"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“We Have One President At A Time”: Boehner’s Invitation To Netanyahu Backfires On Them Both

The political ramifications are clear: House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a colossal mistake by conspiring behind President Obama’s back, and the move has ricocheted on both of them.

The big, scary issue underlying the contretemps — how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program — is a more complicated story. I believe strongly that Obama’s approach, which requires the patience to give negotiations a chance, is the right one. To the extent that a case can be made for a more bellicose approach, Boehner and Netanyahu have undermined it.

First, the politics. Why on earth would anyone think it was a good idea to arrange for Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress without telling Obama or anyone in his administration about the invitation?

Yes, Congress has an important role to play in international affairs. And yes, the days are long gone when disputes among officials over foreign policy ended at the water’s edge; members of Congress routinely gallivant around the globe and share their freelance views of what the United States should or should not be doing. But inviting a foreign leader to speak at the Capitol without even informing the president, let alone consulting him, is a bald-faced usurpation for which there is no recent precedent.

Pending legislation, which Obama threatens to veto, would automatically impose tough sanctions against Iran if the drawn-out, multiparty nuclear negotiations fail. If Boehner wanted to build support for sanctions, he failed spectacularly.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a vocal hawk on Iran policy, announced Tuesday that he would not vote for his own bill imposing automatic sanctions — at least not until after a March 24 deadline for negotiators to produce the outlines of an agreement. Nine of his pro-sanctions Democratic colleagues in the Senate joined him, meaning the bill is unlikely to win the necessary 60 votes for passage.

If Boehner’s aim was to paint Obama as somehow soft on Iran, he failed at that, too. The speaker inadvertently turned the focus on himself and has had to spend the week explaining why he went behind the president’s back, not even giving the White House a heads-up until hours before the March 3 speech was announced.

Netanyahu, for his part, may have thought this was a way to boost his prospects in the upcoming Israeli election, scheduled for March 17. Or he may have fantasized that somehow, by openly siding with the Republican Party, he could snatch U.S. foreign policy out of Obama’s hands. Judging by the pounding he is taking from the Israeli media, he was mistaken on both counts.

Note to all foreign leaders: We have one president at a time. Americans respected this fact when George W. Bush was president, for better or worse. And we respect it now.

The speech episode borders on farce, but the larger debate over Iran’s nuclear ambitions could not be more serious. The central issue is whether a negotiated deal will leave Iran with the theoretical capability to build a nuclear bomb if it were to decide to do so. No amount of diplomatic legerdemain, it seems to me, can avoid answering this question with a simple yes or no.

If you say yes, as Netanyahu does, then Iran must be stripped of all ability to enrich uranium. It is easy to understand why the Israeli government sees a ­nuclear-capable Iran as an existential threat — and also worries that other regional powers concerned about Iran’s growing influence, such as Saudi Arabia, might decide that they, too, need to get into the nuclear game.

Iran insists, however, that it has the right to a peaceful nuclear program. The government in Tehran is unlikely to give up that right but may be willing to limit itself to low-grade enrichment that produces material incapable of being used in a bomb. At least some infrastructure for high-grade enrichment would remain, however — and so would some risk of an eventual Iranian bomb.

Is this good enough? If the alternative is war with Iran, it may have to be.

I do not believe that war is in the interest of the United States. I also do not believe that war is in the interest of Israel, but of course Netanyahu has the right — he would say the duty, if he concludes that force is required — to disagree. Nothing that remotely resembles a perfect outcome is in sight. It must be better to keep talking than start bombing.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 29, 2015

January 31, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Show Your Invisible Hand”: The SEC Should Make Corporations Disclose Political Contributions

A core assumption of the Supreme Court’s opinion in 2010’s troubling Citizens United case, which broadened corporations’ abilities to use their money for political purposes, was that shareholders could decide for themselves whether they agreed with the ways that money was being spent.

According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who delivered the opinion for the Court, “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

The problem with this particular assumption, which economists call perfect information, is that corporations are — surprise surprise — not legally obligated to share information on political spending with their shareholders or the public. In August 2011, a group of high-profile law professors filed a petition with the Securities and Exchange Commission, calling on the agency to require public companies to disclose what corporate resources they spend on political activities because “most political spending remains opaque to investors in most publicly traded companies.”

Why do companies spend money on politics? The answer seems obvious: they want to generate profits. They are seeking advantages like reduced trade barriers, government contracts, easier regulatory inspections, and lower tax rates. For more on this point, see my colleague Tom Ferguson’s recent paper with Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen, which reveals how “Too Big to Fail” Wall Street firms and telecom companies have captured the GOP and the Democrats, respectively. (As an aside, isn’t it odd that the same companies orchestrating the expansion of the surveillance state are so concerned about their own privacy?)

But there is sufficient research to suggest there is another, more covert reason that has serious consequences for shareholders. In my recently published Roosevelt Institute paper on the costs and benefits of this disclosure rule, I cite several studies that show corporate executives frequently spend on politics for their own personal advantage rather than the company’s bottom line. These personal benefits include things like prestige, a future political career, star power, or assistance for political allies.

With these kinds of distorted incentives, the lack of information available to the public about corporate political spending puts shareholders and potential investors at enormous risk. Why would they want to invest in a company that is undertaking activities that are more likely to benefit its executives than its investors? Requiring corporations to disclose their political spending, on the other hand, would do the following:

—Enable investors to make informed investment decisions. Good information is always key to helping potential shareholders calculate the risk they are taking by investing in a company or helping current shareholders decide if they want to hold on to a company’s stock.

—Create the motivation for corporate executives to focus less on their own personal benefit and more on the political spending that would increase shareholder wealth. By disclosing their political activities, corporate executives would have less of an opportunity to waste company resources for their own advantage.

—Benefit corporations that already share their political spending information. Research suggests companies that already disclose SEC-required information enjoy a bump in stock returns when the particular rule is put in place.

Two years after the lawyers submitted their petition, File No. 4-637 is finally on the SEC’s official agenda and support for the disclosure rule is overwhelming. Recent polling finds that 79 percent of surveyed Republicans and nearly 100 percent of Democrats support the rule, and more than 600,000 public comments supporting the rule have been submitted to the SEC. Major institutional investors are also in agreement. Former Vanguard mutual fund CEO John C. Bogle, six state treasurers, CalPERS and other pension funds, and many more are also in support. The rule also has the endorsement of small-business owners across the country, as large companies have a competitive advantage over smaller businesses because of their ability to influence lawmakers and agencies through campaign contributions and lobbying.

The pushback against disclosure is typically about the costs of disclosure. But companies already have to document their political spending for the IRS, so the additional cost would be, at most, the few hours it would require an employee to copy and paste data from an internal file into a public one. Furthermore, companies already submit annual forms to the SEC. The political spending information would simply be a few additional lines of text added to these forms.

A more valid concern about this rule is that, if companies are required to disclose this information to the SEC, the information could be exploited by their competitors and harm the companies’ bottom line. But corporate political activities are already well known among industry competitors. In fact, sometimes political spending is even coordinated among industry groups. The people who are actually excluded from this information are the ones who need it most: investors.

At a briefing held this past Wednesday organized by the Corporate Reform Coalition, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called for the SEC to finally adopt this important rule. “There is no excuse,” said Warren, “There is no reason […] for saying a corporation wants to be able to spend shareholders’ money and not tell shareholders how that money is being spent.”


By: Susan Holmberg, The National Memo, November 1, 2013

November 2, 2013 Posted by | Citizens United, Corporations, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not That Anyone Really Cares”: Whatever Happened To Little Bobby Jindal?

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is renowned for his policy wonkery and strict Catholicism, not a cutting sense of humor. So when he took the stage a few months ago at Washington’s annual Gridiron dinner, one jab stood out in particular. “The Menendez scandal is disturbing,” Jindal said, referring to reports (later proved untrue) that Senator Robert Menendez had paid for sex in the Dominican Republic. “Soliciting prostitution is completely unacceptable. We would never put up with that in Louisiana.”

The butt of the joke was obvious to everyone in the room. Six years earlier, Louisiana’s junior senator, David Vitter, confessed to “a very serious sin” when his name appeared in the call records of a large D.C. prostitution ring. His political career survived, but not everyone has been as forgiving as Louisiana voters. Jindal’s joke acknowledged what has become an open secret in Louisiana Republican circles: He and Vitter loathe each other.

“You have two teams, two tribes,” one longtime Louisiana political consultant explained. “If you’re not on team Jindal, you want to be on team Vitter.”

Neither Jindal nor Vitter’s offices would discuss their relationship on the record, and few bayou politicos wanted to attach their names to details of the tension between the two most powerful Republicans in their state. But Baton Rouge insiders use a few key euphemisms to characterize the relationship. Sometimes they say that the two men “won’t have a beer together”; other times, that they’re fighting a “cold war.” Occasionally they slip versions of both into the same quote: “It’s kind of a cold war between Vitter and Jindal. They respect each other, but they aren’t having any beers together, I’ll tell you that much,” a Vitter ally who worked on one of his early campaigns told me.

What makes their rivalry particularly noteworthy is that Vitter—who has been the butt of many more and much better jokes than Jindal’s—may now be more popular and influential in the Louisiana Republican Party. This doesn’t just testify to Vitter’s underrated political skills; it also pulls back the curtain on Jindal’s overrated ones. While Jindal was traveling the country, giving speeches on fixing the Republican Party and stoking presidential and vice presidential speculation, Vitter, who once seemed so isolated and politically vulnerable, was quietly and carefully courting influence in the state GOP.

Now, it’s Jindal who is isolated and vulnerable. His approval rating has plummeted after voters revolted against his handling of the state’s budget crisis. Other Republicans in Louisiana describe a governor so cut off from his party that he and his team operate “like a cult.”

Making matters worse, Jindal is term-limited as governor in 2015—and Vitter could be the candidate to replace him. If Jindal’s off-putting style has driven Louisiana Republicans into the arms of a man more famous for his personal peccadilloes than his legislative record, then just imagine what he’ll do for Marco Rubio or Chris Christie as a presidential candidate in 2016.

Most Louisiana politicos date the start of Jindal and Vitter’s contretemps to July 16, 2007, when Vitter called a press conference to fess up to his role in the D.C. madam scandal. It was the same afternoon that Jindal, then a member of Congress, kicked off his second bid for governor.

“I got the sense that every reporter in town was covering Vitter and not Jindal,” says Robert Mann, who worked as communications director for Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco, Jindal’s predecessor. While the rest of the Louisiana congressional delegation rushed to Vitter’s defense, Jindal—who represented Vitter’s old district—waited a day longer and said only: “While we are disappointed by Senator Vitter’s actions, [my wife] Supriya and I continue to keep David and his family in our prayers. This is a matter for the senator to address, and it is our hope that this is not used by others for their own political gain.”

Jindal was elected to the governor’s mansion later that year, while the national press excoriated Vitter. But Vitter had already begun laying the groundwork for his ascendance in his home state. In his days as a state legislator, he had successfully pushed for term limits for legislators, forcing many of the lawmakers he had served alongside to give up their seats in 2007. Vitter began recruiting conservative candidates to replace them and helped fund campaigns through the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (LCRM), a PAC he had co-founded a couple years earlier. He also personally reached out to Democrats in conservative districts, encouraging them to get ahead of the state’s rightward turn.

The Louisiana legislature didn’t go red in 2007, but, thanks to a successful election cycle and a few high-profile Democratic defections, the House flipped in 2010. A year later, the state Senate followed suit. It was the first time Republicans controlled the legislature since Reconstruction. Scott Hobbs, a Louisiana-based political consultant, estimated that Vitter helped “at least sixty to seventy percent [of Republicans in the legislature] in some way” between 2007 and 2011. Now Baton Rouge is filled with Vitter-friendly pols, sometimes referred to as the “fiscal hawks.” They’ve made Jindal’s life a lot harder, attacking him for using accounting gimmicks to balance the state budget. Vitter has gotten in on the action too, castigating the governor for “kicking the can down the road—the sort of bad spending policy I’m constantly fighting in Washington.”

Vitter, in fact, has frequently questioned Jindal’s judgment. He vocally criticized Jindal’s handling of a high-profile fight between landowners and the oil and gas industry as “very counterproductive.” When Jindal backed a $1.2 billion teaching hospital in New Orleans, Vitter wrote to the secretary of Housing and Urban Development to ask that they reject the state’s application for federal loan insurance and joined forces with the state treasurer and House speaker to come up with their own, cheaper proposal. “That involvement and willingness to address policy issues kind of allowed his allies to rally around knowing there was another power center other than governor who would be supportive,” says one conservative activist involved with the state party.

Many observers of the state’s political scene believe that Vitter’s motivation, however principled, is also at least somewhat personal. In 2010, when Vitter was up for reelection against Democratic Representative Charlie Melancon, Jindal declined to endorse him—though he had traveled out of state to support other candidates. The following year, when Jindal was up for reelection, Vitter publicly endorsed him, but not without a note of passive aggression: Vitter said Louisiana needed a conservative legislature “[t]o help Bobby become as engaged and bold as possible in his second term.” Vitter’s official Twitter account then tweeted an article to his followers: “Gov. Bobby Jindal gets endorsement from senator he refused to endorse last year.”

Flack from Vitter and his allies, drastic cuts to schools and hospitals, and the impression that he cares more about his own political future than the state’s have cost Jindal dearly with Louisiana voters. Slightly over a year after he was reelected with two-thirds of the vote, his approval rating now sits at 38 percent. His stature with lawmakers is hardly better. In May, when The Lens, an investigative reporting outlet based in New Orleans, surveyed lawmakers in the capital about their relationships with the governor, they discovered that “no one in the Capitol can identify any friendships Jindal has developed among lawmakers.”

“He’s a victim of his own staff,” one conservative activist told me. “His own staff has overprotected him and created this Praetorian guard around him, and therefore he has not been able to engage enough, particularly with legislators and other politicians, and that I think has limited his effectiveness.”

“It’s really, really bad,” said another Louisiana Republican familiar with the relationship. “So essentially Vitter has stepped up to fill that void. Because everyone hates Bobby, David hates Bobby, and presto: The enemy of my enemy is a friend.”

Meanwhile, Vitter hasn’t announced his next move, but recent polls have him neck to neck with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to take Jindal’s job in 2015. That doesn’t mean he’ll waltz into the governor’s mansion. He still hasn’t faced serious criticism over the prostitution scandal, and some Republicans expect it’d be an issue in his run for governor. “It’s not that people haven’t forgiven Vitter. They have,” the Louisiana Republican told me. “But just because you’re there doesn’t mean people need to vote for you.”

Even if he doesn’t make his way to the governor’s mansion, he’s in line to become chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee if Republicans retake the Senate next year—a hugely important committee assignment for Louisiana lawmakers. “No other politician has momentum like he has right now,” said Republican State Representative Lance Harris. “He caught lightning in a bottle.”

Jindal’s future is less clear. “We can all see he’s running for president,” said Mann. “But there’s also the sense that no one thinks that he’s got a chance. Everybody thinks that it’s a fool’s errand. So what does he do once he flames out?” I put that question to my sources, and a few of them mentioned a kind of presidency Jindal might be better suited for, one that would require less strenuous politicking: a think tank presidency.


By: Marin Cogan, The New Republic, July 8, 2013

July 9, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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