February 04, 2009
Last year, a new Middle East lobby called J Street was formed to push American Jewish opinion in a more conciliatory direction. "What we're responding to," wrote J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami last year, "is that for too long there's been an alliance between the neo-cons, the radical right ofthe Christian Zionist movement and the far-right portions of the Jewish community that has really locked up what it means to be pro-Israel." Israel's supporters do have a distressing tendency to define their position in maximalist terms.
Earlier this month, Joe the Plumber Wurzelbacher--last seen serving as the third wheel on John McCain and Sarah Palin's increasingly disastrous blind date--traded in his toilet jack for a handheld microphone and traveled to the Middle East to become a foreign correspondent covering the Israel-Hamas war for the conservative website Pajamas Media. Alas, he wasn't terribly impressed with his new colleagues. "I think media should be abolished from, you know, reporting," Wurzelbacher said in the Israeli city of Sderot, where he was, from all appearances, reporting. "You know, war is hell.
Israel suffered 13 deaths in the Gaza war. But we won’t know the full extent of the wound the nation has suffered until February 10, when elections are held. If current polls are to be believed, an extremist right-wing party stands to make historic gains. That outcome will demonstrate just how deep the psychic wound from the conflict truly runs; just how far the latest violence has radicalized the Israeli public; and just how big a problem all this will be for Israel’s long-term security.The party in question is Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (or “Israel is our Home”) Party.
District of Corruption
So Damn Much Money is the title of Bob Kaiser’s penetrating book on the explosion of lobbying and corruption in Washington over the past quarter century. Kaiser is right, and so is Barack Obama in his attempt to attenuate the corrosive links between lobbying and government--even with the hiccup created by Tom Daschle’s withdrawal. In over 39 years in Washington, I have seen the city transformed from a sterile national capital akin to Canberra or Brasilia into a social, cultural, culinary, and economic metropolis that can (almost) compete with London and Paris.
Do More On Education In The Stimulus
Thanks to the hefty sum--roughly $140 billion--slated for education funding in the federal stimulus package, heated debate over education reform has hit the news yet again. Although they welcome the attention being paid to the nation's schools, many reformers, who favor hard-line measures like performance pay, high-stakes testing, and charter school funding, are rightly arguing that there should be more conditions encouraging broad, innovative changes attached to the stimulus funds.
Wyden Got Game
Noam's already suggested Ron Wyden as Daschle's replacement at HHS, citing his health care wonkery and his seat on the Senate Finance Committee. But here's another vital Wyden credential (c/o valued Plank reader S.B.): he can ball, having attended the University of California at Santa Barbara on a hoops scholarship. If Wyden winds up at HHS, how about Brian Shaw for the White House Office of Health Reform? --Jason Zengerle
In his otherwise excellent (to my inexpert eyes, at least) column on the stimulus today, the Times's David Leonhardt asks: The most serious charge against the stimulus package is that it does not pack enough punch.... Why isn’t [Team Obama] pushing for a bigger package?
Buzz this morning is that Phil Bredesen, governor of Tennessee, is under consideration to replace Tom Daschle in the administration. It's not clear whether this would be at the Department of Health and Human Services (more likely) or the White House Office of Health Reform (less likely). Of course, that's assuming the Office of Heatlh Reform remains constituted as it is now--which, by the way, is not a given. In any event, the Bredesen talk is not completely idle speculation.
Dennis Ross Squeezes Iran?
Today's NYT reports that, in addition to preparing for a diplomatic approach, the Obama administration also wants to tighten economic sanctions against Iran. This would be consistent with Dennis Ross' long-stated belief that the U.S. needs more "leverage" if it is to negotiate effectively with Tehran. Here's Ross talking to Time in mid-2007: We shouldn't be afraid to engage. I don't think that talking is a form of surrender.
February 03, 2009
Lots and lots and lots of speculation out there about who should succeed Tom Daschle. A few things to keep in mind. 1. It's not a given that Obama will appoint one person to oversee both the White House health reform office and the Department of Health and Human Services. Daschle was uniquely equipped to handle both jobs simultaneously (and was not, to be perfectly honest, necessarily ideal for HHS). As I wrote earlier today, it seems more likely to me that Obama will divide the job and appoint separate replacements for the separate posts. 2 .