December 12, 2013
There is an important political side to the Murray-Ryan budget deal. Beyond the agreement which appears headed for passage in both chambers—especially if it is accomplished before the Christmas adjournment--this package which has Paul Ryan’s name attached to it, says that he clearly intends to move ahead rapidly in the GOP’s leadership ranks in House. Having flirted with being close to the White House on last year’s Romney ticket, Ryan now is shooting for some challenging but perhaps more reasonable targets. Having succeeded as Budget Committee Chairman plus, given the Republican Party’s term limits rule for Committee chairs, Ryan has placed himself in position to become Chair of the House Appropriations in 2015, should the Republicans maintain control of the House. At the same time he is situated to move quickly into a position to challenge John Boehner for the speakership. The Republican political scene now in Washington is growing interesting.
Ryan’s participation in cutting this deal with his Democratic Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, has not been received by wall to wall enthusiasm from the Republicans. There is substantive bitterness from the Conservative wing and the Tea-Partyers on the details of the package. At the same time, there are those who do not want any deal with the Democrats for political reasons. They do not want to give the President even the semblance of a legislative accomplishment with congressional elections looming next November, ObamaCare still in serious stress, and a chance to recapture the Senate as well next year. Finally, there is much internal jealously that any accomplishment for Ryan will enhance his position as a viable—more moderate--candidate for the Party in 2016; rather than the collection of polarizing choices who are positioning themselves for the race.
December 10, 2013
President Obama’ speech in the stadium in Johannesburg at the Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela was as powerful a presentation as he has ever delivered. His remarks were elevating and inspiring for his family, all South Africans, all Africans, and the entire world. It was a positive, uplifting tribute to a great leader and a strong challenge to his followers; he included. Undoubtedly, this speech delivered by the first African American President, the son of a Kenyan father, crossed all the groupings and stereotypes in every part of the world. The speech also was not without sharp criticism and reproach to the assembled world leaders. It was Obama at his most convincing and committed best. This President who was so impressive on the campaign stump twice and who wowed the audience at the 2004 Democratic Convention as a mere Illinois State Senator, did it again in South Africa.
Many great U.S. Senators in history have been powerful orators, but not necessarily great political deal-makers. Legislating requires other skills as does governing. President Obama returns home now desperately needing to get his political and legislative ducks lined up so that the next few months produce some consequential victories in his confrontation with Congress. He needs to translate the electric capacity that he demonstrated again in FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. If he fails to do so, only the speeches will be his legacy after eight years in the White House.
This is a great opportunity for the President to turn things around and use the American bully pulpit to aggressively move his agenda; to bring the American people back behind him; to confront his opponents; and to take some genuine political risks. It will be evident by the end of February at which time at least the budget and the debt ceiling confrontations will have once again been enjoined; and either resolved and reconciled or just once again kicked down the road. This will require more than speechifying.
December 10, 2013
Netanyahu’s decision not to attend the Mandela memorial service in South Africa due to the exceptionally high financial costs to be incurred for him to attend, represents probably the lamest excuse that a head of state has ever given for not going to an event; especially having previously expressed his clear intention to attend. Given the level of the conspicuous consumption demonstrated by Israeli officials over time including the Prime Minister himself, it is baffling that suddenly Netanyahu became concerned about costs.
Granted that there well might have been some security issues, but given the extensive experience of the Israeli security staff and the intense security assembling for all the Governments’ representatives in South Africa, it is unlikely that this was the reason Bibi did not attend. While there have been some tense feelings between Israel and various South African leaders over the years, including Bishop Desmond Tutu and even upon occasion Mandela, the bottom line should have been this was a specific moment for Israel to be seen among the Heads of States and Government Chiefs in attendance.
The about face probably was based on either a petty matter involving Netanyahu and Mandela, an historical slight which someone in the governing coalition was about to unmask, or merely a very pointless concern that Netanyahu would receive a potential slight. For example, Bibi would be forced to face Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a crowd or be not given a few minutes with President Obama.
It is time for the Israeli Prime Minister to conduct the affairs of state not as if he was leading a collection of Jews in the shtetel who do not understand the politics of the 21st Century. Paying respect to Nelson Mandela would have been a clear statement that Israel wanted to pay tribute to an extraordinary leader and at the same time to demonstrate that indeed Israel is recognized as a serious nation on the world stage. He also could have afforded it!
December 5, 2013
As the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) move ahead with their plans to dispose of the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons, the truly frightening question is now beginning to emerge. Having apparently successfully eliminated the machinery for fabricating the chemical weapons; having packaged apparently successfully the various chemical weapons prior to their being transported from their site; it now remains only to remove successfully the materiel from Syria!
While the procedures for this disposal have been established, the critical question is whether the chemicals can safely be moved to the disposal ships waiting for them in the Syrian port of Latakia. These ships in turn have a plan for their destruction and disposal.
Specifically, the challenge is how to transport the highly toxic materiel by land across Syria to Latakia without their falling into the hands of anti-Assad forces, radical Islamists, Al Qaeda radicals, or similar other random terrorist groups. All of these non-governmental forces and others would be only delighted to possess chemical materiel with which they could create much mischief; both within Syria and elsewhere.
As is the case in Pakistan, random radical opposition groups represent the greatest regional nuclear threats for the use of WMD’s. In fact like the Pakistanis, the Iranian regime itself is probably unlikely to ever use nuclear weapons despite all the bluster and threatening saber rattling—not that Israel should be placed in a position where it lives constantly with such an existential threat. The true fear that nuclear weapons might be used, comes from terrorist groups and non-state actors who could steal or otherwise obtain such weapons. Their potential use of nuclear material represents a far greater regional threat.
Both in Syria and Iran, it is the internal and external radical forces which hold the potential for catastrophic havoc and mischief. With both ideological and religious zeal, the terrorist groups lack any of compunctions which nations possess. They can justify their actions within a small circle of possessed and fanatical leadership.
If the OPCW can successfully move out the Syrian chemicals by the end of December, the first test will have been passed. What unfortunately is clear, is that this is likely to be only the first test in this region.
December 3, 2013
It may be hard to believe but despite an enormous number of vital unfinished issues facing the Congress, the House of Representatives only has eight legislative days scheduled for the month of December will be in session only five days when the Senate is also meeting. It is not just the legislation that has piled up in one or both chambers, but rather the fact that the negativity in the climate on Capitol Hill is so depressing. No amount of blame game concerning the Affordable Health Care Act will make the agriculture bill and food stamps bill get passed, or unemployment compensation extended, or doctors’ Medicare reimbursements be continued. It will not facilitate completion of the 2014 budget compromise which was supposed to have been completed on October 1. While Congress will probably avoid another Government shut-down on January 14, it might me a nice surprise for the American people to have it in place before Christmas. While the Senate will confirm Janet Yellin to head the Fed, there may be oratorical bloodletting in the Senate as the new anti-filibuster rule begins to enable Obama’s lower court nominees and Executive appointments to move ahead.
No one is blameless in this ugliness, but the lack of responsible leadership is appalling. The White House wants to get back on track after seeing the President’s polling fall to historical new lows. Obama’s presidency is on the rocks unless he can begin to regain the public’s trust following his mis-conduct of the healthcare.gov fiasco. To do so, however, he needs to energize a disheartened Democratic party and find some Republicans willing to participate with him in governing the nation for the next three years. He needs constructive action and not posturing as the poll numbers will sink even lower for Congress again as well as the President’s.
This comes as the 2014 congressional elections are looming on the horizon. Both congressional parties are struggling with internal debates and conflicts. They must make strategic political decisions while trying to get past the budget, the debt ceiling, and a potential shut-down. If the Senate—as appears probable at this time--opts to ratchet up the Iranian sanctions (even if they would only take effect in six months and with conditions), the President could well have a major foreign policy confrontation on his hands before St. Nicholas arrives bringing holiday cheer.
The question now is what will get done!
November 24, 2013
The P5+1 deal with Iran has so far produced expected reactions. The Obama Administration appears very pleased with how much the deal has accomplished and suggests they will take it as an effective beginning. Critics in Washington are skeptical at best and the Israelis are angry. The deal was largely the deal that has been thrashed out now for a while whose key points have been discussed publically by the U.S. and Israel and which the Israelis have consistently argued was forgiving too fast without necessary conditions. It essence for them it was a sell-out or capitulation with nothing received in return.
Netanyahu’s frustration and annoyance in this preliminary accord is understandable and has been so stated to the world, but what is not mentioned is the extent to which it has aroused a similar response from the Saudis and the Gulf States. Clearly without any domestic coalition partners or a democratic legislature to hold it accountable, the Saudi royal family and its Gulf allies can choose their own method to respond to the Iran agreement; an understanding that they also find unacceptable.
There are three likely responses from the Sunni—read Saudi- leadership. They could inform the U.S. that they are dissatisfied but will permit the six month period to elapse to test Iranian compliance with it and with the further agreements forthcoming between the P5+1 and Iran. This would be a response that the U.S. would very much appreciate and may be expecting. Second, they could reject the agreement totally and demand its rescission; something that undoubtedly the U.S. will reject and work to ameliorate. Finally and most dangerous of all, the Saudis could announce that upon reflection and considered calculation they have reached the decision to proceed immediately with acquiring nuclear weapons for themselves.
November 21, 2013
Washington gets uglier as the days pass. The Senate vote today to eliminate the Senate’s rule that had permitted filibustering on presidential nominations of non-Supreme Court and executive appointments was a long time coming. It was a legitimate and correct but also a very sad statement about the state of affairs in Washington. Clearly the case can be made on both sides of the so-called “nuclear” vote, but what it should have never have come to this point. While permitting Senators to filibuster nominations is upsetting and its repeated use was unnecessarily disruptive, if its use had been selective, less angry, and less vindictive it would never have come to a vote.
Through this vote, 52-48, Republican Senators were finally stymied in their consistent and persistent policy of attacking anything the President wanted to do or any nomination he sought to advance. The Democrats know full well that this vote may well return to haunt them when the inevitably lose control of the Senate, but regardless of what some of the Senate traditionalists will argue, there was nothing sacred about the rule. In addition, for the Democrats it was necessary for them to assert some power and leadership in the Senate and force Republican votes that were opposing qualified and recommended judicial appointments and Executive nominees.
Democrats recognized that they may well be beaten up in some of their re-election campaigns because of these votes; but it was time to admit to all that any semblance of bi-partisanship sadly was over. For many of the Democratic Senators, however, it permitted a bit of media distraction from the on-going hullabaloo over ObamaCare which they know will haunt them as the return home for Thanksgiving. This brief respite, they all recognize, will hit regardless of the results, when the bell on the clock strikes midnight on November 30.
November 19, 2013
Israel may be facing a totally different more immediate threat than Iran if today’s bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut is any sign of forthcoming rebel, al-Qaeda, anti-Assad activity now spilling into Lebanon in a big way. As most observers suggest, this bombing was the work of Islamic radicals who are opposed to all the Shiite forces which are backing President Assad including Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. They are also virulent enemies of Israel.
Clearly the war in Syria is not going the rebels’ way. The casualties on all sides mount and the rainy winter season commences with all the concomitant consequences which it brings to all the combatants and civilians. The U.S.-Russian dismantling of the chemical weapons appears to be proceeding, although there remains here serious skepticism as to whether it is really the success it is being touted to be so far.
What is clear is that the clean-up forces are becoming exceedingly nervous about transporting the materiel from its locations. There is a concern about sabotage, theft, ransom, and kidnapping of both the staff as well as the chemical materiel by various forces from all sides. Today’s attack, assuming it is indicative of radical Islamic infiltration into Lebanon, is a signal that any thought of bring the materiel across Syria to a Lebanese port may expose it to seizure in Lebanon by radical forces, as well as by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah reportedly already retains a larger (70,000 rockets) and more sophisticated missile arsenal than it possessed in 2006; ready to use against Israel. Both Israeli and Lebanese press have been speculating for several weeks about various scenarios and activities which might be developing in South Lebanon near the Israeli border. These have ranged from fear of underground tunnels now coming into Israel on one extreme to a sense of long-term quiet present along the border; all this despite underlying hostilities, fears, as well as preparedness. Today’s Beirut bombing is such a clear anti-Iran/Hezbollah statement, that it must give pause for Israel to consider the precariousness of its situation in the North should the Syrian hostilities spill over into Lebanon in a meaningful way.
November 15, 2013
Amidst all the hoopla about the President’s culpability and now his apology over the failure of the ACA to get off the ground properly, there is a most telling observation about presidential decision-making which may say the most about the Obama Presidency and which analysts have totally ignored. While in no way does this minimize the Obama Administration’s responsibility for the health care legislative problems, it does offer a very important insight into the operation and administration of the Obama White House.
This legislation –as is the case for example with the “pending” immigration bill—was not drafted by the White House or the Administration. It was created by Congress and then the President and its team work it over. This fact rang true in the President’s press conference as he discussed the Administration’s failures to prepare adequately for many of these eventualities. It was not their bill; while they did mold it, it was not created by them. They never truly had ownership of the bill. Consequently, they never worked through all the pitfalls which now have confounded the American people.
Admittedly, they did have three years to run through many of the issues and should have caught the most serious ones. Historically, when the federal government writes a bill, it has been fully vetted and tested before it is presented to Congress. (Curiously, the Clinton Administration never could let go of its own healthcare bill. They kept testing and redesigning it, so that when it was finally sent to the Hill it was much too late. The rest of the demise of Hillary’s bill is history.)
The oddity in this situation is that since early in the Twentieth Century, certainly, almost all major legislative initiatives—actual draft bills—emanated from the White House and the OMB or its predecessor the BOB. Presidents sent Congress draft legislation to chew on and to modify; but the basic bill’s language and procedures came from the White House. This has not been the modus operandi of this Administration. This certainly does not justify why the Obama team is in such a pickle over the major legislative initiative of Barack Obama’s tenure in office. So far, at least, it does not reflect well at all on the Obama style of operating. For the bureaucrats who perhaps actually might have saved the bill from this mess, it is truly chaotic. For presidential scholars it is a fascinating insight into the Obama Presidency and may begin to explain some characteristics about his political psychology.
November 13, 2013
Former President Clinton joined the chorus of angry voices on Tuesday challenging the failure of the President to deliver Obamacare as promised. He asserted that the President’s failure to insure that the American people could keep their former health care plan if they so desired and not in OYZ.com which was cited in the Daily Beast today, Clinton’s statement suggests—considering the source--how deep a problem the White House is facing with the chaos that has ensued since the Affordable Health Care Act took effect on October 1.
Clinton did not address directly the failure of the healthcare.gov web site to be operational, although it is fairly clear to everyone that if the end of November comes and the system is not up and running, the President will need to resort to drastic measures—perhaps even administrative ones-- to get the health care program operational. Clinton focused directly on the plight of at least 3.5 million people who have been dropped from their plans or have seen their plans disappear. This despite the fact that the President promised it was precisely this eventuality which would never occur under the ACA.
President Clinton’s attack on Obama seems clearly to have had only one motive aside from the legitimate attack on the ACA mess which the President is currently facing. President Clinton was the stalking horse for the 2016 Democratic presidential aspirant who felt she could not yet go out and attack the man whom she served for four years until just 10 months ago as Secretary of State.
Playing the bad guy, President Clinton did not want to cede all the attack on the failure of Obamacare to Governor Christie or the Tea Party or even the establishment Republicans. The Clinons obviously felt this would be deft way to place their statements on Obamacare on the record before any campaign actually starts; both during the forthcoming presidential nomination fight as well as the general election. She needed to begin to separate herself from the President, yet she needs to remain a loyal soldier until she officially throws her hat into the ring .
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