Like a problem gambler, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is doubling down her support for the oil industry as her state is threatened by what could become the worst oil disaster in history. Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has the story.
Jon Hilsenrath at the WSJ postulates that one reason the Fed is having an unusually hard time having its way with Congress is that a lot of people have left the Fed’s congressional relations office recently, leaving them a bit green and understaffed. Annie Lowrey calls around on the Hill and finds little support for this idea: “Hill staffers described the Fed’s outreach as ‘excellent,’ ‘effective’ and ‘really good’ — noting that Fed staffers up to and including Chairman Ben Bernanke have personally worked with members of Congress throughout the financial regulatory reform process. Even offices highly critical of the Fed said they had no trouble getting questions answered or phone calls returned.”
I think common sense holds that the Fed is losing some of its independence because the world is mired in a giant recession. When Paul Volcker was seen as having licked inflation, and then Alan Greenspan was seen as having delivered a “Great Moderation” spanning two decades, then politicians hesitated to challenge Fed leaders. With unemployment at 10 percent, people get antsy and start giving the Fed a hard time.
Personally, I welcome the idea of more attention to the importance of the Fed and its activities, but I’m not hearing a ton of constructive ideas from the Hill. The idea of “auditing” the Fed seems largely besides the point, like if your big worry was that John Roberts might be embezzling office supplies rather than issuing bad rulings.
Recent statements from Vice-President Joe Biden, General David Petraeus, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on how how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel, negatively affect U.S. interests in the Middle East have generated a number of frantic and strained responses from Israel hawks who insist that the U.S.-Israel relationship, unlike every other relationship that has ever existed between two states in human history, exists in a kind of special bubble that magically only ever generates positive things for both states, and that suggesting otherwise means that you hate Israel and love Osama bin Hitlernejad.
The best one of these yet comes from the Hudson Institute’s Lee Smith, who is fast overtaking Michael Ledeen as my favorite unintentionally comic writer on the Middle East. Acknowledging that the “linkage” argument “has won the support of a broad consensus of U.S. congressmen, senators, diplomats, former presidents, and their foreign-policy advisers, seconded by journalists, Washington policy analysts, almost every American who has ever watched a Sunday morning news roundtable, and the Obama Administration, from National Security Adviser James Jones to the president himself,” Smith insists that all of these people are wrong. Why? “Having written a book that describes the Middle East in terms of a clash of Arab civilizations,” Smith informs us, “I give no credence to the notion that the Arab-Israeli arena is the region’s defining issue.” Do you hear? Smith has written a book that argues something different! (I hate to break it to Smith, but many of the people whose views he dismisses have written books, too.)
Smith lists a number of other conflicts in the Middle East, cleverly showing that… there are a number of other conflicts in the Middle East. “Nonetheless,” writes Smith, “I can hardly help but recognize the central role that U.S. Middle East policy has given to the belief that, from the Persian Gulf all the way to Western North Africa, a region encompassing many thousands of tribes and clans, dozens of languages and dialects, ethnicities and religious confessions, the Arab-Israeli issue is the key factor in determining the happiness of over 300 million Arabs and an additional 1.3 billion Muslims outside of the Arabic-speaking regions.” Typical of linkage deniers, Smith has to rely on caricature in order to make his argument. No one has ever suggested that “the Arab-Israeli issue is the key factor in determining the happiness” of anyone, other than the nearly 4 million Palestinians who continue to suffer under Israeli occupation and siege. But it’s simply a fact that Arabs themselves report the Palestinian issue as one that is very important to them, and one that negatively affects their view of the United States.
How to get around this inconvenience? Smith has an idea:
Where does such an extraordinary idea come from? The answer is the Arabs — who might be expected, in the U.S. view of the world, to give us an honest account of what is bothering them. However, this would ignore the fact that interested parties do not always disclose the entire truth of their situation, especially when they have a stake in doing otherwise.
Ah yes, those wily Arabs, always fudging the truth. It’s part of their culture, you see. On the other hand, lobbying groups and think tanks closely aligned with the Israeli right wing, such as the one that pays Lee Smith to write books full of anecdata about how Arabs are inherently violent and untrustworthy, can always be counted on to be completely truthful about Middle East issues.
There’s quite a bit more hilarity to be mined from Smith’s piece — such as his inclusion of Dennis Ross among those who endorse the linkage argument, which links to an article about how Dennis Ross rejects the linkage argument, or his contention that the linkage argument is essentially a game of telephone begun by Ibn Saud in an attempt to gain advantage over the Hashemites — but I’ll just say that, if you were to judge an argument solely by the wild pitches it prompts from critics, linkage would appear to be an impressively strong one.
Color of Change and Stop Beck have been waging an aggressive campaign to convince Fox News advertisers to boycott Glenn Beck’s show. So far, 123 companies have dropped him, and his broadcast in the UK has been running without ads for nearly three months. Yesterday on a conference call about its third quarter earnings, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch had to defend the fact that Fox News is keeping Beck on:
Murdoch was asked on the company’s third quarter analyst call about the departure of advertisers, many of whom have left the show in an organized protest that began last year when Beck said President Obama had a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” One wanted to know how long Fox News would “subsidize” the show, which is “filled with house ads.”
“It’s not subsidizing the show at all,” Murdoch fired back, adding that the theatrical Beck gives “a terrific kickoff” to the Fox News evening lineup.
Although Beck is still a strong lead-in for other Fox shows, he has “seen his audience fall almost 30% since the start of the year, from about 2.9 million viewers in January to 2.1 million in April.”
Jonathan Bernstein stands up for first past the post voting in the UK. He starts with an observation I agree with, namely that “the ultimate goal of a political system cannot be to accurately reflect the strength of each party in parliament, much less accurately reflect the strength of all the views of the citizens in parliament, which is essentially impossible anyway.” Then he offers another view I agree with, namely that what really matters is “is whether the government is responsive to citizens.” What follows is a kind of Burkean defense of caution about radical reform away from a system that seems to be okay.
For my part, I’ll say that as I look at the scene emerging it does seem to be the case that what’s plaguing the UK isn’t so much a weird electoral system as it is a weird party system. If you look at John Cleese’s very funny pitch for electoral reform from the eighties you have to remember that he was talking at a very different time in the British party system. At that point, Labour and the Tories seemed determined to debunk the median voter theorem by being shockingly far apart ideologically. That paved the way for a revival (in alliance with some renegade moderate Labourites) of a centrist Liberal Party, a revival that was severely curtailed by the electoral system. Flash forward to 2010 and you have a situation in which Labour has moved to the right and the Tories have moved to the left, and the ideological posture of the Liberal Democrats vis-a-vis the other parties is pretty murky and contestable.
Arguably if the Tories manage to secure a parliamentary majority with 37 percent of the vote (as seems at least plausible) that would be more the fault of LibDem and Labour party leaders than of the electoral system. If the parties don’t have major systematic ideological differences, then they should cooperate with a formal electoral pact rather than running candidates against each other and winking and nodding at tactical voting.
As I pointed out earlier, Republicans are planning to offer an amendment to Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-CT) financial regulatory reform bill that would forbid a new consumer protection regulator from enforcing its rules for any institution that is not a “large non-bank mortgage originator,” leaving most of the financial system outside of the regulator’s reach. This fits with the broader GOP theme on consumer protection, which is to say that, if it gets boosted at all as a result of regulatory reform, it should remain a second-order issue, after the profitability of banks.
But that doesn’t stop Republicans from complaining about consumer protection measures that they claim are missing from Dodd’s bill. For instance, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) took to the Senate floor today to criticize Dodd for not including standards for mortgages in his bill, but still taking a swipe at the consumer protection portion of Dodd’s legislation in the process:
There are no mortgage standards that are specifically set forth in the underlying bill…Certainly, we need standards in place, to ensure that people who are buying houses can afford to make the mortgage payments that they are making application for. And with respect to the consumer financial protection act, it appears that in the underlying bill there is an umbrella that is cast out there that is going to require the inclusion of more non-problem areas of the consumer finance industry.
For months, Republicans derided the Democrat’s attempt to create a new consumer protection regulator, saying that it would decree what financial products (including mortgages) people could have. The cacophony was so loud that a provision in the House of Representative’s financial reform bill mandating that banks offer consumers a plain “vanilla” product — a standardized version of whatever the consumer is looking for — before moving onto more complicated products was dropped.
But now Chambliss is advocating that Congress come up with a plain vanilla mortgage. This could be a good idea! But why is the GOP so intent on focusing solely on mortgages, when there were consumer abuses across the financial sector? Banks and non-banks alike are able to rip off consumers with a host of financial products, making a regulator with the ability to write and enforce regulations against all of them a critical addition to the regulatory system.
The GOP is flailing on consumer protection because it doesn’t want to do anything that will cut into the ability of banks to make a profit on confusing, obfuscatory financial products. But it also can’t deny that many people were hurt by the bank’s use of products that should have never been sold. So they’re left trying to call for prudential standards in one slice of the system, while leaving the rest of the system in the dark and unregulated, allowing the banks to run rampant.
If they can make Ke$ha seem sort of appealing, and wholesome, and communitarian, they can sell anything:
A project I’d really like to take on at some point is to watch all of The Simpsons, from the beginning. Of all the things things I regret missing from a childhood spent largely isolated from pop culture, The Simpsons is probably the thing I’m saddest about. I think my mother fell into the Bart-might-be-a-bad-influence camp, but I think middle school might have been a lot easier if I’d had Lisa Simpson as a role model. It was one of my assistant debate coaches, who drove far faster than was prudent (but fast enough to be quite exciting) and who had lots and lots of the episodes uploaded on his computer in the early aughts before everyone did things like that, who introduced me to the show, and I’ll be forever thankful.
But if someone with a Simpsons education as patchy as mine can see something like this, and immediately get all the jokes, it’s evidence of how deep the show’s penetration into our culture is. I’m glad they’ve mostly stuck to selling things like Coke, otherwise I don’t know what I’d be irrationally charmed by. With great power comes great responsibility!
Shortly after the media broke the news that authorities had arrested Faisal Shahzad as a suspect in the May 1 Times Square bombing attempt, conservative lawmakers began complaining that even though he’s an American citizen, authorities should deprive him of his Miranda rights. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that Mirandizing Shahzad would be “a serious mistake,” and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said, “Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still.” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) suggested that Congress should perhaps create a process to strip “American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorists” of their citizenship.
In today’s Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on “Terrorists and Guns,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he wholeheartedly agreed with his colleagues and wanted to write legislation that would allow authorities to deprive them of their rights:
GRAHAM: I want to stop reading these guys their Miranda rights. Me and Peter are so much on board here. … Nobody in their right mind would expect a Marine to read someone caught on the battlefield their rights. You catch them and you interrogate them lawfully to gather intelligence. Your special unit is probably the best in the world at this, but I don’t think it’s smart for us to say the homeland is not part of the battlefield.
You get to America, you get a much better deal, you get rewarded. If you can be caught in Pakistan, intelligence-gathering can happen with intelligence agencies without your Miranda warnings being given. Why should you get a better deal when you get here? Even if you’re an American citizen helping the enemy, you should be viewed as a potential military threat, not some guy who tried to commit a crime in Times Square.
So I look forward to working with the New York City Police Department, the mayor of New York, Peter King, to devise a law that recognizes we’re at war. … [T]hat you would have the opportunity to hold this suspect, because they represent a military threat to our country even though they’re a citizen, and be able to gather intelligence before you did anything else. … So we need a law that would allow you to go to a judge somewhere — like a FISA judge — and hold a suspect like this and working with the intelligence officials of this country, to gather intelligence, and then make a good prosecutorial decision.
Graham was on active duty in the Air Force as a Judge Advocate General, the corps that acts as legal advisers to the U.S. military. He is now in the Reserves and serves as a Senior Instructor at the Air Force JAG School. In light of his role, it’s disturbing that he would be so willing to distort what Miranda rights are and call for getting rid of them in certain instances. Graham and his conservative counterparts are under the mistaken impression that Mirandizing a suspect grants special rights, when all it does is inform someone of existing rights. As Matt Yglesias adds, “And the whole reason cops mirandize suspects is that if you don’t, you risk having your evidence thrown out of court. If you gather all the information before mirandizing, you could be throwing the whole thing into doubt.”
The record also doesn’t show any evidence of Miranda rights being counterproductive to gathering intelligence. Authorities Mirandized Shahzad, who is reportedly continuing to cooperate and provide information.
It’s important to remember that Shahzad has not yet been convicted of anything. People like Graham want to strip a suspect of all his rights as a U.S. citizen. As Yglesias notes, “You can’t have a system where a cop comes up to me and says ‘you’re a terrorist, therefore you have no citizenship rights, therefore I’m putting you under arrest and you don’t get any due process and now it’s off to jail with you — no rights, no warning.’” Does Graham really want to make all of the United States into the equivalent of a battlefield in Pakistan?
The Washington Post Company is putting Newsweek up for sale and this isn’t much of a sales pitch:
Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham came to New York to tell the magazine staff at a 10:30 a.m. ET meeting on Wednesday. “We have reported losses in the tens of millions for the last two years,” he said. “Outstanding work by NEWSWEEK’s people has significantly narrowed the losses in the last year and particularly in the last few months. But we do not see a path to continuing profitability under our management.”
That’s kind of like saying the reason you’re trying to sell your car is that it’s a really crappy car.
And I’m actually sort of surprised Graham took such a dour line. I would have just said that in a digital paradigm it doesn’t make sense for one company to own both a daily news product and a weekly news product. In an “ink on paper” world, there’s a big difference between a good Newsweek story and a good Washington Post story but in a “pixles on the internet” paradigm there isn’t. If the Washington Post Company is going to operate two different web products they would have to be differentiated along a different axis—one could be a local news site about the DC metropolitan area and one could be a site about about politics and national affairs. But the Post/Newsweek alignment didn’t make sense. The two print publications were supplements while the two websites are competitors.
The vital signs had been ominous for a long while. Hard-line Cold War-era realist hawks, who once dominated the conservative Republican foreign policy establishment, had been seeing their influence rapidly fade over conservative political leaders. After Congressman Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) speech at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, we can now declare their influence dead.
There is nothing conservative about Cantor’s foreign policy. His speech, seen as the opening political salvo of the 2010 campaign on foreign policy, laid out the right’s political battle plan on foreign policy. Pulling together the lines of attack that conservatives in the House and Senate had peddled against the Administration for the past year, Cantor – the second ranking House Republican – created an overall narrative that is not only untethered from reality, but demonstrates a radicalism that fully embraces the radical neoconservatives of the early years of the Bush administration.
While Cantor’s speech may have been largely motivated by partisan calculations and blind opposition to Obama, his speech still exposes the total loss of influence of traditional and notable Republican foreign policy officials. This is no longer the party of Kissinger, Scowcroft, and Powell, it is the party of Frank Gaffney and John Bolton.
A Republican Congress will turn back harmful treaties like START.
Cantor’s opposition to the START treaty, as well as the opposition of other right wing members of the Senate, is counter the overwhelming majority of the traditional Republican foreign policy establishment. For instance, last week and in a huge boost to the treaty, James Schlesinger came out in support of the START treaty. Schlesinger was Nixon’s former Secretary of Defense, he is a nuclear hawk that led the intellectual fight against the ratification of the test ban treaty in 1999, was picked by Republicans to represent the conservative view on the Strategic Posture Commission that assessed nuclear strategy, and is such a conservative heavy weight that he was profiled by the Wall Street Journal as the conservative’s nuclear yoda.
But Eric Cantor has rejected Schlesinger and these other figures and has decided to oppose the treaty. But what makes this so radical is that failure to ratify this treaty could have horrendous consequences, as it would automatically shatter nuclear stability, as all verification and confidence measures would be eliminated possibly unleashing a new nuclear arms race. It would very likely be a death blow to the non-proliferation regime increasing the threat of proliferation and nuclear terrorism. And it would without a doubt torpedo relations with Russia, potentially endangering our troops in Afghanistan who rely on supply lines through Russia. Rejecting START has absolutely massive consequences.
Yet this is where Eric Cantor and the House GOP are.
It used to be that hardcore hawkish realism put figures like Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker, Colin Powell, and Brent Scowcroft in stark opposition to progressives. These leading lights epitomized the concept of “conservative.” In general, they feared foreign entanglements and questioned progressive efforts to emphasize the internal characteristics of countries, such as their human rights record and democratic legitimacy, as a basis for relations. National interests were narrowly defined and statecraft and diplomacy – peeling off China from the Soviets, building a huge multilateral coalition to counter Saddam – were integral tools of the trade.
But these leading Republican foreign policy figures are now either persona non-grata in the Republican party or are simply ignored. The fact is that these figures are now much closer to Democratic foreign policy leaders and progressive positions on foreign policy. In some ways, this is because of a convergence of views on how to manage the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union, in others its because the Democratic foreign policy has become more conservative. But mainly it is because the GOP has moved leaps and bounds to the right – to the point where it is clear that these figures have almost nothing in common with Eric Cantor and the conservatives that are running things on the Hill.