The Good Conservative

After six years of Barack Obama, conservatives have managed to give themselves a bad name. If Obama was for it, they were against it, even if they were for it in the first place – the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act was an idea that came from their own Heritage Foundation, and that was the key part of Romney’s universal healthcare thing in Massachusetts, where it was just fine. Obamacare was Romneycare writ large, but now the whole thing was all wrong. Now they want to repeal Obamacare, every single word of it, as they all say, which would now leave somewhere around sixteen million people, who finally were able to buy health insurance, without it. Every single Republican wants Obamacare gone, but not one of them has any plan to account for those sixteen million people suddenly left high and dry, or for the collapse of the health insurance markets, now structured around the new system. That seems a bit callous, but they’re always proposing cuts to every part of the social safety net we have, such as it is, and vow that they will never raise the minimum wage ever again, and they will rid the nation of the last of the labor unions, so whining workers will never be able to gang up on employers ever again. Those spoiled brats – American workers – and ruining this country for the rest of us. That is not a popular position, unless you own a business. But who doesn’t? That’s the thinking.

That may be flawed thinking, and they also seem to think that someone out there thinks that they’re heroic for periodically shutting down the government, or for regular threats to do so, to get rid of Obamacare, even if it is the law, or to end all access to abortion, as the woman’s choice, not the government’s choice, even if that is the law too – or for something or other. This never works and some think they look like fools – even some of them think they look like fools – but they keep doing it. One man’s heroic and tragic failed resistance is another man’s childish temper tantrum – and along the way they’ve alienated Hispanic voters with their nastiness on immigration reform, and women with their talk of legitimate rape and how women’s bodies “really” work, and the young, and gays, and those who think science is useful, and those who think the filthy rich aren’t pulling their weight these days, and those who think the government ought to ensure the air is breathable and the water won’t catch fire. They’ve written off such people. Those people have returned the favor.

They have made a mess of things, but there’s nothing wrong with being conservative. Being cautious about change is a good thing. Being prudent with the limited funds available to government is a good thing. There might be such a thing as a good conservative, and a fine and sensible conservatism, which Andrew Sullivan once described this way:

I view conservatism as the practical engagement with policy and political institutions to adapt modestly and incrementally to social and economic change with the goal of maintaining the coherence and stability of a polity and a culture. It is a philosophy of moderation and balance, constantly alert to the manifold ways in which societies can, over time, lose their equilibrium. It is defined, along Edmund Burke’s foundational lines, as an opposition to ideological and theological politics in every form. And so it is a perfectly admirable conservative idea to respond to capitalism’s modern mercilessness by trying to support, encourage and help the traditional family structure and traditional religious practice. The point is a pragmatic response to contingent events that threaten social coherence. But it is equally conservative to note that a group in society – openly gay people – have emerged as a force and are best integrated within an existing institution – civil marriage – than by continued ostracism or new institutions like “civil unions” that have not stood the test of time.

Sullivan went on to argue we have that kind of conservatism in one seminal conservative leader:

On that pragmatic, non-ideological definition of conservatism, on a wide array of issues, Obama wins hands down.

Sullivan offered his proofs of that, in detail, but it comes down to this:

On almost every question – a stimulus one-third tax cuts, a healthcare reform based on the Heritage Foundation model, cap-and-trade for carbon, and solid support for Israel while trying to nudge it away from self-destruction – Obama is in a right-of-center consensus as of a decade ago. … As for temperament, the GOP is too consumed with cultural hatred to acknowledge the grace and calm of a man forced to grapple with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression with no help whatsoever from his opponents, a black man who has buried identity politics and remains a family man Republicans would fawn over if he were one of them.

Alas, the GOP is stuck in the 1984 of its own fetid imagination, incapable of acknowledging the real failures of the last Republican administration or the new, actual, vital questions we have to answer in this millennium: How do we make our healthcare system much more efficient? How do we best mitigate climate change? How do we tackle the problem of economic hyper-inequality? How do we advance US interests in a time of upheaval and revolution in the Arab world? How do we make government solvent?

It comes down to this:

We should be grateful a de facto moderate Republican is president while conservatism has a chance to regroup.

That was posted on July 30, 2012, and conservatism has had a chance to regroup, not that it did. Only one person has, and that would be Ohio’s current governor John Kasich – the former Ohio congressman of many a term. He should have been down-to-earth boring – after all, he grew up in Pittsburgh, in McKees Rocks of all places, and one side of his family was Czech and the other side Croatian. You don’t get much more down to earth than that. Those of us who also grew up in the Czech enclaves on the north side of Pittsburgh, at roughly the same time, know that. You don’t put on airs. There’s no point. But somehow, after congress, Kasich ended up at Lehman Brothers’ investment banking division in Columbus as a managing director. He was playing in the big leagues. And after seven years there it was over – Lehman Brothers was gone in a puff of smoke as the whole economy imploded – so he ended up with his own show on Fox News, offering their usual blend of contempt for government and greedy workers, and cheering for the captains of industry – the few guys at the very top, the really important people. He was no longer boring.

The people of Ohio elected Kasich governor anyway – after which he and his shiny new Republican legislature went about privatizing everything in sight and going after the public sector unions – excoriating teachers in particular, along with cops and firefighters and road workers and whatnot. Suddenly there was a new law stripping them all of their collective bargaining rights. After all they were useless folks. None of them ever “created wealth” and they certainly weren’t job creators. They had no right to demand more money or any sort of benefits package or retirement plan. They just sucked up money, money that should go to tax cuts for corporations or the wealthy. One has to make the state business-friendly after all.

Scott Walker had done the same thing in Wisconsin and found himself facing a recall election. He survived but many members of his shiny new Republican legislature didn’t. Kasich got off easy – the people of Ohio gathered the necessary signatures and forced a vote on the new law. They repealed it by popular vote. Too many people knew teachers, personally, and too many of them also kind of liked cops and firefighters – and no one really had a gripe about the workers who fill the potholes in summer and plow the snow off the roads in winter. They got their collective bargaining rights back. Kasich may never work at Fox News again.

This made the national news for a time but then Ohio returned to the bland obscurity of the kind of place where nothing much ever happens – just how they like it there. Let everyone else get all hot and bothered. But something happened. John Kasich, without any indication he had ever read one word Andrew Sullivan ever wrote, decided he could be that hypothetical good conservative who was also a Republican. The New York Times’ Trip Gabriel in late 2013 reported on that:

In his grand Statehouse office beneath a bust of Lincoln, Gov. John R. Kasich let loose on fellow Republicans in Washington.

“I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor,” he said, sitting at the head of a burnished table as members of his cabinet lingered after a meeting. “That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”

“You know what?” he said. “The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the WPA.”

Ever since Republicans in Congress shut down the federal government in an attempt to remove funding for President Obama’s health care law Republican governors have been trying to distance themselves from Washington.

Kasich regrouped:

Once a leader of the conservative firebrands in Congress under Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, Mr. Kasich has surprised and disarmed some former critics on the left with his championing of Ohio’s disadvantaged, which he frames as a matter of Christian compassion.

He embodies conventional Republican fiscal priorities – balancing the budget by cutting aid to local governments and education – but he defies many conservatives in believing government should ensure a strong social safety net. In his three years as governor, he has expanded programs for the mentally ill, fought the nursing home lobby to bring down Medicaid costs and backed Cleveland’s Democratic mayor, Frank Jackson, in raising local taxes to improve schools.

He also told his conservative Republican state legislature to stuff it. Ohio would accept that Medicaid money that was part of the Affordable Care Act.

This is odd, or maybe too odd:

He still angers many on the left; he signed a budget in June that cut revenues to local governments and mandates that women seeking an abortion listen to the fetal heartbeat. Democrats see his centrist swing as mere calculation, a prelude to a tough re-election fight.

“This is someone who realized he had to get to the center and chose Medicaid as the issue,” said Danny Kanner, communications director of the Democratic Governors Association. “That doesn’t erase the first three years of his governorship when he pursued polices that rewarded the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.”

Kasich shrugged:

The governor dismissed the notion that his Medicaid decision was political. “I have an opportunity to do good – to lift people – and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “You know what?” he added, using a phrase he utters before aiming a jab. “Let the chips fall where they may.”

Add this:

He supported President Bill Clinton’s assault weapons ban while in Congress in 1994, and he teamed with Ralph Nader to close corporate tax loopholes.

In the interview in his office, he criticized a widespread conservative antipathy toward government social programs, which regards the safety net as enabling a “culture of dependency.”

Mr. Kasich, who occasionally sounds more like an heir to Lyndon B. Johnson than to Ronald Reagan, urged sympathy for “the lady working down here in the doughnut shop that doesn’t have any health insurance – think about that, if you put yourself in their shoes.”

He said it made no sense to turn down $2.5 billion in federal Medicaid funds over the next two years, a position backed by state hospitals and Ohio businesses.

One can be conservative, but there’s no need to be stupid about it:

“For those who live in the shadows of life, for those who are the least among us,” Mr. Kasich said in a February speech, echoing the Bible, “I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored.” …

The governor cast a cold eye on hard-liners in his party, especially in Washington. “Nowhere in life do we not compromise and give.”

Andrew Romano offers this:

The GOP is at a turning point. For the past six years, Washington Republicans have Just Said No – to Obama, to spending, to governing itself – without offering voters much of an alternative vision. But now what? Deficits are shrinking. Jobs are returning. The GOP controls both houses of Congress and stands a good chance of recapturing the White House. How should a Republican run, and lead, in post-recession, post-Obama America?

The Scott Walker model – crushing the unions, opposing immigration reform, rejecting Medicaid money, austerity above all else – will always appeal to the GOP base. But it may be too 2010 for 2016: a hard-right roadmap that would scare off swing voters and prove impossible for any president to implement.

Then there’s Kasich.

He may be what conservatives need right now:

Fifteen years ago, George W. Bush steered the GOP out of a similar dead end – Newt Gingrich, the shutdown, impeachment – by branding himself a compassionate conservative. “It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need,” Bush argued at the time. “It is conservative to insist on responsibility and results.” His brother Jeb is now saying a lot of the same things.

Kasich can outdo the third Bush:

The real bet Kasich is making in Ohio – the bet he would be making if he ran for president – is that he can do compassion better than Bush, too. “The old way” – compassionate conservatism 1.0 – “would have been going into a prison and talking to inmates or praying with them or whatever,” he told me. “A ‘woe is us’ kind of thing. But in Ohio, we’re innovating with our prison system.” (Kasich has implemented policies that help inmates reintegrate into their communities; he also wants to reduce mandatory minimum sentences.) “I believe you can solve more problems – probably with less money – if you apply your resources more effectively.” … His gospel doesn’t stop with spending cuts. He wants conservatives to finally walk the walk on social welfare, too.

Romero sees hope for conservatives here:

It’s a forward-looking but still fundamentally conservative message that might make more sense in 2016 – and beyond – than tea party talking points and reactionary red meat. There’s a reason, after all, why Jeb has now taken to calling himself an “inclusive conservative.” But what if the right messenger for the moment wasn’t burdened with a lot of Bush family baggage? What if he hadn’t been making money on Wall Street for the entire Obama presidency, but had been implementing his reforms instead? And what if he were just re-elected – by more than 30 percentage points – in the one state Republicans absolutely can’t afford to lose on Election Day? (No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.)

Could John Kasich – provocative, self-important and more than a little abrasive – actually be the GOP’s secret weapon?

At least John Kasich thinks so.

Fine, but others don’t think so:

Dining with a group of influential pro-growth conservatives at the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan on Wednesday – economists Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore were in attendance – Kasich voiced his support for Medicaid and for renewing a spirit of bipartisanship within the Republican party. Fox News hosts Bill Hemmer and John Stossel, and Gristedes Foods founder John Catsimatidis were also on hand.

Kasich, a former nine-term congressman who won a resounding reelection victory in November, is eyeing a presidential bid but, at the dinner’s close, there was little appetite for a Kasich presidency among those who’d assembled to hear him.

The governor showed his prickly side during a testy back-and-forth with Manhattan Institute health-care scholar Avik Roy, who has provided advice to several of the potential 2016 contenders. “Is it fair to say you support repealing Obamacare except for the Medicaid expansion?” Roy asked. Kasich answered in the affirmative.

“Obamacare’s a bad idea because it’s top-down and does not control costs,” Kasich said. Roy interjected again, “You’re saying Obamacare is top-down government. Is Medicaid not top-down government?”

Kasich appeared to view the remark as a jab at Medicaid recipients. “Maybe you think we should put them in prison. I don’t,” he told Roy. “I don’t think that’s a conservative position. Because the reality is, if you don’t treat the drug addicted and the mentally ill and the working poor, you’re gonna have them and they’re gonna be a big cost to society.”

That’s what Andrew Sullivan, the devout Catholic and a conservative, had been saying three years earlier, so Sullivan wouldn’t have been surprised by this:

The governor took heat from his fellow conservatives two years ago when he bucked Ohio’s Republican legislature to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The reason he offered for his decision further inflamed their passions. “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor,” Kasich said at the time. “You better have a good answer.”

The man can piss people off, and that’s a problem:

He is the governor of a swing state with a strong record of achievement who has been a part of the Republican sweep of the Midwest that, in 2014, finally captured Illinois. But the governor’s remarks on Wednesday didn’t stoke much desire from the conservative crowd for a Kasich candidacy, even as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has faltered and his fellow Midwestern governor, Indiana’s Mike Pence, has shown few signs of launching a bid.

But for Kasich, who is 62, who was first elected to Congress in 1978, and who hosted a successful show on the Fox News Channel before he ran for governor, that may not matter. “I have no regrets whatsoever about my political career,” he said last night.

Salon’s Joan Walsh adds this:

Just like Kasich is an actual reformist conservative who blends traditional GOP tax and budget cutting with maverick stands like expanding Medicaid and criminal justice reform – compared with supposedly reformist Bush, whose economic program consists of warmed over supply side policies – Kasich is what Scott Walker pretends to be: A practical Midwestern governor of a hugely important swing state with a track record of governing.

Kasich’s state is also rebounding well from the recession, while Walker’s is last in Midwestern job creation and first in the nation in middle-class wage decline. So, why is Walker still considered Bush’s top primary challenger, especially for the donor class, while Kasich can’t get started?

She had no good answer:

It made me think about why the bumbling Walker inspires such passion from the donor class: It’s that he decimated public sector unions, is trying to do the same to private sector unions with “Right to Work”, while slashing holes in Wisconsin’s safety net by cutting Badgercare and rejecting Medicaid expansion. So his lackluster record, his state’s struggling economy and his stumbling campaign can be forgiven – to a point.

Meanwhile Kasich, the two-term Midwestern governor of a crucial swing state, who is presiding over a rebounding economy and has made innovative policy choices (while cutting taxes) can’t get any donor love, because he compromised with the state’s unions – admittedly after voters repealed his anti-union measures – and expanded Medicaid.

To recap: Walker is stumbling, Bush is widely viewed as a vulnerable frontrunner and Ted Cruz is running for president of the he-man Obama haters club and scaring GOP pragmatists. It’s clearly time for a fresher face, and some journalists think it could be Kasich. Yet his refusal to apologize for expanding Medicaid or participate in bashing the poor makes him unacceptable to many in the donor class.

There you have it. John Kasich is not a good conservative. He’s only a good conservative in the pragmatic non-ideological sense, and conservatism is now an ideology, not practical engagement with policy and political institutions to adapt modestly and incrementally to social and economic change. That doesn’t seem to matter to what Walsh calls the donor class. Ideology matters. Whatever John Kasich is, we need another name for it. There can be no good conservatives now.

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Finally Establishing the Legal Right to Do Wrong

From January 21, 2009, through January 5, 2015, the always controversial Jan Brewer was governor of Arizona, and it was quite a ride. It was high drama, all the time, but she was born out here in Hollywood, so of course she had a bit of the drama queen about her. After a short career as a chiropractor and then a real estate agent, she got into Republican politics and rose quickly, because she was right out there, in your face, being boldly ultraconservative. There is that iconic 2012 photo of her wagging her finger in President Obama’s face – screaming at him about his immigration policies that were going to ruin America for all the good white folks. That wasn’t the welcome he expected at the Phoenix airport that day, but she got her photo-op. Fox News loved it. Rush Limbaugh loved it. It would do.

Two years earlier she had said that “law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that have been beheaded” – those illegal immigrants crossing over were beheading good white folks left and right, and it’s all in the files of this agency or that. No law enforcement agency knew what the hell she was talking about. Brewer later said she “misspoke” – which wasn’t exactly taking it back. But she did sign Arizona SB 1070 into law, the show-your-papers legislation that charged law enforcement at all levels with the task of demanding that anyone who looked even slightly Hispanic prove that they had the right to be here, or go to jail until they could prove it. That seemed a bit much, and SB 1070 was largely eviscerated by the courts, but she had made her point. In 2011, Brewer stopped Medicaid funding for organ transplants to save the state a million and a half dollars. Ninety eight patients were waiting for transplants. She caught crap for that, and the funding was restored, but she had made her point, and there’s this:

Jan Brewer signed a law repealing legislation put into place by former governor Janet Napolitano, which had granted domestic partners of state employees the ability to be considered as “dependents”, similar to the way married spouses are handled.

According to an editorial in the Arizona Daily Star on October 13, 2009, the Department of Administration in Arizona “stated that about 800 state employees are affected and that the cost to insure domestic partners is about $3 million of the $625 million the state spends on benefits”. However, the state was giving those employees another year of coverage, due to legal necessity: “A legal review determined existing contracts with state employees will be honored.”

She was foiled by contract law, but again, she had made her point. Someone has to stand up and say gay is just not normal, and it shouldn’t ever be treated as such. She’d be that person. By the way, one of her sons was declared not guilty by reason of insanity for the rape of a Phoenix woman in 1989, and he has been a psychiatric patient for twenty-five years in the Arizona State Hospital. She says that gives her perspective – because she’s not crazy.

No, really, she isn’t. She proved that in February 2014:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have opened the door to discrimination of gays and lesbians. It was a swift and major victory for gay rights after a week of sustained pressure from corporations, lawmakers, the NFL, and even Major League Baseball, all of which urged Brewer to veto the bill.

“After weighing all of the arguments, I vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago,” Brewer said in a televised statement Wednesday night. She said the bill had been broadly worded and did not address any identifiable “concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.”

The religious right wept, but there was no choice:

SB 1062 would have allowed businesses to turn away gay and lesbians based on claims of sincerely held religious beliefs. Supporters of the bill argued it would protect “religious freedom.” But opponents saw it as sweeping discrimination that would harm the community.

Brewer, a Republican governor who is familiar with taking the national stage to weigh in on social issues from guns to immigration, is no progressive. But in the end, she caved to Big Business – a strong constituent-base with major clout in Arizona – over the religious right.

Apple, Intel, Marriott Hotels, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, PetSmart, Yelp, Delta and American Airlines all denounced the proposed legislation. The NFL wouldn’t rule out the possibility of moving Super Bowl XLIX – due to take place next year at University of Phoenix Stadium – in protest.

No, she’s not crazy, but at the time, others were:

On Tuesday, Georgia became the latest state to consider legislation that could sanction discrimination in the name of religious freedom. Similar legislation was introduced this week in Missouri. And the state House of Representatives in Kansas passed its version earlier this month, before it became stalled in the state Senate.

Things stalled everywhere, but now it finally happened:

Bucking intense criticism from citizens, celebrities, tech leaders, and convention customers, Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence quietly signed a controversial religious freedom bill into law on Thursday. Opponents warn the measure will sanction discrimination against LGBT people, and cost the Hoosier State millions in tourism revenue.

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” the governor said in a statement released shortly after he signed Senate Bill 101, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA.) “The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Yeah, the government tells them that they cannot turn away gay customers, or black customers, or short customers, depending on their religious beliefs about who is a sinner and must be cast out. Mike Pence thinks that’s a shame, and an intrusion by government into religion, so this bill fixes that:

The new law will prohibit a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s religious beliefs, unless that entity can prove it’s relying on the least restrictive means possible to further a compelling governmental interest. It’s modeled off of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which gained notoriety in the Supreme Court’s controversial Hobby Lobby ruling last year. That decision found that closely-held corporations wouldn’t have to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate if the owners had a sincerely-held religious objection to birth control.

Supporters say RFRA is designed to protect people’s religious beliefs from unnecessary government intrusion. But opponents argue the measure serves as a license to discriminate, particularly against LGBT people, on religious grounds.

Here we go again:

In the past week, a wide array of critics put pressure on Pence to veto the measure, including actor and director George Takei, the CEO of Salesforce, and the organizers of Gen Con – billed on its website as “the original, longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world.” Adrian Swartout, CEO and owner of Gen Con LLC, said in a letter addressed to Pence that if Indiana’s RFRA became law, he would consider moving the convention to a different state in future years – a move that’s expected to cost Indiana more than $50 million annually.

But Pence pushed back against the accusation that the religious freedom measure would open the door to discrimination.

“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” he said. “In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

Some don’t see it that way, and this is telling:

Pence signed the measure during a private ceremony just before 10 a.m. Thursday morning. Members of the media were not allowed to even be in the waiting area of the governor’s office, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Ah, but folks noticed:

Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said in a statement Thursday that the Indianapolis-based NCAA was “especially concerned” about how the legislation would affect student athletes and employees.

“We will work diligently to assure student athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill,” the statement read. “Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Emmert’s statement should concern Pence – not only because Indianapolis is set to host next month’s Division 1 Men’s Championship, but also because the NCAA could decide to move several big money events set to take place in the Hoosier State over the next year. Those include the 2015 Big Ten Football Championship Game, scheduled for Dec. 5, the 2016 Women’s Final Four, scheduled for April of next year, and the 2016 Olympic Trials for diving. All three events are scheduled to take place in Indianapolis.

With less than 10 days to go before the Men’s Final Four, it would be impossible for the NCAA to relocate the championship over concerns about the new law. However, the events scheduled further in the future could be in jeopardy.

And there’s this:

Salesforce Cancels All Indiana Travel

That’s exactly what Salesforce, a $4 billion tech company based in San Francisco which increased its presence in Indiana in 2013, is planning to do now that the RFRA has become law.

The CEO of the company, valued at $4 billion and listed on the prestigious Standard & Poor 500, authored an open letter to Indiana lawmakers urging them to reject the bill last week. Now that Gov. Pence has signed the bill into law, Mike Benioff, CEO of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud Division, says his company has no choice but to “dramatically reduce” its investment in Indiana. In a series of tweets, Benioff, a 50-year-old man married to a woman, announced the company was canceling all of its programs that required employees to customers to travel to Indiana, and encouraged other tech companies to follow suit.

That’s trouble, and Eric Rosenbaum at CNBC sees nothing but trouble:

The new law allows businesses to use an owner’s faith as a reason to refuse service to customers, including same-sex married couples. The risks from the act range from potential workplace lawsuits on religious grounds to a broader and deeper business chill in the Hoosier State with money-making conferences and major corporations threatening to pull out, with difficulty attracting key job creators like tech sector companies, and with a wide-ranging ripple effect on small-business owners.

The governor’s move comes during a sensitive period of time for Indiana’s economy – it has shown signs of a small-business boom in recent years, and has fared relatively well in job creation and new-company formation, but is also seeking to break out from the sluggish growth that has typified the post-crisis economic recovery.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce would only say that the thing was unnecessary, but others weren’t so tepid:

Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins, the world’s largest diesel engine maker – which has been among the nation’s most outspoken business voices against LGBT discrimination statutes – publicly opposed the new law in strong terms, fearing a weakened hand for corporations based in Indiana when trying to lure top talent to the state.

“We’re disappointed with the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said a Cummins spokesman. “Cummins believes it’s bad for business and bad for Indiana and sends the message that the state is unwelcoming.” He added, “We are a global company in a competitive environment and it could hinder our ability to attract and retain top talent.”

There is that talent issue:

Timothy Slaper, who directs the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University, said while critics point to convention dollars lost from events like Super Bowls, the real threat is to the future growth of Indiana’s economy. It is still dominated by traditional industries, including agriculture and auto manufacturing.

“I’m more concerned about the longer-term cultural implications in terms of the magnetism of the state to attract the young creative class,” Slaper said. “The engineers or artists you want to have in your city and state to cultivate the ecosystem for entrepreneurs. It’s the location decisions of companies like Salesforce and attracting this brain power for the next several decades.”

Slaper said new industries will have the greatest effect on Indiana’s economy. “We’ll never see an increase in per capita income if all we do is attract standard manufacturing jobs. The jobs that pay well are engineers and designers and marketers and if we’re not able to attract those workers in the occupation class; it’s gonna be a tough road to hoe,” Slaper said.

He noted that even in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and medical devices have been among the growth areas, and those are areas where engineers are among the top talent. “We’re relying on our old core strengths in an age when we need to be a little more aspirational.”

“Indiana desperately needs hipster brains. This probably isn’t a great way to cultivate them,” Slaper added.

Everyone knows this:

The Indy Chamber, which represents the economic interests of the state’s largest city, said in a statement that it remains opposed to the “divisive and unnecessary law.”

Its president and CEO Michael Huber said: “We warned of the impending negative economic impact this legislation would have on our ability to attract and retain jobs, talent and investment, noting the bill will encourage current and potential residents, and visitors to take their business elsewhere. Within moments of this legislation being signed, this warning became a stark reality. The Indy Chamber pledges to work with our partners across the state to strengthen nondiscrimination policies at the state and local level. This is clearly not how we want to be perceived and is not reflective of how we do business in Indianapolis.”

Mike Pence really stepped into it, and Paul Waldman sees what comes next:

The Indiana bill is part of a wave of recent legislation seeking to guarantee “religious freedom” on the part of organizations or businesses who want to retain the right to discriminate against gay people. While the advocates usually posit a baker who doesn’t want to have to take business from a gay couple seeking a wedding cake as the person the law would protect, the laws are often written so vaguely that they would allow almost any kind of discrimination, so long as the discriminator justifies it on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The bill in Indiana doesn’t mention words like “gay” at all. It merely says that the government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” And a key element of the conservative Christian argument about religious freedom is that “exercise” of religion isn’t just about rituals and prayer and worship; it extends to everything, including commerce.

The implications are therefore enormous. Forget about the baker — what if you own a restaurant and think homosexuality is an abomination, and therefore you want to hang a “No gays allowed” sign in your window? Under this law, you’d be able to. Or what if you’re a Muslim who owns an auto repair shop and you want to refuse to serve women, because you say your religion tells you that women shouldn’t drive?

Those kinds of concerns are what led former governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill in Arizona, after she got all kinds of pressure from the state’s business community, which feared boycotts of the state.

Mike Pence isn’t that sane, even if the bar here is low, and what comes next is Republican chaos:

The more news this Indiana law gets, the more likely it is that it will become an issue in the presidential primaries. And it fits neatly within the key divide among Republicans: on one side you could have business groups that are nervous about negative economic impacts and strategists who don’t want the GOP to be known as the party of discrimination, while on the other side you have candidates eager for the votes of religious right primary voters.

I have no doubt that candidates like Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, or Mike Huckabee will rush to support the Indiana law. The real question is what happens with the candidates who want to get as much support as they can from conservative Christians but also want to appeal to the more moderate voters (and funders) who may not be so pleased with these kinds of laws. Those candidates also surely know that general election voters will be much less favorably inclined toward this law, and that it could well fit into a broad theme of Republicans as intolerant, not only on issues affecting gay people but on immigration as well. If you’re Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush, this could be a very tricky issue to confront.

And John Cole has two quick questions:

1.) What criteria will business owners be using to determine who is and who is not gay? Ordering a latte? Saying please? Not liking President Bush? Or do you just have to be suspiciously gay-like to impinge enough on someone’s religious freedom to warrant being denied service.

2.) As the Klan also operated under the auspices of Christianity, what is to keep businesses from kicking out or denying service to blacks, and when confronted, just say “Oh, we didn’t kick them out because they were black, we kicked them out because they were gay.”

This is a mess, and Andy Borowitz has the final word:

In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion.

Pence said that he hoped the law would protect millions of state residents “who, like me, have been practicing this religion passionately for years.”

The bill would grant politicians like Pence the right to observe their faith freely, even if their practice of stupidity costs the state billions of dollars.

While Pence’s action drew the praise of stupid people across America, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was not among them. “Even I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a bill like that,” she said.

When Jan Brewer becomes the face of sanity and reason and tolerance… Damn, there’s no way to finish that sentence. How did this happen?

Posted in Indiana Religious Freedom Act, Religious Exemptions to the Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Final Fine Mess

It seems we’ve lost Luke Skywalker’s home planet:

Tataouine, the town in Tunisia where George Lucas filmed parts of Star Wars, has become embroiled in the country’s unrest with Isis.

The town’s simple domed structures became iconic after they were used for Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine, and die-hard fans often make pilgrimages to them. But the town has become increasingly unsafe, as it is a waypoint for Isis fighters travelling to and from training bases in Libya, 60 miles to the east.

CNN reports that major arms caches have been found in the area this month, one of them with 20,000 rounds of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Yeah, well, Obi-Wan Kenobi did warn Luke about the place, the day they showed up in that one dusty Tatooine town to find someone who would get them out of there so they could go fight the bad guys – “Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

Sometimes location mangers get it right, but Tunisia is being cautious, after two ISIS gunmen stormed into the Bardo museum in Tunis on March 18 – shooting 23 people quite dead (for real) before being killed by security forces. This item also goes on to report that Tunisia “has massively stepped up military presence in cities, and created a buffer zone around the border to restrict passage to Libya and Algeria.” One can’t be too cautious. They need that tourist trade, although the new Star Wars movie – The Force Awakens – uses locations in Ireland and the UK and Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is still safe. Check out the world’s biggest roller-coaster restaurant that just opened there. Perhaps that’s the world’s only roller-coaster restaurant.

The rest of the region is just a roller-coaster. Nowhere is safe, so of course we’re staying in Afghanistan:

President Obama’s decision to maintain troop levels in Afghanistan through 2015 is partly designed to bolster American counterterrorism efforts in that country, including the Central Intelligence Agency’s ability to conduct secret drone strikes and other paramilitary operations from United States military bases, administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday announced that he would leave 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan until at least the end of the year. The announcement came after a daylong White House meeting with President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan. The two men said the decision was a necessary response to the expected springtime resurgence of Taliban aggression and the need to give more training to the struggling Afghan security forces.

But two American officials said that a significant part of the deliberations on the pace of the withdrawal had been focused on the need for the CIA and military special operations forces to operate out of two large military bases: Kandahar Air Base in southern Afghanistan and a base in Jalalabad, the biggest city in the country’s east. Reducing the military force by half from its current level, as planned, would have meant closing the bases and relocating many of the CIA’s personnel and its contractors.

That wouldn’t do:

The resilience of Al Qaeda in the mountains that straddle the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has surprised many American officials, and there are fears that the Islamic State could gain a foothold in the Afghan conflict. Mr. Ghani has repeatedly raised the specter of the Islamic State in comments ahead of his trip to Washington and during his visit.

Yes, those Sunni madmen, first al-Qaeda and then ISIS, are a bother, and this Shiite guy is quite okay:

While the primary mission of Mr. Ghani’s trip is a military extension, he is also using his visit as a public-relations blitz aimed at repairing Afghanistan’s reputation as a country whose leaders have taken American help for granted over the past decade.

In a series of appearances Monday and Tuesday, Mr. Ghani repeatedly thanked American troops for their sacrifices in his country, and he promised that Afghanistan would reciprocate by building a government that could stand on its own economically, socially and militarily.

“You stood shoulder to shoulder with us, and I’d like to say thank you,” Mr. Ghani said at the news conference on Tuesday. “I would also like to thank the American taxpayer for his and her hard-earned dollars that has enabled us.”

The last guy, Hamad Karzai, never said such things. He was a bit of a jerk, but Ashraf Ghani proved he wasn’t in his address to a Joint Meeting of Congress. Unlike Benjamin Netanyahu, Ashraf Ghani was invited by all the members of Congress, not just the Republicans, in coordination with the White House and the Department of State – no one was blindsided – and Ashraf Ghani wasn’t there to proclaim that Obama was a fool and should be stopped from having anything to do with foreign policy, immediately. Ashraf Ghani is not Netanyahu and this went well:

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani invoked Islamic State as the latest threat to his country in a speech to the U.S. Congress seeking continued backing for America’s longest war.

While offering effusive thanks for 13 years of support in combat that cost more than 2,300 American lives, Ghani said Wednesday in an address to Congress that Islamic State and other terrorist groups are seeking inroads in Afghanistan and its neighbors. …

Attempting to depict the defense of Afghanistan in terms of terror threats now gaining the most attention, Ghani said the Sunni extremists of Islamic State are “already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan to test for vulnerabilities.”

Even as he appealed for continued U.S. support, Ghani said he was determined to create a “self-sustaining Afghanistan” that would contribute to the global economy, bolster women’s rights and serve as “the graveyard of al-Qaeda and their foreign terrorist associates.”

He was different. He wasn’t going to be a whining freeloader, playing victim all the time, asking for billions here and billions there, and then calling American leaders fools – perhaps he was saying he wasn’t going to be Benjamin Netanyahu – and that won the day:

“The speech was quite extraordinary in every regard,” said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“I know he made a lot of bold statements,” said Corker, referring to Ghani’s aspirations for the next decade. “But I do feel certain he’s going to make a lot of progress.”

Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Ghani’s advocacy for women’s rights is a “shining example of the real difference we have made in Afghanistan.”

But Obama is still a fool:

Republican lawmakers were less eager to praise Obama’s decision on suspending U.S. withdrawals because he stood by his vow to remove all but about 1,000 troops from Afghanistan by January 2017.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said while he welcomed Obama’s decision to delay the drawdown, he worries about the timeline.

“Don’t pick an arbitrary date,” said Graham, a Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a potential presidential candidate next year. “ISIL and other groups are looking for places to go,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Oh well, there’s no pleasing these people, but this is interesting:

Some lawmakers noted a welcome contrast exhibited by Ghani and the oftentimes frosty relations with Karzai.

Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Ghani as a “very humble man” whose “recognition of the sacrifices of the U.S.” marks a shift from his predecessor.

“It’s like night and day,” Engel said.

There was that, and this:

Ghani used much of his speech to thank everyone from Obama to U.S. taxpayers for years of sacrifice battling al-Qaeda and its Taliban sympathizers.

He said that someday he hoped U.S. combat veterans would return to visit Afghanistan “not as soldiers, but as parents showing their children the beautiful country where they served in the war that defeated terror.”

The American-educated Ghani, a former World Bank official, described being in the bank’s New York offices when terrorists struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and even recalled eating “corned beef at Katz’s, New York’s greatest, greasiest, pickle-lined melting pot.”

There you have it – Katz’s Delicatessen isn’t strictly kosher, but it’s pretty damned Jewish. There was a lot of signaling going on, and everyone remembers Katz’s from Meg Ryan’s famous fake orgasm scene at a table there in When Harry Met Sally… – where the woman at the next table says “I’ll have what she’s having.”

That’s what Ghani was saying too, and as he has a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University (1982) he also got to swap college stories with Obama, who did his undergraduate work at Columbia. This guy is good. Of course we’re staying in Afghanistan. After fourteen years, what’s another year or two, or three, or more, among friends?

So be it, but in Iraq, things are less clear-cut:

American warplanes began airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Tikrit late Wednesday, finally joining a stalled offensive to retake the Iraqi city as American officials sought to seize the initiative from Iran, which had taken a major role in directing the operation.

The decision to directly aid the offensive was made by President Obama on Wednesday, American officials said, and represented a significant shift in the Iraqi campaign. For more than three weeks, the Americans had stayed on the sideline of the battle for Tikrit, wary of being in the position of aiding an essentially Iranian-led operation. Senior Iranian officials had been on the scene, and allied Shiite militias had made up the bulk of the force.

Mr. Obama approved the airstrikes after a request from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the condition that Iranian-backed Shiite militias move aside to allow a larger role for Iraqi government counterterrorism forces that have worked most closely with United States troops, American officials said. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who has been advising forces around Tikrit, was reported on Sunday to have left the area.

To clarify – Iran had been in Iraq fighting ISIS – those Sunni madmen – for us there, using the many Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, because the regular Iraq Army is hopeless, even after all our training. Their generals, from Iran, were directing the effort, there on the ground. Haider al-Abadi must have had a back-channel conversation with the folks in Tehran – one Shiite leader to another (they are close allies now) – and convinced the Iranians to stand down, to see if Iraq and the Americans could take care of the bad guys. Iraq isn’t part of Iran, not quite yet, and the Americans seem to want to jump in once again. Let them. Take the weekend off.

We did want to jump in again, to make eight years of war in Iraq, and five thousand lives, and two trillion dollars, worth all that:

The United States has struggled to maintain influence in Iraq, even as Iran has helped direct the war on the ground against the Islamic State. But as the struggles to take Tikrit mounted, with a small band of Islamic State militants holding out against a combined Iraqi force of more than 30,000 for weeks, American officials saw a chance not only to turn the momentum against the Islamic State but to gain an edge against the Iranians.

If the Americans did not engage, they feared becoming marginalized by Tehran in a country where they had spilled much blood in the last decade, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

American officials now hope that an American-assisted victory by Mr. Abadi and his forces will politically bolster him and counter the view of Iranian officials, and many Iraqi Shiites, that Iran is Iraq’s vital ally. “Taking back Tikrit is important, but it gives us an opportunity to have our half of the operation win this one,” one American official said. “It’s somewhat of a gamble.”

The administration also hopes that a Tikrit victory with American air power will ensure that it is their coalition with Mr. Abadi’s forces, and not the faction led by Mr. Suleimani, that then proceeds to try to recapture the larger and more pivotal city of Mosul.

Iran may not care about all that. Get rid of those awful Sunni ISIS folks and they’ll be happy. America will be gone one day, and then Iraq can become one of the provinces. They can wait, even if there was a little grumbling:

Shiite militia figures have criticized any outreach toward the United States. “Some of the weaklings in the army say that we need the Americans, but we say we do not need the Americans,” Hadi al-Ameri, the prominent leader of the group of Shiite militias known here as popular mobilization committees, said last week. …

At Friday Prayer in Karbala last week, a sermon by Sheikh Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalaee, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the powerful spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites, pointedly called for more unity and better organization in the fight in Tikrit. That was widely taken as implicit criticism of the offensive’s lack of success.

The representative also said that fighters should refrain from flying Shiite religious banners, suggesting that better efforts should be made to involve Sunnis in the fight.

Yeah, that’s a problem:

American officials seemed heartened that Mr. Abadi had made a point of calling the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey last weekend to reassure them that once the Islamic State is rooted out of Tikrit, the Sunni city would be returned to the control of its Sunni police, not dominated by Shiite forces.

We did create a monster. We got rid of the Sunni despot Saddam Hussein, claiming he was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, even if al-Qaeda had been saying for years that they hated Saddam Hussein. Sure, he was a Sunni like them, but he was a secular Sunni. He wore western suits. He lived a lavish lifestyle. He never seemed to mention Allah. He wasn’t seventh-century austere. He wasn’t serious. They had no problem with America spending its blood and treasure, and ruining its reputation around the world, to get rid of that one guy. And they could wait. America got rid of the Sunni fool.

They shouldn’t have wished for that. It was inevitable that Iraq would end up with that Maliki fellow – a Shiite strongman who marginalized and humiliated every Sunni in Iraq, just as Saddam Hussein had marginalized and humiliated every Shiite in sight, for decades. The sectarian civil war continued, with the roles reversed. Our famous “surge” was supposed to end that – we bribed the Sunni militias at the time to fight the new al-Qaeda in Iraq, and told them that any new Shiite leader, like Maliki, would promise to be nice to Sunnis, because we’d tell him to. Yeah, sure – that wasn’t going to happen. Iraq would never be a whole nation of equals. It’s no wonder Sunnis in Iraq seem okay with ISIS at times. The ISIS crowd may be awful, but they’re better than that Shiite crowd in Baghdad. A little hope is better than none.

And there’s one other complication to this. Early on, Paul Bremmer ordered the Iraq Army disbanded, and ordered that every member of Saddam’s Baath Party be purged from government. Sunni generals from the former Iraq Army are now senior ISIS commanders, and many of the Sunni Baathists who lost everything are its foot soldiers. Paul Bremmer didn’t create ISIS, but he helped staff it. We pulled a few strings two years ago and got rid of Maliki, but Haider al-Abadi is little more than a more pleasant version of Maliki – a Shiite strongman who smiles and says he’s working on that be-nice-to-Sunnis thing. Now and then he makes the right sounds. That’s about it.

We did make a few mistakes in Iraq, but like Iran, we’ve always been fighting those deadly Sunni madmen, first al-Qaeda and then ISIS. They’re out to get us, but our long-time ally in the region has always been Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation with Sharia Law and all that – they do behead folks and stone others to death, where women are not allowed to drive or be seen in public without their husband or a male guardian from the family. Saudi Arabia is an odd place, and then there’s that Wahhabi stuff – and a lot of private Saudi donations have always funded al-Qaeda – and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia – and Osama bin Laden is from a prominent Saudi family. Is Saudi Arabia out to get us? No, this is all about the oil. We’re close.

Fine, but then this happens:

Saudi Arabia led a coalition of 10 Sunni-ruled nations to begin massive air strikes against Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels as it seeks to stop the spread of Iranian influence on its southern border.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has accused Shiite Iran of fomenting unrest in Yemen, which has emerged as the latest ground for a proxy confrontation between the two regional rivals. The air strikes come after forces loyal to the rebel group marched on the southern port city of Aden, the stronghold of Yemen’s President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi.

The operation is aimed at protecting “the legitimate government from a takeover by the Houthis,” Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir said. Huge blasts could be heard all over Sana’a, as well as explosions at the al-Dailami air base near the capital.

Up north and a bit to the east we’re siding with the Shiites and hoping the “good” Sunnis don’t mind, but here we may have to go the other way, because these Sunnis have a coalition:

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar said they responded to a request from Hadi, according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Jordan are also part of the operation, according to Al Arabiya TV, bringing the total number of aircraft involved to 185.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations say they are taking more assertive military action to prevent the instability across the Middle East from hurting their interests in the region.

We have to be careful here:

U.S. President Barack Obama has “authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support” for the operation, the White House said in a statement. “While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.”

Escalating chaos in Yemen threatens the Obama administration’s ability to combat the al-Qaeda affiliate that’s most intent on attacking the U.S. and its allies. Obama singled out Yemen last June as a model for U.S. efforts to fight terrorism by relying on training allied forces rather than risk American lives.

Yeah, we wanted to combat a Sunni al-Qaeda affiliate there, but now the bad guys are Shiites, aligned with our enemy, Iran, with whom we have a shared interest in knocking off Sunni madmen, not Shiites, at the moment:

The Houthis marched from their northern base to capture Sana’a last year. The group then moved to strengthen ties with Iran, sending a delegation this month to Tehran to discuss economic cooperation and starting direct flights with the Iranian capital.

The Houthis, who follow the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, say they operate independently of Iran and represent only their group’s interests.

That doesn’t help. Obi-Wan Kenobi had it right – “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

If only it were that easy. Obi-Wan Kenobi should have had a word with George Bush back in 2003 – not that it matters now. We’re all-in now. We’ll just have to muddle through.

Posted in Afghanistan, Middle East at War, Proxy Wars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When Not To Say the Right Thing

One must be careful what one says. That’s only polite, and it’s also useful. When the wife asks if that dress makes her look fat, it doesn’t. It never does. Use the right words. Lie. Otherwise, there will be trouble. Some words – like “fat” – just aren’t spoken in certain contexts. She looks sexy – that always works. Or it doesn’t. These things are tricky, and they’re even trickier in politics. The brash and spherical tell-it-like-it-is guy from New Jersey found that out in March 2014:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized to Sheldon Adelson in a meeting Saturday for stepping on a fault line in Middle East politics during a speech he gave earlier in the day, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

Invoking a 2012 trip he and his family took to Israel, Christie recalled in the speech: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.”

While the story was intended to forge common cause with Adelson and the several hundred donors to the Republican Jewish Coalition to which Christie was speaking, his use of the term “occupied territories” set off murmurs in the crowd. The term refers to lands in which Palestinians live where Israel maintains a military presence, including the West Bank.

Republican Jewish Coalition and conservative Zionists like Adelson don’t use the term “occupied territories” – that makes it sound like the Palestinians have a point, and they don’t – so the big guy did what he had to do:

Not long after his speech, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting.

The source told POLITICO that Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.”

Instead, the source said, Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”

Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation, the source said.

That doesn’t mean anyone else did:

The mini-controversy and quick apology highlight both the importance of Adelson as the reigning mega-donor in GOP politics, as well as the tricky terrain that Middle East politics can pose for American politicians courting Jewish donors and voters.

Before the meeting, Adelson ally Morton Klein, president of the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, had confronted Christie about his use of the term, telling POLITICO he explained to the New Jersey governor that “at minimum you should call it disputed territories.”

Christie was non-committal, said Klein, who concluded afterwards that the governor “either doesn’t understand the issue at all, or he’s hostile to Israel.”

Christie was toast, and still is, even if his speech contained this:

Christie recounted meeting the hawkish Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an RJC favorite, and being “extraordinarily taken by his strength and resolve.”

That’s fine, but Adelson had also invited Scott Walker and John Kasich that weekend and they didn’t screw up. Last time around, Adelson had dropped ten million dollars on Newt Gingrich, to get him to say things like there was no such thing as the Palestinian people, and that had been throwing money away. Mitt Romney got the nomination. This time Adelson is being more careful. You want his money? Use the right words. And that dress doesn’t make him look fat.

Fine, but facts are facts:

The Israeli-occupied territories are the territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967 from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. They consist of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; much of the Golan Heights; the Gaza Strip, and, until 1982, the Sinai Peninsula. Israel maintains that the West Bank is disputed territory and asserts that since the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, it no longer occupies it. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are also referred to as the Palestinian territories or Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Palestinian Authority, the EU, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council consider East Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank and occupied by Israel; Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital and sovereign territory. West Jerusalem is considered to be occupied by Arab and Palestinian representatives.

The International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council regard Israel as the “Occupying Power.” UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk called Israel’s occupation “an affront to international law.”

Ah, but there is the counterargument:

According to the views of most religious and traditional Jews and scholars belonging to Religious Zionism and to many streams of Orthodox Judaism, there are no, and cannot be, “occupied territories” – because all of the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews, also known as the Children of Israel, since the times of Biblical antiquity based on various Hebrew Bible passages.

The Jewish religious belief that the area is a God-given inheritance of the Jewish people is based on the Torah, especially the books of Genesis and Exodus, as well as the Prophets. According to the Book of Genesis, the land was promised by God to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and to the Israelites, descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. A literal reading of the text suggests that the land promise is (or was at one time) one of the Biblical covenants between God and the Israelites, as the following verses show…

Genesis 15:18-21
Exodus 23:28-33
Numbers 34:1-15
Deuteronomy 11:24
Deuteronomy 1:7
Ezekiel 47:13-20

The boundaries of the Land of Israel are different from the borders of historical Israelite kingdoms. The Bar Kokhba state, the Herodian Kingdom, the Hasmonean Kingdom, and possibly the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah ruled lands with similar but not identical boundaries. The current State of Israel also has similar but not identical boundaries.

A small sect of Haredi Jews, the Neturei Karta opposes Zionism and calls for a peaceful dismantling of the State of Israel, in the belief that Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Messiah.

The Haredi Jews are the oddballs, and of course our evangelical Christians over here point out that the Messiah already showed up, over two thousand years ago. The Jews will figure that out one day, and accept Jesus as the personal savior, or burn in hell forever, after the Rapture and all that. Either way, our evangelical Christians here, and the Zionist Jews there, agree. Those Palestinians just don’t belong there.

Hollywood helped with that, with the 1960 film Exodus – a heroic epic about the founding of Israel, produced and directed by Otto Preminger, based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. The appropriate heroic music was by Ernest Gold and his theme song for the movie won Best Song at the Grammy Awards that year (the next year it was Moon River) – so soon everyone from Edith Piaf to Connie Francis to Andy Williams was singing “This land is mine, God gave this land to me…”

He did? Yes, He did, so Hollywood had a hand in all this – “Although the Preminger film softened the anti-British and anti-Arab sentiment of the novel, the film remains controversial for its depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and for what some scholars perceive to be its lasting impact on American views of the regional turmoil.”

Sheldon Adelson probably still hums that Ernest Gold tune a lot, but this was the week the music stopped:

The White House issued a passionate call for eventual Palestinian statehood on Monday as it stepped up criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for appearing to question a two-state solution to Middle East peace.

“An occupation that has lasted for almost fifty years must end,” Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told a conference of liberal activists in Washington. “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he added.

Despite Netanyahu’s efforts to distance himself from pre-election comments that appeared to rule out a Palestinian state, the US administration remains skeptical about his commitment to peace.

They’re just not buying it:

“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations,” McDonough told 3,000 delegates at the national conference of J-Street, a Washington lobby group which describes itself as pro-Israel but supports a two-state peace process for a Palestinian state.

“Palestinian children deserve the same right to be free in their own land as Israeli children in their land,” he added. “A two-state solution will finally bring Israelis the security and normalcy to which they are entitled, and Palestinians the sovereignty and dignity they deserve.”

Fair is fair, and good for everyone, but one doesn’t say these things:

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham blasted White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough’s statements at a conference held by the anti-Israel group J Street, calling them the same language used by terrorists. McDonough told the gleeful crowd, “An occupation that has lasted more – almost 50 years must end.”

Graham ripped McDonough, saying on the Senate floor on Monday, “The language used by the chief of staff of the president of the United States is exactly what Hamas uses … Today the chief of staff of the president of the United States used language that has been reserved for terrorist organizations.”

Lindsey Graham has been talking about running for president too, so maybe he wants that Adelson money:

Graham said of McDonough’s remarks, “All I can say is, when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it has … Wake up and change your policies before you set the whole world on fire. Please watch your language. …You’re making everything worse, and now you’ve added fuel to the fire.”

Graham also issued a warning to the White House, stating that if Obama abandons Israel at the United Nations, “Congress will recalculate how we relate to the United Nations.”

McDonough used the wrong words. Don’t set the whole world on fire, or Congress will force the United States to pull out of the United Nations. Those folks at the UN hate Israel too. Everyone hates Israel. Cue the movie music.

At the Atlantic Online, David Graham (no relation) points out that it’s been that kind of week:

It was an open secret that the White House was rooting for Israeli voters to turn Netanyahu out of office on March 17. Instead, they returned him the premiership, with a stronger and more right-wing coalition than before. Obama took his time placing a congratulatory phone call to Netanyahu, and when he did, two days later, he used the occasion to scold the PM for his pre-election renunciation of a two-state solution. Meanwhile, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. would “reevaluate our approach” to the peace process (such as it is) in light of Netanyahu’s words. It was rumored that such a shift could include ending U.S. policy of blocking UN resolutions and actions critical of Israel.

Netanyahu has hastily moved to walk back his comments after the vote, insisting he really does want a two-state solution, but when a reporter asked why the administration didn’t just take Bibi at his word, Earnest replied acidly, “Well, I guess the question is, which one?” Lest that seem like just a spokesman firing from the hip during a briefing, Obama used a similar line during an in-depth interview with The Huffington Post: “We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”

On Monday, Netanyahu tried again to clean up after comments he made during the election, in this case dark warnings that his opponents were busing Israeli Arabs to the polls to defeat him. It was a classic non-apology apology, regretting mostly the offense: “I know that my comments last week offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli Arab community. This was never my intent. I apologize for this.” The White House was, as The New York Times put it, “unmoved,” and speaking at a conference of the liberal Zionist group J Street, Obama’s chief of staff kept up the heat.

And then it got worse, with the Wall Street Journal scoop Tuesday – Adam Entous reporting that the United States had discovered that Israel was spying on negotiations with Iran on a nuclear deal. Israeli officials immediately rejected the report – “Israel does not spy on the United States, period, exclamation mark.” That’s what Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said – “Whoever published those false allegations possibly wanted to damage the excellent intelligence cooperation between us and the United States.”

Yeah, well, the Wall Street Journal story cites “senior White House officials” and “a senior US official” – so David Graham adds this:

How did the U.S. find out that Israel, its close ally, was spying on the talks? When the U.S. was spying on its close ally Israel, of course! Both sides spy on each other all the time, with each having full knowledge of the other’s activities. In fact, the Journal’s sources acknowledge the hypocrisy involved – they only got angry when Israel took the info they’d intercepted and handed it over to Congress.

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” “a senior U.S. official” told the paper.

There you have it:

The U.S. wasn’t really offended by the spying, and delivering the story to the press is really just another way to turn the pressure up on Israel and express the administration’s displeasure. However, as my colleague Jeffrey Goldberg noted on Twitter, the story does raise the question of whether the administration – already committed to bypassing Congress in negotiations toward a nuclear deal with Iran – was also withholding essential information from legislators.

And there was this – “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday he was ‘shocked’ and ‘baffled’ by reports the Israeli government had spied on sensitive U.S.-Iran nuclear talks and passed information to members of Congress to whip up opposition to a potential deal.”

John Boehner is perpetually shocked and baffled, so ignore that, but don’t ignore this:

It’s not just Democrats and White House officials who’ve got problems with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blasting “diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship,” former Secretary of State James Baker laid in hard to the Israeli prime minister on Monday evening, criticizing him for an insufficient commitment to peace and an absolutist opposition to the Iran nuclear talks.

No one expected that:

Baker, who was the chief diplomat for President George H. W. Bush and is now advising Jeb Bush on his presidential campaign, cited mounting frustrations with Netanyahu over the past six years – but particularly with comments he made in the closing days of last week’s election disavowing his support for a two-state solution and support for settlements strategically placed to attempt to change the borders between Israel and the West Bank.

“Frankly, I have been disappointed with the lack of progress regarding a lasting peace – and I have been for some time,” Baker said. And “in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s recent election victory, the chance of a two-state solution seems even slimmer, given his reversal on the issue.”

Baker said while Netanyahu has said he’s for peace, “his actions have not matched his rhetoric.”

This was a problem for Jeb Bush, who needs Sheldon Adelson on his side, so there was this:

Presumed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush says he disagrees with critical comments about Israel made Monday by former Secretary of State James Baker, according to his campaign team.

Baker, a longtime friend of the Bush family and an unpaid adviser to Jeb Bush’s expected presidential campaign, has been an outspoken advocate for the former Florida governor’s possible White House bid. Bush touted Baker’s support last month when he announced a 21-member foreign policy advisory team that is counseling him as he prepares to run for president.

The group of nearly two dozen Republican experts also includes former secretaries of state George Schultz and Condoleezza Rice and other veterans of the two Bush administrations, including Paul Wolfowitz and John Negroponte. Aides have said that the group embodies the broad base of support for Bush, but that the luminaries are not advising the former governor on a daily basis.

Jeb knows trouble when he sees it, but then there was this:

The United States signaled no change in its support for Israel at the United Nations on Monday, refusing to take part in a forum on alleged Israeli human rights violations.

Despite the Obama administration’s pledge to rethink its support for Israel at the United Nations in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign rejection of a Palestinian state, the United States’ refusal to discuss alleged Israeli abuses at the U.N. Human Rights Council was consistent with the previous U.S. position.

Netanyahu must be confused now, because Obama still has his back on some pretty obvious war crimes, but Obama seems to be pulling out all the stops on the “occupied territories” thing, but there’s nothing new here. Consider May 2011:

President Barack Obama yesterday endorsed a key Palestinian demand, calling on Israel to agree to borders of a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines” that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem that year in the Six Day War with Arab nations.

It was the first time a U.S. president has explicitly backed using the 1967 boundaries as the starting point for talks that would have Israel cede control of land to Palestinians in return for peace and security. The proposal may have little impact, as Obama offered no steps to restart the stalled peace talks.

The proposal drew immediate fire from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who meets with Obama at the White House today. Netanyahu said in a statement that the 1967 boundaries would be “indefensible” and could leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.

Obama said a deal along 1967 lines needs to include land exchanges to allow Israel to retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.

“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” Obama said in a major policy speech at the State Department in Washington outlining his vision for the Middle East.

Someone else wanted Obama’s job back then, but there was nothing new:

“President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said in a statement.

Obama’s language was an incremental move, not a break with what has been U.S. policy, said Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt. He said that while it has long been assumed that 1967 borders will form the basis for an agreement, “when you finally get an articulation of U.S. policy, it means something.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, said, “I think it’s a small step in the right direction because it reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the 1967 lines, two states and equal swaps.”

“We know by now that left to themselves, the Israelis and Palestinians will never resolve” their issues, Brzezinski, who serves as a counselor and trustee for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an interview.

And Obama saw what was coming:

Time is working against Israel, Obama said. The Palestinian population is increasing and “the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” he said.

The president also called for “permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.” The statement didn’t seem to leave room for Israel’s position that any agreement must allow Israeli troops to patrol the western seam of an eventual Palestinian state and Jordan to prevent terrorist groups from entering.

Netanyahu announced in his statement that when he meets with Obama, he “will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.”

Reaction from members of Netanyahu’s coalition government was even harsher.

Danny Danon, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, likened Obama’s plan to one to eliminate Israel by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, adding that the U.S. president hoped “to remove the State of Israel from the map.”

That’s what Lindsey Graham was just saying, but there was the guy before Obama:

Obama’s mention of land swaps seemed to endorse a 2004 agreement between then-President George W. Bush and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In a 2004 letter Bush sent to Sharon, he recognized that any peace agreement must take into account major settlement blocs built since Israel gained control of the West Bank and Jerusalem in June 1967, as well as the fact that Israel would not relinquish Jerusalem. In return, Sharon moved to withdraw completely from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank.

This sort of thing has been going on a long time, as Dan Murphy notes here:

Barack Obama isn’t the only American president to chafe at an Israeli prime minister trying to go behind his back to the US Congress on foreign policy.

In September 1981, President Ronald Reagan welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin – who founded the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu now leads – to Washington, at a time that he was seeking approval of the sale of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Begin was furious about it, saying it would irreparably harm Israel’s security and launching a full-court lobbying effort in Washington to upend the sale. “We can only repeat our position that it will endanger very seriously the security of Israel,” Begin said after touching down in the US.

Reagan writes in his autobiography of meeting Begin on that trip, and of the Israeli’s objections to the AWACS deal.

Reagan told Begin that the US thought the deal wouldn’t harm Israel’s security, and might open a deal to a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, much like the one recently signed with Egypt.

Murphy quotes Reagan on how that went:

Although I felt that our relationship had gotten off to a good start and that I had Begin’s confidence that we would do whatever it took to ensure the safety of Israel, I learned that almost immediately after he left the White House, Begin went to Capitol Hill and began lobbying very hard against me, the administration, and the AWACS sale – after he had told me he wouldn’t do that.

I didn’t like having representatives of a foreign country – any foreign country – trying to interfere in what I regarded as our domestic political process and the setting of our foreign policy. I told the State Department to let Begin know I didn’t like it and that he was jeopardizing the close relationship or our countries unless he backed off. Privately, I felt he’d broken his word and I was angry about it.

Of course he was, and Murphy adds this:

The bad taste this episode left probably contributed to Reagan’s cutting off of supplies of cluster-bombs to Israel the next year, and to the decision in early 1992 by Reagan’s vice president and successor, George H. W. Bush, to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel until the country agreed to freeze settlement expansion, something Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to that July, though settlement expansion continued.

As for Reagan, he went public too:

On Oct. 1, an angry Reagan told a press conference that “it is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy.” When asked if that meant Israel, he responded. “Well… or anyone else…”

That wasn’t the right thing to say, but that was the appropriate thing to say. The George Bush that followed Reagan did the same. The second George Bush did the same. Now it’s Obama’s turn, and Sheldon Adelson can keep his money, and he can hum the theme from Exodus all he wants. This isn’t a movie. Yes, one must be careful what one says. But the truth works just fine. Sometimes it’s necessary.

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Off and Running

Off and running… Off, and running… Commas matter. And Ted Cruz pulled the trigger:

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced on Monday morning that he would run for president in 2016, becoming the first Republican candidate to declare himself officially in the race.

Linking the determination of his immigrant father with the resolve of the founding fathers and his own faith in “the promise of America,” Mr. Cruz spoke at length about his family and his faith as he laid out a case for his candidacy.

“God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” Mr. Cruz said before thousands of cheering students here at Liberty University. “I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to re-ignite the promise of America.”

“Today, I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States,” Mr. Cruz added. “It is a time for truth, it is a time for liberty – it is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States.”

Yes, the venue was Liberty University – “The University was founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, who was also Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church. The name was changed to Liberty Baptist College in 1976 before settling on its current name, Liberty University, in 1984, when it obtained university status. Liberty University describes itself as a Christian academic community.”

Note that Ed Dobson is a former dean there – the former head of the now disbanded Moral Majority organization, the group that started the whole business of making Christianity, and Jesus, exclusively Republican. Cruz may be only a first-term senator, and seen by most Republicans and all Democrats as the most divisive figure to pop up in Washington in many a long year, but he was positioning himself as “a truth-telling hero” to conservatives and particularly to evangelicals, and this speech was a barn-burner:

His speech was packed with calls to “imagine a president” who would repeal the Affordable Care Act, abolish the Internal Revenue Service, “defend the sanctity of human life and uphold the sacrament of marriage.”

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy heard this:

He started out by talking about his background as the son of a Cuban immigrant who fought to bring down the dictator Fulgencio Batista during the Cuban revolution, but who subsequently turned against Fidel Castro and, at the age of eighteen, decided to move to the United States. “Imagine, for a second, the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across to Key West and got onboard a Greyhound bus to head to Austin, Texas, to begin working, washing dishes, making fifty cents an hour,” Cruz said. But the thoughts of an immigrant fifty-odd years ago weren’t the only thing that he wanted the crowd to imagine. Indeed, as the speech developed, it sounded increasingly like he was channeling John Lennon. But not Lennon the atheist skeptic and peacenik: this was a Liberty University version of the Beatle.

“Imagine, instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth,” Cruz said. “Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers. … Imagine in 2017 a new President signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare. … Imagine a simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard. … Imagine abolishing the IRS … Imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life and to uphold the sacrament of marriage. … Imagine a federal government that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all law-abiding Americans.”

If there were any liberal Democrats tuning in, they were probably hurling things at the screen by now. Cruz wasn’t done. “Imagine repealing every word of Common Core,” he went on. “Imagine a President who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” (That one earned him his biggest cheer yet.) “Imagine a President who says, ‘I will honor the Constitution.’ … Imagine a President who says, ‘We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic terrorism, and we will call it by its name.'”

It was the same old stuff, but delivered well, although Cassidy wonders what good it did:

Appearing to be thoroughly enjoying himself, Cruz conceded that some of his wish list might be difficult, or even impossible, to imagine. He reminded his audience that, in 1979, when Ronald Reagan started his second Presidential campaign, it would have been equally impossible to imagine the Berlin Wall coming down and the Soviet Union collapsing. “Compared to that, repealing Obamacare and abolishing the IRS ain’t all that tough,” Cruz said. Then he asked the audience members, most of who weren’t born when Reagan left office, to text the words “Constitution” or “imagine” to the number 33733.

What did that mean? Most likely that Cruz intends to run as the Howard Dean of the religious right – a tub-thumping insurgent who uses social media to outmaneuver better-financed rivals. Speaking on Fox News, Joe Trippi, the Democratic strategist who ran Dean’s campaign in 2004, said after the speech, “I thought he did a great job.” Ed Rollins, the veteran Republican operative who was once Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, was equally impressed. He raised the prospect of Cruz winning the Texas primary, which will take place next March, and emerging as a serious contender.

That’s looking a long way ahead, and Cruz has a lot of ground to make up.

The New York Times account offered this:

At times a history lesson – he invoked both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Patrick Henry – and at times a call to action, Mr. Cruz sought to position himself as the candidate who would give the Republican Party’s right wing the country they desire. He spoke directly to conservatives, with no real broad appeal to the more moderate wing of his party.

But not to worry:

Several Republicans said on Monday that given Mr. Cruz’s rhetorical skills and passion, and his ability to inspire restless or disenchanted conservatives and evangelical Americans, his candidacy should not be underestimated.

“He has had the single best sound bite over the last three years, saying that the big problem in Washington is we don’t listen,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime Republican pollster. “That message transcends ideology and partisanship, because so many in the public think Washington is out of touch.”

Mr. Cruz’s chief downside, Mr. Luntz said, is reflected in his relationships with other Republicans in the Senate.

“His colleagues really don’t like him, and it’s very difficult when your own colleagues won’t stand up for you,” Mr. Luntz said. “There’s a subtle message that there is something wrong.”

In fact, Cruz was off, and running anyway, because he had to run now:

In part, financial urgency prompted the accelerated timetable: advisers to Mr. Cruz have seen donors of the party flock to other potential candidates, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who since January has won the most notice among Republicans clamoring for a nominee other than former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. Mr. Cruz’s advisers say his goal is to raise at least $40 million, with roughly $1 million in the first week.

This was all about the money, but his party has issues:

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) on Monday mocked his party’s first major presidential contender, Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), as “a carnival barker.”

“Shutting down the federal government and reading Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor are the marks of a carnival barker, not the leader of the free world,” King said in a Facebook post.

King said the Republican Party could do better than Cruz…

And there was this:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said on Monday that he won’t back his fellow Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) during the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

In an interview with Politico, Cornyn said that he would not endorse any candidate in the primary.

“You know, we’ve got a lot of Texans who are running for president, so I’m going to watch from the sidelines,” he said.

When asked if he would support Cruz’s run financially, Cornyn responded, “Nope. You got a lot of people involved, and I don’t see any benefit to them or to me.”

Cornyn’s lack of support does not come as a huge surprise, as Cruz would not endorse Cornyn in his 2014 Senate re-election primary against Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX). Cruz later endorsed Cornyn after he defeated Stockman.

Nate Cohn at the Upshot statistical blog at New York Times explains the problem:

In April 2013, Cruz was identified as “The Most Hated Man in the Senate” by Foreign Policy magazine, which described him as “the human equivalent of one of those flower-squirters that clowns wear on their lapels.” And that was before he led the government shutdown. If you did a web search for “Senators Hate Ted Cruz” on Sunday, that Foreign Policy article wouldn’t have even come up on the first Google page. It was supplanted by titles like “Why Senate Republicans Hate Ted Cruz,” “GOP Still Despises Ted Cruz,” “Everybody Hates Ted Cruz” and the generously titled “How Unpopular Is Ted Cruz Right Now?” Answer: very.

This man dug his own grave:

Mr. Cruz is not an outsider, grass-roots version of President Obama in 2008. He is unacceptable to many conservative officials, operatives, interest group leaders and pundits. If they don’t take him seriously, voters won’t either. The elites would rally to defeat such a candidate if he ever seemed poised to win.

I can already hear the conservative, grass-roots activists complaining about this establishment, elite-driven model of Republican primary politics. I can hear them promising to prove the mainstream news media, and every one of Mr. Cruz’s detractors, wrong. But much of the Republican rank-and-file has reached the same conclusion as the party’s elite, whether they’ve done so because of elite signaling or by some other means.

Just 40 percent of Republicans in an NBC/WSJ poll last month said they could see themselves supporting Mr. Cruz, while 38 percent said they couldn’t. That two-point margin in the plus column was the second worst among the elected officials who are thought to be major contenders for the nomination. Only Chris Christie fared worse.

No one likes the guy:

Despite considerable national media attention, Mr. Cruz holds only about 6 percent of the vote in national polls. Early national polls aren’t exactly predictive of the nomination, but every presidential nominee since 1976 except Bill Clinton has reached about 15 percent of the vote by this point in the campaign.

The point isn’t that Mr. Cruz’s low level of support precludes him from winning the nomination. But he clearly hasn’t entered the race as the favorite of conservatives, and there isn’t much reason to assume that he will eventually become the favorite. The fight for conservatives will be hotly contested. Viable candidates with a far more plausible shot to win the nomination, like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, or even Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee, will all be competing for these voters.

Ah, but that may be the plan. This man is very clever, and Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine argues that Ted Cruz actually wants Republicans to hate him:

In the course of a short political career, Ted Cruz, who today announced his campaign for the presidency, has defined himself in singular terms as the authentic representation of the right. He is loathed by nearly all Democrats and many Republicans, and treated by the Washington Establishment with unusually undisguised contempt, a man apart from the crowd. And yet there is very little in his platform to distinguish him from the rest of the party. In his announcement speech, Cruz ticked through his plans for America: repealing Obamacare, a flat tax, securing the border, banning abortion, preserving traditional marriage, opposing Common Core, and unyielding support for Israel and opposition to terrorism. Cruz’s style is uniquely terrifying to his critics (or thrilling to his supporters), but the substance is unremarkable standard-issue Republicanism.

But if policy does not explain Cruz’s “uniquely radical image” what does? Chait cites the Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway – “It’s not necessary for him to show that he’s the most conservative, but that he’s the most courageous conservative.” And there’s Mike Needham, head of the conservative lobby Heritage Action for America – “Ted is exactly where most Republican voters are. Most people go to Washington and get co-opted. And Ted clearly is somebody that hasn’t been.”

Then there’s Cruz himself – “Every candidate is going to come in front of you and say I’m the most conservative guy who ever lived. Well gosh darn it, talk is cheap. One of the most important roles men and women of Iowa will play is to say, ‘Don’t talk, show me.'”

So there you have it:

Cruz is not attempting to distinguish himself from his party substantively. He is attempting to distinguish himself characterologically. Cruz depicts a party Establishment too cowardly to actually fight for the conservative agenda.

Cruz is doing what he should be doing:

This is not only an old idea in conservative politics – it is the foundational idea of the conservative movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Republican Party had largely made its peace with the new role of government created by the New Deal. Conservatives were merely one faction within the GOP, frustrated by their powerlessness to influence its agenda. The conservative movement, which was identified intellectually with National Review and politically with Barry Goldwater, wanted their party to launch a full-throated counterattack on big government. They had an ideological program that differed sharply from the reigning ideology of Eisenhower and Nixon: a straightforward attack on big government as socialism.

Their substantive policies were complemented by a unique political analysis. The conservative believes that – in contrast to Republican leaders who cautioned that moderation was required in order to compete for mainstream votes – moving to the right in this way offered the party its greatest chance to win a national majority.

And they’re still mad that didn’t work out for them:

Conservatives believed they had been thwarted by feckless or even traitorous leaders. Conservative activists identified as their primary enemy the eastern Establishment, led by the hated Nelson Rockefeller, who supported what Goldwater dismissed as a “dime-store New Deal” – a pathetic capitulation to big government. “A Choice Not an Echo,” Phyllis Schlafly’s wildly successful campaign tract on Goldwater’s behalf, charged, “In each of their losing presidential years, a small group of secret kingmakers, using hidden persuaders and psychological warfare techniques, manipulated the Republican National Convention to nominate candidates who would sidestep or suppress the key issues.”

When Schlafly wrote this, the conservative movement was in a state of open mutiny against the Republican Party leadership. In the years since, conservatives have slowly won control of the party apparatus. There is no longer any serious intellectual resistance to conservatism among Republicans. Everybody within the party accepts its fundamental precepts (markets good, government bad), reveres the teachings of Ronald Reagan (himself a key force in the Goldwater movement), and draws ideological support from institutions aligned with conservatism.

The Phyllis Schlafly crowd took over the party, and Cruz knows it, so he thinks he’ll do just fine, maybe:

Goldwater had both a substantive program and a political theory that distinguished him from his party’s leaders. Cruz has only a political theory. Because he agrees with the policy goals of figures like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, all he can do to distinguish himself from them is stoke the suspicions of the base that those goals have been undermined from within. His shutdowns, his filibusters, his wild personal attacks – they all reinforce Cruz’s story. He is the one Republican too brave and pure to submit to the Obama agenda. If his tactics fall short, it merely serves to dramatize his colleague’s fecklessness.

All this is why so many Republicans despise Cruz, and it will make it difficult for him to win the nomination. But the loathing between Cruz and his party is not some failing of etiquette. It is his entire plan.

Will that work? Scott Lemieux, the professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, who focused on the Supreme Court and constitutional law, does wonder about that:

The left will enjoy beating up on Ted Cruz. Will the right rally behind him? Cruz is a long shot to win the nomination, but he is a canny politician with enough of a base of support to act as an ideological enforcer during the primaries. And one of the most important orthodoxies he will be policing is total, uncompromising opposition to what will invariably be referred to as “Obamacare.”

Another notable aspect of Cruz’s announcement was the date: Monday was the fifth anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act. The significance of this was swiftly grasped. Republican power broker William Kristol explained the symbolic importance of the date to his Twitter followers, and added that if “he makes zeal for repeal AND real plan to replace a centerpiece of his run, has a shot.”

Somehow I doubt that Cruz will propose that replacement. Cruz isn’t methodical; he’s all zeal and no plan, as evidenced by his unusual, quick burst announcement that he’s running for president. But before he burns out he’ll provide plenty of amusement for the left, and plenty of trouble for his more cautious colleagues on the right.

He was always formidable, as John Cassidy notes:

At Princeton, Cruz was a national debating champion (and was, according to a roommate, known to carry a book entitled, “Was Karl Marx a Satanist?”). At Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1995, he was also known as a formidable public speaker. “He had brilliant insights and he was clearly among the top students, as revealed by his class responses,” the Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz told the Daily Caller last year.

Those were the days, and Josh Marshall, back in September, 2013, was surprised when the woman who is now his wife reminded him that they both knew Cruz back at Princeton:

Ted and I went to college together. And not just we happened to be at the same place at the same time. We were both at a pretty small part of a relatively small university. We both went to Princeton. I was one year ahead of him. But we were both in the same residential college, which basically meant a small cluster of dorms of freshmen and sophomores numbering four or five hundred students who all ate in the same dining hall.

My wife meanwhile was also in the same residential college and she was actually Ted’s year – Class of 92. She totally remembered Ted and basically as a conceited and fairly nerdy jerk.

But the weird thing was I didn’t remember him. And the context here is that I have a really good memory. If we meet after twenty years, I’m far more likely to remember you than vice versa and I’ll probably remember little details about you too. I don’t forget a lot of stuff, especially people. But I didn’t remember the name or the guy I was seeing on TV.

As it turned out, though, almost everyone I knew well in college remembered him really well – vividly. And I knew a number of his friends. But for whatever reason I just didn’t remember him. When I saw college pictures of him, I thought okay, yeah, I remember that guy but sort of in the way where you’re not 100% sure you’re not manufacturing the recollection.

Marshall was curious about that:

Was this just my wife who tends to be a get-along and go-along kind of person? So I started getting in touch with a lot of old friends and asking whether they remembered Ted. It was an experience really unlike I’ve ever had. Everybody I talked to – men and women, cool kids and nerds, conservative and liberal – started the conversation pretty much the same.

“Ted? Oh yeah, immense asshole.” Sometimes “total raging asshole.” Sometimes other variations on the theme. But you get the idea. … But that wasn’t all. Before retelling this or that anecdote, there was one other thing that everybody said, “A really, really smart dude.”

Not much changed, and there’s this:

But there’s more to the story – because my wife didn’t just go to college with Ted. She also went to law school with him. They were both in the same class at Harvard Law School. And it was actually from Harvard where she seemed to have the strongest and most negative memories of him. So I started asking Harvard classmates about him too. Same stories:

One of the best was one I heard early this year from a number of people. Here’s the version I heard from an email back in February:

“My friend [redacted] went to Harvard Law with Ted. [He] says that Ted shocked people when during the first week, he announced that he was creating a study group and only people with high GPAs from the Big Three Ivies could apply for admission. In short, Ted managed to come off as a pompous asshole at Harvard Law.”

As my correspondent notes, Ted managed to distinguish himself as an arrogant asshole at Harvard Law School, which is an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense. …

At each stage, Ted did seem to collect a quite small but core group of friends/followers, mainly people who were deeply in tune with his politics (he was as rightwing on day one at college as he is today) and who took what most found to be his assholery as a form of take-no-prisoners conservative badassdom. Indeed, if you think this is an issue of whom I talked to, just like-minded people maybe, consider this: It perfectly mirrors what’s happened over the last year in the Senate. Cruz has a small handful of followers in the Senate; but basically everyone else in his Republican caucus despises him.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ted was a big, big deal in the hyper-competitive and – c’mon – somewhat ridiculous world of college debate. So again … let’s not even belabor it.

There you have it:

This is why I’ve been saying since Ted Cruz replaced Michele Bachmann as the King of the Tea Partiers, that the reaction to Cruz in the Senate is simply the reaction Ted’s gotten at least at every stage of his life since he arrived at college in 1988 – an incredibly bright guy who’s an arrogant jerk who basically everybody ends up hating.

And now he’s running for president. He’s off, way off, and running – and Democrats could not be happier. A good chunk of the modern Republican Party will be pulling for an arrogant jerk that everybody eventually ends up hating. The rest of the Republican Party will be dismayed at that, and try to talk them into someone less maddening. The base will have none of that. Nominate a squish and they’ll stay home on Election Day. And so it goes. There’s no more to be said.

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The End of the Line

This started long ago. In 1947, the British government withdrew from its commitment to the 1923 Mandate for Palestine – the Ottoman Empire was long gone, and now so were the Nazis, but now there was no way to arrive at a solution of who should run what, in that little corner of the world, that was acceptable to both Arabs and Jews, Jews who might finally have their homeland. The Brits threw up their hands and walked away. Their own country was in shambles after six years of war, even if they had won, and the days of the British Empire were long gone. They were in no position to make things orderly and proper in places far away. They needed to make things orderly and proper in their own green and pleasant land. Someone else would have to take care of the daily administration of political matters in Palestine. They were out of there.

All bets were off, so the newly created United Nations – created here in San Francisco and then headquartered in New York – approved the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, to divide Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city administered by the UN, to avoid conflict over its status.

Cool. That should work, so on May 14, 1948, the day before the end of the British Mandate, the Jewish Agency proclaimed independence, naming the country Israel, and then we had a decision to make:

Margaret Truman said it was the most difficult decision Harry Truman ever faced as president. Should he support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, or shouldn’t he?

Presidential advisers and the government were split. Clark Clifford, Truman’s legal counsel, strongly favored recognition. The Jews deserved a sanctuary after the horror of the Holocaust, Clifford argued. Besides, the new state would likely come to pass whether Truman urged it or not.

But the Department of State, including the highly respected Secretary of State, George Marshall, advised against it, as did much of his cabinet. Truman greatly admired Marshall and had said that “there wasn’t a decoration big enough” to honor Marshall’s leadership during World War II. At a White House meeting on May 12, 1948, Marshall objected to quick US recognition of a Jewish homeland. It would look as if Truman was angling for Jewish votes, he said, and might endanger access to Arab oil. He went so far as to say that if Truman went ahead and recognized the new state, then Marshall would vote against him in the coming election.

Truman made his own decision. Two days later, May 14, 1948, Israel was born at the stroke of midnight, Jerusalem time. The United States announced its recognition of the new nation only 11 minutes later.

And no one has been happy since. One side got its own nation. The other side somehow didn’t. Israel fights daily for its very existence and the Palestinians want them gone. A smaller and smaller number on each side still think they can get along with the other side – just establish an actual Palestinian state with real borders and all that, and then work out the details of that original 1947 UN Partition Plan, a simple plan for something like coexistence. That plan called for an economic union between the two proposed states, and for the protection of religious and minority rights. How hard can that be? But the current Israeli government, building settlements in any disputed lands and saying, look, that’s Israel now, is not helping much. Angry factions of the Palestinians, lobbing rockets into Israel and occasionally blowing up a bus, don’t make things easier either. Sometimes it’s all-out war. The Israelis always win. The Palestinians seethe. Then it all begins again. For those of us born in 1947 – we’re old now – this has been going on for as long as we have lived.

We side with Israel in all this. Harry Truman sided with Clark Clifford, not George Marshall, and that eventually led to this:

Israel announced Wednesday it will refuse entry to United Nations human rights investigators who seek to probe potential war crimes committed in the latest 50-day military assault on Gaza.

The 47-member UN Human Rights Council in July approved the inquiry into “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Gaza Strip in the context of military operations conducted since mid-June,” focusing on the actions of Israel as well as Hamas. Twenty-nine nations voted in favor of the investigation, with the U.S. issuing the sole “no” vote.

That’s what we do:

Critics charge that the UN, in fact, does not go far enough, as U.S. veto power prevents the international community from acting on this and other inquiries, including the Goldstone Report, which reviewed a previous Israeli military attack on Gaza in 2009.

We’ve got their back, except nearly sixty Democrats, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, decided to boycott Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. Netanyahu did come to Congress in defiance of the White House, to upbraid and shame our young and hopelessly naïve president – invited to do so by the few remaining Real Americans – those who prefer war to diplomacy, or at least prefer Israel’s prime minister to our president, or who just love Israel a whole lot. Obama was preparing to reach a “bad deal” on Iran’s nuclear program. This man had to be stopped. The Republicans agreed. It was time to side with Israel against our president. It was the patriotic thing to do.

It was? That notion was a bit confusing, as was the fact that many of those who boycotted the Netanyahu speech were Jewish, cheered on by other American Jews. That led to an odd interview up in Elizabeth Warren’s state:

Republican Rep. Steve King suggested Friday that some American Jews feel like “Democrats first and Jewish second.”

“Here is what I don’t understand, I don’t understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their President,” King, a hardline conservative from Iowa, said Friday on Boston Herald Radio.

“It says this, they’re knee-jerk supporters of the President’s policy,” King said.

How can these Jews abandon Israel? This Goy is puzzled, and he’s an important Goy:

As a Republican from Iowa, King has met with virtually every Republican considering a 2016 presidential run, hosting the first cattle call of 2016 Republican hopefuls in Iowa in January.

Iowa is the first station of the cross in the primary process. Every Republican hopeful has to get though Iowa to move on. Each needs the blessing of Steve King. You don’t piss this guy off. Say the right thing about all those self-hating Jews out there.

He might be wrong:

Executive director of the American Jewish Committee, a leading global Jewish advocacy group, David Harris, was quick to condemn King’s comments, calling them “painfully wrongheaded and hurtful.”

“It’s a painfully wrongheaded understanding of American Jews and this kind of collective description should have no place in American political discourse,” Harris told CNN. “American Jews, like other faith and ethnic groups, are a very diverse community in their thinking, in their policies and in their voting behavior.”

Harris added it was wrong to equate criticism of Netanyahu as anti-Israel, pointing out that there’s no “single Jewish outlook or point of view.”

“I know lots of American Jews who support the President and many others who don’t support the President on Israel on Iran policy,” Harris added.

The Goy doesn’t care:

When asked if anti-Semitism was a factor – it’s not clear if the host was referring to Obama’s policies – King said yes, along with “plain liberalism.” King’s office did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.

Well, a majority of American Jews support the Democratic Party – they always have – and there’s this:

Several Jewish groups also criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and his repudiation last week of a Palestinian state in the lead-up to the elections. Netanyahu has since walked back those comments, insisting that he supports a “sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”

A number of Jewish groups – both in the US and Israel – advocate for a two-state solution and some oppose Netanyahu’s position on the peace process.

Daniel Gordis says there’s a reason for that, and he opens with an anecdote:

There is a relatively new dimension to the ritual of taking off on an El Al flight: security, boarding, stowing bags, getting seated … and waiting. The wait is due to Haredi men, ultra-Orthodox Jews, who refuse to sit next to a woman during the flight. They demand to be reseated, not an easy task on a packed 747, all the more so because many passengers, outraged by what they perceive as medieval behavior, refuse to be complicit by moving. Because El Al security doesn’t allow the plane to leave with the bags of those who deplane, even throwing the Haredim off the flight wouldn’t save time. Finding their bags in the belly of the plane would take longer than the reseating.

Other Israelis increasingly resent this enormous bloc of black-clothed Jews who impose such trouble on them. They were delighted when the finance minister, Yair Lapid, led a campaign in the previous government to force Haredim to serve in the army and to curtail government subvention of Haredi schools. Now that the Haredim will once again be in the governing coalition and Lapid will not, the Haredim have already announced that they intend to undo any “damage” Lapid inflicted.

To many American Jews, this Haredi power, with its rejection of pluralism and blatant use of raw political force, is beyond distasteful. It reflects a dimension of Israeli society they cannot abide. Many of those same American Jews were distressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election announcement that he no longer supported the two-state solution, and mortified by his appeal to Jewish voters to rush to the polls because Arabs were voting in huge numbers (they weren’t, by the way). Those Americans will comfort themselves, albeit with sadness, that Israelis voted for security rather than a domestic agenda.

Gordis says that’s naïve, because something deeper is going on here:

It is not just security versus economy. Israeli society is increasingly divided between Ashkenazi and Sephardi, European sensibilities versus Middle Eastern pugnaciousness, a tendency toward secularism versus a reverence for religion even among the nonobservant.

Although precise numbers are not out yet, it is clear that Isaac Herzog’s voters were overwhelmingly Ashkenazi and European in origin. The Mizrachim, Israelis of Middle Eastern ethnicity who first swept the Likud and Menachem Begin into power in 1977, may surely have voted for Netanyahu because they trust him on Iran. But it’s more than that. The refined, Western, soft-spoken Herzog feels foreign to them; Netanyahu’s pugnaciousness seems better suited to this part of the world, where pride and bravado are valuable assets in conflict. Talk to the taxi drivers; these non-European Israelis are unabashed about saying that they do not want Protestant Caucasians in Washington telling them what to do.

Truman and Clifford and Marshall were Protestant Caucasians in Washington, but that was a long time ago:

Mizrachim now account for half of Israel’s population, and that percentage is slowly growing. Thus, values that are important to many American Jews – openness to non-Orthodox varieties of Judaism, giving women greater access to places of religious worship, softening Israel’s footprint in the West Bank – will matter much less to an increasing number of Israelis.

That is going to make Israel an ever more complex cause for many American Jews. To the extent that they identify with and support an Israel that seems like the U.S. except for its being Hebrew-speaking and falafel-eating, the Israel of yesteryear will have much more appeal than the Israel of tomorrow. As Israel becomes more Middle Eastern and less European, and especially as the Middle East becomes increasingly dangerous, Israelis’ instincts are likely to be very different from what many American Jews wish they would be.

That is a problem for American Jews, but Gordis says that may prove problematic for Israelis too:

Obama is clearly getting ready to put the squeeze on Israel. He snubbed the prime minister by not calling him to congratulate him on his victory, and the White House announced that it might consider a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, precisely what the Palestinians demand. Israelis who voted for a Netanyahu locked in mortal combat with the American president may well have assumed that they had that luxury because American Jews have their backs. What those Israelis might not fully appreciate, because they are much more at home in the rough and tumble Middle East than in the nuances of the West, is that the society they are now shaping will probably seem ever more foreign – and unappealing – to the very Jews whose support enables them to feel so secure.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank sees that too:

The Law of Return, enacted by David Ben-Gurion’s government in 1950, guarantees Israeli citizenship to all Jews who move to Israel. This was meant to guarantee that Israel would remain Jewish (Palestinians, controversially, are not granted this right) but it also meant that, after the Holocaust, and thousands of years of wandering, there was finally a place to which all Jews could go, and defend ourselves, if nowhere else was safe.

This is why Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions on the eve of this week’s Israeli elections were so monstrous. In a successful bid to take votes from far-right parties, the prime minister vowed that there would be no Palestinian state as long as he’s in charge. It was an unmasking of sorts, revealing what many suspected all along: He had no interest in a two-state solution.

Netanyahu backed off that position after the election, assuring American news outlets NBC, NPR and Fox on Thursday that he still backs a two-state solution, in theory. His backtracking seemed nominal and insincere, but even that gesture is reassuring, for abandoning the idea of a Palestinian state will destroy the Jewish state just as surely, if not as swiftly, as an Iranian nuclear bomb.

The problem is the notion of democracy:

Without a Palestinian state, Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democracy but not both. If it annexes the Palestinian territories and remains democratic, it will be split roughly evenly between Jews and Arabs; if it annexes the territories and suppresses the rights of Arabs, it ceases to be democratic.

There are roughly 4.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and another 1.4 million living inside Israel. That puts them in rough parity with Jews, who number just over 6 million. Higher Palestinian population growth and fertility rates indicate that Jews will be a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean in a few years.

Some right-wing outfits contest these numbers and try to make the dubious case that Israel can annex the Palestinian territories and still survive as a democratic Jewish state. Those were the type of voters Netanyahu was fishing for when he said before the election that he would not allow a Palestinian state – and when he warned on Election Day that “Arab voters are coming out in droves.” But in the end there can be no democratic Jewish state unless there is also a Palestinian state.

That’s kind of what United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 said back in 1947, but Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (that would be Reformed, not Haredi, of course) sees this:

I believe in Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. In fact, I wish all other nations in the region would follow Israel’s lead and also protect every citizen’s right to express him or herself freely and without fear at the ballot box. So it was with deep sadness and concern that on Election Day, I read this statement on the prime minister’s Facebook page: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls.”

No public figure should lament his fellow citizens’ right to vote. Indeed, that right is fundamental to the health of any democracy, which Israel has been since its founding nearly 68 years ago. In Israel as in the United States, devotion to democratic values is meant to transcend politics and partisanship. I am not alone in that belief. Not only has the leadership of my own branch of Judaism roundly condemned the prime minister’s remarks, but we were joined by many others in the broader Jewish community.

The sad truth is that voting rights are not being celebrated or even protected as they must be – in Israel or in the United States. As troubling as the prime minister’s words were, they are reminiscent of the sentiments expressed in 2012 by then-Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan who lamented voter turnout “especially in urban areas.” And the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidating key parts of the Voting Rights Act that has for decades, and with bipartisan support, thwarted efforts to limit access to the polls, was similarly misguided.

Misguided, perhaps, but not unexpected. Netanyahu thinks like a Republican, or it’s the other way around, but this American Jew doesn’t think that way:

Two weeks ago, I stood with thousands of others in Selma, Alabama, marking the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march for voting rights. I was there because I am deeply proud of the long history American Jews have fighting for voting rights, from the thousands of activists who marched alongside their African American sisters and brothers in the 1960s to those who helped draft the Voting Rights Act in the conference room of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center. Those rights must be defended in the U.S. as in Israel.

Each of us must reject initiatives that seek to constrict rights, instead of expand them. Rather than passively celebrating the democratic values that the United States and Israel share, we must hold both nations to a higher standard and demand an uncompromising commitment to ensuring and, indeed, encouraging, access to the polls for all citizens. We need a commitment from our leaders to advocate for the inalienable right to vote – even for their most strident critics.

All democracies are judged by how well they uphold the rights of their minority communities. It is incumbent upon each of us – as Jews who care about the health and future of the state of Israel, as descendants of ancestors who spent centuries dwelling in nations that did not allow them the right to vote, and as Americans who treasure the rights enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights including religious freedom and voting rights — to reach out across the divides of race, class and faith to build a more equal and more just future for all.

Would Steve King dismiss Rabbi Jonah Pesner as an anti-Semite? Perhaps he would. Steve King might say the same about George Marshall, but Slate’s William Saletan has had just about enough of this nonsense:

Netanyahu can no longer be dismissed as a rogue. He has proved that his people stand behind him. They have given him more seats in parliament than he had before and a more hawkish coalition of ruling parties. We don’t have a Netanyahu problem anymore. We have an Israel problem.

Israel and the United States have a long, deep friendship. It’s based on shared interests and values. But it’s no longer clear that the old interests and values are shared. The U.S. government believes that Palestinian Arabs, like Jews, are entitled to a sovereign state. We believe it’s wrong to build settlements on land that doesn’t belong to you. We believe that ethnic minorities are entitled to participate in the political process and that they shouldn’t be vilified to scare up votes. The events of the past week suggest that the prime minister of Israel doesn’t believe these things and that most of his people either agree with him or don’t care enough to vote the other way.

It’s true that Israelis have other concerns, such as the high cost of housing. But when you set aside an issue, such as the rights of Palestinians, you’re saying it isn’t important to you. It’s also true that it’s easy for Americans like me to talk about this without facing the threat of terrorism. But sometimes distance is helpful. A friend can help you see changes in yourself. The constant pressure of war, terrorism, and peril has hardened Israel’s heart.

Those of us who were born in 1947 remember an old advertising tagline – “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” This is not your father’s Israel either:

When you look for a pattern in Netanyahu’s behavior – the settlements, the ethnic demagoguery, the speech to Congress, the retraction of his commitment to an independent Palestine – no moral principle unites them. What unites them is audacity and calculation. Netanyahu does whatever he thinks he can get away with. That’s how he describes the thinking of his adversaries, because that’s how he thinks, too. If you listen to Israeli leaders who are trying to influence the behavior of their nation’s enemies, the word you’ll hear again and again is price.

That’s why Israel has descended to its current level of disregard for others. It hasn’t paid a price. Even in the face of Netanyahu’s unwelcome speech to Congress, the Obama administration sent officials to the AIPAC annual conference to pledge that the United States would stand by Israel no matter what. “We have Israel’s back, come hell or high water,” national security adviser Susan Rice assured the crowd. So Netanyahu delivered his speech, went home, and gave the United States, Europe, and the Palestinians more hell. And Israelis re-elected him.

We have enabled this behavior, and we must end it. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. We must clarify the price Israel will pay for continuing to flout international norms and commitments. The challenge is to find the right measure.

That is a problem, but in an interview with the Huffington Post, President Obama did say this:

Well, I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, congratulated his party on his victory. I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic. And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.

Juan Cole offers a simple translation:

For appearances sake I had to call that son of a bitch and pretend to congratulate him. But I let him know that his outrageous torpedoing of any Palestinian state has two consequences:

1. Israel isn’t a democracy any more – you don’t get to call yourself that if you plan to rule 4 million occupied people with martial law forever.

2. The Palestinians and the Americans are not falling ever again for this two-faced lying bastard’s charade of “peace talks” that actually just provide a fig leaf to massive and expanding Israeli theft of Palestinian land.

There you have it. After sixty-six years and ten months, Harry Truman’s decision doesn’t seem all that wise now – not that it was the wrong decision at the time – but times change. Nations change too. This is not your father’s Israel? No, it’s not. And the last Oldsmobile rolled off the production line on April 29, 2004, by the way. The brand no longer meant anything. It was just another dumb car – as dumb as all the others. There’s a lesson there.

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Alternatives to Anger

Extroverts don’t understand introverts. Free-spirited Greeks and passionate Italians just don’t understand those silent coldblooded Scandinavians, or the ironic Czechs who do no more than smile, knowingly, much less those Keep-Calm-and-Carry-On Brits with their stuff upper lips. That’s what that 1964 movie Zorba the Greek was about – the earthy and impulsive and direct Zorba, played by Anthony Quinn, a Mexican by the way, finally gets the uptight prissy Brit, played by Alan Bates, to loosen up and live life, damn it! This seems to involve a whole lot of male line-dancing to strange bouzouki music in odd tempos, but one can imagine the mirror-opposite movie. That would be the movie where the Brit, a man of discretion and honor, gets the free-spirited Greek to get a grip, and get a job, and get serious about one’s responsibilities in this hard and cruel world – kind of like what the Germans are now trying with the Greeks on economic issues.

That wouldn’t be much fun, but the misunderstanding is universal. On Star Trek, Captain Kirk never did understand Spock – who could never get angry, only more thoughtful and efficient, and even calmer, and then subtlety ironic. That was maddening, and of course that’s what drives everyone on the right, and particularly Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts on talk radio, crazy about Obama. He doesn’t love America!

How do they know? Obama does his job thoughtfully and carefully, and when things get especially tough, he gets even more thoughtful and careful. Disagree with his policies, and the assumptions that underlie them. That’s fine, but faulting Obama for a lack of sufficient overt passion, displayed on cue, seems a bit silly. Why should that be important? And how does anyone know what he “feels” anyway? Some folks like to keep their passions to themselves. They only get in the way of getting the problem solved, so perhaps Zorba was wrong. Greece and Italy are a mess now, aren’t they? Where did their openness and passion get them?

This is the sort of thing that splits liberals and conservatives. Liberals have preferred guys like Adlai Stevenson – the thoughtful and calming egghead who ran for president, and lost twice – all the way through the thoughtful and calming Barack Obama, who won twice. Conservatives seem to prefer the outraged and passionate. Now it’s the Tea Party crowd – all passion and little sense, because passion is what matters. They have a simple question for the rest of America. Aren’t you outraged?

They seem puzzled when they hear the answer from most Americans. No, we’re not particularly outraged. Yes, there are big problems to solve, but outrage, even if justified, won’t solve those problems. Careful thinking and hard work, and folks of all sorts working with each other, will solve those problems. Talk of who loves America, and who doesn’t, won’t. That’s why the polling shows that Congress is now viewed less favorably than root canals, head lice, colonoscopies, traffic jams, cockroaches, Donald Trump, France, Genghis Khan, used-car salesmen and Brussel sprouts. Congress not only gets nothing done, it does it with intense passion. Outrage and anger are not only tiresome, they’ve ruined everything. The public has spoken.

Liberals have long known this, and liberals usually don’t get angry. They don’t even get even. Don’t get angry, get even? What’s the point in that? Solve the problems at hand. Get your folks elected. Solve the problems. That was the dynamic that played out in the 2008 presidential election. McCain was the outraged angry man. Anything would set him off. Sarah Palin was all outrage, without discernable focus, unfortunately. Obama was cool and calm – we can fix this, and we can fix that, so you two rant all you want. If he was angry about anything he kept it to himself. He still does. Anger never did do anyone any good. That’s Tea Party stuff.

That’s why it’s odd that the New York Times’ Paul Krugman has just called for everyone to be angry, and the proximate cause is this:

By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” – a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.

You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern GOP’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.

Krugman recommends this backgrounder on the magic asterisk on spending and this one on the magic asterisk on revenue – but he’s an economist and likes dense analysis of dry numbers, so he gives us a break, and a quick summary of that raw fiscal dishonesty:

So, about those budgets: both claim drastic reductions in federal spending. Some of those spending reductions are specified: There would be savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid over and above reversing the recent expansion, and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies. Rough estimates suggest that either plan would roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. But both also claim more than a trillion dollars in further cuts to mandatory spending, which would almost surely have to come out of Medicare or Social Security. What form would these further cuts take? We get no hint.

Meanwhile, both budgets call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the taxes that pay for the insurance subsidies. That’s $1 trillion of revenue. Yet both claim to have no effect on tax receipts; somehow, the federal government is supposed to make up for the lost Obamacare revenue. How, exactly? We are, again, given no hint.

And there’s more: The budgets also claim large reductions in spending on other programs. How would these be achieved? You know the answer.

This, then, calls for anger:

It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior. The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. And the Obama administration has been remarkably scrupulous in its fiscal pronouncements.

Okay, I can already hear the snickering, but it’s the simple truth. Remember all the ridicule heaped on the spending projections in the Affordable Care Act? Actual spending is coming in well below expectations, and the Congressional Budget Office has marked its forecast for the next decade down by 20 percent. Remember the jeering when President Obama declared that he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term? Well, a sluggish economy delayed things, but only by a year. The deficit in calendar 2013 was less than half its 2009 level, and it has continued to fall.

So, no, outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing. And the question we should ask is why.

Why? Krugman offers this:

One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible – so magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.

But I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with are huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.

But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt – which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.

Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.

If so, only one response is appropriate:

Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.

The blogger Zandar, at Balloon Juice (a counter to the hard-right site Hot Air) is fine with anger:

Well, the “why” part seems pretty obvious. “Break the government, and then blame the government for being broken” has been the game at least since Reagan, and the solution is always to take a larger hammer to the federal machinery. Rolling back everything since the New Deal seems pretty much par for the course for these guys, if not cynically burning out the last of America’s consumerist resources before going on to new markets in China and India to exploit. It’s always been about pillaging the treasury and setting the place on fire on the way out the door. …

And our problem is that we’re always finding new and exciting ways to direct that outrage at President Obama and the Democrats rather than the Republicans trying to talk us into self-immolation.

Digby (Heather Parton) digs a bit deeper than that:

It must be springtime since all of the Village is once again excitedly poring over the Republican budget plan. As usual they are searching for reasons to praise its responsible agenda of slashing benefits for poor, old and sick people in order that we all be forced to “take our medicine” and recognize that “we are all going to have to sacrifice.” (Of course the millionaire celebrities who are saying won’t feel any pain, but you can be sure they have your best interests at heart.)

In years past, the star of the show was Very Serious Person, Paul Ryan, the Republican budget savant who everyone agreed was so spectacularly serious that even though his budget numbers never added up, he was still worthy of deep respect and rapt attention just because he was so darned… serious.

No, really, and she recommends this 2012 piece by William Saletan to show what she means:

Ryan is a real fiscal conservative. He isn’t just another Tea-Party ideologue spouting dogma about less government and the magic of free enterprise. He has actually crunched the numbers and laid out long-term budget proposals.

Even back then Paul Krugman was astounded by that:

Look, Ryan hasn’t “crunched the numbers”; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal. So why does Saletan believe otherwise? Has he crunched the numbers himself? Of course not. What he’s doing – and what the whole Beltway media crowd has done – is to slot Ryan into a role someone is supposed to be playing in their political play, that of the thoughtful, serious conservative wonk. In reality, Ryan is nothing like that; he’s a hard-core conservative, with a voting record as far right as Michelle Bachman’s, who has shown no competence at all on the numbers thing.

What Ryan is good at is exploiting the willful gullibility of the Beltway media, using a soft-focus style to play into their desire to have a conservative wonk they can say nice things about. And apparently the trick still works.

Digby sees it still working:

For years, no matter how tragically misguided the proposed tax cuts for the rich and benefits cuts for the poor and whatever hare-brained “reforms” he pretended to propose the commentariat acted as if the yearly Republican budget had been delivered directly from Mt Sinai. This year proves that they will greet every braindead, extremist GOP budget with similar excitement regardless of Ryan’s involvement. The 2015 Budget Committee proposal under the new chairman Tom Price, for instance, has garnered tremendous coverage even as it’s acknowledged by everyone that it has as much chance of passing as a ban on flying American flags at political events.

After much hemming and hawing and jockeying between the defense hawks and the fiscal hawks with the Tea Party vultures pacing around with a ravenous look in their eyes, the House GOP budget committee finally managed to pass a document. Passing the budget in the full House and then coming together with the Senate in reconciliation is a long shot to say the least, despite the fact that they are promising to lard the reconciliation process with as many offensive proposals as they can muster. It would be entertaining if it weren’t such a stale and boring storyline by now. But the beltway wags can’t stop themselves from writing breathless story after breathless story, even as they acknowledge that the budget features draconian cuts to necessary services has little chance of passage and no chance of being signed by the president. The fact that the numbers never add up is barely mentioned.

She seems beyond anger now and into bitter resignation, but she does note that every year the Congressional Progressive Caucus releases what they call The People’s Budget – with numbers that actually add up, that also reduce the deficit reduction and offer protection for “the most vulnerable” – all paid for by higher taxes on the wealthiest folks, and cites Katrina vanden Heuvel describing it in the Washington Post:

On the investment side, the CPC expands investments in areas vital to our future. It would rebuild America, modernizing our outmoded infrastructure. It would invest to lead the green industrial revolution that is already forging markets and creating jobs across the globe.

The CPC understands that we must do the basics in education. It would provide pre-K for every child, the most important single reform we can make in education. It calls for increasing investment in our public schools, helping to mitigate the destructive inequality between rich districts and poor. It would provide students with four years of debt-free college education, and pay for renegotiating existing student loans, relieving the burden now crushing an entire generation.

The CPC recognizes that more seniors are facing a retirement crisis. On budget, it would adopt an inflation measure for Social Security that reflects the rising costs seniors face in areas like health care. Off budget, the CPC calls for expanded Social Security benefits, paid for by lifting the income cap on Social Security payroll contributions. No longer would Donald Trump pay a lower rate in Social Security taxes than the police who guard his palaces.

The CPC would also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, giving a break to low-wage workers and to parents struggling with the costs of childcare. And needless to say, the CPC would defend Medicare and Medicaid, not privatize it, and strengthen health-care reform, not eliminate it.

Digby adds this:

With the exception of a few scattered liberal writers, that proposal might as well have been released underwater for all the attention it gets. If it is mentioned by the mainstream cognoscenti it’s usually accompanied by eye-rolling and barely suppressed giggles as if this proposal was found on the back cover of Angela Davis’s copy of Das Kapital. Meanwhile, the dead-on-arrival GOP slash-and-burn budget is discussed endlessly on every cable network.

That’s something to be angry about, and there’s Paul Waldman with this:

Today, the Economic Policy Institute – a liberal think tank that gets support from labor unions – released an 11-point “Agenda to Raise America’s Pay,” and it’s worth paying attention to because something like it will probably become Hillary Clinton’s economic plan. Conservatives would probably look at it and say this is the same old thing: Increase the minimum wage, lower barriers to collective bargaining, invest in infrastructure, reform immigration, raise taxes on the wealthy, and so on. … But the fact that many of these ideas are familiar doesn’t diminish the degree to which they’re both popular and aimed directly at income inequality. And some of the proposals, such as increasing the availability of overtime pay and sick leave, or encouraging the Fed to prioritize lowering unemployment over protecting against future inflation, haven’t been as commonly discussed among regular people sitting around kitchen tables.

Digby:

It’s doubtful that most Americans have discussed more than a few high profile proposals like the minimum wage at the dinner table. Why would they? The media never mentions them. Now, if Clinton wins the nomination and does adopt this agenda as her own, they will certainly get more play. But it starts at a disadvantage compared to the GOP budget plans because people have heard all these conservative proposals again and again being discussed respectfully in the media while the liberal agenda sounds like something jarring and odd.

The People’s Budget and the Agenda to Raise America’s Pay are mainstream programs that would be eminently achievable if the Republicans and the moneyed elites would allow taxes on the people who are reaping all the benefits in this economy to be raised to a level that makes sense. They do not need all the money, they really don’t. If they are taxed at the rates people of vast wealth have historically been taxed they will still have vast wealth. But this is considered crazy talk in the political world.

Perhaps Krugman is asking everyone to be angry at the wrong thing. Don’t be angry at these two Republican budgets. Be angry that they’re the only ideas being taken seriously – or don’t be angry at all. Be calm. Be cool. Be ironic if that’s your thing. But get your own ideas out there. Make the other guys angry. They’re good at it, and it will sink them. Everyone is tired of righteous anger now. And that Zorba fellow was a real loser, by the way.

Posted in Politics of Anger, Republican Addiction to Outrage, Republican Budget Plans | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment