Here’s a major moment in the nascent Republican presidential primary: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour tonight became the first among the leading Republican candidates to suggest that the United States reduce its presence in Afghanistan and its spending on defense.
Barbour echoed the concerns of critics of the Afghan war effort when asked by reporters in Iowa about American involvement in the conflict:
He also said that the U.S. should consider reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan. “I think we need to look at that,” he said when asked if the U.S. should scale back its presence.
But he said his reasoning isn’t financial.
“What is our mission?” Barbour said. “How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. … Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?”
“I don’t think our mission should be to think we’re going to make Afghanistan an Ireland or an Italy” or a Western-style democracy, he said.
Barbour’s leading Republican rivals have positioned themselves to President Obama’s hawkish right on a range of foreign policy issues. They’ve also resisted calls from some associated with the Tea Party movement for deep cuts to federal spending that would include defense cuts. In fact, two of the candidates — Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — have in the past backed the Heritage Foundation’s “4 percent for Freedom” initiative, which would actually raise baseline defense spending.
Ben Smith correctly identifies the first sort of interesting event in the Republican presidential primary race: Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has had enough of Afghanistan and wants to start drawing down troops. No details about how many and when, of course–and, in the end, Barbour’s timetable may not be all that different from Obama’s, which, I expect will have lots of troops coming home next year. But this is Haley Barbour, folks–and we know two things about him: he’s not the world’s boldest policy thinker and he’s probably the smartest political strategist in the field. When Barbour decides that Afghanistan is a loser, you can bet that more than a few Republicans are heading that way–and that means interesting times for the trigger-happy neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. It also means that the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries may be a real eye-opener.
The interesting thing about Mr Barbour’s comments is not that he said them, but that he’s right: of course reining in defence spending has to at least be part of the conversation if people are going to take Republican promises of fiscal responsibility seriously. The depressing thing about his being right is that it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of other ways for Republicans to show their fiscal bonafides. Means-testing Social Security, for instance. Trimming Medicare. Backing the cost-saving measures in Obamacare. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire (sigh). Any takers, Republicans? No?
My two cents: Mr Barbour will get a pass on those comments for now—and may even get some lip service from the Romney-Gingrich camp—because his candidacy is such a long shot. If things start to improve for him, though, look for him to be pilloried as soft on national security.
Of course, if Ron Paul runs, he would easily outdo Barbour on this front. But for now, Barbour is the only one, and Time‘s Joe Klein uses the opportunity to tout him as “probably the smartest political strategist in the field.”
Whether or not that’s true, you really don’t need to be a genius to know that Americans across the political spectrum are tiring of the war in Afghanistan. You just need the ability to read. According to a January Gallup poll, 72 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans want to “speed up withdrawal from Afghanistan.” And the sentiment is even stronger among tea partiers. According to a poll commissioned by the Afghan Study Group — in the words of founder Steve Clemons, “a bipartisan group of leading academics, business executives, former government officials, policy practitioners and journalists” — 64 percent of self-identified tea partiers want to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan or leave the country entirely. Considering the poll numbers, more surprising than Barbour taking a dovish position on Afghanistan is that the rest of his fellow candidates-to-be haven’t already done the same.
Barbour, the Boss Hogg governor of Mississippi, remains a long-shot for the GOP Presidential nomination but he’s not someone noted for policy boldness or imagination. True, his ideal timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan may not differ from the platonic ideal of withdrawal imagined by the Obama administration; that’s not the important thing here. What matters – though this is but a tea leaf into which too much should not be read – is the hint that Republican enthusiasm for the Afghan mission may be waning. That in turn may make the foreign policy debates during the GOP primary more interesting than seemed likely six months ago.
Barbour, of course, is an impeccably-connected member of the “elite” disguised as a southern good old boy. Doubtless that’s why he’s also able to argue that conservative claims to fiscal responsibility (an interesting concept in itself) are meaningless if the Pentagon’s budget is ring-fenced and protected from future budget cuts. Again, this is the sort of “Beltway” thinking disdained by talk radio and the populist right.
Yesterday James observed that it is “worrying” that ” the United State appears to have lost interest in its role as global policeman” but it’s also worth pointing out that this is a role it has performed fitfully and inconsistently in the past. Again, parts of the Obama administration’s foreign and security apparatus – notably but not only Bob Gates – owe something to the George HW Bush/Colin Powell approach to international affairs. Leadership is certainly important but the problems of foreign policy are something to be managed, not solved. Because often there are no solutions and even rarer still is the solution that doesn’t involve hefty, perhaps expensive, trade-offs.
On a smaller platform than some may have hoped, President Obama wrote an op-ed in today’s Arizona Daily Star launching his intention to tackle serious and “common sense” gun control. Two months after the Tucson, Arizona shooting tragedy, Obama seems to be searching for middle ground on the issue in an effort to protect “our children’s futures.”Obama first reaffirmed he has no intention of confiscating guns:
Now, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. . . . And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners – it has expanded them, including allowing people to carry their guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.
And Obama discussed his awareness of how difficult it will be to approach an issue that both sides feel so passionately about:
I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides. People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country.
Then Obama outlined a few practical beginning steps, including “enforcing laws that are already on the books,” strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, rewarding states that provide the best data, and making the background check system “faster and nimbler” so that criminals can’t escape it.
In an Arizona Daily Star op-ed piece (which Jesse Walker noted this morning), President Obama urges “an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks” in response to the Tucson massacre. But since there is no reason to think such a system would have stopped Jared Lee Loughner from buying a gun, this recommendation seems like a non sequitur (as gun control proposals often do).
Obama regrets that “a man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun.” But people who are rejected for military service or thrown out of community college are still allowed to own firearms, and Obama does not propose changing the factors that disqualify people from buying guns. As for his description of Loughner as “a man apparently bent on violence,” that is true mainly in retrospect; the school officials and police officers who encountered him prior to his crime seem to have viewed him more as a nuisance than a menace. In any case, Loughner was never “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution,” which would have made his gun purchase illegal.
In short, the president’s solution would not have stopped Loughner, and it would not stop similar assailants in the future. Yet Obama not only says the current system of background checks is “supposed to stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun”; he claims beefing up the system (primarily by incorporating more state data regarding disqualifying criteria) “will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.” Which is worse: that Obama believes this (assuming he does) or that he expects us to believe it?
The National Rifle Association is declining to meet with the Obama administration to discuss gun control, signaling that the nation’s largest gun lobby isn’t willing to come to the table on a Democratic president’s terms.
“Why should I or the NRA go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, in an interview with The New York Times on Monday. He cited Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — the latter of whom has little to do with gun policy — as examples.
However, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre immediately rejected that offer. “Why should I or the N.R.A. go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” he asked, adding, “It shouldn’t be a dialogue about guns; it really should be a dialogue about dangerous people.”
Putting aside LaPierre’s posturing on the Second Amendment, it’s telling the NRA is not willing to state a substantive disagreement with Obama. The Post reported:
LaPierre said he favored much of what Obama endorsed in his op-ed, but he charged that the president was targeting gun ownership for political reasons rather than addressing the “underlying issue” of “madmen in the streets.”
Despite his opposition to joining the administration’s table, by his comments in an interview Mr. LaPierre sounded at times like the White House.
Echoing NRA arguments, an Obama administration official told the NYT they want to redefine the gun debate to “focus on the people, not the guns” and they want to “begin by enforcing laws that are already on the books.” Nevertheless, the NRA is unwilling to be appeased.
So why is Wayne LaPierre misrepresenting Obama’s views and rejecting his olive branch? Since everyone seems to agree on a path forward, the answer seems to be quite clear: money and self-preservation. Since President Obama took office, the NRA has benefitedsignificantly in increased membership, due primarily to baseless and unfounded fears actively promoted by NRA officials, supporters and sympathizers, that Obama wants to eliminate the Second Amendment and take away everyone’s guns.
The NRA tells its members not to believe Obama when he says he supports the Second Amendment. It’s no wonder then that rank-and-file NRA members think Obama wants to “get rid of all the guns,” “has no respect for the country,” is “an idiot,” and “anti-American.”
A nearly unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech about public issues and upheld the right of a fringe church to protest near military funerals.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing “is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible.” But he said government “cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”
“As a nation we have chosen a different course – to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate,” Roberts said.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was the lone dissenter.
“Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” Alito wrote.
Stepping aside from the emotions and bizarre facts, this case implicates all sorts of legal issues aside from the First Amendment. A private cemetery can and should remove unwanted visitors for trespassing — but the Phelpses didn’t enter the cemetery. A town can pass ordinances restricting the time, place, and manner of protests — but the Phelpses stayed within all applicable regulations and followed police instructions. Violent or aggressive protestors can be both prosecuted and sued for assault, harassment, and the like — but the Phelpses’ protests did not involve “getting up in the grill” of people, as their lawyer put it during oral argument.
As the brevity of Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion confirms, there’s very little to this case and the Phelpses’ actions, ugly and objectionable as they are, are as constitutionally protected as a neo-Nazi parade. If people don’t like that, they can change state laws to put certain further restrictions on protests near funerals or other sensitive areas — or federal laws in the case of military cemeteries — but they shouldn’t be able to sue simply for being offended.
The Court clearly felt considerable sympathy for the slain soldier’s family, but concluded that the First Amendment interests at stake were overriding. “The record makes clear that the applicable legal term—‘emotional distress’—fails to capture fully the anguish Westboro’s choice added to Mr. Snyder’s already incalculable grief. But Westboro conducted its picketing peacefully on matters of public concern at a public space adjacent to a public street.” The Court continued: “Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. … Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
The Court left undecided two important issues that it concluded were not squarely presented. First, recognized that the government may regulate the “time, place, and manner” of speech and that the State of Maryland (where this protest was held) subsequently enacted a statute governing the circumstances in which funeral protests may be held. The Court did not decide the constitutionality of that statute or other similar federal and state laws. The Court may have been motivated to grant review in the case and still affirm in order to issue an opinion that, unlike the arguable implications of the court of appeals’ decision, did not call such statutes into question.
Second, the Court acknowledged that the plaintiffs had also brought suit on the basis of statements made by the defendants on a website. But it concluded that the issue had been waived by not preserving it in the petition for certiorari and only briefly mentioning it in the merits briefing. The Court was therefore able to limit its decision strictly to the context of funeral protests.
Justice Roberts, for the majority, noted that “Our holding today is narrow. We are required in First Amendment cases to carefully review the record, and the reach of our opinion here is limited by the particular facts before us.” That is nearly always the case, so much so that the Court does not generally bother to mention it in its decisions unless it intends the comment to have significant effect beyond a yawnIn his concurrence, Justice Breyer expanded on this cautionary note:
I agree with the Court and join its opinion. That opinion restricts its analysis here to the matter raised in the petition for certiorari, namely, Westboro’s picketing activity. The opinion does not examine in depth the effect of television broadcasting. Nor does it say anything about Internet postings. The Court holds that the First Amendment protects the picketing that occurred here, primarily because the picketing addressed matters of “public concern.”
While I agree with the Court’s conclusion that the picketing addressed matters of public concern, I do not believe that our First Amendment analysis can stop at that point. . . . [S]uppose that A were physically to assault B, knowing that the assault (being newsworthy) would provide A with an opportunity to transmit to the public his views on a matter of public concern. The constitutionally protected nature of the end would not shield A’s use of unlawful, unprotected means. And in some circumstances the use of certain words as means would be similarly unprotected (emphasis added).
Justice Alito expanded on the points raised in Justice Breyer’s concurrence at some length in his dissent at pages 23 – 36, particularly the analogy to a physical assault by A on B in order to gain an otherwise unlikely media audience for his views. Both Justices Breyer and Alito seem to think that A’s statement of views in the media presence would not shield him from liability for the assault, physical or verbal.
In raising the matter, Justice Alito seems to rely on matters noted by Justice Breyer not to have been before the Supreme Court. The majority opinion observes, in a footnote:
A few weeks after the funeral, one of the picketers posted a message on Westboro’s Web site discussing the picketing and containing religiously oriented denunciations of the Snyders, interspersed among lengthy Bible quotations. Snyder discovered the posting, referred to by the parties as the “epic,” during an Internet search for his son’s name. The epic is not properly before us and does not factor in our analysis. Although the epic was submitted to the jury and discussed in the courts below, Snyder never mentioned it in his petition for certiorari. See Pet. for Cert. i (“Snyder’s claim arose out of Phelps’ intentional acts at Snyder’s son’s funeral.” (emphasis added)). . . .
It is up to the petitioner for certiorari to do what Mr. Snyder evidently did not do. Unfair, perhaps, but here it serves to emphasize and give some flesh to the statements in the majority opinion as well as in the concurrence that the majority opinion is narrowly limited to the facts before the Supreme Court.
This is a tough decision (and one which I grudgingly concede until I can read the actual decision) which is only tempered if you believe that there is a special place in hell for the Phelps family.
Also, please remember that these protests are stunts in order to evoke a visceral reaction from normal Americans in order to sue them in court and receive funds which keeps bread on the Phelps family table. Do not engage these horrible disgusting animals as that is exactly what they want.
It’s hard to celebrate any victory for Phelps and his band of bigots, but that’s the point — you don’t need the First Amendment to defend popular speakers.
Appropriately enough — given her recent hypotheticals resting on the assumption that atheists expressing views in ways that aren’t sufficiently “solemn” for a public place is such an self-evidently intolerable outcome that preemptive attacks on other speech she finds ideologically objectionable are required — Althouse’s beloved statist reactionary Sam Alito was the only dissenter. You’d think that this case would kill of his wholly unearned reputation for moderation, but it seems as durable as Newt Gingrich’s wholly unearned reputation as an intellectual.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the powerful Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has launched an inquiry into whether spokesman Kurt Bardella improperly shared e-mails from other reporters with a New York Times reporter writing a book on Washington’s political culture, POLITICO has learned.
Bardella has been cooperating extensively with the Times’s Mark Leibovich on the book, and Issa told POLITICO Monday that he would “get to the bottom” of exactly what Bardella shared with Leibovich.
On Tuesday morning, Issa fired Bardella as a result of his investigation.
Issa, Bardella and Leibovich all were given several opportunities by POLITICO to deny that the e-mails were improperly shared. Bardella and Leibovich declined comment. Issa says he simply does not know.
Issa said Monday that Bardella assured him that “he does not share information between one reporter and another.” But he added there are questions about whether he might have treated Leibovich and his book project differently.
“His collaboration with the book author is what I want to get to the bottom of,” Issa said.
Issa said he was seeking to speak to Leibovich personally on Wednesday to ascertain “what kind of cooperation he was expecting. … I want to know in minute terms what the terms are.” As of late Monday afternoon, Leibovich said he had not heard from Issa or his staff.
In an earlier interview with POLITICO, Issa said he was aware his staff has been cooperating with Leibovich and that he had had a hallway interview with Leibovich himself. He said he agrees that if Bardella forwarded or blind-copied reporter e-mails to Leibovich, it would be improper. “It troubles me too,” Issa said, adding that if it is going on, “I’m going to get it stopped.”
Confronted about whether he was sharing the e-mails with Leibovich, Bardella initially said, “Am I bcc’ing him on every e-mail I send out? Of course not.”
Leibovich, a former Washington Post staffer, is on leave from the Times while he researches the book, which is scheduled to be published next year. Reached Monday night, Leibovich had no comment.
Politico.com first reported the alleged leak Monday. The Web site’s editor, John Harris, first raised concerns about the e-mails Sunday in a letter to Issa.
“The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances,” Harris wrote, according to Politico. “As the editor-in-chief of Politico, my concern is heightened by information suggesting that Politico journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”
Harris – a former Post writer and editor – said in an interview Monday that his Capitol Hill reporters heard about the possible leak Friday. “It’s just intolerable if [information about] our reporting was shared with other journalists from other news organizations,” he said. “Our reporting is proprietary and our stories are competitive. Journalists have an expectation that their communication [with sources] is confidential.”
But sources familiar with the matter said that the leak involves hundreds of e-mails to Issa’s office, many of them mundane and routine inquiries from news organizations seeking information and interviews with the chairman.
Bardella lists Leibovich among his friends on Facebook.
Although I would be first to offer condolences to any reporter whose e-mails or inquiries to a press officer had been blithely shared with another reporter, I wouldn’t spend more than five seconds on cheering him up. A certain variety of Washington reporter lives and dies by leaks from government officials, so I don’t see why a government official leaking to a reporter about a national security matter is kosher, but a government official leaking about what reporters are asking him about is “egregiously unprofessional,” “compromising,” or “intolerable,” as Harris puts it.
As for Harris’ expectation that communications from reporters will be “held confidential,” well, I feel another lung coming up. Although I hope flacks will keep confidential my inquiries to them and their bosses, never in my journalistic career have I believed that a flack would keep his mouth zipped. Flacks and reporters are in the business of distributing information, not sequestering it. They move information like currency traders! They’re blabbermouths! This is one reason why reporting on the press is so easy, why the freshest journalistic recruit can start reporting on the press with almost no experience: Reporters love to give up their secrets and the secrets of others. Why? Because that’s what they’re trained to do! Flacks are almost as loose-mouthed.
Anybody composing e-mails these days should proceed on the assumption that what they write will be posted on the Web milliseconds after they send it. E-mail is not a secure form of communication. You might as well skywrite your questions to a press spokesman as put them in an e-mail. If Harris is so upset about his reporters’ e-mails getting leaked to Leibovich, he should have them use the phone. It’s not a leak-proof device, but it’s harder to forward a phone conversation unless you’re running a tape recorder.
Of course it is wrong for somebody to share correspondence without asking for permission first, but if that ethical constraint were universally observed, there would be no journalism. We’d all be rewriting GAO reports for a living.
I’m somewhat mystified that Issa required an “investigation” to get to the bottom of this, because inside Issa’s office there was no secret about Bardella’s cooperation. When I was writing my profile of Issa, Bardella openly discussed his cooperation with Leibovich—and not just with me, but with his direct boss as well. For example, during a meeting with Bardella and Issa’s chief of staff, Dale Neugebauer, the three of us had a light-hearted discussion about how extensively Bardella was working with Leibovich.
“So you know about this, right?” I asked Neugebauer.
“Oh yeah. Yeah, he knows,” Bardella said.
“He [Bardella] just got to Washington and he’s got a book about him coming out,” I noted.
“I know, no kidding,” Neugebauer said.
In a later conversation, Bardella told me, “I’ve shared a lot with [Leibovich].” He added, “I have provided him with a lot of content. I BCC him on certain projects that I’m working on.” Bardella said he shared information that shows “this is how it happens” and “this is the conversation I’m having right now.”
“Do the other folks in the office know?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Bardella said, and he gave me an example of the type of stuff he shares: “Here’s this inquiry I got from a reporter. Here’s what I said to my staff about it, here’s the story, here’s the e-mail I just got from so-and-so, another reporter who’s upset that I gave his story to [someone else].”
At another point in one of our conversations, Bardella explained that getting news in partisan outlets— he cited the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, and the Washington Times—was easy, but it didn’t have the same impact as getting something in the mainstream press. He explained that he had recently leaked a report on ACORN to the New York Times, which had run what was, in his view, a good story for Issa. He then received an e-mail from an aide to Senator Susan Collins, he said, who complained about not being part of the decision to leak the report. Bardella said that he sent the e-mails documenting the whole drama to Leibovich.
“I blind-copied Mark in my response,” he said, “which was, given that my options were the Examiner or the New York Times, I’m not exactly going to apologize for the result that I just produced that you would not have. You had the report for four days and you didn’t do shit with it.”
This long back and forth was the lead-in to a Bardella quote I used in the piece:
[R]eporters e-mail me saying, “Hey, I’m writing this story on this thing. Do you think you guys might want to investigate it? If so, if you get some documents, can you give them to me?” I’m, like, “You guys are going to write that we’re the ones wanting to do all the investigating, but you guys are literally the ones trying to egg us on to do that!”
To me that last quote was one of the most important things Bardella told me. The rest of it—that offices clash over how to leak info and that bookers and reporters are competitive—is interesting but relatively well known, and not very relevant to a piece about Darrell Issa. But that Bardella accused reporters of offering to collaborate with Issa as he launches what will inevitably be partisan investigations of the Obama Administration seemed jaw-dropping. This is exactly the dysfunctional investigator/reporter dynamic that in the nineteen-nineties fed frenzies over every minor Clinton scandal. In his short-lived career, Bardella was witness to the fact that it was all starting over in 2011, now that there was again a Republican House and a Democratic President. From what I know of what Bardella shared, the beat reporters who cover Issa and engaged in this kind of game with Bardella will be the ones most embarrassed by the e-mails that Leibovich possesses.
Will Ryan now publish every email he has sent requesting an interview with someone on the Hill? If not, why not? And if another journalist somehow got access to his emails and published them, would he be fine with that? Or is it just because he’s buddies with Leibovich? Just asking. I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the journalist-source relationship right now. I’m saying there are ethical and unethical ways to point this out.
Politico, the news Web site that on Monday revealed that a Congressional aide had been secretly sharing e-mails with a New York Times reporter, itself sought correspondence between government officials in numerous federal agencies and other news organizations.
In a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request distributed to at least half a dozen cabinet departments, Ken Vogel, a Politico reporter, made a broad request for all government communications with reporters or editors of 16 news organizations.
The request — which was eventually fulfilled in part after being narrowed, a Politico editor said — asked for “copies of all correspondence,” including “but not limited to e-mails, notes, letters and phone messages — received from or sent to employees or officials” of a number of media organizations: the five major television networks; National Public Radio; the Web sites Huffington Post, ProPublica and TPM Muckraker; and The Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Washington Times. The request also included Politico.
Among the agencies that received the request were the Justice Department, the Energy Department, the Commerce Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Treasury Department and the Transportation Department.
Politico was the first to report this week that Kurt Bardella, the chief spokesman for Representative Darrell Issa of California, had been giving copies of Mr. Bardella’s e-mail correspondence to Mark Leibovich, a reporter for The New York Times who is on leave to write a book about the political culture in Washington.
Politico reported that its editor in chief, John F. Harris, wrote to Mr. Issa that the practice would be “egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances” and called for an investigation into whether “journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”
(Mr. Harris said in an e-mail Wednesday morning that he was not interested in a legal probe of the situation, but asked Issa directly for answers about the arrangement between Mr. Bardella and Mr. Leibovich.)
Mr. Harris said in an interview Tuesday that there was a difference between a routine request for correspondence under the Freedom of Information Act and an arrangement in which e-mails were passed on immediately to another reporter.
He called it “bad faith between journalists who had an expectation of privacy and the person representing Chairman Issa, who violated that.”
“I thought there was a professional expectation, widely held and legitimately held, and that was compromised.”
In the Politico request, Mr. Vogel hinted at one target of his search, noting that included in the response should be “invitations (including to social events).” In fact, several government officials said Tuesday that the broad request was eventually narrowed to a search for invitations from reporters to social events.
Over at The New York Times’s Caucus blog, Michael Shear (with assistance from three other reporters) responded this evening to POLITICO’s scoop about Kurt Bardella, a since-fired aide to Rep. Darrell Issa who shared reporters’ emails with Times reporter Mark Leibovich.
Shear reported that POLITICO’s Ken Vogel in 2009 filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking correspondence between “at least half a dozen cabinet departments” and representatives of various media outlets (including POLITICO).
Comparing Vogel’s request to the Bardella/Leibovich arrangement, under which Bardella apparently blind copied Leibovich on emails to unknowing reporters, Shear writes that Vogel’s “initial F.O.I. request was, if anything, broader in its reach than the dissemination of information from Mr. Bardella to Mr. Leibovich.”
I find the blog item a bit perplexing and out of character. The comparison, in any event, misses the point of Vogel’s request, whose results never wound up in a story.
The correspondence Vogel requested is considered public information under federal law, the Freedom of Information Act, while the emails Leibovich received from Bardella are not, because Congress — unlike executive branch agencies outside the White House (and some in it) — is not subject to the FOIA. There’s nothing terribly novel about seeking reporters’ emails with executive branch officials. The Columbia Journalism Review and Gawker forced the state of New York to release emails between reporters and David Paterson’s staff last year.
Leibovich’s email collection is for a book due out in 2012, which Leibovich’s publisher describes as an examination of “Washington’s culture of self-love.”
Vogel tells me his request wasn’t actually aimed at reporters. He was reporting for a follow-up story on the controversy over The Washington Post’s aborted plans to host “salons,” in which the Post offered lobbyists who paid as much as $250,000 off-the-record access to “those powerful few” — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.
Shear writes “Mr. Vogel hinted at one target of his search, noting that included in the response should be ‘invitations (including to social events).’ In fact, several government officials said Tuesday that the broad request was eventually narrowed to a search for invitations from reporters to social events.”
Vogel says he never asked for “invitations from reporters.” He asked for emails with “employees or officials at the media outlets,” because he wasn’t looking for embarrassing emails from reporters, but rather for invitations to salons or other events.
This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with reporting on reporters and their emails, whether obtained from leaky staffers or public records. But the equivalence the Times went for in its headline isn’t there, either in the form or subject of Vogel’s reporting.
In the middle of all this is the book author, the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich, a friend of mine, who set out to write about this town’s culture and finds himself being sucked into the dysfunctional drama, which resembles nothing so much as a bad reality-TV show in which people put their honesty and judgment second to their quest to be players.
This particular episode begins with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, another friend of mine (see what I mean by incestuous?) who wrote the definitive profile of Issa in January, describing his history as a car thief, among other things. Lizza also got Bardella to make some some surprisingly candid statements.
“I’m going to make Darrell Issa an actual political figure,” Bardella said. “I’m going to focus like a laser beam on the five hundred people here who care about this crap, and that’s it . . . so Darrell can expand his sphere of influence here among people who track who’s up, who’s down, who wins, who loses.”
Bardella also disclosed contempt for reporters he described as “lazy as hell. There are times when I pitch a story and they do it word for word. That’s just embarrassing. They’re adjusting to a time that demands less quality and more quantity.”
Lizza learned that Bardella had been sharing reporters’ obsequious e-mails with Leibovich. Lizza didn’t include the anecdote because Bardella wasn’t his focus, but word spread via journalistic pillow-talk after Lizza mentioned it in conversations, eventually making its way to Politico. That publication had done more than any other to increase Issa’s profile, with items such as “Issa aims to unmask health care deals” and “Sheriff Issa’s top six targets.”
Put on your PJs: It’s about to get even cozier. Politico reporters were making inquiries on Friday about their e-mails being forwarded to Leibovich, but on Saturday night they partied with Leibovich at the American Legion Hall on Capitol Hill for the 40th birthday party of Politico’s executive editor, Jim VandeHei.
A few hours before the party, Leibovich got a call from Politico’s editor-in-chief, John Harris – who, along with VandeHei and reporter Mike Allen, used to work at The Post with Leibovich (and me! So very cozy!). “Couldn’t this wait until VandeHei’s party?” Leibovich joked to Harris.
The bash itself was a celebration of the politically powerful. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and White House official Austan Goolsbee joined the likes of Bob Woodward and Tom Brokaw in a video tribute to VandeHei. The party received a 600-word write-up, which included Leibovich’s attendance, in Allen’s Politico Playbook the next day.
Also Sunday, Politico’s Harris wrote to Issa calling for an investigation into the “egregiously unprofessional” release of e-mails. On Monday, Politico published a story on the controversy co-written by Marin Cogan, a friend of Lizza’s.
From what I understand, the e-mails won’t look good for Politico if and when Leibovich releases them. There are expected to be many from Allen and reporter Jake Sherman. There could be embarrassments for other outlets, including The Post, that played footsie with the 27-year-old Bardella as part of a culture in which journalists implicitly provide positive coverage in exchange for tidbits of news.
But this isn’t real news. The items Bardella fed journalists were “exclusive” previews of announcements designed to make Issa look good. Now that Bardella has been fired, Issa has been embarrassed and a few reporters are set to be humiliated, it might be a good time for those who cover the news to regain a sense of detachment from those who make the news.
Self-absorption to the point of parody? Check. Thinly-disguised “news” stories that serve journalists’ own personal or business interests? Check. Evidence that “journalistic ethics” is taking on the status of an oxymoron? Check. In the world of celebrity journalists, it’s perhaps to be expected that some news reporters and editors have come to regard themselves as the story, or, at the very least, to become convinced that their concerns and woes as the most fascinating part of the story. (Hence, hours of Cooper Anderson’s knock on the head in Cairo.) For people in the business of providing “context” and “perspective” that’s a pretty big character flaw.
Thousands of Wisconsin’s union workers and supporters crowded into the state capitol in Madison for a second day to protest a bill that would strip key collective-bargaining rights from public employees. The measure, introduced last Friday by new Republican Governor Scott Walker, would take away public-worker unions’ ability to negotiate pensions, working conditions and benefits. State and local workers would have to foot more of the cost for their pensions–around 5.8 %–and more than twice that percentage of their health-care costs. Nearly all public workers–the bill exempts police, firefighters and state troopers–would be able to bargain only for salary, and any wage increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. (Raises beyond that capped figure would require a special referendum.) With Republicans now in control of the state legislature after November’s electoral victory, the measure is expected to pass as early as tomorrow. You can read the statehouse’s summary of the bill here.
There’s no question Wisconsin has a deficit problem. The state has a short-term budget shortfall of $137 million, and over the next two years the deficit balloons to more than $3.6 billion. Walker says the “budget repair bill” would save some $30 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and $300 million during the following two. “I’m just trying to balance my budget,” Walker told the New York Times. “To those who say why didn’t I negotiate on this? I don’t have anything to negotiate with. We don’t have anything to give. Like practically every other state in the country, we’re broke. And it’s time to pay up.” He says the measure will help avoid up to 6,000 layoffs.
The measure has infuriated the state’s 175,000 public-sector employees, who say they’re being scapegoated by a governor whose party has no love for unions.Other newly installed Republican governors, from Florida’s Rick Scott to Ohio’s John Kasich, have zeroed in on cutting state-employee rolls and rights as a way to close sagging budget gaps. But Walker’s plan, which guts entrenched rights, is perhaps the most dramatic. “It is up to us to fight for the right of workers to have a collective voice on the job,” said Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt. “This proposal is too extreme.”
For the last two days, protestors have been marching on the Wisconsin State Capitol, protesting Governor Scott Walker’s new union-busting budget proposal. Last night, a public forum was held and protesters got a chance to speak inside the Capitol to let their voices be heard. As of early Wednesday morning, citizens are still speaking to the Joint Finance Committee in the Capitol.
Scroll Down For Latest Updates.
*All times are Central Standard Time
Tuesday, February 15, 10:42 PM: Thousands of demonstrators are inside the Capitol, demanding a chance to speak in an open forum. Officials have been allowing citizens to sign up on a list, but are debating closing down the list due to overcrowding and public safety reasons. Video here.
11:20 PM: I conducted interviews with three members of the University of Wisconsin community, which can all be seen below.
“I’m worried about the future,” Jason Kempe, a Spanish teaching assistant, told me. “I don’t have a problem with losing, but I do have a problem with abolishing the ability to negotiate,” he said. Watch the full interview here.
Then I spoke with Chris McKim, a recent UW graduate who recently spent time abroad in Nepal. “Where I was living in Nepal, they are coming out of 15 years of civil war over very basic human rights, one of them the right to peacefully assemble and collectively bargain in unions,” McKim said. “To see something like that stripped from us here at home, it’s horrifying.” Watch the full interview here.
“We want our professors to be the best and we want our TA’s to be the best,” said Meghan Ford, an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin. “They work extremely hard and to take away their pay like this is a basic violation of human rights, not just worker’s rights.” Watch the full interview here.
Wednesday, February 16, 12:22 AM: It’s past midnight here but the crowd has not thinned out much.
I just talked to Leif Brottem, a sixth-year PHD student and research assistant at UW-Madison. “Taking away health insurance and taking away bargaining rights of the union really… it’s going to negatively effect the university’s ability to attract students which are the lifeblood of the university.” Watch the full interview here.
Then, I interviewed Zachary DeQuattro, a TAA member and Zoology teaching assistant at UW-Madison. “I’m here tonight in support of my wife whose a Madison school teacher, and in support of myself and other graduate students,” DeQuattro told me. He said of the proposed bill, “It’s really the start of losing the whole union setup. The union will be eaten up trying to re-certify every year and it’s just a real shame.” Watch the full interview here.
12:51 AM: Just got word from a student upstairs that this hearing will likely go on all night. The Republicans may leave at 2:00 when they initially anticipated the forum to end, but I’m hearing that this will go on all night.
2:00 AM: It is officially 2:00 AM and the forum is still going strong. I’m with a few hundred people in the atrium of the building, some of whom are fast asleep.
2:02 AM: All of the lights went off for about 10 seconds, which was met with cheers from some of the people gathered here, but they were promptly turned back on. “Maybe someone just leaned on the light switch,” a friend of mine joked.
Over the last few days we’ve had a growing number of emails from readers saying what’s happening now in Wisconsin is important and we should be on it. As you can see from our current feature, we agree. And we are on it. So I wanted to take a moment to explain just why I think this is so important.
On one level, this is just a meaty news story. The newly-inaugurated right-wing Governor of Wisconsin is using the state’s budget crisis to drastically change the rights of union organizing in the state. He’s even added the weird and bizarre touch of proactively hinting that he might call out the state National Guard to calm any labor unrest. The key point is that Gov. Walker is going well beyond cross-government retrenchment to making wholesale changes to rights to collective bargaining. In response, labor and its progressive allies are mobilizing in a huge way to counter the effort. [Click here to see our slideshow of what’s happening on the ground in the state capitol today.] The Governor excludes police and firefighters from the changes to the labor laws. But at least the firefighters in the state seem to be standing with other public sector union members in what’s turning into a huge public battle.
That in itself would make it a story we’d want to be all over. But it’s quite a bit more than that. Whichever side of the policy issue you’re on, I think the outcome of this situation is going to have ramifications across the country. Republicans came out of the 2010 election pumped up and feeling that they had a huge mandate to fundamentally change government in this country. I don’t think the elections really told us that at all. But these things are decided by results post-election not by analysis of the election returns. And that’s what’s being determined right now.
The fact is that the Republicans decisively won the governorship and both houses of the state legislature — probably with next to no votes from the people who came to the demonstration. If you’re asking — like Shilling — for the Republican legislators to listen to democracy, they should look at the last election, the people all over the state who voted for them and, presumably, for fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice.
The people around the state were probably at their jobs yesterday, not able to travel here, into the heart of the state’s liberal politics, to do a counter-demonstration and show their numbers (the numbers recorded last October at the polls). Did the demonstrators — many of whom were teachers — try to speak to those people or did they mostly look inward, at each other, pumping up their own resolve?
What are the people around the state supposed to think of them — teachers who have pretty nice jobs and who decided they could go somewhere else for the day instead? What did those teachers teach? I didn’t notice any of them trying to speak to the people of the state, trying to win anyone over. In fact, there were chants — simple, repeated words that don’t try to explain and persuade — and ugly signs full of name-calling and violence. There were plenty of nice people too and gentle signs, but the nice to ugly ratio was worse than at the Tea Party rallies I’ve seen, and Democrats aimed such contempt at the Tea Partiers. Why should the Tea Party-type people of the state be impressed by the other side’s crowds?
Speaking on Morning Joe Thursday morning, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) compared the current situation in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) has inspired days of protests by proposing a budget that would remove key bargaining powers for public employee unions, to the recent unrest in Egypt that toppled the 30-year authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak, saying it’s “like Cairo has moved to Madison these days.”
Host Mika Brzezinski asked Ryan what he made of the protests and Walker’s “stand.”
“He is basically saying, state workers, which have extremely generous benefit packages relative to their private sector counterparts, they contribute next to nothing to their pensions, very, very little in their health care packages,” Ryan responded “He’s asking that they contribute about 12% for their health care premiums, which is about half of the private sector average, and about 5.6% to their pensions. It’s not asking a lot, it’s still about half of what private sector pensions do and health care packages do. So he’s basically saying, I want you public workers to pay half of what our private sector counterparts are, and he’s getting, you know, riots. It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days. It’s just, all of this demonstration. It’s fine, people should be able to express their way, but we’ve got to get this deficit and debt under control in Madison, if we want to have a good business climate and job creation in Wisconsin.”
Ryan then seemed to compare what’s happening in his state to anti-austerity protests that took place in Europe last year.
The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.
OfA, as the campaign group is known, has been criticized at times for staying out of local issues like same-sex marraige, but it’s riding to the aide of the public sector unions who hoping to persuade some Republican legislators to oppose Walker’s plan. And while Obama may have his difference with teachers unions, OfA’s engagement with the fight — and Obama’s own clear stance against Walker — mean that he’s remaining loyal to key Democratic Party allies at what is, for them, a very dangerous moment.
OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.
The @OFA_WI twitter account has published 54 tweets promoting the rallies, which the group has also plugged on its blog.
“At a time when most folks are still struggling to get back on their feet, Gov. Walker has asked the state legislature to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Under his plan, park rangers, teachers, and prison guards would no longer be able to fight back if the new Republican majority tries to slash their health benefits or pensions,” OfA Wisconsin State Director Dan Grandone wrote supporters in an email. “But that’s not even the most shocking part: The governor has also put the state National Guard on alert in case of ‘labor unrest.’ We can’t — and won’t — let Scott Walker’s heavy-handed tactics scare us. This Tuesday and Wednesday, February 15th and 16th, volunteers will be attending rallies at the state
In protest of the budget repair bill that will strip public union workers of almost all of their collective bargaining rights, Senate Democrats have walked away from a floor session.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Dems are refusing to come to the floor to debate and vote on the bill.
Fitzgerald said at some point, if needed, Republicans will use the State Patrol to round up Democrats to bring them to the floor. The bill passed the Joint Finance Committee on a partisan 12-4 vote Wednesday night and was due to be taken up by the Senate today.
During last night’s debate on the repair bill, Republicans on the JFC amended the bill to remove a provision stripping pension and health benefits from limited term employees.
The GOP amendment will also mandate local governments offer civil service protections to public employees similar to those state employees receive. Democrats on the committee, unsatisfied with what they felt were insignificant changes, voted against the amendment.
“We have to continue to fight,” Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, said. “This is one battle in the war.”
Republican leaders expected it to pass through the Legislature unchanged except for the amendment added in the JFC.
A few audience members broke down in tears as the committee moved toward a vote.
For the current year, the White House projects a more-than-$1.6-trillion deficit — even higher than the Congressional Budget Office forecast. But outlays would actually drop in 2012 and stabilize in the $3.7 trillion range, as deficits fall to $1.1 trillion in 2012 and $768 billion in 2013.
After November’s election results, no one assumes this is sufficient, but more than any of Obama’s prior efforts, the new budget makes choices that help define the man himself.
He bets big on education spending — an 11 percent increase next year — while altering the Pell Grant program to try to save the aid levels now allowed for college students from the poorest families. The National Institutes of Health would grow by about $1 billion, even as old anti-poverty programs and heating assistance would be reduced. And $62 billion in Medicare savings would be plowed back into paying physicians who care for the elderly.
Foreign wars, particularly the one in Afghanistan, would cost $118 billion, but for the first time in many years, total expenditures for the Pentagon and military would begin to fall. And while Republicans ridicule Obamat’s five-year cap on domestic spending, it has bred new restraint in the president.
Between the administration’s recent statements and a series of calculated leaks, we have a pretty good idea of what Obama is trying to do. He’s going to call for spending more money on education and other public investments, but he’ll also endorse enough cuts to keep overall non-defense discretionary spending at last year’s levels. Elementary and secondary school education, for example, should get a boost. But Pell Grants, for low-income college students, are going to take a hit, albeit a carefully crafted one.* There will be more money for building high-speed rail but less for helping low-income families pay their heating bills.
Is this a good thing? In absolute terms, clearly, the answer is no. The demand for Pell Grants is unusually high right now; among other things, cash-strapped states are raising tuitions at state schools just as cash-strapped students and families have fewer resources to pay them. Energy costs for next winter, when the cut in heating assistance would take effect, are likely to be higher than at any time since 2008. Unless the economic recovery quickens very suddenly, plenty of people will struggle to pay those heating bills. And those are just two examples of program reductions that will leave needy Americans even more needy.
But everything is relative, and that means judging these cuts alongside both the modest increases you’ll find elsewhere in this budget and the much larger increases you saw in previous ones. Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, will spend the next few days dissecting the Obama spending request and, as he does, he will likely find plenty not to like. But, during an interview, he also put disappointments in context:
I think [Obama’s] record is very strong — major expansions in refundable tax credits for the working poor, major expansion of student financial aid for low-income students so that more of them can go to and complete college, and of course, major health reform that will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured people. This is the most impressive record of any president since LBJ.
Obama’s spending request looks even better when you consider what the Republicans would do if left to their own devices. They haven’t committed themselves to a 2012 budget just yet. But they’ve said they want a far deeper freeze than Obama’s, reducing non-defense discretionary spending to what it was in 2008. On Friday, they offered a preview of that vision when they announced their proposal for how to finance government for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
They want far more severe cuts to Pell Grants and home heating assistance, plus reductions to such essential services as food inspections and the elimination of programs like Americorps. They also want to reduce spending on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant, and Children. That initiative, known as WIC, provides nutritional assistance to expectant mothers and newborns. As Paul Krugman notes, that cut will hurt today and tomorrow, since kids who grow up malnourished are more likely to have problems later in life.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Wonkbook readers: I know you said not to get you anything this year, but I saw the president’s 2012 budget coming out and, well, I couldn’t resist. Head here at 10:30AM EST to download it. You’re welcome.
The budget — which proposes to spend $3.73-trillion in 2012 — includes $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. Two-thirds of that comes from spending cuts, with the largest chunk the administration’s proposed five-year freeze of non-security discretionary spending. The final third comes in tax increases. If all goes well, that’ll take the deficit down from the 10.9 percent of GDP we’re projecting for 2011 to 3% of GDP in 2017 — a much more manageable level. Entitlements, tax expenditures, and other traditionally toxic parts of the federal budget are not being addressed. The final document bears very little resemblance to the report produced by the president’s fiscal commission.
One thing to note: The document assumes that the high-income tax cuts expire in 2012, as they’re currently projected to do. The administration isn’t counting that in their $1.1 trillion of deficit reduction, but if the prediction is wrong and the Bush cuts do get another extension, they’ll wipe out most of this budget’s savings in one fell swoop. Conversely, if we decided to get serious about the deficit and let all of the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012 — yes, including the cuts for the not-so-rich — the reduction in the deficit would be vastly larger than anything envisioned in this budget. It’s an odd turn of events, but for all that this budget, and the various Republican proposals, attempt to actually do for the deficit, the biggest single thing we could do would be to do, well, nothing: Let the Bush tax cuts expire and let the health-reform law and the associated Medicare cuts and excise tax get implemented as planned. Doing by not doing: That’s the zen of deficit reduction. Somehow, I doubt Washington will find it very calming.
Echoing the administration’s line that “the easy cuts are behind us,” Politico’s David Rogers says Obama’s 2012 budget is “long on tough choices.” That depends on how you define “tough.” Jake Tapper of ABC News gives those alleged hard choices some context: “At no point in the president’s 10-year projection would the U.S. government spend less than it’s taking in.” By the president’s own definition, then, today’s budget plan isn’t sustainable.
Instead, the president outlines a plan that would keep the yearly deficit above $1.6 trillion this year and around $1.1 trillion the year after. The 10-year plan is to shave off about $1.1 trillion from the next decade’s total expected deficit. But in the context of a $7 trillion-plus projected deficit, this is hardly a breakthrough, or a serious fix. Last December, the president’s own fiscal commission proposed about $4 trillion in cuts, including an overhaul of Social Security. The president’s budget, by contrast, barely touches our unsustainable entitlements—and certainly doesn’t offer anything in the way of major reform.
In other words, despite the president’s recognition of the basic math underlying our country’s ongoing fiscal distress, his budget still doesn’t fix the problem that we spend more than we make. So much for confronting the facts.
The fact of the matter is that the President is using fuzzy math to create an inflated budgetary baseline (in other words he has inflated projected spending over a 10 year period) so that he can claim cuts that don’t exist. Today is the President’s day to pitch his plan, but the Obama Administration has to answer why his baseline is so inflated and why he is planning to raise taxes at a time of economic pain.
The President’s budget has something called the “Bridge From Budget Enforcement Act Baseline to Adjusted Baseline.” This is the math theory used to create the fiction of cuts to the deficit. This document has a “Budget Enforcement Act Baseline” deficit of $5.5 trillion over the 2012-2021 period and adds in some calculations to inflate that deficit baseline.
The President is actually cutting the projected deficit using projections created by his own administration. This is a great way to make it look like he is going to balance the budget in 2021, a date where he will be far away from the Oval Office and in no way can he be blamed if his numbers do not pan out.
The Obama Administration adds in a factor, the “indexing to inflation the 2011 parameters of the Alternative Minimum Tax” which adds $1.5 trillion to the Obama baseline. Then the Obama numbers crunchers add a continuation of the tax cuts for middle income taxpayers to the tune of $1.3 trillion. Please note that this projection does not calculate in an extension of tax cuts for job creators — this is an projected increase in taxes starting in the first year of President Obama’s replacement.
More Obama math. Add in a $3.3 trillion in program adjustments and $642 billion in debt services on adjustments. Add in all of these projections to the baseline and you have adjusted the baseline from $5.5 trillion to $9.39 trillion in debt from 2012-2021. That is how you adjust debt upward to make it look like the President’s budget is cutting spending. You inflate projected spending over the next 10 years then increase spending at a lower rate than the baseline, you can create a “cut.”
On taxes, the President has hidden a massive increase in the gas tax. There is a line item in the President’s budget summary tables titled “Bipartisan financing for Transportation Trust Fund” that adds up to $328 billion from 2012-2021. In the President’s Bipartisan Debt Commission Report, they recommended a 15 cent increase in the gas tax. The President’s budget seems to assume that his commission’s report is implemented by Congress and send to his desk. This is an implicit endorsement of a massive increase in the price of gas at the pump in the form of increasing the federal gas tax from $18.4 cents. If this idea does not pass, then you have a $328 billion shortfall in the projected transportation budget.
Andrew Sullivan is back from his absence and in incredibly high dudgeon over the Obama administration’s failure to propose a more austere budget. Andrew concedes that any such proposal would fail and exact huge political damage upon Obama but somehow thinks it’s unconscionable Obama didn’t do it anyway:
The cynical political calculation is obvious and it is well put by Yglesias and Sprung. If Obama backs Bowles-Simpson, the GOP will savage him for the tax hikes, while also scaring the wits out of the elderly on Medicare. The Democratic left – just look at HuffPo today – will have a cow. Indeed, if Obama backs anything, the GOP will automatically oppose him. He has to wait for a bipartisan agreement which he can then gently push ahead. But that’s exactly why we are in this situation today. Because no president has had the balls to deal with it, and George W. Bush made it all insanely worse.
So… why would proposing something that gets shot down not be not only useful but an absolute moral obligation? I don’t really get it. It seems like the smart play is to first win the budget showdown and try to beat some sanity into the Republicans, who can’t possibly compromise right now, and then either cut a deal or (preferably) just let the GOP kill the entire Bush tax cuts for you, which would more or less take care of the medium-term deficit problem.
Anyway, that’s not even my main point. My main point is that Andrew seems to endorse the endlessly discredited doc fix myth:
But in a mere nine years, entitlements will account for 64 percent of all federal spending. And Obama just punted on his promise to cut Medicare payments to doctors, as pledged under Obamacare as a core part of the case that health insurance reform would cut the deficit. So congrats, Megan. We can chalk that up as a cynical diversion (even though Obama pledges to find savings elsewhere in the Medicare budget to make up for this lie – a promise we now have no reason to trust or believe).
Once again, the physician reimbursement is not part of the Affordable Care Act. It’s part of a poorly-drafted 1997 law. Promising to carry out the never-intended 1997 physician reimbursement cuts was not part of the Affordable Care Act. Nor is it anybody’s idea of good policy. I’ve seen this myth circulating among conservatives and hard-core libertarians but it’s the first time I’ve seen it leap over the ideological divide. One of my many attempts to dispel the myth can be found here.
Chait says there is no point in Obama proposing a real solution to the country’s medium-term fiscal collapse … because of the nature of the current Republicans. That’s Jon Cohn’s and Josh Marshall’s position too. I have not exactly been easy on the GOP either and their fiscal fraudulence when it comes to the long-term debt. And yet Tom Coburn boldly came out in favor of Bowles-Simpson, and Saxby Chambliss and Kent Conrad are on board for serious long-term entitlement and tax reform. It seems a little strange to believe that a GOP just elected on a platform of ending the debt would oppose Bowles-Simpson’s outline for eventual fiscal sanity. And if they did, Obama could call them out for their fiscal recklessness.
Instead, Obama’s transformation into a “what debt crisis?” liberal means that the GOP for the first time can legitimately call Obama out on his fiscal recklessness. Like Megan, I can see the point of spending in a recession. But when you have a new opportunity to set a new fiscal compass in a slowly recovering economy, outflank the GOP on the long-term debt, and help prevent a looming fiscal collapse, and you give the lame-ass SOTU Obama gave and unveil the risibly unserious budget we got yesterday, you reveal yourself as, well, not exactly change and certainly not hope.
I am not turning on the president given the alternatives, but I am not going to use the alternatives as excuses for the president to shirk his core responsibility to the next generation. I didn’t send eight years excoriating George “Deficits Don’t Matter” Bush to provide excuses for Barack “Default Doesn’t Matter” Obama. Like other fiscal conservatives, I’m just deeply disappointed by Obama’s reprise of politics as usual – even as the fiscal crisis has worsened beyond measure in the last three years. My point is that actually being honest about the budget and what it will take to resolve its long-term crisis is not political suicide, as Chait says. It’s statesmanship. It’s what a president is for.
One reason many of us supported this president was because he pledged not to return to the cynical politics of the Washington game in which partisan maneuvring always, always outweighs the national interest. But what he is telling us now is that he is indeed a classic pol, aiming for re-election, even if the US risks becoming a fiscal banana republic in the next decade.And if you really wanted to help the economy, wouldn’t reassuring domestic industry and international markets that the US is not on an auto-pilot for default be a lot more effective than planning more broadband access (however admirable that may be)? Does the president really believe that leaving Medicare and defense and Medicaid as they are is sustainable?
Leadership is not a bullshit SOTU that dredges up that ancient cliche about a “Sputnik moment” (really, Favreau? That’s all you got?), as if Obama were Harold Wilson extolling the “white heat” of the technological revolution as some sort of cure-all. It is not new slogans like “cut and invest”, which involve trivial amounts of money in the grand scheme of the things and may do actual harm to good government programs, instead of tackling where the real money is. It isn’t trimming a pathetically small amount from defense, while still adhering to Cold War troop deployments across the entire globe.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have rekindled their alliance on immigration reform, taking some early steps to test the political will for addressing the contentious issue this year.
Their call list hasn’t focused so much on House and Senate members who’ve been reliable pro-immigration votes in the past. Instead, they’re looking to a strange-bedfellows mix of conservative and liberal constituencies that can provide a “safety net” of support, as Graham put it, once the issue heats up.
It’s in the infant stage,” Graham told POLITICO. “I don’t know what the political appetite is to do something.”
Only one month into the new Congress, and Lindsey Graham has already started scheming with Chuck Schumer on how to pass an illegal-alien amnesty. I’m surprised he waited that long. McCain won’t be far behind.
Now, conservative evangelicals, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, business organizations and immigrant advocacy groups say they have gotten word from Schumer’s office that a renewed effort is under way. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed that it is back in the mix, after a hasty exit last year when Schumer proposed a legislative framework with a temporary worker program that favored labor unions.
Unions and big business partnering on amnesty? Say it ain’t so! Why, that’s as shocking as the opposition of both to ICE raids and e-Verify. There’s nothing strange at all at this partnership; it’s business as usual.
Congress and the last two administrations could easily have had immigration “reform” had they performed their duties to (a) secure the borders, and (b) fix the visa program that has nearly no follow-up on expirations. The 9/11 Commission demanded both from Congress in the summer of 2004. To date, not only has Congress mostly ignored those recommendations, they defunded the one project that addressed the commission’s concerns — the border fence.
Secure the border, and fix the visa system. Those should be the prerequisites to any discussion on “reform.” When Congress proves that they’re serious about securing this nation, then we can debate what to do with those who are in the country illegally now, but not before.
Comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue, and the basic framework of a worthwhile package is already in place — Bush, congressional Democrats, and some reform-minded Republicans agreed on a path several years ago, and the Obama White House would very likely endorse a very similar, if not identical, policy.
With this in mind, I’m glad Graham and Schumer at least have their hearts in the right place. They’re reaching out to newly-sensible GOP senators like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and have apparently brought John McCain back into the discussions (though he promised voters last year he would refuse to negotiate on the issue).
But putting aside questions of whether it’s even possible to craft an immigration bill that could get 60 votes and overcome Republican obstructionism, I haven’t the foggiest idea why anyone would think the GOP-led House would even consider such a measure.
Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir, “Known and Unknown,” isn’t set to be released until next week, but several news sites have obtained early copies. Previews of the book give insight into Rumsfeld’s negative opinion of several of his colleagues, his regrets or lack there of from his years as defense secretary, as well has personal struggles within his own family.
Just 15 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush invited his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to meet with him alone in the Oval Office. According to Mr. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, the president leaned back in his leather chair and ordered a review and revision of war plans — but not for Afghanistan, where the Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington had been planned and where American retaliation was imminent.
“He asked that I take a look at the shape of our military plans on Iraq,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes.
“Two weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, those of us in the Department of Defense were fully occupied,” Mr. Rumsfeld recalls. But the president insisted on new military plans for Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “He wanted the options to be ‘creative.’ ”
When the option of attacking Iraq in post-9/11 military action was raised first during a Camp David meeting on Sept. 15, 2001, Mr. Bush said Afghanistan would be the target. But Mr. Rumsfeld’s recollection in the memoir, “Known and Unknown,” to be published Tuesday, shows that even then Mr. Bush was focused as well on Iraq. A copy was obtained Wednesday by The New York Times.
But Rumsfeld still can’t resist – in a memoir due out next week – taking a few pops at former secretaries of state Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice as well as at some lawmakers and journalists. He goes so far as to depict former president George W. Bush as presiding over a national security process that was marked by incoherent decision-making and policy drift, most damagingly on the war in Iraq.
Much of Rumsfeld’s retrospective reinforces earlier accounts of a dysfunctional National Security Council riven by tensions between the Pentagon and State Department, which many critics outside and within the Bush administration have blamed on him. Speaking out for the first time since his departure from office four years ago, the former Pentagon leader offers a vigorous explanation of his own thoughts and actions and is making available on his Web site (www.rumsfeld.com) many previously classified or private documents.
Sounding characteristically tough and defiant in the 800-page autobiography “Known and Unknown,” Rumsfeld remains largely unapologetic about his overall handling of the Iraq conflict and concludes that the war has been worth the costs. Had the government of Saddam Hussein remained in power, he says, the Middle East would be “far more perilous than it is today.”
Addressing charges that he failed to provide enough troops for the war, he allows that, “In retrospect, there may have been times when more troops could have helped.” But he insists that if senior military officers had reservations about the size of the invading force, they never informed him. And as the conflict wore on, he says, U.S. commanders, even when pressed repeatedly for their views, did not ask him for more troops or disagree with the strategy.
Much of his explanation of what went wrong in the crucial first year of the occupation of Iraq stems from a prewar failure to decide how to manage the postwar political transition. Two differing approaches were debated in the run-up to the war: a Pentagon view that power should be handed over quickly to an interim Iraqi authority containing a number of Iraqi exiles, and a State Department view favoring a slower transition that would allow new leaders to emerge from within the country.
Shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld offered President George W. Bush his resignation. Bush refused. Five days later, just so there was no confusion, Rumsfeld offered again, and once again, Bush refused. It was another two and a half years until Rumsfeld was finally canned. But in his upcoming 800-page memoir, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld writes that he really wishes Bush had just let him go earlier.
One of the few personal anecdotes in the 815-page volume takes place more than 12 hours after hijacked planes struck not only the World Trade Center but the Pentagon, filling his office with heavy smoke and forcing him to evacuate with other employees, some of them wounded. His spokeswoman, Torie Clarke, asked if he had called his wife of 47 years, Joyce. Rumsfeld replied that he had not.
“You son of a bitch,” Clarke said with a hard stare.
“I respect Secretary Rumsfeld. He and I had a very, very strong difference of opinion about the strategy that he was employing in Iraq which I predicted was doomed to failure,” the Arizona Republican said on “GMA.”
McCain and Rumsfeld had clashed over troop levels.
“And thank God he was relieved of his duties and we put the surge in otherwise we would have had a disastrous defeat in Iraq,” McCain told me.
Rumsfeld is also going to release a website full of “primary documents” that he thinks will prove his point. It will be like the WikiLeaks, only instead of pulling back the curtain and exposing American diplomatic and military secrets, they will probably just be a bunch of memos about how much Rumsfeld was “concerned” about the security situation in post-invasion Baghdad. Also I bet there will be a document that says “I promise Donald Rumsfeld had no idea that we were torturing and killing prisoners, signed, everyone at Abu Ghraib.”
Speaking of! Rumsfeld says Bill Clinton called him once and said: “No one with an ounce of sense thinks you had any way in the world to know about the abuse taking place that night in Iraq.” Yes, well, the people with ounces of sense are completely wrong.
Rumsfeld also apparently devotes a lot of space to rewaging various long-forgotten bureaucratic disputes. There is something about George H. W. Bush, whom he clearly hates. Rumsfeld also wants everyone to know that former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was “bullying” and an “imperial vice president,” which is hilarious for many reasons, including Rumsfeld’s closeness to Dick Cheney and the fact that as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, Rumsfeld basically blocked Rockefeller from doing anything.
Now let’s enjoy the attempted rehabilitation of Rumsfeld in the press, where his awfulness has probably been entirely forgotten.
Rummy says Defense was preparing for offense on Afghanistan at the time, but Bush asked him to be “creative.” Creative! Perhaps the military could stage a production of Grease for the people of Iraq before taking a bow and dropping a bomb on them?
The book mixes the policy and the personal; at the end of the same Oval Office session in which Mr. Bush asked for an Iraq war plan, Mr. Rumsfeld recounts, the president asked about Mr. Rumsfeld’s son, Nick, who struggled with drug addiction, had relapsed and just days before had entered a rehabilitation center. The president, who has written of his own battles to overcome a drinking problem, said that he was praying for Mr. Rumsfeld, his wife, Joyce, and all their children.
“What had happened to Nick — coupled with the wounds to our country and the Pentagon — all started to hit me,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “At that moment, I couldn’t speak. And I was unable to hold back the emotions that until then I had shared only with Joyce.”
Ah, there you have it. Rumsfeld could have said, “What the fuck are you talking about going to war with Iraq for? Our country was just attacked by a foreign terrorist organization we need to go try to destroy. Iraq has nothing to do with this. Aren’t you more concerned with winning this war we haven’t even begun yet?” But instead, his son had done some drugs. Sure thing, Rumsfeld. Perfectly good excuse. You should drop some leaflets on the families of people, American and Iraqi, whose children have died in that war. “Sorry, my son was doing drugs. I was emotional at the time. Not my fault.”
So here you have it: There’s finally someone to blame the entire Iraq War on: Nick Rumsfeld. HOPE YOU LIKED THOSE DRUGS, ASSHOLE!
The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.
The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.
But Reed left the DLC last year himself to serve as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, leaving Ed Gresser, a trade expert, to lead the group in the interim. Since then the board “hasn’t been able to find someone who wanted to come on in a permanent capacity,” a person familiar with the group’s woes said, with the central problem the difficulty of raising money for a Democratic group that isn’t seen as an ally of the White House.
Gresser declined to comment on the DLC’s future, and referred a call to From, who didn’t immediately respond to a message left with an assistant.
It’s hard to remember, but the whole rise of the progressive netroots was organized around opposition to the DLC, which liberals saw as Satan incarnate. Bill Clinton was an early member, and the DLC helped frame his presidential candidacy.
I always had mixed feelings about the group. I think it was about half innovative effort to counterbalance traditional Democratic interest groups, and half naked effort to suck up to corporate America and/or give contentless messaging cover to red state Democrats.
But for the main part, the DLC disappeared because its work was over. The remaking of the Democratic Party begun by Clinton held in place. The DLC floundered because it had nowhere else to go — having moved the party to the center, it could only advocate for the party is it stood in the Clinton and post-Clinton era, or advocate that it move further still toward the center. It became a an anachronism.
What it hasn’t been able to do is adapt to success. It hasn’t mended relations with liberals, so it never could become the all-purpose Democratic think tank and holding pen that the Center for American Progress is. Its policy shop and messaging shops got a bit stale, which allowed upstarts like Third Way to pass it in influence. It continued picking fights with people like Howard Dean and Markos Moulitsas, which meant that when it got headlines, they weren’t necessarily good ones. It hasn’t nurtured and held onto the young talent that could help it build new constituencies or really update its thinking. It never figured out the Web.
But if I were Al From, the organization’s founder, I’d feel pretty good about myself. For better or for worse, the DLC won. That’s why potential donors and others are now comfortable letting it die.
More prosaically, the DLC did something in 2006 to permanently alienate them from virtually the entire party: they endorsed Joe Lieberman’s re-election bid. Lieberman’s stalwart support for the war in Iraq and for President Bush was just about the biggest sin of all to Democrats of the era. Some issues are zero sum, and the DLC found itself on the wrong side of history, as least as far as the Democratic Party was concerned.
There are two other factors worth mentioning. One was that Big Labor became all the more important to helping Democrats get out the vote, and that made it more difficult for Democrats to affiliate with the DLC. The second was that the Netroots — Atrios and Daily Kos and Chris Bowers — thought the DLC’s “centrism” was equivalent to the politics of concession and compromise.
No question: the Netroots and progressive left are at the center of gravity for the Democratic Party as an institution. There is a distinction, though, between energy and influence. And it still isn’t clear how Democrats win the election without galvanizing the type of voters the DLC sought to attract. The group may be going away, but debates about its ideas will dominate politics for a long time to come.
The truth of the matter is that the DLCs function has been taken over by Third Way. Nobody needs to fear that the centrists aren’t going to be well represented in the Democratic Party. They run the place.
Way back in 2005, Markos Moulitsas of the liberal Daily Kos was quite irked with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and declared:
Two more weeks, folks, before we take them on, head on. No calls for a truce will be brooked. The DLC has used those pauses in the past to bide their time between offensives. Appeals to party unity will fall on deaf ears (it’s summer of a non-election year, the perfect time to sort out internal disagreements). We need to make the DLC radioactive. And we will. With everyone’s help, we really can. Stay tuned.
He was going to make them “radioactive.” To think, if a conservative had said it, it would be considered encouraging dirty bomb attacks.
We scoffed. But no more. Apparently Kos really has perfected the promised radioactive superweapon. Ben Smith:
The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday… Its website currently leads a Harold Ford op-ed from last November, titled, “Yes we can collaborate.” It lists as its staff just four people, and has only one fellow. Recent tax returns weren’t immediately publicly available, but returns from 2004-2008 show a decline in its budget from $2.6 million to $1.5 million, and a source said funding further dried up during the financial crisis that began nine months before Reed took over.
Could the long-promised superweapon be real? I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions dozens of centrist Democrats suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced
While much of American media has termed the events unfolding in Egypt today as “clashes between pro-government and opposition groups,” this is not in fact what’s happening on the street. The so-called “pro-government” forces are actually Mubarak’s cleverly orchestrated goon squads dressed up as pro-Mubarak demonstrators to attack the protesters in Midan Tahrir, with the Army appearing to be a neutral force. The opposition, largely cognizant of the dirty game being played against it, nevertheless has had little choice but to call for protection against the regime’s thugs by the regime itself, i.e., the military. And so Mubarak begins to show us just how clever and experienced he truly is. The game is, thus, more or less over.
The threat to the military’s control of the Egyptian political system is passing. Millions of demonstrators in the street have not broken the chain of command over which President Mubarak presides. Paradoxically the popular uprising has even ensured that the presidential succession will not only be engineered by the military, but that an officer will succeed Mubarak. The only possible civilian candidate, Gamal Mubarak, has been chased into exile, thereby clearing the path for the new vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman. The military high command, which under no circumstances would submit to rule by civilians rooted in a representative system, can now breathe much more easily than a few days ago. It can neutralize any further political pressure from below by organizing Hosni Mubarak’s exile, but that may well be unnecessary.
The president and the military, have, in sum, outsmarted the opposition and, for that matter, the Obama administration. They skillfully retained the acceptability and even popularity of the Army, while instilling widespread fear and anxiety in the population and an accompanying longing for a return to normalcy. When it became clear last week that the Ministry of Interior’s crowd-control forces were adding to rather than containing the popular upsurge, they were suddenly and mysteriously removed from the street. Simultaneously, by releasing a symbolic few prisoners from jail; by having plainclothes Ministry of Interior thugs engage in some vandalism and looting (probably including that in the Egyptian National Museum); and by extensively portraying on government television an alleged widespread breakdown of law and order, the regime cleverly elicited the population’s desire for security. While some of that desire was filled by vigilante action, it remained clear that the military was looked to as the real protector of personal security and the nation as a whole. Army units in the streets were under clear orders to show their sympathy with the people.
The military has not directly participated in the crackdown, which preserves the appearance that the military was not involved in attacking the protesters and keeps the military from being split, but it has stood by while Mubarak’s goons target the protesters. As the new cabinet is filled with figures representing the interests of the military, this ought to have been clear to all a few days ago. If Mubarak is on the way out after the next election, Suleiman will be taking over for him. In Tunisia the uprising prompted a “soft” coup against Ben Ali, and Ben Ali could not stay so long as the military was unwilling to use force to defend his hold on power. As quite a few people expected earlier this month, the alignment of interests between the military and Mubarak mattered more than the outrage and persistence of the protesters. Instead of a “soft” coup approved by the military, there won’t be any sort of coup, but an organized (though perhaps not all that “orderly”) transition from one military-backed strongman to another.
I’m not sure that this means that the “historic opportunity to have a democratic Egypt led by those with whom the U.S., Europe and even Israel could do business, will have been lost, maybe forever.” That assumes a great many things about what would have followed. It could also be that Egypt has avoided even more destructive political upheaval and massive suffering.
It might seem surprising that Mubarak was so willing to defy the Obama administration’s clear hint that he sould quickly transition out of power. In fact, Mubarak’s slap in the face of President Obama will not be punished and it is nothing new. It shows again American toothlessness and weakness in the Middle East, and will encourage the enemies of the US to treat it with similar disdain.
The tail has long wagged the dog in American Middle East policy. The rotten order of the modern Middle East has been based on wily local elites stealing their way to billions while they took all the aid they could from the United States, even as they bit the hand that fed them. First the justification was the putative threat of International Communism (which however actually only managed to gather up for itself the dust of Hadramawt in South Yemen and the mangy goats milling around broken-down Afghan villages). More recently the cover story has been the supposed threat of radical Islam, which is a tiny fringe phenomenon in most of the Middle East that in some large part was sowed by US support for the extremists in the Cold War as a foil to the phantom of International Communism. And then there is the set of myths around Israel, that it is necessary for the well-being of the world’s Jews, that it is an asset to US security, that it is a great ethical enterprise– all of which are patently false.
On such altars are the labor activists, youthful idealists, human rights workers, and democracy proponents in Egypt being sacrificed with the silver dagger of filthy lucre.
Mubarak is taking his cues for impudence from the far rightwing government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which began the Middle Eastern custom of humiliating President Barack Obama with impunity. Obama came into office pledging finally to move smartly to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Netanyahu government did not have the slightest intention of allowing a Palestinian state to come into existence. Israel was founded on the primal sin of expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in what is now Israel, and then conniving at keeping them stateless, helpless and weak ever after. Those who fled the machine guns of the Irgun terrorist group to the West Bank and Gaza, where they dwelt in squalid refugee camps, were dismayed to see the Israelis come after them in 1967 and occupy them and further dispossess them. This slow genocide against a people that had been recognized as a Class A Mandate by the League of Nations and scheduled once upon a time for independent statehood is among the worst ongoing crimes of one people against another in the world. Many governments are greedy to rule over people reluctant to be so ruled. But no other government but Israel keeps millions of people stateless while stealing their land and resources or maintaining them in a state of economic blockade and food insecurity.
What now? I would say that the time has come for the Obama administration to escalate to the next step of actively trying to push Mubarak out. They were right to not do so earlier. No matter how frustrated activists have been by his perceived hedging, until yesterday it was not the time to move to the bottom line. Mubarak is an American ally of 30 years and needed to be given the chance to respond appropriately. And everyone seems to forget that magical democracy words (a phrase which as far as I know I coined) don’t work. Obama saying “Mubarak must go” would not have made Mubarak go, absent the careful preparation of the ground so that the potential power-brokers saw that they really had no choice. Yesterday’s orgy of state-sanctioned violence should be the moment to make clear that there is now no alternative.
The administration’s diplomacy thus far has been building to this moment. It would have been far preferable if the quiet, patient diplomacy had worked, without an explicit call by the U.S. for Mubarak to be thrown from power. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Mubarak has preferred to stick with the depressingly familiar playbook of the struggling despot. The violence unleashed yesterday was as predictable as it was horrific. But that it happened after a series of highly public American warnings against such violence must now trigger an American response. After Mubarak violated clear American public red lines — on violence and an immediate, meaningful transition — there’s really no choice.
The administration has already condemned and deplored yesterday’s violence. It must now make clear that an Egyptian regime headed by Hosni Mubarak is no longer one with which the United States can do business, and that a military which sanctions such internal violence is not one with which the United Staes can continue to partner. The Egyptian military must receive the message loudly, directly and clearly that the price of a continuing relationship with America is Mubarak’s departure and a meaningful transition to a more democratic and inclusive political system. It must understand that if it doesn’t do this, then the price will not just be words or public shaming but rather financial and political. If Mubarak remains in place, Egypt faces a future as an international pariah without an international patron and with no place in international organizations or forums. If he departs, and a meaningful transition begins, then Egypt can avoid that fate.
The Obama White House’s Egypt troubleshooter, former U.S. Amb. to Egypt Frank G. Wisner, abruptly returned to Washington from Cairo Wednesday, as violence sharply escalated and pro-regime mobs attacked demonstrators demanding Hosni Mubarak step down.
Wisner, sent to Cairo Sunday at the suggestion of Hillary Clinton, found his conversations with Egyptian officials no longer useful, ABC News reported, supposedly after reports disclosed his meeting wth Mubarak to persuade him to depart. He also met with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman.
As violence sharply escalated Wednesday, with the army standing by as pro-regime mobs charged anti-Mubarak demonstrators with knives, rocks, and Molotov cocktails, wounding hundreds, Clinton expressed shock at the violence and came close to accusing the Egyptian government of being responsible.
The violence “was a shocking development after many days of consistently peaceful demonstrations,” Clinton told Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman in a phone call Wednesday, the State Department said. “The Secretary urged that the Government of Egypt hold accountable those who were responsible for violent acts.”
The Egyptian military “really blew it today,” Michele Dunne, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Wednesday. “Much of the goodwill towards the army inside and outside of Egypt evaporated.”
I was on Tahrir Square, watching armed young men pour in to scream in support of President Hosni Mubarak and to battle the pro-democracy protesters. Everybody, me included, tried to give them a wide berth, and the bodies of the injured being carried away added to the tension. Then along came two middle-age sisters, Amal and Minna, walking toward the square to join the pro-democracy movement. They had their heads covered in the conservative Muslim style, and they looked timid and frail as thugs surrounded them, jostled them, shouted at them.
Yet side by side with the ugliest of humanity, you find the best. The two sisters stood their ground. They explained calmly to the mob why they favored democratic reform and listened patiently to the screams of the pro-Mubarak mob. When the women refused to be cowed, the men lost interest and began to move on — and the two women continued to walk to the center of Tahrir Square.
I approached the women and told them I was awed by their courage. I jotted down their names and asked why they had risked the mob’s wrath to come to Tahrir Square. “We need democracy in Egypt,” Amal told me, looking quite composed. “We just want what you have.”
But when I tried to interview them on video, thugs swarmed us again. I appeased the members of the mob by interviewing them (as one polished his razor), and the two sisters managed again to slip away and continue toward the center of Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, to do their part for Egyptian democracy.
Thuggery and courage coexisted all day in Tahrir Square, just like that. The events were sometimes presented by the news media as “clashes” between rival factions, but that’s a bit misleading. This was an organized government crackdown, but it relied on armed hoodlums, not on police or army troops.