wasn’t struck, taxes would go up on everyone, not just the high-income earners, and the military would be decimated by deep spending cuts. Presumably Republicans will be in a stronger position as we approach our next governing crisis: the debt ceiling deadline in early March.
There is a twin danger for the GOP, however. One is that they enter negotiations assuming the president is responsible and acting in good faith—and that a “good government” solution will be found and a grand bargain will be struck. That’s not going to happen. Mr. Obama is a dogmatist and a committed progressive. He has no interest in reining in spending or reforming entitlements. He wants to, in his words, “transform” America. And he has a burning desire to destroy the GOP.
The second danger facing Republicans is they once again engage in brinksmanship with the president—that they elevate the debt ceiling debate and (unwisely) threaten to allow the United States to default right up until the moment when they cave (which they would be forced to do).
My counsel to them would therefore be to take the threat of default off the table sooner rather than later. (One way to do this would be to pass legislation that increases the debt limit for, say, six months at a time.) Republicans should simultaneously put forward reasonable and realistic cuts to offset the increase in the debt limit, in the hope that they can secure some gains. Which leads me to my broader piece of advice.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s temper tantrum about the temporary delay of action on the Hurricane Sandy relief bill earlier this week was depicted in some corners as an illustration of the disconnect between the Northeast and the southern and western base of the Republican Party. There was some truth in that. The bulk of the GOP caucus in the House doesn’t care much about the concerns of Northeast Republicans let alone those of anyone else in the region. That’s just one of many concerns that the GOP must confront as it starts thinking about how to win back the White House in 2016. But despite the party’s failings, Christie’s rant illustrates that the lack of communication is a two-way street.
Like his embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s harangue about the failings of his party will play well in New Jersey. Indeed, the shift in recent months of the focus of the governor’s notoriously short temper from union bosses and liberals to right-wing Republicans—and the latter’s criticism of him—has been exactly what his re-election campaign needed. His approval ratings have reached the point where the most formidable Democrats in the state like Newark Mayor Cory Booker have abandoned the idea of running for governor. But if Christie is as serious about running for president in 2016 as many of his fans think he is, it’s time to realize that the conceit that he can be a moderate at home and a conservative in the rest of the country isn’t going to work.
The Iranian nuclear threat has been on the back burner in recent months, as first the United States and now Israel have been distracted by elections. But the reported comments of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during a visit to India about Tehran’s interest in another round of talks with the West are sure to revive the hopes of those who believe in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” to resolve the issue.
But the question to be asked about this is not so much whether there will be more talks but whether both the Iranians and their Western negotiating partners have the same motive for continuing what can only be described as the charade of a diplomatic process. If President Obama is prepared to engage in a repeat of last year’s P5+1 fiasco that took up the better part of a year doing nothing but allowing the Iranians to get that much closer to their nuclear goal, then it will be difficult to argue that he is not doing the same thing as the Iranians: stalling until it is too late to do anything about an Iranian bomb.
Saul Bellow used to joke that while the unexamined life is not worth living, the examined life will make you wish you were dead. The political equivalent might be that we can’t live with taxation without representation, but taxation with representation is going to kill us.
By “us,” I mean those of us who like to find out what’s in a bill before Congress passes it; who would like our representatives to read bills before they vote on them; who want to see hearings on legislation before it is brought to a vote; and who would like to have it posted on a website for a few days before it is signed into law–just in case we have some questions after we find out what’s in it. For such people, Senator Rand Paul’s description of the Senate’s action in passing a $600 billion tax increase this week will be discouraging:
There have been conflicting reports today on whether Chuck Hagel is still a serious contender for the defense secretary nomination. But this story comes from Josh Rogin, who has led the pack on the Chuck Hagel reporting ever since he broke the news that the former senator was being vetted for the position. And according to Rogin, the White House is preparing to go ahead with the nomination:
White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president’s choice to be the replace Leon Panetta at the helm of the Pentagon, but several sources close to the process said have told The Cable that the White House and Hagel have been in touch on a regular basis and that Hagel is indeed the expected pick. Decisions about the timing and logistics of the announcement are being finalized now.
The Cable had previously confirmed that Hagel successfully complete the vetting process, as have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.
Malala Yousufzai, the Pashtun schoolgirl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt in Pakistan’s tribal region, today has left the hospital. Her recovery is not yet complete, and she will also undergo facial reconstruction surgery. The Pakistani government—which once tried to cut a deal with the same groups that targeted Malala and tried to deny her and her peers education solely on the basis of their gender—did the right thing by appointing her father to the Pakistani consulate so that the family might stay in the United Kingdom for the near future.
Malala’s ordeal should be a wake up call for the West. Momentum matters. Obama’s plans to withdraw “on schedule” from Afghanistan will imbue the Taliban with power they have not seen for more than a decade. They will claim that they have defeated two superpowers, and no amount of White House spin or historical fact-checking will change that perception among their Islamist followers. The idea that the Afghan government will stand on its own replicates the Soviet dream that Najibullah would last forever. As Najibullah learned, as soon as the foreign money runs out and the international community starts negotiating with his enemies, all is lost.
The technologies of “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are rapidly transforming the world’s energy situation. These technologies make it possible to tap into vast deposits of both natural gas and oil in shale layers around the world. The United States is particularly rich in such deposits. American domestic energy production has been rising rapidly (and imports falling commensurately), while our carbon emissions have been falling to the lowest level since 1992, because natural gas is increasingly replacing coal as a fuel in electric generating plants.
And since energy is one of the most important of economic inputs, it is transforming the world’s geopolitics as well, much to the benefit of the United States and many of its allies (such as Canada and Australia) and much to the detriment of such countries as Russia, the Gulf States of the Middle East, and Venezuela.
Naturally, the environmental movement is outraged at these developments.
Last summer, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio was hard at work on an immigration reform bill, it put the White House in an awkward position. President Obama wanted to pass comprehensive immigration reform at some point to add to his legacy. But the timing was miserable for him: Obama wanted the policy victory after the election, lest prominent GOP support for immigrants erode the president’s lopsided advantage among Hispanic voters. So he did the politically expedient thing: he signed an executive order (or more accurately took “executive action”) designed to circumvent, rather than reform, the law.
This was useful for the president in two ways. First, it killed Rubio’s DREAM Act legislation. And second, it checked Republican opposition by forcing them to either oppose the move, which would look like they were opposing immigrants, or keep quiet and let Obama govern without Congress, marginalizing his opposition going forward. But that left the question of what to do about immigration–and Obama’s repeatedly broken promises to address it in comprehensive fashion–in his second term. Apparently governing by executive action is an addictive activity. The president is once again, as the Washington Postreports today, shelving comprehensive immigration reform:
President Obama’s outstretched hand has been a death knell to human rights in Iran. First, Obama chose silence against the backdrop of the Iranian regime’s worst abuses in the aftermath of the 2009 post-election uprising. What he had not announced at the time was that he had sent the Iranian supreme leader not one but two letters seeking dialogue, and did not want to upset the self-professed Deputy of the Messiah on Earth by speaking out in support of the Iranian people.
While the press turns to the human rights abuses suffered by ordinary Iranians in the aftermath of the occasional uprising, be it the 1999 student protests, the 2001 football match fixing riot, or the 2009 election unrest, the minority Baha’i community suffers continuously. The problem for the Baha’i boils down to the fact that Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet God would send to man, but the Baha’is believe that God rewards man with new revelations as mankind evolves to the point where he is about to receive them, and so they recognize a couple prophets who have revealed themselves after Muhammad. To be a Baha’i in Iran is to be, from the regime’s point of view, an apostate worthy of imprisonment or death. Iranian Baha’is are often denied entry into universities unless they renounce or deny their faith, and Baha’is who meet together for the purpose of worship or community organization are often imprisoned for years under harsh conditions.
Senator Mark Kirk made his return to Capitol Hill yesterday, nearly one year after suffering a stroke that almost cost him his life and forced him to relearn how to use the left side of his body. Kirk’s goal through recovery has been to walk the steps leading up to the U.S. Capitol, and he succeeded yesterday morning:
This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”
But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012′s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.
It’s another dreary jobs report out this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, detailing yet another month of the apparently endless “Obama Recovery,” the worst since the Great Depression lingered on and on in the 1930s.
Employment rose by 155,000 and the unemployment rate stayed the same at 7.8 percent (the November unemployment rate, originally reported at 7.7 percent, was revised upwards a notch in this report). It’s not surprising that it stayed the same, as the civilian workforce rose by 192,000 last month. In other words, job growth is barely keeping pace with population growth. And part of the job growth is probably due to Hurricane Sandy, as 30,000 construction jobs were added in December, not ordinarily a good month for construction jobs.
Adam Kredo reports that Chuck Hagel’s anti-Israel animosity was obvious well before his career in Congress. While heading up the USO, he clashed with Jewish leaders over a USO port in Haifa:
Hagel, who served as president and CEO of the World USO from 1987 to 1990, expressed intense opposition to the USO Haifa Center during a tumultuous 1989 meeting with Jewish leaders, according to multiple sources involved in the fight to keep the post open.
“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it’,” said Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which led the battle to keep USO Haifa operational. …
“He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we’, he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it,” said Halteman, who recalled being taken aback by the comment.
“I told him at the time that I found his comments to be anti-Semitic,” she said. “He was playing into that dual loyalty thing.”
The sale of Al Gore’s Current TV to Al Jazeera is apparently more than just a business deal in which the world’s most prominent critic of fossil fuels made a fortune with an oil-rich emirate. According to the New York Times editorial page, the creation of a new Al Jazeera America is a blow struck for diversity in journalism. The Times feels Time Warner Cable is wrong to drop the new channel from its broadcast lineup. The implication is that those who have expressed shock or outrage about the spectacle of a former vice president of the United States becoming not merely a business partner but an advocate for a network that is well known for its anti-American and anti-Israel bias are either narrow-minded or in some way prejudiced against Arabs and Muslims.
The idea that the general disgust about Gore’s $100 million Arab oil windfall is more evidence of American parochialism or prejudice is absurd. No one is trying to censor Al Jazeera. If there are enough American viewers who want to watch news broadcast from the perspective of the channel’s Qatari government owners, then cable providers will give it to them and they are welcome to it. But that doesn’t obligate Time Warner or any other distributor to give it valuable space on a list of available channels if there aren’t enough viewers to justify such a decision. After all, those who want to look at the world from the point of view of those who promote 9/11 truther myths and who sympathize with those who fought the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan can always watch Al Jazeera on the Internet or find other outlier niches to hold their attention.
The real issue here is not a false argument about diversity. It is instead one about what it means to be a liberal in today’s media environment. As Alana noted yesterday, Gore refused to sell his channel to conservative Glenn Beck saying that he didn’t wish to see his vanity project fall into the hands of those who disagreed with his politics. Fair enough. But the fact that Gore sees Al Jazeera as a good match for his brand of American liberalism speaks volumes about the nature of that set of beliefs.