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John Kerry: A Staunch Supporter Of Israel But A Harsh Critic Of Its Policies

Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State is unlikely to encounter meaningful opposition among pro-Israeli Jewish groups, who are saving their ammunition for Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense.

By Chemi Shalev | Dec.22, 2012 | 12:42 AM

Democrat John Kerry was to George Bush in the 2004 presidential elections what Barack Obama was to Mitt Romney in 2012: the candidate who garnered an overwhelming majority of Jewish votes because of his liberal domestic agenda and despite perceptions that his rival was better for the Jewish state.

By any traditional measure, of course, Kerry is a staunch supporter of Israel. He has an exemplary voting record in the Senate on Israel related issues, is a strong advocate of Israel’s right to defend itself, has repeatedly stood up against global anti-Semitism and believes in a muscular American posture against Iran’s nuclear designs.

But by the increasingly narrow standards of the term “pro-Israel” set by the rigid right wing in both Israel and the U.S., Kerry is definitely problematic. He is a harsh critic of settlements, has lambasted the blockade on Gaza and he believes in a two-state solution based on modified 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem - according to a 2010 WikiLeaks diplomatic cable - as its capital.



Chuck Hagel Anti-Israel Charge Is 'Extremely Stupid,' Nebraska Rabbi Says

Updated: 12/21/2012 5:25 pm EST

WASHINGTON -- An Israeli-born, Omaha-based rabbi who has known Chuck Hagel for many years said charges that the former Nebraska senator, and potential nominee for secretary of defense, is somehow anti-Israel or anti-Semitic are "extremely stupid."

"I thought we were done with this," said Aryeh Azriel, the rabbi at Temple Israel in Omaha, Neb., where Hagel has been a longtime regular presence, in an interview Friday with The Huffington Post. "I though we were done already with the of being Jewish where everyone who says something critical about Israel needs to be labeled an anti-Semite. I find this extremely stupid, and definitely not helpful."

Azriel, who also penned a letter published Friday in the Omaha World-Herald defending Hagel's pro-Israel bona fides, told The Huffington Post he has known the former senator for many years, and has been "completely astonished by the attacks on his character, on his identity and his ability."

Hagel's pro-Israel credentials have been called into question over the past week after he emerged as a leading contender for secretary of defense. Pointing to a sparse selection of votes in which Hagel had not supported the most stringent sanction against Iran, and one instance in which he made pejorative reference to the "Jewish lobby," critics have suggested that Hagel harbored secret anti-Israel or even anti-Jewish sentiment.



J Street Pushes Back on Neocon Bid to "Swift Boat" Chuck Hagel Nomination as Defense Secretary

The Obama-hating neocon Right is trying to Swift Boat the expected nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, by making up a fantasy scare story that Hagel, former US Senator from Nebraska, long-respected moderate and thoughtful voice on foreign policy and decorated Vietnam combat veteran, is "anti-Israel." One would like to be able to dismiss this stuff as the ranting of people for whom no amount of warmongering can ever be too much. But such Swift Boat campaigns have worked in the past, regardless of the facts.

In times like these, don't you wish there was some Washington, DC-based Jewish-branded organization, which represented the pro-peace values and interests of the majority of Americans and the majority of American Jews, and which would push back against this kind of nonsense?

Blessed are Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe. J Street is in the house.
The New York Times reports:

"There is a very systematic effort going on, and these things can have an impact," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, which defends Mr. Hagel.

"It is simply beyond disturbing to think that somebody of Chuck Hagel's stature and significant record of national service is being slandered in this way," Mr. Ben-Ami said.



Ronald Reagan’s 9 Wisest Words About Social Security

The following is a guest post by David Certner, AARP legislative policy director.

The last time we made significant changes to Social Security — including adjustments to benefits — was the 1983 Social Security amendments. At the time, Social Security had less than a year’s worth of solvency, and a bipartisan agreement to put Social Security on sound financial footing was essential.

That legislation, negotiated by President Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, focused on what was needed protect Social Security for the long term. Reagan understood that Social Security is a separately funded program unrelated to problems in the rest of the budget, and he clearly stated that: “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.”

Indeed, today the Social Security trust funds hold $2.8 trillion in government bonds. These reserves have been built up with the contributions that workers and employers have paid into the system for the dedicated purpose of paying Social Security benefits. These funds are held in legally established trusts and cannot be used for any purpose other than paying benefits. According to the latest Trustees’ report, Social Security can pay full benefits through 2033, and roughly 75 percent of benefits beyond that time.

Since the 1983 amendments, and despite the numerous deficit reduction debates over that time period, Social Security cuts have never been part of any deficit reduction agreement. Congress has always understood — as Reagan observed — that Social Security has nothing to do with the federal budget deficit. Unfortunately, many policymakers today have forgotten that basic truth and have suggested cuts to Social Security as part of the end of year “fiscal cliff” budget package. The proposal — the so-called chained CPI — would change the formula for calculating the Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA). This COLA cut would reduce benefits by over $100 billion dollars over the next 10 years and would result in thousands of dollars of lost benefits for current (and future) retirees.



Georgia Town Ordering Gun Ownership Undaunted by Massacre

Kennesaw, Georgia, is a quiet Atlanta suburb of newer subdivisions and strip malls around a huddle of older homes and storefronts. It is asking churches to ring their bells 26 times today for the victims of last week’s elementary school massacre in Connecticut.
And it has no plans to change a law requiring residents to own guns.

No town in the U.S. has been as public about its support for guns as Kennesaw, population about 30,000, where city leaders for 30 years have required that every household have at least one gun. The Dec. 14 killings of 20 children and six adults, the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, has done little to change that, residents say in interviews.

Most called President Barack Obama’s push to tighten gun restrictions worrisome at best and a conspiracy at worst, exemplifying resistance to such controls in the South.

“They’re trying to confiscate our guns,” said Dent Myers, 81, who wore a pistol on his hip and a red beret at his Wildman’s Civil War Surplus and Herb Shop. The store, draped in Confederate flags, is the most prominent business in Kennesaw’s two-block downtown.



US Consumer Sentiment Fell to Five-Month Low in December

U.S. consumer confidence fell in December to a five-month low as Americans grew more concerned about the possibility of higher taxes next year.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index decreased to 72.9, the weakest since July, from 82.7 in November. Economists projected a final reading of 75 for December, according to the median of 66 estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Today’s figure was lower than a preliminary report earlier this month.

American households are growing uneasy as the federal government moves toward more than $600 billion of higher taxes and spending cuts starting early in 2013. At the same time, as the world’s largest economy enters the new year, job growth, rising home values, lower gas prices and stock market gains might help boost consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.

“Sentiment was doing well but reversed because of the fiscal cliff news saturating the headlines,” Jay Feldman, an economist at Credit Suisse Holdings USA in New York, said before the report. “It’s probably temporary. If you resolve the fiscal cliff I’d be surprised if sentiment didn’t bounce back.”



Consumers, Companies Shrug Off Fiscal Cliff Fears; Spending Rose In Nov By The Most In 3 Years

By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON | Fri Dec 21, 2012 9:21am EST
(Reuters) - Consumer spending rose in November by the most in three years and a gauge of planned business spending jumped, signs that households and companies are shrugging off some of the fears tighter fiscal policy could cause a recession.

The Commerce Department said on Friday inflation-adjusted consumer spending rose 0.6 percent, while after-tax income climbed 0.8 percent when adjusting for changes in prices.

Many economists think business and consumers are wary of automatic government spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to kick in early next year, a scenario known in Washington as the "fiscal cliff."

"The economy is holding in here at the end of the year despite the concerns about the fiscal cliff," said Gary Thayer, an economic strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors in St. Louis.

Economists have been expecting economic growth will slow in the fourth quarter as companies slow the pace at which they re-stock their shelves, but the data on spending suggests consumers are offsetting some of that drag.



Jake Tapper To CNN: ABC News Correspondent Leaves For New Role

ABC News’ White House correspondent is leaving the network for a new role at CNN.

He will host a new weekday program on CNN and serve as chief White House correspondent for the network beginning in 2013, CNN said in a statement on Thursday.

“We are thrilled to have Jake join CNN and take the helm of a brand new weekday program,” said CNN executive vice-president Ken Jautz. “Jake is an exceptional reporter and communicator, and we look forward to developing a program that takes advantage of all of his strengths, his passion and his knowledge of national issues and events.”

Tapper was reportedly in talks with the network before the appointment of incoming president Jeff Zucker in November, though sources said Zucker helped close the deal. TV Newser reported that he will host the 4 p.m. hour on CNN.



Israel's Settlement Push Kills Two-State Solution, Leaving Palestinians Few Pptions

By Mustafa Barghouthi / December 20, 2012

RAMALLAH The two-state solution is dying. The Palestinian effort late last month at the United Nations to attain non-member observer state status was overwhelmingly approved – 138 to 9 – by the international community. Israel, however, warned that the vote would be purely symbolic and change nothing on the ground. This was a calculated and misleading statement.

In fact, Israel immediately took revenge for the Palestinians’ temerity in seeking to improve our lot by announcing “zoning and planning preparations” for illegal settlements in the sensitive E1 corridor in the occupied West Bank. This week Israel put out tenders for thousands of new settlement units – the most aggressive activity in the area in years.

Israel’s planned settlement construction makes a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible. Bethlehem and Ramallah will be cut off from East Jerusalem if the E1 project goes forward, though Israel argues that we can make do with connecting tunnels and elevated roadways, as if that is tolerable. The Israeli plan also closes the settlement semi-circle around East Jerusalem and builds settlements in it – our would-be capital. The north and south of the West Bank would be effectively bisected and Israel would control the key.

“This is not just another few houses in Jerusalem or another hilltop in the West Bank,” Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel, asserted after Israel’s initial announcement of settlement plans in late November. “This is one of the most sensitive areas of territory, and I would hope the United States will lay down the law.”



U.N. Adds New Name: "State of Palestine"

The United Nations bureaucracy now recognizes—at least in name—two "states" between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. One, of course, is the long-since established State of Israel. The other, as of three days ago, is the State of Palestine. It happened quietly in an exchange of letters just within the past week. On Dec. 17, the U.N.'s head of official protocol wrote to the Palestinian delegation to Turtle Bay acceding to a request to, henceforth, be referred to as the representatives of the "State of Palestine."

"It is gratifying, not only for me personally, but for the Palestinian people, to celebrate as a nation," the head of the Palestinian U.N. mission Riyad Mansour told me in an interview today. "It's not only a change of name, it's much more than that: now the United Nations is recognizing us as the State of Palestine."

The protocol division's letter followed on the Nov. 29 vote to recognize Palestine as a "non-member observer state" at the U.N. Mansour said requests for changes in the official language were made following the vote. The reply came on Monday: "I refer to your letter of 12 December 2012 and have the honour to inform you that pursuant to your request, the designation of 'State of Palestine' shall be used by the Secretariat in all official United Nations documents," wrote the Chief of Protocol Yeocheol Yoon in a letter to Mansour obtained by Open Zion. The designation is on all the nameplates at the U.N. and will appear in activities related to the U.N., such as international conferences. That includes the Palestinian mission to Turtle Bay: Yoon's letter was addressed to "H.E. Mr. Riyad Mansour / Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations."

The Israeli mission to the U.N. did not immediately return a call for comment. (We'll update if we hear back.) Israel, which exercises military rule over the Palestinian territories, and 8 others, including the U.S., voted against the resolution to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state.


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