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September 20, 2013, 1:56 pm
The House Republicans’ Ghoulish Defunding Rally
By DAVID FIRESTONE
Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency
John Boehner spoke at a Republican rally in Washington on Sept. 20, 2013.
There was something ghoulish about the rally that House Republicans held today in the Rayburn Room after they voted to defund health care reform. The party atmosphere was so boisterous, the cheers and laughter so loud, that it was easy to forget everyone in the room had just voted to keep tens of millions of people from getting health insurance.
By keeping spending at its current levels through mid-December, they had also voted to continue the sequester, which is preventing millions of people from getting public housing subsidies, Head Start seats, and unemployment benefits. The sequester is also taking a serious toll on scientific research and investment in infrastructure, not to mention its infuriating drag on employment and the economic recovery. How about another round of applause?
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course, from a House that had voted the previous day to cut food stamps for 3.8 million low-income people, including many very young and very old recipients. But at least they didn’t have a party to celebrate that vote.
Today, though, everyone was in a great mood.
Posted by flpoljunkie | Fri Sep 20, 2013, 03:51 PM (4 replies)
Not the Time for Big Sticks
Obama should hold the bravado and respond reasonably to Iran's conciliatory signals
By Fareed Zakaria
Monday, Sept. 30, 2013
When the Obama administration was selling the case for military action against Syria, it used every argument it could come up with, from preserving international norms to preventing another Holocaust. Most of these were exaggerations or bad history, but one could have dangerous consequences for U.S. foreign policy.
Almost every senior U.S. official--President Obama, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel--asserted in some way that we had to act militarily in Syria to preserve U.S. credibility with Iran. There is a mountain of scholarship in international relations that has carefully examined the notion of maintaining credibility--and most of it concludes that there is little gain in doing something simply to maintain credibility. Countries know that circumstances differ wildly in international relations and that what you might do in one situation says very little about what you might do in another, different situation. You really don't need to attack country A to let country B know that you're a tough guy.
What credibility did the U.S. gain by invading Iraq and then persisting in the mission when it was falling apart? What credibility did it gain by escalating with troops and money in Vietnam, largely because of concerns about reputation? If Washington uses careless rhetoric, the solution is not to follow up with careless military action just to be consistent. That does not impress people. It tells them that the U.S. is proud enough to throw good money after bad.
This has been a particularly bad time for Obama officials to thump their chests about credibility because for the past few months, the Iranian government has been sending remarkably conciliatory signals. These started with the election of Hassan Rouhani as President, which was a repudiation not simply of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but also of the ruling Iranian establishment. During the campaign, Rouhani vigorously attacked the most hard-line candidate in the race, Saeed Jalili--thought to be the favorite of the Supreme Leader--for being unable to come to an agreement with the international community and ease any of the sanctions arrayed against Iran. "It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people's lives and livelihoods are also running," he said in a debate, to great applause.
Posted by flpoljunkie | Thu Sep 19, 2013, 09:09 AM (1 replies)
What is wrong with these people? Surely, they understand that food stamps offer the best 'bang for the buck' putting $1.73 back into the economy for every dollar spent!
House Republicans Dangle the Keys on SNAP (aka, Food Stamps)
Sep 16, 2013
The key word is “downturn.” The key-danglers want to paint recipients of food support as bilking the program—the one that provides them with a buck-and-a-half per meal—instead of working, but when the jobs are there, SNAP-receiving households with able-bodied, non-elderly adults are well connected to the job market. Among those families, 82% were employed during the year right before or after their SNAP receipt.
In other words, it’s a safety net program designed to ramp up when work disappears so poor families can avoid nutritional privation. And that’s what it did.
Why hasn’t it ramped down yet? Because the job market remains weak, something the SNAP critics themselves promulgate every chance they get. But apparently the part of their brains that think SNAP recipients are willfully avoiding work hasn’t met the part that argues there aren’t enough jobs.
Here it is in a nutshell. The families getting food stamps did not tank the economy. They didn’t invent the securitization schemes that inflated the housing bubble that did, in fact, cause the great recession from which we’re still recovering. That is, from which some of us are still recovering. The economic elites—the denizens of the penthouse in the income distribution—have more than recovered. And it would apparently behoove them and the politicians they fund if we looked elsewhere right now.
So, no—dangle the shiny keys all you want. I’m not going to look over there at the SNAP rolls elevated by the weak job market, instead of over here at historically unprecedented levels of income inequality. Such key dangles may have worked on you and me when we were babies. But they don’t anymore.
Posted by flpoljunkie | Tue Sep 17, 2013, 06:56 AM (1 replies)
What if Sheldon Adelson and AIPAC Gave a War and No One Came?
By David Weigel
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, at 9:41 AM
Las Vegas casino boss Sheldon Adelson gestures during press conference in Macau on Sept. 20, 2012. Adelson unveiled plans to build a scaled-down replica of the Eiffel Tower as part of a new $3 billion gambling resort in Macau.
Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP/GettyImages
Shane Goldmacher talks to Sheldon Adelson about the conflict with Syria. Surprise: He's for intervening, and willing to help Barack Obama make the case, whatever that might mean.
He said he worries about missiles, and chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah. And he sees the potential that America might back down after Obama drew a "red line" against use of chemical weapons in Syria as poor precedent – in the Middle East and beyond. "I wouldn't want to see North Korea come down and trample on South Korea because they think they can do it with impunity. And the same thing with Iran and Israel, and Iran and Europe," he said.
And so Adelson said it's time for Republicans to line up behind Obama, however they feel about him personally. "Whether we care or not about whether he loses credibility is not the issue," he said. "The issue is whether or not the United States of America loses credibility."
But you know what? It doesn't look like this matters. AIPAC endorsed the idea of airstrikes early in this debate, and it moved not a single member of Congress. Haaretz noticed that, asking whether "the American Jewish establishment" had dealt itself permanent damage by revealing its total lack of influence on this issue. It's just not clear than any lobbying would have worked; too many members of Congress worry that displacing a secular tyranny will mean installing an Islamic one, and worry about the fate of millions of Syrian Christians. That's overwhelming the worry about Israel. It might be a watershed moment.
Posted by flpoljunkie | Tue Sep 10, 2013, 11:33 AM (2 replies)
Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Their Craven and Brazen Hypocrisy on Syria
by Michael Tomasky Sep 9, 2013 4:45 AM EDT
If Romney were president, his party would be wailing for Assad’s head on a pike. But since Obama wants action, Republicans like Cruz and Rubio are against ‘Obama’s war.’ It’s contemptible, says Michael Tomasky.
The Republican hypocrisy on Syria is just amazing. Imagine that Mitt Romney were president. Romney took a far more hawkish line than Barack Obama did on Syria during the campaign. He wanted to arm the rebels, supported in-country cover ops, and so on. So if Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons during President Romney’s tenure, there’s every reason to think he’d be pushing for action too. And what, in that case, would Republicans now temporizing or opposing Obama be doing in that case? They’d be breathing fire, of course. There’s a lot of chest thumping talk right now about how a failed vote will destroy Obama’s credibility. I guess that may be to some. But to anyone paying attention, the credibility of these Republicans is what will suffer, and the vote may well come back to haunt some of them in 2016.
Some Republicans are, to their credit, taking the position consistent with their records. John McCain stood up to those people who looked like they were about two feet away from his face at that town hall meeting last week. Lindsey Graham deserves more credit, since he’s facing reelection and is being called “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood.” On the other side, Rand Paul and the neo-isolationists are probably taking the same position they’d take if Romney were president, although we can’t be completely sure. If Romney were in the White House, by 2016, “was so-and-so tough on Syria?” would probably be a top litmus test (unless, of course, things got really terrible over there). I could easily see Paul declaiming on the unique evil of chemical weapons that just this once required him to break from his noninterventionist views, but as things stand he at least is taking the position with which he is identified.
But most of them? Please. The Gold Weasel Medal goes to Marco Rubio, as others such as Tim Noah have noted. Back in April, Rubio thundered that “the time for passive engagement in this conflict must come to an end. It is in the vital national security interest of our nation to see Assad’s removal.” Removal! Obama’s not talking about anything close to removal. So that was Rubio’s hard line back when Obama was on the other side. And now that Obama wants action? Rubio voted against the military resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.
Ted Cruz? Just in June, Cruz wanted to go into Syria and rough ’em up. “We need to develop a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out.” Now? Syria is a distraction from, you guessed it, Benghazi. He said last week: “We certainly don’t have a dog in the fight. We should be focused on defending the United States of America. That’s why young men and women sign up to join the military, not to, as you know, serve as al Qaeda’s air force.”
Posted by flpoljunkie | Mon Sep 9, 2013, 11:16 AM (1 replies)
September 6, 2013, 9:11 pm
Why Janet Yellen, Not Larry Summers, Should Lead the Fed
By JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ
The controversy over the choice of the next head of the Federal Reserve has become unusually heated. The country is fortunate to have an enormously qualified candidate: the Fed’s current vice chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen. There is concern that the president might turn to another candidate, Lawrence H. Summers. Since I have worked closely with both of these individuals for more than three decades, both inside and outside of government, I have perhaps a distinct perspective.
But why, one might ask, is this a matter for a column usually devoted to understanding the growing divide between rich and poor in the United States and around the world? The reason is simple: What the Fed does has as much to do with the growth of inequality as virtually anything else. The good news is that both of the leading candidates talk as if they care about inequality. The bad news is that the policies that have been pushed by one of the candidates, Mr. Summers, have much to do with the woes faced by the middle and the bottom.
The Fed has responsibilities both in regulation and macroeconomic management. Regulatory failures were at the core of America’s crisis. As a Treasury Department official during the Clinton administration, Mr. Summers supported banking deregulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was pivotal in America’s financial crisis. His great “achievement” as secretary of the Treasury, from 1999 to 2001, was passage of the law that ensured that derivatives would not be regulated — a decision that helped blow up the financial markets. (Warren E. Buffett was right to call these derivatives “financial weapons of mass financial destruction.” Some of those who were responsible for these key policy mistakes have admitted the fundamental “flaws” in their analyses. Mr. Summers, to my knowledge, has not.)
Regulatory failures have been at the center of previous crises as well. At Treasury in the 1990s, Mr. Summers encouraged countries to quickly liberalize their capital markets, to allow capital to flow in and out without restrictions — indeed insisted that they do so — against the advice of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (which I led from 1995 to 1997), and this more than anything else led to the Asian financial crisis. Few policies or actions have greater culpability for that Asian crisis and the global financial crisis of 2008 than the deregulatory policies that Mr. Summers advocated.
Posted by flpoljunkie | Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:55 AM (2 replies)
An Open Letter to President Obama: Syria Is Not Our War
by Christopher Dickey Aug 30, 2013 8:13 AM EDT
Assad has learned from history that what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger. President Obama, you need to understand that lesson, too.
Privates in the U.S. Air Force fire a mortar near Balad Ab, Iraq, in 2004. (U.S. Air Force, via Getty Images)
Dear Mr. President,
Lets talk about precedents. You’re thinking about doing something in Syria to punish the regime there for using chemical weapons. You say it will be a “limited, tailored” action. But we’ve done this sort of thing before many times in many countries, including Syria, and in almost every case it proved a very bad idea.
I have been a foreign correspondent since 1980 and there has not been a single one of those 33 years when the United States did not engage in an act of war against someone, somewhere. These might be covert actions, like mining the harbors of Nicaragua, or they might be very overt ones, like the invasion of Iraq, but acts of war they were, and there are lessons to be learned from them.
For starters I’d like to suggest, if I may, a couple of general rules:
First, be very wary of the word “credibility” and of those who tell you that yours or the country’s is on the line if you don’t go to war. Of course you want to stop the use of chemical weapons. Of course that is a red line, as you said. But credibility does not come from actions, it comes from results. And nothing you or those in your administration have talked about doing will solve that problem. The only thing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad really fears is being removed forever from power. And that is not a “limited, tailored” operation.
In the meantime, fewer than 30 percent of Americans support any military action in Syria at all, and the current tracking poll by Reuters/Ipsos shows that as the news from Syria gets worse, opposition to intervention grows greater. The British Parliament’s refusal to go along with Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to join you in military action reflects not only British opinion, but world opinion. Conor Friedersdorf, writing in the Atlantic blog, is exactly right when he says the people questioning your credibility are, in fact, a tiny insular inside-the-Beltway elite who’ve convinced themselves that war, for one reason or another, is more credible than peace.
Nothing could be more ironic. If war imbued a president with “credibility,” then George W. Bush would be one of the most credible presidents in the country’s history. I don’t think anyone believes that is the case.
Posted by flpoljunkie | Fri Aug 30, 2013, 09:44 AM (2 replies)
Syria: it takes more courage to say there is nothing outsiders can do
The human misery in Syria is agonising to watch. But intervention-lite is a bad idea for all but the politicians' egos
The Guardian, Thursday 29 August 2013 18.42 EDT
'The use of chemical weapons is awful. But to treat their apparently random use to justify an attack on a foreign state is wilful.' Photograph: Flo Smith/NurPhoto/Corbis
The urge of much of Britain's political establishment to attack Syria is in retreat. The prime minister's eagerness to join an American bombing run on Damascus hit a humiliating reverse in the Commons on Thursday evening. The prime minister now appears to accept there will be no British intervention in Syria.
Prior to the vote, Downing Street had been swerving and skidding to avoid the Iraq trap. It wisely published the intelligence report indicating the Assad regime used chemical weapons in a raid on a Damascus suburb, possibly in random retaliation for an attempt on his life. Such weapons are illegal under international law. While it was wrong to rush to judgment with inquiries still in train, there is justice in a desire to enforce the law. But enforcement must be meticulous in its legality. Otherwise what is dispensed is anarchy, not law.
The government claimed it could attack Syria under the UN's "responsibility to protect" doctrine, where people in a foreign state are abused by their own government. We know from the Iraq invasion that British politicians are adept at finding lawyers to say what they want. But facts are facts. The UN's resolution 1674 on responsibility to protect plainly states that such action must be "through the security council in accordance with the charter". That process was absent.
The use of chemical weapons is awful. But to treat their apparently random use to justify an urgent, extra-legal attack on a foreign state is wilful. It had been precipitated by President Obama's unwise warning in the summer that such use would cross a "red line". This is odd from a leader whose own arsenal embraces phosphorous and depleted uranium shells and delayed-action cluster bombs, not to mention nuclear weapons. Why such dreadful weapons are not taboo, and chemical ones are, is a mystery.
Obama's intention is currently for a "limited, tailored … clear, decisive shot across the bows" of the Syrian government. The tactical basis for this is obscure. It can hardly claim to deter a chemical attack, since the red line speech tried and failed in that respect. While Assad seems unlikely to repeat the outrage, the idea that he will roll over if bombed and stop killing his people is naive. As for "degrading" his arsenals, if this releases chemical clouds how stupid is that?
Posted by flpoljunkie | Fri Aug 30, 2013, 07:54 AM (2 replies)