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Michael Barone - Republicans developing 'outside' game?

The House Republicans, in serious trouble with public opinion as they blinked facing the "fiscal cliff" over New Year's, seem suddenly to be playing a more successful game — or rather, games — an inside game and an outside game.
The inside game can be described by the Washington phrase "regular order." What that means in ordinary American English is that you proceed according to the rules. Bills are written in subcommittee and committee and then go to the floor. When the House and Senate pass different versions — likely when Republicans control the House and Democrats have a majority in the Senate — the two are taken to conference committee to be reconciled. Then both houses vote on the conference committee report. If it is approved, the president can sign or veto it.
Note the lack of negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders. Speaker John Boehner decided they're useless after the failure of his grand bargain talks with Barack Obama.
Under regular order, House Republicans had little leverage when the fiscal cliff loomed on New Year's Day. Taxes were to go up by $4.5 trillion if the House didn't act. So Republicans accepted higher rates on those earning more than $400,000.
Now, Republicans have the leverage. The budget sequester to automatically take effect March 1 would cut spending by $1 trillion. Republicans don't like the $500 billion defense spending cuts, but they can stomach them.
Obama took to the teleprompter yesterday afternoon to call for short-term spending cuts and revenue increases through elimination of deductions. Boehner was willing to consider the latter as part of a grand bargain that included tax rate cuts and entitlement reform. But if the net effect is revenue increases, Republicans aren't interested. For them, this would be "laughable — they have zero reason to do it," as my Washington Examiner colleague Philip Klein has written.
You may have noticed that everything in this column so far is Washington talk — fiscal cliff, sequester, regular order. It's not language you hear ordinary Americans speaking in everyday life.
Which leads to the House Republicans' outside game, advanced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a speech Tuesday afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute, where I'm a resident fellow.
It was scheduled well in advance, and interestingly, Obama chose the same hour to speak before the cameras. He did the same thing once before, in May 2009, when former Vice President Cheney spoke at AEI on CIA interrogation techniques.
Cantor titled his remarks "Making Life Work," and they were clearly aimed at Main Street. He spoke not of educational block grants, but of having federal education"follow children" to schools their parents choose. In a move reminiscent of presidents' State of the Union messages since 1982, he brought along Joseph Kelley, who sent his son, Rashawn, and his three daughters to private schools with money from a District of Columbia voucher program the Obama administration has tried to shut down.
He criticized the ObamaCare tax on medical devices by bringing a Baltimore nurse who worked to develop replacement discs for patients with back pain and then needed one herself. She was wearing her cervical collar.
He brought 12-year-old Katie, from Richmond, who has been treated for cancer almost all her life, to illustrate Republican support for funding basic medical research.
Addressing immigration, he brought Fiona Zhou, a systems engineering graduate student whose chances to remain in the United States would improve if, as the House voted last year, more immigration slots were opened for foreigners with advance science, technology and engineering degrees.
He endorsed the Dream Act, legal residence and citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children. He praised the bipartisan work on a bill including border security, employment verification and guest-worker programs.
All this was a contrast with Cantor's usual penchant to speak in Washington talk and with the tendency of many Republicans, notably Mitt Romney, to speak in abstractions like free enterprise and government regulation, rather than in words that describe the experiences of ordinary Americans.
Yes, there's a certain amount of theater and contrivance to this. But that's often true in politics. There was sophisticated argumentation in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But the two candidates also put on a show.
It's not clear how successful the House Republicans' outside game will be. But for those on their side, it's encouraging that they're trying to play.
(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Friday, 08 February 2013 20:27

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Pat Buchanan - Republican obsess over Israel & Iran

If last week's hearing for Chuck Hagel raised questions about his capacity to be secretary of defense, the show trial conducted by his inquisitors on the tribunal raised questions about the GOP.
Is the Republican Party, as currently constituted, even capable of conducting a foreign policy befitting a world power? Or has it learned nothing and forgotten nothing since George W. Bush went home and the nation rejected John McCain for Barack Obama?
Consider the great foreign issues on the front burner today.
Will the Japan-China clash over islets in the South China Sea, now involving warplanes and warships circling each other, lead to a shooting war that could, because of our security treaty with Japan, drag in the United States?
Is China an economic rival and trade partner? Or is Beijing seeking strategic and military hegemony in East Asia and the Western Pacific? Is engagement or containment of this emerging superpower the way to go?
Is Vladimir Putin's Russia friend or foe? Has the "reset" failed?
How many troops should we leave in Afghanistan to prevent its receding into the Taliban darkness, as it did when the Red Army departed in 1989?
Is Iraq, where we lost 4,600 soldiers and 35,000 wounded in a misbegotten war to strip that country of WMD it did not have, about to disintegrate into civil, sectarian and ethnic war? After Bashar Assad falls, will Syria fall to Islamists — or fall apart?
Is Egypt's military chief correct when he said that the violent eruptions after President Mohammed Morsi's attempted seizure of dictatorial power could imperil the state itself?
Should the presence of al-Qaida in Mali cause the United States to deepen its military involvement in sub-Saharan Africa? Or does the rancid fruit of NATO's intervention in Libya to save Benghazi, now an Islamist no man's land for Westerners, argue for staying out?
Before going ahead with a sequester of Pentagon funds, ought we not first review and reduce the treaty commitments our military is required to honor, many dating back over half a century? All these issues were there to be discussed with Hagel.
Yet, according to Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, who reviewed the transcript of Hagel's eight hours of testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, there were more mentions of Israel, 178, than of Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Palestine and Palestinians, North Korea, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, China, NATO, Libya, Bahrain, Somalia, al-Qaida, Mali, Jordan, Turkey, Japan and South Korea combined.
In the runup to the Hagel hearings, North Korea tested an intercontinental rocket and indicated a third nuclear bomb test may be imminent. Dictator Kim Jong Un said the "target" of these tests is that "sworn enemy of the Korean people," the U.S.A. Yet North Korea was mentioned only 11 times in Hagel's day-long testimony, while Iran was mentioned 170 times. But Iran has no missile that can reach the United States, has never tested a nuclear device or bomb, has no nuclear weapons program, according to the unanimous verdict of our 16 intelligence agencies, has never enriched uranium to weapons grade, and has all of its nuclear facilities under constant U.N. surveillance and inspection. Far from threatening America with nuclear fire like North Korea's 20-something dictator, the Ayatollah Khamenei has declared a fatwa against Iran's ever possessing atomic weapons.
This is no brief for a Tehran regime that is no friend of this country. But to suggest Iran cannot be contained as the nuclear-armed Soviet Union of Stalin and China of Mao were contained is absurd. Whom has Iran attacked in the 33 years since the old ayatollah came back from Paris, while Uncle Sam has attacked or invaded Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Libya twice, Iraq twice, Afghanistan and Serbia?
Query: What is behind this Republican preoccupation, bordering on obsession, with Israel and its nemesis Iran, to the near exclusion of other threats and dangers faced by our country all over a world that is a good bit larger than one small corner of the Middle East? Has Sheldon Adelson replaced Henry Kissinger as the eminence grise of the GOP?
Sen. Lindsey Graham implied it was an outrage to suggest any senator may have been intimidated by an Israeli lobby that has on its wall the scalps of two chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: J.W. Fulbright and Charles Percy.
Who is Lindsey kidding?
Did Bibi Netanyahu, after dissing the U.S. president in the Oval Office, receive those 29 standing ovations at a joint session of Congress, thereby breaking Stalin's all-time record before the Supreme Soviet, because Bibi gave one helluva speech? In this city, the Israeli lobby is regarded as right up there with the National Rifle Association as a crowd that rewards its friends and punishes its enemies, with this exception: Far more congressmen and senators are willing to stand up to the NRA than to defy AIPAC.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. Where is the vision that Republicans had in the time of Reagan?
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Froma Harrop - 'Baby Bust' baloney

America's alleged "baby bust" is pushing the country over "a demographic cliff." So argues Jonathan V. Last in The Wall Street Journal. Stacking one highly debatable claim on the next, Last builds a palace of hooey, in the basement of which sits a conservative agenda that's not very conservative.
Here are the agreed-on facts: America's fertility rate — the number of children born by the average woman — has dipped below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. Were it not for immigrants' having more children, it would be lower still. All arrows point to it going down further, as the Latino fertility rate plummets. (In Mexico, it's at the replacement level.)
All this is true, but where is the problem? The problem, says Last, a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard, is that "growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation." Sure, more people mean more Albert Einsteins, but they also mean more Jeffrey Dahmers.
My questions are these: Is today's America cleverer than 1954's America, when the population was 150 million smaller? Teflon, McDonald's and, er, the birth-control pill were all invented that year. By the way, how are Niger, Guinea-Bissau and Afghanistan, with the world's highest fertility rates, doing in the innovation department?
Last's effort to link a growing population with "conservation" is heroic but a crock. "America's environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable," he says, "even though our population has increased by more than 50 percent."
Actually, these improvements happened despite enormous increases in population. And the environment has gotten better only by some measures. Our growing human population continues to run over natural habitats, pushing many species into extinction.
There's also a bit of elder bashing. Last impolitely refers to aging boomers as "the bloated cohort of old people." Falling fertility can result, at least in the near term, in a society more weighted with the elderly, he notes.
The result is "capital shifts to preserving and extending life."
What's wrong with that? Developing drugs for Alzheimer's is also innovation. Why is spending our capital on health care less admirable than devoting it to smarter cellphones or new cable programs?
Meanwhile, a decline in the working population encourages the invention of labor-saving devices. Facing a sharp fall in population, Japan has become a leader in robot technologies.
I do not kid: Last worries that the Social Security safety net acts as a disincentive to have children. Traditionally, care of older people fell to grown-up children, he explains. Certainly, that's how it was done back on the farm in 1890.
Last speaks of vague proposals "to dismantle this roadblock." One would greatly hike the child tax credit. Another would exempt parents raising children from payroll taxes. The latter could be a slick way to defund Social Security, and thereby kill it.
Other prescriptions include a "welcoming attitude toward immigration and robust religious faith." The United States takes in more legal immigrants than the rest of the world combined. We're already welcoming.
And if by "robust religious faith" Last means strengthening respect for traditional marriage and the children born within it, that would be a positive thing. But for all the joys, raising children costs money, both in outright expense and a parent's lost potential income. In service to that higher mission, conservatives might consider dropping their habit of equating wealth with "success."
Ahhh, social engineering for conservatives. Putting the word "smart" before "pronatalist policies" does not make them something else.
My favorite proposal is improving highways to help families leave congested cities for lower-cost areas. Gosh, if there were fewer people, there would be less congestion, and no one would have to move.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Bob Meade — What difference does it make?

When Senator Johnson asked Secretary of State Clinton about her department's time line reporting of the Benghazi attack, she responded with what can best be described as faux outrage, as she said (paraphrasing), what difference does it make if it was in response to the video or if it was some guys out for a walk who decided to attack the consulate and kill four Americans.
That outrageous and insensitive response was used to shield Ms. Clinton from providing an honest answer to the senatorial committee and the American people. An honest answer may have shown that information on the attack was withheld or manipulated to shield the president during an election period.
Secretary Clinton's callous response prompts other similar "What difference does it make?" questions. For example:
What difference does it make that, after almost four months, the current administration has still not provided Congress or the American people with an honest report on who crafted the words that Ambassador Rice said on five different Sunday morning talk shows?
What difference does it make that the administration told the world the attack was prompted by an obscure U-tube video that almost no one watched? And, what difference does it make that the person who produced that little video has been put in jail for exercising his free speech?
What difference does it make that the survivors of the Benghazi attack have not been identified and have, apparently, been hidden away so as not to give their report on what actually happened?
What difference does it make that an ambassador of the United States was repeatedly raped and his body dragged through the streets of Benghazi? (Note: the American press disputes reports by the French and Lebanese press of the rape.)
What difference does it make that during a presidential debate, a CNN reporter, in an effort to support the president, misrepresented what he had previously said?
What difference does it make that the D.C. Circuit Court has ruled the president has violated the Constitution with his unlawful "recess appointments"?
What difference does it make that the president has chosen not to comply with court rulings concerning the recess appointments and his arbitrary decisions during the gulf oil spill, choosing to continue operating illegally while appealing the court's rulings?
What difference does it make that the president continually works to by-pass the legislative process through use of departmental regulations and executive orders?
What difference does it make that the president's Justice Department has arbitrarily decided what duly enacted laws they choose not to enforce?
What difference does it make that the president has made two appointments to the Supreme Court, one of whom had no judicial experience and the other with some experience but a history of having her rulings overturned on appeal over 60 percent of the time?
What difference does it make that the president chose to bypass constitutional restrictions and opted to impose regulations on religious organizations that would require them violate their principles and their religious beliefs?
What difference does it make that the president uses the nationwide broadcast of his State of the Union message, to single out and try to humiliate the Supreme Court justices?
What difference does it make that the president's own party in the Senate has refused to meet its budgetary obligation for four years?
What difference does it make that college professors are actively trying to get the citizenry to ignore or scrap the Constitution?
What difference does it make that the regulations for the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a ObamaCare) already exceed thirteen thousand pages and it is estimated it will take up to 10 years to complete writing all the regulations that will be enforced?
What difference does it make that the Affordable Care Act includes sixteen thousand new Internal Revenue Service agents to ensure all taxes associated with the act are paid?
What difference does it make that businesses are changing workers hours simply because they can't afford the cost of full time employees under the Affordable Care Act?
What difference does it make that the middle east and Africa are virtually in flames and we simply watch as tens of thousands of people are getting slaughtered?
What difference does it make if our country continues to incur trillions of dollars of deficits?
What difference does it make that fewer people are in the workforce now than when President Obama took office?
What difference does it make that citizens have seen their home value plunge 30 or 40 percent?
What difference does it make if the fourth estate, the free press, has forgotten the "who, what, when, where, how, and why" of reporting, preferring to be sycophants rather than reporters?
What difference does it make if the president attacks and wishes to silence the non-sycophant elements of the press?
What difference does it make if the separation of powers is ignored and the Executive Branch assumes dictatorial powers?
There's more, but what difference does it make?
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Monday, 04 February 2013 21:48

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Jim Hightower - Jamie gets punished

If you are sensitive to stories of human suffering and economic hardship, let me warn you that the following report contains material that could be upsetting, so discretion is advised.
It's about a fellow named Jamie. He lives in New York City, and he has recently had a very rough go with a large financial institution. Such behemoths can be heartless, so as you can imagine, it's tough to stand up to them. The giant in this case is JPMorgan Chase, Wall Street's biggest bank, and it went after poor Jamie Dimon hard. In the end, the bank took more than half his income.
It was a bitterly painful experience, but thanks to the indomitable human spirit, Jamie's story has turned from sad to uplifting! Yes, he was down, but not out. Luckily, he had something big going for him in this fight: JPMorgan is his bank. I don't mean he banks there; he's the CEO.
On Jan. 16, it was announced that JPMorgan's board of directors had docked his pay, awarding him some $12 million less this year than he was given a year ago. Ouch! But there's no need to cry for Jamie. He still is hauling home $11.5 million.
Yet Wall Streeters are all atwitter about the haughty CEO getting his comeuppance (though I guess getting his pay cut in half would more properly be termed a "come-downance").
He certainly did have a very bad year in 2012. He presided over a stunning $6.2 billion loss by the bank's chief investment office, due to finagling or incompetence, or both — federal authorities are still investigating. But the high-rolling denizens of Wall Street were shocked by the level of punishment meted out by the bank's board, widely condemning it as harsh. However, Dimon himself merely said of the board's action: "I respect their decision."
Of course he does! He walked away with his job intact, an $11.5-million wad in his pocket and a sly grin on his face. Many investors and bank regulators (not to mention us commoners) don't consider that level of "punishment" to be much of a deterrent to the kind of executive narcissism and too-big-too-fail carelessness that characterizes today's Wall Street elite.
JPMorgan's board told regulators it didn't consider canning the chief because he had "accepted responsibility" for the management failures that led to the shocking losses.
Wow! He cost the bank's investors six big ones, but by saying, in effect, "my bad," his bungling still is rewarded with an outsized paycheck. And, get this, $10 million of the $11.5 million he got was awarded to him as a bonus!
What a wonderful morality tale this is for America's children. If you make a mess of something, boys and girls, just tell your parents to give you the Jamie Dimon punishment.
Incredibly, the bank's 12 board members are now actually puffing out their chests and celebrating themselves as a bold governing body. The unanimous vote to slash Dimon's pay, they say, shows that — by gollies — we're an effective, take-charge watchdog, keeping the top management of the nation's biggest bank in check. That they can even say something so absurd speaks volumes about the laissez-faire myth that the corporations don't need government regulation, since they have private boards to oversee them.
Perhaps you're asking yourself: "Who are these toothless watchdogs?" Well, Dimon, himself, is one of them (it's always useful to be a member of the board that oversees you — and nearly all big corporations allow their CEOs to serve as directors).
Most of the other 11 members of Dimon's board are multimillionaires who are current or former top executives of such corporate powers as Boeing, ExxonMobil, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson and NBC. Fellow corporatists are eagerly sought out by CEOs to serve on their corporate boards because they're trusted members of "The Top Suite Club." They identify with one of their own and share the top dog's sense of entitlement, so they are predisposed to lavish lots and lots of the shareholders cash on The Boss.
Lee Raymond, the former CEO of Exxon, is one of JPMorgan's most influential directors. He heads the compensation committee of the board and was in charge of giving Dimon his "haircut." But Raymond is congenitally soft on CEO pay, because he was a spectacularly paid chieftain whose grasp of compensation propriety has no connection to the real world.
In his 13 years at the helm of the oil giant, he pocketed a total of $686 million in pay. That's $144,000 a day! Plus a car. Then he got a retirement package worth another $400 million.
"Corporate governance" is a joke, but it's not at all funny. By pampering top executives, these brother-in-law boards are dangerously exacerbating income inequality in America. The joke's on us.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Monday, 04 February 2013 21:42

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