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“Manning The Missle Batteries”: Neocons Now Pushing Against Chuck Hagel As Secretary Of Defense

After word leaked from the White House late last week that Chuck Hagel was in line to become the next secretary of defense, Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard manned the Patriot missile batteries to shoot down that trial balloon.

The neoconservative journal, no fan of the iconoclastic former Republican senator, published a smear under the headline: “Senate aide: ‘Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.’ ” In the posting, this anonymous aide went on to accuse Hagel of “the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.” As evidence, the article included a doctored quotation from Hagel referring to the “Jewish lobby.”

Other right-wing publications and conservative Zionist groups inevitably joined the chorus, including a column by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal saying Hagel’s prejudice has an “especially ripe” odor.

The Hagel hit is wrong on the merits, but it’s particularly egregious because the former senator from Nebraska is among the best and bravest public servants. He was an enlisted man in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts in jungle combat. In his legislative career, he was a powerful voice against the chicken hawks who have recklessly sent American troops to their deaths; he became one of the most outspoken critics of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war.

Hagel would probably be swiftly confirmed by the Senate, and he should be: A man of unassailable military credentials who regards war as a last resort is exactly the sort of person to head the Pentagon.

Kristol’s criticism of Hagel included a variety of supposed sins in various categories: terrorism (“Hagel was one of 11 senators who refused to sign a letter requesting President Bush not meet with Yasser Arafat. . . ”), Israel (“Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter expressing support for Israel during the second Palestinian intifada”), and Iran (“Hagel was one of only two U.S. senators who voted against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act”).

It’s fair criticism to say Hagel isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel, although much the same is said of the man who would nominate him. But Kristol, and then others, went further, publishing a passage from a 2008 book in which Hagel is quoted as saying: “The political reality is that . . . the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

That was a dumb phrase — many Christians are pro-Israel and many Jews aren’t — and Hagel said he misspoke (he used the phrase “Israel lobby” elsewhere in the interview). But, as an American Jew who has written about anti-Semitism in political dialogue, I don’t see this as anti-Semitic or anti­-Israel. As Slate’s Dave Weigel points out, the actual quote in the book includes nothing about “the political reality,” and the sentence preceding the quote said that “Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values.”

Hagel was explaining why he didn’t sign all of those nonbinding letters from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, justifiably calling them “stupid.” He further said: “I’m a United States senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”

Hagel’s foes claim groundlessly that this means he was accusing others of divided loyalties; that, they say, and his less-than-perfect record of voting AIPAC’s position disqualify him from running the Pentagon. But let’s examine Hagel’s record further:

He voted for the Iran Nonproliferation Act, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act and the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act. He co-sponsored resolutions opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and praising Israel’s efforts “in the face of terrorism, hostility and belligerence by many of her neighbors.” He also co-sponsored legislation urging the international community “to avoid contact with and refrain from supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements.”

Such gestures won’t satisfy the neocon hard-liners, and Hagel’s occasional criticism of the Israeli military’s excesses doesn’t help. But this isn’t indicative of anti-Semitism, or even of anti-Israel sentiments.

It’s indicative of an infantry sergeant who isn’t opposed to war (he voted for the conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq) but knows the grim costs of going to war without a plan. And it’s indicative of a decorated military man who, unlike some of his neocon critics, knows that military action doesn’t solve everything.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 18, 2012

December 19, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Money, Money, Money”: How The NRA Became The Most Powerful Special Interest In Washington

The National Rifle Association is considered one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

The way it operates — including how it recruits and maintains an active membership — have given it outsize influence over lawmakers at the state and federal level.

Unlike corporate lobbyists, the power of the NRA comes from its massive membership and powerful activist base, as well as from millions of dollars from dues and corporate sponsors.

The gun owners who comprise the NRA are voters who are passionate about firearms, and tend to be fiercely loyal to the organization. The organization coordinates their hunting trips, funds their gun clubs, and teaches their kids how to shoot safely. In turn, the members, coupled with industry supporters, fund the NRA and are ready to mobilize when the group calls on them.

And while other lobbyists usually have rivals, the gun lobby’s opposition doesn’t have anywhere near the strength of support that the NRA has. Chris Cilizza points out that in 2010, the NRA spent more than $240 million more than the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the biggest spender among gun control groups.

Because the NRA is simultaneously a lobbying firm, a campaign operation, a popular social club, a generous benefactor and an industry group, the group is a juggernaut of influence in Washington.

Paul Waldman at The American Prospect observes that Congress sincerely buys into the idea that the NRA is an all-powerful lobby. “Even after one of their own colleagues was shot in the head at a public event,” he said in a New York Times opinion piece, “lawmakers did nothing.”

The NRA’s first foray into politics was the organization’s 1980 endorsement of Ronald Reagan. In 30 years, they’ve built the most feared lobby in D.C. Here’s how they built the pro-gun powerhouse that takes center stage in any discussion of gun control.

“The NRA” is actually around four different organizations that are financially interconnected and maintain common leadership.

  • The primary organization is the National Rifle Association of America, a 501(c)4 organization. This is the group that maintains the spokespeople, raises the money, counts the members, recruits volunteers, and raises awareness and encourages the use of firearms. They advertise, hold conventions, convince country singers and actors to raise awareness about gun use, produce training materials and coordinate volunteers.
  • Within the National Rifle Association of America is the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. This is the NRA main lobbying and campaign operation. NRA-ILA maintains a staff of lobbyists to support pro-gun legislation, and runs most of the election operations for the organization, producing and buying advertisements in support of pro-gun candidates and against gun control advocates. The NRA-ILA also manages the NRA Political Action Committee, which contributes money directly to candidates.
  • The NRA is also connected to a 501(c)3, the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund, which does pro-bono legal work for people with cases that have to do with constitutional Second Amendment rights. Essentially, if the CRDF finds a case that could lead to a new interpretation of the Second Amendment, they’ll send in the cavalry and pay the bill. They’re currently litigating cases in 35 states about the right to posses, use, and carry arms.
  • In addition, the organization is connected to the NRA Foundation, another 501(c)3 that raises and donates money to hundreds of different causes. In 2010, recipients included hundreds of organizations including outdoors groups, sportsmen’s associations, state Fish & Game departments, ROTC organizations, 4-H groups, Boy Scout councils, and children’s charities. Much of this went to purchasing equipment and training to encourage the recreational use of firearms.

These four different prongs make the NRA one of the most powerful — and rich — groups in D.C.

The NRA is able to maintain and cultivate a vast membership, leading to gains in negotiation ability and funds from membership dues. They’re able to ally with industry and serve as an intermediary between manufacturers and the public.

The NRA-ILA influences legislation and tries to recruit congressional allies to push their goals through by leveraging the massive membership in the NRA. Then, the NRA-CRDF works to expand the interpretation of those laws in the courts. And the NRA Foundation, with funds from some of those corporate donors, recruits new gun users and NRA supporters, loyal new members.

As a result, the organization is fantastically wealthy. According to the most recent available filings with the IRS, in 2010:

In 2012 the NRA Institute for Legislative Action spent $7.5 million on federal elections on 66 candidates according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Separately, the NRA PAC spent $9.5 million in the 2012 election.

In essence, it’s a combination of the organizational structure and finances that make the NRA so very powerful in DC.

They’re able to brandish claims of a vast membership, recruited through contributions to local organizations by the Foundation. They’re able to lean on the most ardent supporters, dues-paying members of the National Rifle Association of America. They’re able to raise vast amounts of money from gun manufacturers, distributors, retailers and users.

This combination of legitimate grassroots support, loyal activism and vast amounts money is hard for lawmakers to ignore, particularly if they represent a swing district or state where the NRA wields a significant amount of influence.

 

By: Walter Hickey, Business Insider, December 18, 2012

December 19, 2012 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Lighting Darkness, Healing Heartbreak, Finding Meaning”: Obama’s Newtown Shooting Speech Was Best Of His Presidency

In an hour of crisis and grief, the president has to tell the country some hard truths about itself. As he does that, he must also explain what it’s all about, this country called America, all over again. President Obama did just that, at about the halfway mark of the two terms he was elected to serve. He looked as if he had aged a few years in a day.

In his words, depth, and demeanor, Obama gave the best speech of his presidency by a country mile in a New England town Sunday evening. They say there are “no words” when you are swimming in salt tears over the loss of a child. But when a town’s children are killed in cold blood, along with six women working at a school, well, there must be words for the blood. There must be words that try to tell the tragedy we have seen, for words are all we have.

The president is the only one who can do that—speak to the shattered people of Newtown, Conn., and to us, the American people, to make us one. We are all implicated; our society’s fingerprints were all over that crime scene. So the truth is, we really need a talking-to about gun violence, a truth that few can speak and be heard. Thankfully, the president uttered words that went beyond the usual suspects at another mass shooting.

Speaking in sad cadences, Obama asked: “Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough, and we will have to change….We can’t tolerate this anymore.”

Here he shows how hard it is to ask and answer fundamental questions. Why were women and children brutally robbed of life and liberty Friday? Isn’t the pursuit of happiness part of the meaning of this nation, formulated in a fine 1776 declaration?

Obama didn’t spell out the broken promises, but there was no need. We’re all in this together, a sense that we failed and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God. If we fail to protect our precious cargo of children, he was saying, nothing else matters very much. That struck a note of truth which resonated far beyond the boundaries of a place called Newtown, which they started building in 1780—four years following that fine declaration.

David Maraniss, the distinguished biographer of Obama and a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, believes the Newtown speech will live long in memory. “He [the president] defined a grave moment with simple and powerful thoughts that worked on several levels at once, both particular and universal,” he said.

President Lincoln gave a stark speech about national loss at the midway of his four years as the Civil War president. He gave it in the autumnal light of November, consecrating a battlefield where the fury of cannons sounded and bloody bodies stained the farm soil for the first three days of July 1863.

Nobody knew better than he, the deaths and suffering were so great he had to heal with words as best he could, to infuse the event and sacrifice with solemn meaning. Theatrically, he set the time and scene: “Fourscore and seven years ago….We are met on a great battlefield of that war.” Then came a short speech that magnificently transcended time and space to give a new fresh explanation for why they were there that day, what they were fighting for, and what it was all about.

For Lincoln, the Civil War had ceased to stand just for keeping the Southern states. As many of us recited in the Gettysburg Address as schoolchildren, the cause was “a new birth of freedom” in the nation. By a stroke of the pen, Lincoln had earlier emancipated all slaves in the “rebellion” states.

Maraniss said the Newtown address may be Obama’s Gettysburg: “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no.” That simple candor helped me deal with the shared sorrow. Better not to sugarcoat at a time like this.

Lighting darkness, healing heartbreak, finding meaning—it’s a lot to ask of a president and his words. But on Sunday, the man from Illinois answered the call.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 18, 2012

December 19, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“That Terrible Trillion Deficit”: Another Disingenuous Attempt To Scare And Bully The Body Politic Into Abandoning Social Programs

As you might imagine, I find myself in a lot of discussions about U.S. fiscal policy, and the budget deficit in particular. And there’s one thing I can count on in these discussions: At some point someone will announce, in dire tones, that we have a ONE TRILLION DOLLAR deficit.

No, I don’t think the people making this pronouncement realize that they sound just like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Anyway, we do indeed have a ONE TRILLION DOLLAR deficit, or at least we did; in fiscal 2012, which ended in September, the deficit was actually $1.089 trillion. (It will be lower this year.) The question is what lesson we should take from that figure.

What the Dr. Evil types think, and want you to think, is that the big current deficit is a sign that our fiscal position is completely unsustainable. Sometimes they argue that it means that a debt crisis is just around the corner, although they’ve been predicting that for years and it keeps not happening. (U.S. borrowing costs are near historic lows.) But more often they use the deficit to argue that we can’t afford to maintain programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. So it’s important to understand that this is completely wrong.

Now, America does have a long-run budget problem, thanks to our aging population and the rising cost of health care. However, the current deficit has nothing to do with that problem, and says nothing at all about the sustainability of our social insurance programs. Instead, it mainly reflects the depressed state of the economy — a depression that would be made even worse by attempts to shrink the deficit rapidly.

So, let’s talk about the numbers.

The first thing we need to ask is what a sustainable budget would look like. The answer is that in a growing economy, budgets don’t have to be balanced to be sustainable. Federal debt was higher at the end of the Clinton years than at the beginning — that is, the deficits of the Clinton administration’s early years outweighed the surpluses at the end. Yet because gross domestic product rose over those eight years, the best measure of our debt position, the ratio of debt to G.D.P., fell dramatically, from 49 to 33 percent.

Right now, given reasonable estimates of likely future growth and inflation, we would have a stable or declining ratio of debt to G.D.P. even if we had a $400 billion deficit. You can argue that we should do better; but if the question is whether current deficits are sustainable, you should take $400 billion off the table right away.

That still leaves $600 billion or so. What’s that about? It’s the depressed economy — full stop.

First of all, the weakness of the economy has led directly to lower revenues; when G.D.P. falls, the federal tax take falls too, and in fact always falls substantially more in percentage terms. On top of that, revenue is temporarily depressed by tax breaks, notably the payroll tax cut, that have been put in place to support the economy but will be withdrawn as soon as the economy is stronger (or, unfortunately, even before then). If you do the math, it seems likely that full economic recovery would raise revenue by at least $450 billion.

Meanwhile, the depressed economy has also temporarily raised spending, because more people qualify for unemployment insurance and means-tested programs like food stamps and Medicaid. A reasonable estimate is that economic recovery would reduce federal spending on such programs by at least $150 billion.

Putting all this together, it turns out that the trillion-dollar deficit isn’t a sign of unsustainable finances at all. Some of the deficit is in fact sustainable; just about all of the rest would go away if we had an economic recovery.

And the prospects for economic recovery are looking pretty good right now — or would be looking good if it weren’t for the political risks posed by Republican hostage-taking. Housing is reviving, consumer debt is down, employment has improved steadily among prime-age workers. Unfortunately, this recovery may well be derailed by the fiscal cliff and/or a confrontation over the debt ceiling; but this has nothing to do with the alleged unsustainability of the deficit.

Which brings us back to ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.

We do indeed have a big budget deficit, and other things equal it would be better if the deficit were a lot smaller. But other things aren’t equal; the deficit is a side-effect of an economic depression, and the first order of business should be to end that depression — which means, among other things, leaving the deficit alone for now.

And you should recognize all the hyped-up talk about the deficit for what it is: yet another disingenuous attempt to scare and bully the body politic into abandoning programs that shield both poor and middle-class Americans from harm.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 16, 2012

December 19, 2012 Posted by | Budget, Deficits | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Guns Are Different”: It’s Long Past Time We Started Treating Them That Way

It’s safe to say that we’ve had more of a national discussion about guns in the last four days than we’ve had in the last 15 years. The particular measures to address gun violence that are now in the offing run from those that are well-intended but likely to be ineffectual (renewing the assault weapons ban, for instance) to some that could have a more meaningful effect even if they’re difficult to implement (universal background checks, licensing, and training). But the most useful change that may come out of this moment in our history is a change in the way we look at guns.

By that I don’t mean that Americans will suddenly stop fetishizing guns, or that everyone will agree they’re nothing but trouble. But if we’re lucky, perhaps we could come to an agreement on something simple. Yes, our constitution guarantees that people can own guns, much as many of us wish it didn’t. But even in the context of that freedom, we should be able to agree that guns are different. The freedom to own guns is different from other freedoms, and guns are different from other products. A sane society should be able to acknowledge that difference and use it to guide the choices it makes.

If you say, “I want a gun,” the rest of us can say, OK, you have that right. But guns pose a potentially lethal danger, so that means we need a special set of rules to deal with them. After all, we do this already. If you want a car, you can’t just get one. First, you have to prove to your state that you are competent to drive it. Then you have to register it with the government, and you have to get insurance for it. We agree to this more restrictive set of rules for cars than for televisions or refrigerators because what you do with a car affects other people. Cars are dangerous. Used improperly, they can kill people.

Would it be so hard for gun owners to admit that guns are different? After all, their unique ability to kill is the whole attraction. Nobody buys guns because they make a pleasing noise. They buy them because they can kill. That’s their entire purpose. Sometimes that purpose is used for good, sometimes for ill, but killing is what guns are for. Even if you think you’ll only use your gun to scare off robbers, it’s the gun’s ability to kill that makes it possible for you to scare off a robber with it.

The most extreme gun owners seem to believe not only that their right to amass weaponry should be unlimited, but that they shouldn’t even have to suffer the tiniest of inconveniences in the exercising of that right. If every time you wanted to buy a gun you had to go down to the local police station to register the gun you’re buying, and even be photographed and fingerprinted if you haven’t already, it could indeed be a bit of a hassle—it might even take a whole hour. But I think most responsible gun owners would find it perfectly tolerable to treat the exercising of their right to buy guns much like we treat the exercising of the right to buy a car. When you buy a gun, you’ve put the life of everyone in your community into your hands. The rest of us have to live with your possession of lethal force and the threat it could pose to us. Is it too much to ask for you to endure a bit of inconvenience? Because guns are different, and it’s long past time we started treating them that way.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 17, 2012

December 19, 2012 Posted by | Guns, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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