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How The Pro-Israel Right Lost On Hagel

The hawks' hopes for a filibuster of Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Defense Secretary seem to have risen and fallen in the same day. Yesterday, the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he wasn't above such a tactic, then vociferous Hagel inquisitor John McCain said he objected to and would oppose a filibuster—“I just do not believe a filibuster is appropriate, and I would oppose such a move,” he said—followed by a few other Republicans. That just about paves the way for an up or down vote in which Democratic support will almost certainly carry the day. It's worth starting to look now at just what, exactly, the battle was about.

This much is certain: the fight over Hagel was dominated by issues revolving around Israel. In the confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee—which Hagel, at times, fumbled through—Jim Lobe counted up 178 mentions of Israel, more than any other country. Iran, often mentioned as a threat to Israel, got 171 shout-outs, coming in second. The anti-Israel militant groups Hezbollah (24) and Hamas (11) came in fifth and eleventh, respectively. Al Qaida, which Republicans had spent the Presidential election pumping up as a growing threat in the face of Obama administration complacency, got a mere two mentions—the same as Somalia, where Qaida-related militants are actively targeted by U.S. covert operations. But for all the focus on Israel, the main arms of America's pro-Israel lobby bowed out: the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and American Jewish Committee expressed early concerns (if, respectively, overwrought and misleading ones), but then adopted the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) posture of not getting publicly involved. (Perhaps a disappointment to the anti-Zionist left, Hagel consistently voted for military aid to Israel, which is a constant at the top of AIPAC's priorities list for its Hill activism.)

The emptiness of discussing the "Israel lobby" as a generality seems to ring more and more hollow, as the conversation opens up everywhere but on Capitol Hill. While the main groups backed out and liberal pro-Israel organizations like J Street and Americans for Peace Now supported Hagel (along with the more centrist Israel Policy Forum), the Republican campaign was distinctly on the pro-Israel right-wing, sometimes the far-right. Leading the charge was the Bill Kristol-helmed Emergency Committee For Israel (ECI), which is still releasing ads against Hagel, though it can't expect anything but to lose Thursday's committee vote and, later, a wider Senate confirmation: Ted Cruz's McCarthyite second and third round objections were ripped straight from the neoconservative playbook, harping on an obscure bête noire of the pro-Israel right, a little-known former U.S. Ambassador named Chas Freeman. Others pressed Hagel on leaving "all options on the table on Iran" (which he's supported for years), while urging him to eschew the one option, containment, that worked against the Soviet Union and its thousands of nuclear missiles. The focus on attacking Iran again leads back to neoconservaties: ECI, this summer, ran an ad suggesting that the U.S. bomb Iran already.

But these themes took shape well before the hearing. From the moment his name was floated, that attacks were all about the Jewish state and its most aggressive Stateside supporters. Lindsay Graham led an obnoxious cross-examination ripped from the Weekly Standard's first salvo against Hagel, calling him an "anti-Semite" for saying that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people" in Congress. Hagel later said he misspoke when he said "Jewish lobby" (offering that he'd said "Israel lobby" elsewhere in the interview) and adding in his messy confirmation hearing that he should have said "influences" instead of intimidates. How ironic, then, that the Hagel confirmation saga seems to be bookended by another neoconservative rag—Commentary Magazine—making what one might sardonically describe as a call for the Jewish lobby to intimidate the Congress: "Can Jewish Groups Speak Out on Hagel?" Jonathan Tobin's headline asked. Come with me down the rabbit-hole! he seemed implore groups like AIPAC, the ADL and the AJC. "Republicans focused on Israel more than anything during his confirmation hearing," wrote the New York Times editorial board today, "but they weren’t seeking to understand his views. All they cared about was bullying him into a rigid position on Israel policy." Some might indeed call it "intimidation" by proxy.



Hagel Likely Has Votes to Overcome Potential Filibuster

While Chuck Hagel may not have won over a majority of Republicans in the days following his lackluster appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, there appears to be enough GOP opposition to an unprecedented filibuster of a Cabinet nominee to, if necessary, generate the 60 votes required for cloture.

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday that his panel would hold an up-or-down vote as early as Thursday on Hagel’s nomination to be the next Pentagon chief — a hurdle the former Republican senator from Nebraska is expected to clear easily on a committee where Democrats outnumber Republicans 14 to 12.

With many GOP lawmakers concerned about Hagel’s stances on Iran, Israel and non-proliferation, talk continues to percolate about whether there will be a concerted effort to block the nomination, forcing a cloture vote.

The Senate has never successfully filibustered a Cabinet nomination by voting against cloture since the advent of the 60-vote threshold nearly four decades ago. Two past Cabinet nominees — C. William Verity in 1987 to run the Commerce Department and Dirk Kempthorne in 2006 to run the Interior Department — won cloture motions before being confirmed.

Many Republicans, even those who have publicly voiced concerns about Hagel’s nomination, don’t want to set a new precedent.



North Korea ‘May Stage Multiple Nuclear Tests’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 6:56 EST

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak believes North Korea could detonate multiple devices when it goes ahead with a nuclear test expected in the coming weeks or even days.

The North has signalled that it will carry out a “higher level” nuclear test very soon, in a defiant response to UN sanctions imposed after its successful long-range rocket launch in December.

Lee said “higher-level” suggested Pyongyang might attempt to detonate several devices.

“North Korea is likely to carry out multiple nuclear tests at two places or more simultaneously” in order to maximise scientific gains from an event that will be globally condemned, Lee said.

Of particular interest will be any sign that its scientists have succeeded in developing a warhead that can be fitted onto a missile.



Air Force Splits With Army, Renews NASCAR Race Sponsorship

The Air Force is not following the Army’s lead and will renew its NASCAR sponsorship for 2013, the service said Monday.

The Air Force announced it will continue to sponsor the No. 43 car owned by Richard Petty Motorsports as a primary sponsor for two races and an associate the rest of the season, as well as hold events at NASCAR races.

The Army last year decided to drop its 10-year sponsorship amid congressional pressure and potential budget cuts.

Two House lawmakers, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), have led the charge to pass legislation that would stop the military’s sponsorship of NASCAR and other professional sporting events.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/air-force/280977-air-force-renews-nascar-sponsorship#ixzz2K2pzCCwD

Study Says States Lose Billions in Offshore Tax Avoidance

Source: Bloomberg

By Richard Rubin - Feb 5, 2013 10:58 AM ET

State governments in the U.S. lost $39.8 billion in 2011 because of offshore tax avoidance, according to a study released today.

About two-thirds of the lost revenue is from corporations, which can shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions outside the U.S. and avoid paying taxes until they bring the money home. The report was issued by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a Washington-based consumer group that often opposes banks and insurance companies.

The report shows that states, like the federal government, are harmed by “tax trickery” of multinational corporations, said Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat on the tax- writing House Ways and Means Committee.

“We have the means with which to close these loopholes,” he said on a conference call with reporters timed to the report’s release. “What we now need is the will.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-05/study-says-states-lose-billions-in-offshore-tax-avoidance.html

Homes Sell in Two Weeks With Low Supply for Spring Buyers

Source: Bloomberg

By Prashant Gopal - Feb 5, 2013

The U.S. housing market, entering its busiest season, is tipped so far in favor of sellers that almost a third of listings in areas from Washington, D.C., to Denver and Seattle are under contract in two weeks or less.

One home in Washington attracted 168 offers in December and sold for almost twice the asking price. About 70 people lined up last month for a lottery to select buyers for four available houses in a San Ramon, California, subdivision where, in August, bidders camped for weeks to secure purchases.

A plunge in U.S. home listings to a 12-year low is driving up prices and preventing transactions from returning to historically normal levels. Many potential sellers are holding off until values rise more, while investors are snatching up distressed properties before they reach the market. Builders, reporting their best orders in years, can’t increase production fast enough. As buyers seek to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates, the supply and demand imbalance threatens to further limit deals as the key spring selling season approaches.

“There is just no inventory for buyers,” said Bob Cilk, an agent with Re/Max Accord in Pleasanton, California, where only 27 single-family houses are available for sale, about a third of the normal level. “There are lots of losers in the marketplace now. When you have multiple offers, there are several losers and only one winner for each home.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-05/homes-sell-in-two-weeks-with-low-supply-for-spring-buyers.html

House Leaders Weigh U.S. Spending Bill Below $1 Trillion

By Roxana Tiron - Feb 5, 2013

U.S. House Republican leaders are considering a stopgap measure to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year that could drop spending levels below $1 trillion.

The measure, known as a continuing resolution, would fund the government through Sept. 30 at about $974 billion, well below the current level of $1.043 trillion, Representative James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said yesterday.

“It’s a serious cut,” Lankford, a member of the House Budget Committee, said in an interview. “That’s significant.”

While not providing a precise figure, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said today in an interview that spending levels will come down.



President Obama To Urge Lawmakers To Delay Automatic Spending Cuts

Source: Bloomberg

President Barack Obama will urge Congress to delay automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect on March 1 to avoid the economic effects of a sudden drop in U.S. government spending.

“Uncertainty around the sequester is already having a negative impact on our economic growth,” the statement said. Allowing it to take effect “would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs and have devastating impacts on our economy,” it said.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-05/obama-to-urge-lawmakers-to-delay-automatic-spending-cuts.html

Michigan Congressional Democrats Back Lon Johnson To Replace Mark Brewer As Party Leader

LANSING, MI -- Michigan Democrats in Congress are calling for a change in state party leadership.

The entire delegation, in a letter going out to party members later this morning, will back Lon Johnson of Kalkaska to replace longtime chairman Mark Brewer.

Brewer, who has led the Michigan Democratic Party since 1995, has been under fire for recent losses in Lansing, including the passage of right-to-work legislation that critics say was fueled by Proposal 2, a failed attempt to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution.

"In 2012 we were able to achieve some important victories," reads the letter, signed by Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow along with Reps. John Dingell, John Conyers, Sander Levin, Gary Peters and Dan Kildee.

"Unfortunately, we suffered disappointing State losses and we now face many challenges in Michigan with the actions of the Governor, the State legislature and the Michigan Supreme Court. We have a lot of work to do together to change this dynamic and win at the state and local levels."



Brewer is toast and it is time for a change...

Gasoline Prices Rise At Fastest Rate In Almost Two Years: AAA

Source: MarketWatch

February 4, 2013, 3:30 PM
The average price for a regular gallon has jumped more than 17 cents, or 5.2%, from a week ago – the fastest weekly rate in nearly two years, according to AAA.

Prices stood at $3.52 a gallon Monday, up 17.4 cents from a week ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. A month ago, it stood at $3.299 and a year ago it was at $3.48.

The last time prices increased as quickly in one week was in 2011, when the average price jumped 18.4 cents, or 5.6%, during the week of Feb. 25 through March 4, according to Michael Green, an AAA spokesman.

Prices have now climbed for 18 days in a row, he said, rising in response to climbing crude-oil prices and “as refineries conduct seasonal maintenance and begin the transition to summer blends of gasoline.”

Read more: http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2013/02/04/gasoline-prices-rise-at-fastest-rate-in-almost-two-years-aaa/
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