One thing that a number of people have noticed during the transition and the first few days of the Obama administration is that Obama and his appointees don’t, generally speaking, use the phrase “war on terror.” But when pressed, they don’t disavow the term either. They’ve just kind of backed away from it. In a TAP Online piece I make the case that we should join the rest of the world and genuinely let the concept go.
Yesterday, Abe Foxman took the weird step of complaining that George Mitchell is “fair” and therefore somehow unsuited to serve as an envoy overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, Foxman whined to Ben Smith that Mitchell is “a fair person, he’s a decent person, he’s a knowledgeable person – but I think he is the personification of even-handedness.” Foxman, you see, is looking for an envoy who’ll eschew even-handedness.
I understand that Foxman thinks he’s helping Israel by demanding that the U.S. only appoint envoys who’ll be biased toward Israel, but that’s an incredibly short-sighted view. Wiser pro-Israel figures like J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami are applauding the choice:
The choice of Senator Mitchell signals the President’s serious intention to inject new thinking and fresh perspectives into America’s efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
President Obama spoke eloquently Tuesday about the important role the United States must play in ushering in a new era of peace and in helping people around the world to move beyond old hatreds and lines of tribe. We share and endorse his vision both of a new direction for U.S. policy in the Middle East and of renewed American leadership in Middle East peacemaking.
Former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell is uniquely well suited to play a critical role in that effort. His many accomplishments – including brokering Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord and his well-received report on the causes of the Second Intifada – are rooted in his ability to listen and to speak to both sides in conflicts and to provide the leadership needed to solve long-standing problems.
Israel has a strong interest in peace. And achieving peace requires the United States to participate in a credible way. If President Obama were to send someone over there who’ll just repeat Israeli government talking points, that won’t help anyone. Credible American intervention can, by contrast, deliver Israel the security goods that military strength never has. We’ve seen it in the past with deals with Egypt and Jordan. And we could see it again with Syria and, one hopes, with the Palestinians and—via the Arab Peace Initiative—with the entire Arab League. Ultimately, that would do far more to advance Israeli interests than would any yes-man.
I believe that we should auction a vast majority — if not all — of the allowances and send 100% of those revenues back to consumers
Well, I’d probably send 60% to 80% back, at least at first, rising eventually to 80% to 90%. No need to give money back to the Warren Buffets, whereas you do need some money, at least in the first decade, for heavily impacted industries, worker transition, cleantech R&D, and the like.
Last night on CNN, Larry King was talking to radio host Tavis Smiley and journalist Bob Woodward about President Obama and issues of race. “Black is in,” concluded King. From their exchange:
KING: Bob, my — in that regard, my younger son Cannon, he is eight. And he now says that he would like to be black. I’m not kidding. He said there’s a lot of advantages. Black is in. Is this a turning of the tide?
KATULIS: I think the new [Obama] team is surveying the wreckage in the Middle East. There’s one point to be made about the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the region as a whole, it’s this: The Bush administration destroyed this myth that Republicans and conservatives have some sort of edge on Democrats on national security. The region’s in a mess, and this most recent war in Gaza is emblematic of that. We have a terrorist organization, Hamas, that came to power, and it’s by no accident.
So I think the team is surveying the wreckage, they’re in conflict management mode. This is why I think President Obama made these quick calls. They’re trying to send a signal that, unlike President Bush, he and his team will be on top of it. And beyond that, they’re appointing a pretty high level team, which I think will be announced shortly, to get really engaged, and deal with this pragmatically, as opposed to rhetorically. We heard from the Bush administration mostly a lot of high rhetoric, but what the challenges in the Middle East require are presidential attention — high level focused attention — and I suspect you’re going to have a completely different approach to the region that’s based in pragmatism.
Cliff May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies responded by objecting to Katulis’s “partisanship,” which is just what you might expect from someone whose ideas about fighting terrorism have only managed to generate more terrorism. It is, of course, not really “partisan” to point out that the Bush administration’s policy on Israel-Palestine, as with the Middle East in general, has created huge challenges for the incoming administration. Indeed, at this point I think it qualifies as stating the obvious.
Responding to Katulis’s suggestion that the Gaza war may have resulted in greater support for Hamas among Palestinians, May took the familiar neocon tack of drastically lowering the bar for success, and then substituting hope for a plan:
MAY: I think we’re going to find out — we don’t know yet — that Hamas is weakened, because they didn’t fight very well, they didn’t manage to resist the Israelis, the training provided by Iran and by Hezbollah did not pay off. I’d be surprised if people in Gaza didn’t say ‘what is the point of supporting Hamas if this is the result, our buildings are now rubble, our lifestyle is now more impoverished than ever, is this really the way to go?‘ But we don’t know that yet, we’re still speculating.
If by “resist the Israelis” May means that Hamas did not prevent Israel from entering and destroying Gaza, there’s really no one who believed that Hamas could do this, and it certainly didn’t require three weeks of sustained bombing to demonstrate it. But if “resist” means “survive,” then clearly Hamas has resisted. May’s “surprise” at the idea that Israel’s killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians might actually result in anger toward Israel — rather than toward Hamas, as he would prefer — is typical of the sort of blindly ideological approach that the Bush administration has pursued in the region, which seemed to be based in the belief that if a policy should have a certain result, then it will have that result. And if it doesn’t, it’s only because the terrorists are evil.
Like the Bush administration that he faithfully defended, May — whose organization was actually founded as a right wing “pro”-Israel propaganda operation — seems to think that simply reciting talking points about Iranian-supported Hamas constitutes an argument on how to deal with them. It’s also worth noting that May has now become the latest to admit that Israel’s goal in the Gaza offensive was explicitly political.
Without citing Portland, OR as a model, what is a reasonable goal for transit adoption and transit-oriented development in cities who haven’t had serious rail or streetcar investment in 50 years? Clearly we’re not going to turn St. Louis (popn density ~5500 people/sq.mi.) into Manhattan (60,000), but can we even turn it into DC (10,000) or Baltimore (8,000) within fifteen years?
I’m not really sure why I should be prohibited from citing Portland as a model. We have a somewhat unfortunate situation in this country where the main example people are familiar with of a transit-oriented city is New York, which is one of the very biggest in the world, while obviously most of our cities are much smaller than that. So it’s worth saying that the developed world is full of examples that are neither New York nor sprawl. That’s not just Portland, Europe is full of decently walkable medium-sized cities.
On to St Louis. It’s hard to talk in too much detail about places I’m not very familiar with. But the pace at which things can change is going to be dictated, in part, but the extent to which there’s actual interest in building anything in the metro area. At the moment, clearly, nobody is going to undertake large new building projects—dense or otherwise—in St. Louis or anywhere else. And a small city in the midwest is under no particular obligation to turn itself into a particularly dense metropolis. But what you want is to avoid a situation where you’re preventing density. St Louis has a couple of decent rail transit lines and it’s important to allow dense projects to be built near those stations and along the corridors that are served by rail. These things are expensive to build, and once they’re there it’s important to utilize the served areas in the most efficient way possible. That doesn’t mean forcing people to build extremely tall projects near them, but it does mean letting such projects go through without demanding vast fields of parking to be placed around everything.
In general, I would also just note that it can get misleading to look at citywide density averages. The relevant issue for a city that (like St. Louis) has some transit is whether or not you’re achieving density at your transit nodes. Additional consideration that are important is that ideally the stations will be close enough together to create not just pockets of density but whole corridors of density, even if the corridors are surrounded by pretty traditional suburbs. The stretch of Arlington County running from Rosslyn to the Metro stations at Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square, and Ballston are a great example of how this can look.
QUESTION: A lot of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle say that Guantanamo Bay has just given the United States a black eye on the world stage. Isn’t that part of the problem, too? [...]
BOEHNER: I don’t know that there’s a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo. It is — we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get.
Boehner has not been paying attention. Just last week, Susan Crawford, the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to prosecute Gitmo detainees, revealed that she had concluded that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured by the U.S. military and consequently could not be prosecuted. As the Washington Post reported:
“For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” said Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani’s interrogation records and other military documents. … Qahtani “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation” and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” the report shows.
The Post also reported that al-Qahtani’s treatment was so extreme he had to be hospitalized twice and at one point his heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute. In 2007, an FBI report found that detainees “were chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor for 18 hours or more, urinating and defecating on themselves.” Similarly, in 2004, the Red Cross reported “cruel, inhumane and degrading” treatment which was approaching “torture.”
Just as the New York Times reported that “Medicaid rolls are surging, by unprecedented rates in some states,” Republican strategist Jennifer Millerwise Dyck appeared on MSNBC this afternoon to argue that extra federal funding for health care initiatives (expanding Medicaid, subsidizing COBRA) would not create jobs and should not be part of the Democrats’ economic stimulus package:
There is money in there getting us prepared for universal health care. I mean, this is supposed to be a stimulus package that gets people into jobs, that gets the economy moving, gets money back into the pockets of the people and I think this is ideologically where you see a real difference between Republicans.
In fact, investing federal dollars in Medicaid, as House Democrats have proposed, is far from an “ideological divide”; it actually generates business and “gets people into jobs.”
A recent report by Families USA, for instance, found that “every dollar a state spends on Medicaid pulls new federal dollars into the state—dollars that would not otherwise flow into the state. These new dollars pass from one person to another in successive rounds of spending”:
For example, health care employees spend part of their salaries on groceries, which adds to the income of grocery store employees, enabling them to spend part of their salaries on new shoes, which enables shoe store employees to spend additional money on home improvements, and so on. The new dollars pass from one person to another in successive rounds of spending, generating additional business activity, jobs, and wages that would not otherwise be produced. Economists call this the “multiplier effect.” The magnitude of the multiplier effect varies from state to state, depending on how the dollars are spent and on the economic structure of, and conditions in, the state.
Moreover, health insurance protects families from medical bankruptcy and allows healthy individuals to keep looking for employment.
Standing beside President Obama and Vice President Biden this afternoon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the appointment of two high-level diplomats who will serve in critical global hot-spots. “The heart of smart power are smart people,” Clinton said, announcing the appointments of Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. “I have given you an early gift,” Obama told State Department employees, “Hillary Clinton. … She has my full confidence.”
It had been rumored that former Ambassador Dennis Ross would also be announced today as an envoy to Iran. NBC reports Ross will “not be a special envoy to Iran…but he is expected to be in charge of Iran policy.” Yglesias writes that there are some doubts about Ross’s ability to be an effective diplomat with Iranians, given that he was “was widely criticized in the Arab world for being too tight with the Israeli side during the Camp David process.”