Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thomas Friedman is free at last!

Today was the first time I read one of Thomas Friedman's columns in The New York Times in quite some time. This was the first one that I noticed since The Times tore down their TimesSelect paywall. So, once again, Thomas Friedman is free at last!

BTW, I do happen to agree the central thesis of this latest column entitled "9/11 Is Over" that we need to refocus on who we as a country are rather than letting 9/11 (and politicians exploiting it) define us:

We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.

In any case, I wonder whose paywall will fall next.

-- Jack Krupansky

Pro-Israel Lobby cranks up the volume for its campaign against Iran

There was an article in The New York Times by Don Van Natta entitled "Big Coffers and a Rising Voice Lift Group on the Right" that tells us about a new conservative group, Freedom Watch, which will have "Iran policy" as one of its primary targets:

Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda. Its next target: Iran policy.

Next month, Freedom's Watch will sponsor a private forum of 20 experts on radical Islam that is expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, according to several benefactors of the group.

And where did this group spring from? The Times tells us:

The idea for Freedom's Watch was hatched in March at the winter meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Manalapan, Fla., where Vice President Dick Cheney was the keynote speaker, according to participants. Next week, the group is moving into a 10,000-square-foot office in the Chinatown section of Washington, with plans to employ as many as 50 people by early next year.

Who is really behind this group? The Times is unable to really tell us:

Since the group is organized as a tax-exempt organization, it does not have to reveal its donors and it can not engage in certain types of partisan activities that directly support political candidates. It denies coordinating its activities with the White House, although many of its donors and organizers are well connected to the administration, including Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary.

The Times was able to tell us a little about the "founders" of the group:

Among the group's founders are Sheldon G. Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, who ranks sixth on the Forbes Magazine list of the world's billionaires; Mel Sembler, a shopping center magnate based in St. Petersburg, Fla., who served as the ambassador to Italy and Australia; John M. Templeton Jr., the conservative philanthropist from Bryn Mawr, Pa.; and Anthony H. Gioia, a former ambassador to Malta who heads an investment group based in Buffalo, N.Y. All four men are long-time prolific donors who have raised money on behalf of Republican and conservative causes.

Why are the "donors" so anxious to keep their support hidden from public view? Obviously they know that what they are doing is more than a bit sleazy or would otherwise cause a significant degree of embarrassment or even scandal if it were to be made public.

Although they will have Iran as a primary target, they are also going after Iraq as well:

Freedom's Watch, a deep-pocketed conservative group led by two former senior White House officials, made an audacious debut in late August when it began a $15 million advertising campaign designed to maintain Congressional support for President Bush's troop increase in Iraq.

This makes it quite clear that so much of the talk about staying in Iraq is really about targeting and confronting Iran.

Iran is not now and has never been a major national security threat for the United States and is clearly not a "direct" threat to our security. Sure, there are occasional mini-conflicts between the two, but the answer is to simply keep a little bit of distance between the two. Intentionally pursuing a policy of confrontation is definitely not improving relations and would seem to have some other goal than peaceful coexistence. What might that other goal be?

Clearly that other goal is to "confront" Iran. Not surprisingly, such a goal dovetails nicely with the overall policies of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby.

Sure, there is incredible geopolitical tension between Israel and Iran for a number of reasons, but the U.S. "taking sides" rather than trying to work out an accommodation is distinctly unhelpful. In any case, Freedom Watch is clearly not a group that has the "direct" national security of the U.S. at heart, but has grander "ambitions."

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, September 29, 2007

What do Americans really want from their new president in 2008?

Whether Hillary or Rudy gets elected next year, the real question is what are Americans really after? Is it all about Iraq and how to get out? Will it be all about healthcare? Does the so-called Global War On Terror matter any more? Will it be all about Iran and who can be tougher about pressing them on their "nuclear ambitions"? Is it all about being more supportive of business as an engine for creating jobs? Is it all about squeezing business to "help" workers? Is it about taxes being too high? Is it about people wanting more and better services from their government? Is it all about personality? Does global warming and the environment really matter?

Sure, there are plenty of right and left-wing issues and causes to "divide" activists, but the real question is what the center 60% of Americans really want.

Really, what do these people really want in their new president?

My suspicion is that people want some kind of "change", and dumping the Republicans in favor of a Democratic president fits that bill. I also suspect that people do not want radical change either. They want "safe" change. They want out of Iraq, but they want it done with care and not precipitously. Obama and Edwards rant that they are much better agents of change than Mrs. Clinton, and that may be what left-wing liberals and activists really do want, but overall Americans appear to want to dial down on "adventure" and anything that smacks of being "radical" and shift a little more towards sanity and something that resembles "calm." Hillary seems more eager to re-focus on domestic issues, while Rudy offers the risk that he is likely to keep the geo-political alarm meter dialed up a bit too high.

In short, the American people want a president who will give them a break, a little bit of old-fashioned peace and quiet.

Hillary seems poised to give Americans the break that they seek and need. Sure other candidates could change their stripes and out-centrist her, but it seems rather unlikely.

Yes, Hillary can be stopped, but none of the candidates seems to have the "right stuff" to do it.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Iraq was always about Iran

Now that even the administration is talking about a drawdown of forces in Iraq, the truth sneaks out: the big concern is not leaving Iraq in chaos, but the loss of an opportunity to confront Iran. Going after Iraq was never about WMDs or democracy or what-have-you, but was always intended as an intermediate step in going after Iran. The Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby have always been far more worried about Iran and its "mullahs" and "nuclear ambitions" and "terror masters" than Saddam Hussein. Iraq needed to be taken out to facilitate going after Iran. Actually, the truth is not fully out, but at least now it is being hinted at.

An article in The New York Times by Helene Cooper entitled "In Bush Speech, Signs of Split on Iran Policy" informs us that:

While scrutiny this week focused on the debate over troop strength, President Bush also used the occasion to turn up the pressure on Iran, using his speech on Thursday to stress the need to contain Iran as a major reason for the continued American presence in Iraq.

This may be the first time we are hearing this in public and the media with such stress, but this rationale was always there if you looked hard enough.

Two questions arise:

  1. How much support does the administration have for doing much more than simply "harassing" Iran for the next 16 months?
  2. Will the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby effectively strong-arm Hillary or whoever else wins the election next year, not to mentions members of Congress, into supporting a "strong" confrontation with Iran or maybe merely the kind of low-grade "cold war" that we experienced with Iraq under Bill Clinton?

Rather than all the focus on Iraq, it would be nice to the see the news media "harass" politicians about their prospective Iran policies should they win election next year. Failure of the American people and media to "confront" our own politicians about their "Iran ambitions" is a huge problem, potentially far worse than the Iraq "quagmire."

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Resuscitating the middle class

I do not agree with everything in an editorial in The New York Times entitled "The Employment Tea Leaves", but I do agree with their assertion of the need to "help the increasingly squeezed middle class."

I agree when The Times says that:

Democrats, or some Republicans with a change of heart, must articulate — and Americans must demand — a program for ensuring that the middle class gets a bigger share of the economy's spoils than it has received during the Bush era, when gains have largely been funneled to the richest Americans.

To have a fairer and more inclusive economy, workers need true mobility, which requires health care reform. And they need to see a reversal in the country's ever-deepening inequality, which could come about through more progressive income taxes, better public education and more help for workers whose jobs are displaced by globalization.

In fact, now that I think about it, a middle class income tax reduction would make a lot of sense.

And the hedge fund managers and private equity fund managers who have done so much structural harm to the economy in recent years (e.g., excessive speculation in commodities and subprime mortgage securities and causing a mispricing of risk) need some "incentive" to focus on delivering long-term benefits to the economy (true investment) rather than focusing so much of their attention on sleazy short-term profit "skimming" schemes. Don't raise the taxes on every dollar of their "profit", but definitely hit them very hard on short-term profits that have been doing more harm than good to the long-term health of the economy.

The economy does not need a Fed interest rate cut or cheaper credit, but rather it is in dire need of a variety of reforms to resuscitate what used to be known as "The Middle Class."

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control

I was browsing the new non-fiction books table in the local Barnes & Noble and noticed a curious title: The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control by Abraham Foxman. It purports to be a comprehensive rebuttal of the proposition that "there is an Israel lobby with disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy." I leafed through it and read a few passages, but it seemed like more of a knee-jerk reactionary response to valid criticism and more of an attempt to smear critics of the foreign policy of Israel and the U.S. foreign policy with regards to Israel and the greater Middle East.

From From Publishers Weekly:

In opposing the view that there is an Israel lobby with disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy (a view that Foxman says plays into the traditional anti-Semitic narrative about 'Jewish control' ), the national director of the Anti-Defamation League focuses on the controversial 2006 paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (their book of the same title will be published in September). Foxman demolishes a number of shibboleths about the lobby's power. Much of the book's second half then takes on what Foxman sees as the biases and distortions in former president Carter's Palestine Peace or Apartheid, offering evidence, for example, that Yasser Arafat, not Ehud Barak, was the obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement at the Taba negotiations. But Foxman never really defines what the Israel lobby is, paying more attention to the ADL than to that lobby's main instrument, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee. And many will find debatable his claim that Israel has proven to be the single greatest source of stability in the region. This book succeeds far more as a rebuttal of a pernicious theory about a mythically powerful Jewish lobby than as a look at the real institutions that lobby in support of Israel or at Israel's complex role in the Middle East.

I'm not exactly sure what the reference to "the traditional anti-Semitic narrative about 'Jewish control'Â" is meant to convey in this context, but I don't recall either Carter or Mearsheimer or Walt suggesting anything at all about "control." Rather, the latter were referring to excessive influence. And I don't recall reading anything from them even hinting at them being "anti-Semitic", other than the usual caveat that anyone critisizing Israel, its policies, or its supporters is automatically labelled as being "anti-Semitic" in some social circles.

And why any of this warrants a label of "The Deadliest Lies" is a complete mystery, other than to betray its aims of being an intentional smear campaign against legitimate criticism.

And if the author of the book is unfamiliar with the clout that AIPAC has in Washington or with congressional politics, he is in a complete state of denial.

To be clear, I myself do not believe in some mythic, monolithic "Israel Lobby" or "Jewish Control", but there is a clear, if loose, coalition of interests in Washington which I loosely refer to as "the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby." This loose coalition includes all of those labeled as Neo-Conservatives, right-wing Christian fundamentalists, right-wing conservative Jewish groups, and assorted politicians and interest groups who align themselves with the core groups as a matter of political expediency and to gain access to campaign funds. All of those assorted players, only some of who are actually Jewish, act with a distinct bias in favor of a conservative view on Israel and its policies towards its neighbors in the greater Middle East.

I have no intention of buying the book myself, but I would like to read it for background once any of my readers have finished it.

And if you are interested in reading what the targets of Foxman's criticisms have to say take a look at The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt:

And take a look at Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter:

BTW, if you do buy any of these books by clicking on my links, I will get a very modest commission.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Commemorating 9/11

Six years past the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I see no reason to specifically commemorate those attacks. It is long past time to move on. Sure, the friends and families of actual victims can have their own private and even public commemorations, but the concept of a national commemoration makes little sense.

What does make sense is to commemorate the event even more evil than the attacks of the terrorists themselves on that day: the hijacking of American foreign policy by the Neo-Conservatives in pursuit of their so-called Global War On Terror which has done little to pursue the group behind the attacks of 9/11 but instead focused on using the attacks of 9/11 as justification for the invasion of Iraq, labelling all terrorists as equal to those behind the 9/11 atacks, pursuing Iran as a so-called terrorist state, and a general campaign of fear against the entire American people.

Yes, we do a commemoration to mark the day on which our enslavement to the agenda of the Neo-Conservatives began and continues to this day.

-- Jack Krupansky