Posted by Brad @ 4:47 pm on January 31st 2011

All You Need to Know About CPAC

They are presenting their “Defender of the Constitution Award” award this year to…Donald Rumsfeld.

Actually, their entire schedules of events is kind of interesting. It really is a sort of comprehensive and even, I’d say, fair sampling of every bit of the Republican coalition – from a big presence by Campaign for Liberty (and headlining speeches by both Rand and Ron Paul, on separate days), to workshops with titles like “The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks” or “Lawlessness, Racialism and Terror at Obama’s Department of Justice” to everything in between. Actually really interesting and relevant stuff like a panel discussion on regulating internet commerce that includes both an FCC commissioner and a guy representing professional Poker Players Alliance, to the other end of the spectrum, pretty much anything with a panel containing Andy McCarthy. Worth a look.

Posted by Brad @ 4:23 pm on January 31st 2011

The Constitutionality of ObamaCare Score As of Today:

2-2. The federal appeals judge, ruling on the lawsuit put forward by 26 states, has very begrudgingly agreed that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, and because the legislation turns on it, the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act must be declared void.

Of course, had they called it a tax instead of a mandate, this whole thing would be moot, but forcing it into a do-over would be a victory for the GOP and likely meant the demise of the thing altogether.

The real fight will be in SCOTUS – and I wonder which appeals decision goes there – and while my reflex tells me that there is no expansion of federal authority too excessive for today’s judiciary so long as it’s politically important enough, you never know.

Posted by Brad @ 3:56 pm on January 31st 2011

Jon Huntsman…2012?

Either Politico has one hell of a scoop, or they’re going to wind up with some historic egg on their faces. But either way, they’re reporting that Jon Huntsman will resign from his post as Ambassador to China to explore a bid for the Presidency this cycle.

Now, bear in mind, Huntsman was set to end his post in a few months anyway, the news…which so far nobody is denying…is that he is expressly gearing up for a 2012 run. So maybe this is just a case of Politico reporting a “fact” that is in fact old news, and then throwing spin on it to make it newsworthy (because the alternate headline, “Huntsman to step down as expected this summer – will he consider a bid for the Presidency in 2012?” doesn’t get the hits). But, if it’s more than that…if in fact Politico has an inside line here and Huntsman’s first thought really is 2012, then the word being thrown around most frequently in relation to the news is “beffudling” Daniel Larison offers the best quick take.

I will only add, in my rambling way, that I like Huntsman, and think he would be a strong candidate, as I’ve said. I also disagree with analysts, mostly left-leaning (but not all) who think that Huntsman being a member of the Obama administration is an automatic disqualifier or at least severe handicap. I disagree. That makes sense only on the most surface of levels (“Republican hate Obama. Hunstman work with Obama. Republican hate Huntsman!”), and virtually none beyond.

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Posted by Brad @ 3:27 pm on January 31st 2011

Today’s Bank That Needs to be Bailed Out Lest Everything Go to Sh*t is…

/shakes Magic 8 ball

Kabul Bank.

Posted by Cameron @ 1:49 am on January 30th 2011

Promote the one who thought of this

Let’s pretend you make candy bars. Your candy bars consist of chocolate covered toffee slabs. In all likelihood your production process produces some flawed candy. Perhaps the chocolate is not evenly coating the toffee. Perhaps the toffee is irregular. Maybe two candy bars stuck together. There is almost certainly a quality control process to weed out these flawed but still tasty creations. A question arises though: what to do with the rejects? You can’t recycle them to make new candy bars because the two components have been already fused and separating them would likely be more trouble than it’s worth.

The answer is actually blindingly obvious.

Posted by Brad @ 3:54 pm on January 28th 2011

Michelle Bachmann’s Official Tea Party SOTU Response

Rachel Maddow dives into the question I kept asking on Tuesday – “how does this get billed, and covered, as the official Tea Party response?” – and comes to find that CNN partnered with a for-profit Republican consulting firm in literally manufacturing, and then aggrandizing, the event.

Maddow takes this as further evidence that the Tea Party is essentially an astroturf scam. She and I disagree there. But not in this specific instance. Bachmann is, of course, an attention whore, and the Tea Party Express was involved. But more and more, this seems to be a creation of CNN more than anybody.

Posted by Brad @ 3:45 pm on January 28th 2011

“The Citizen”: Self-defense Walking Stick

Our website email address gets weird spam.

Although I submit to you that any citizen regularly using a walking stick might not be the physical specimen required to deftly wield a baton against hordes of oncoming attackers.

P.S. But if you’re going to go this route, I don’t understand how they didn’t invent a nunchuck version.

P.P.S. Although if you’re going to go that far down the road, might as well just get yourself a Penguin umbrella.

Posted by Brad @ 3:38 pm on January 28th 2011

Music Video of the Week

Jaymay – Gray or Blue

(the album version is a bit better, but alas no video).

Here she is singing in a laundry room. Beat that Adam!

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Posted by Brad @ 3:25 pm on January 28th 2011

YouCut

Taking a page directly from England’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (as covered here, here, and here), new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has set up YouCut, a website designed to, every week, identify three examples of useless spending and let users vote on which one they want Cantor to put on the chopping block. Cantor proposed this idea awhile ago, and I swear I already wrote this post once before, but whatever.

Anyway, almost all of the suggestions fall under the rubric of “earmark”, which is weird, because I seem to remember Cantor and the GOP promising to end all earmarks, and just yesterday Obama pledge to veto any bill with an earmark in it, making YouCut totally superfluous and unnecessary, right guys?

Posted by Brad @ 3:06 pm on January 28th 2011

Egypt

Watch the live English language coverage from Al Jazeera here.

Posted by Brad @ 3:00 pm on January 28th 2011

Debtris

Lefty, but cool.

There’s a UK version too.

Posted by Brad @ 12:39 pm on January 28th 2011

The Exportation of American Values

I think it’s easy for people to mitigate the harms of our country’s systemic and overwhelming move away from a default protection of civil liberties and human rights towards a much more militarized police-statish view of guilty until proven innocent an the new default assumption that the government ought to have the power to do anything it like with people it classifies a certain way. After all, most people figure, it’s only “the worst of the worst” that get subjugated to indefinite detention, torture, extraordinary rendition, and the host of other extra-legal measures we routinely take in treating terror suspects (or whoever we deem a person of interest as it relates to national security; see Manning, Bradley), and, as far as the other stuff goes – a total reversal of any expectation of privacy or due process if it relates to national security – if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to fear, right?

While I and other civil libertarians generally push back against all that in a variety of ways, I think one of the spheres that often gets overlooked is the message America’s behavior in these regards send to the rest of the world. In the wake of 911, we already saw most of the world’s brutal regimes slip like a hand in a glove into the habit of using “terrorism” as an all-encompassing catch-all to justify whatever behavior they feel like pursuing. This has been used to justify everything from freedom of the press in Russia to torture in China and Iran to outright genocide in places like Sri Lanka, and there is a very strong sense in the world community that America, which many looked to as the ultimate judge of moral standing (even if they disagreed with our judgments and resented its self-appointed role as Moral Arbiter), has lost something essential in no longer being able to take the high ground and demand adherence to a certain standard of behavior. What’s more, America, more and more, has seemed to shy away from taking strong positions in these cases – because what can it say? – and, when it does, other countries are increasingly confident there’s fuck-all we can do, mired as we are in Iraq and Afghanistan, outside of strongly worded letters.

We talk a lot about exporting liberalism and democracy, but we rarely talk about the flipside even though, in the case of the War on Terror, one of our biggest legacies may be the instantiation of a new catch-all designation designed to justify and obfuscate human rights abuses, one that was perfected and spearheaded not by Bosnia or China or Iran, but by the United States itself.

You don’t often get a more stark illustration of this than this story out of Afghanistan:

Afghan justice and security officials want to adopt the U.S. practice of detaining suspected insurgents indefinitely without trial, according to senior U.S. and Afghan officials involved in efforts to have the government in Kabul take control of detention operations in the country….

An Afghan-run system of detention without trial has yet to be approved by President Hamid Karzai, who has complained repeatedly about the U.S. policy of holding his citizens for years without civilian legal review. But senior officials of his government have voiced support for the move to achieve what they regard as an even more important goal: taking charge of detentions from the U.S.-led NATO coalition.

The U.S. government had been reluctant to transfer more authority over detained insurgents to the Afghan government because of concern that many would be released if they were tried in criminal courts…..

Although U.S. officials had hoped that the Afghan changes would be spelled out in a presidential decree and promulgated before parliament convened – under Afghan law, the president can make laws by fiat when the legislature is in recess – a draft decree has yet to reach Karzai.

And while you may trust this power in the hands of the United States government – although I’ve no idea why you would – anybody want to take the bet than in five years’ time those Afghanis languishing in black site prisons, detained and tortured for years without charge, are, in fact, active insurgents, and not just a grab bag of dissidents and political inconvenients?

We have only ourselves to blame.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:11 pm on January 27th 2011

$500 billion in one year

That’s the deficit reduction achieved by Rand Paul’s proposal. Exhaustive details here.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:06 am on January 26th 2011

The Parent Trap: “Waste, Fraud and Abuse” reconsidered

You will have already heard, via other libertarian-leaning blogs, about this remarkable case in Ohio. Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single mother of two students in an Akron public school, chose to lie about her childrens’ address in order to get them into a better school in another jurisdiction, listing the child’s grandfather’s address as the children’s residence. The prosecutors in the county in which the students were enrolled elected to make an example of her, and charged her with two felony counts of defrauding the state. They then allegedly refused all plea bargain attempts to the considerable ire of the judge. Now Williams-Bolar is going to jail, and will effectively forfeit the efforts she’s made to become a special needs educator via night school classes.

I guess I COULD take the school choice angle on this episode, or point towards the President’s continual interest in “active parenting,” but those arguments more or less write themselves. Actually, the State of the Union address has me thinking along other lines.

Every President since time immemorial (by which I mean roughly 1983) has proposed that his SOTU grab bag of voter candy, or his or her campaign proposals, be financed through the elimination of “waste, fraud, and abuse.” It’s the ultimate in politically safe financing; there are specific, nonpartisan estimates of the total amount of money lost to WF&A and there isn’t any defined constituency in FAVOR of it. So, naturally, everyone who wants to finance anything acts on the assumptions that 1. WF&A can be eliminated in its entirety by an act of will, 2. that the process won’t involve any intrinsic enforcement costs, and therefore 3. the money which can be applied to financing their proposal of choice is identical to the CBO’s estimate of the total amount of money lost annually to WF&A.

Okay. Now: back to Ohio.

The facts of this particular case are not in dispute and both the judge and the jury validated the state’s case. The actions of this particular parent–her decision to seek a better education for her kids via the technical violation of the law–did indeed result in her receiving services, financed by the property taxes of voters in a seperate jurisdiction, to which she was not entitled. These services totalled about $30,000 in value over time. In other words: when you read estimates of government “waste, fraud and abuse,” you are reading about situations like this one. And when you hear politicians call for a harsh crackdown on “waste, fraud and abuse”, you are hearing them call for prosecutors to do more or less exactly what was done to Kelley Williams-Bolar. If the state is going to make a point of never being defrauded, this really is the sort of line that is going to have to be drawn.

Bear that in mind the next time you hear a politician call for the financing of, for instance, high speed rail via the elimination of “waste, fraud and abuse”. The term is a rhetorical abstraction that hides a specific human cost. Is it a cost you’re willing to pay?

Posted by Rojas @ 9:55 pm on January 25th 2011

SOTU/Republican Response Liveblog

Well, we know a 5-year discretionary spending freeze will be proposed (yay!) and that the President will simultaneously propose a bunch of new programs which, by definition, will render that freeze meaningless (boo!). Also, Social Security will be officially Taken Off The Table, which is a direct challenge to Paul Ryan, who will be delivering the Republican response. And, of course, Republicans and Democrats will be sitting together, which means no more crowd shots of one side of the aisle applauding while the other side sits on their hands, and also that when somebody shouts “you lie!”, everybody’s going to be pointing at the guy/gal next to him.

Truth be told, Ryan’s response (and de facto national debut) interests me more than the SOTU this time. We know that the President is going to offer more voter candy than serious policy substance. Will Ryan take the bait and go hard in the other direction, sinking himself in the process?

Running commentary in the comments section.

Posted by Brad @ 4:57 pm on January 25th 2011

And Now, A Tactic That Was Pretty Lame to Begin With, Officially Jumps the Shark

Planned Parenthood notifies the FBI of a number of visits by people seemingly engaged in James O’Keefe style “get them to listen to ridiculous and offensive stuff on camera and then nail them for listening!” raconteuring.

In the course of five days this month, eight Planned Parenthood clinics in five states and D.C. reported getting the same visit: A man said he needed treatment for a sexually transmitted disease and then, once alone with a staff member, implied that he ran an interstate sex trafficking ring that involves minors and illegal immigrants.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America thinks that the visits, which happened between Jan. 11 and 15, are part of a James O’Keefe-style “sting.” But the group called in the FBI anyway.

“These multi-state visits from men claiming to be engaged in sex trafficking of minors may be a hoax,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last week. “However, if the representations made by this man are true,” she wrote, they indicate violations of several sex trafficking, prostitution and child sex laws.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood would not reveal the identity of the man, or men, who visited the clinics. The group does, however, suspect he has ties to Live Action, the pro-life, anti-Planned Parenthood group run by O’Keefe associate Lila Rose.

Seriously, this was tired even when it supposedly nailed ACORN. Now it’s just kind of sad and lame.

Posted by Brad @ 3:31 pm on January 25th 2011

A Preview of the State of the Union’s “Fiscal Responsibility” Section

How Obama approaches spending and deficit issues in his State of the Union address has been called by some a “core test of his seriousness as a candidate and his integrity as a president*.” Indeed, this is the year when the health care debate can be put largely behind him, and he has to find his next big agenda item to head into 2012 with. And, given his calling of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, with its surprisingly robust and serious recommendations, and the heat of Republican rhetoric on the matter, one expects the deficit to be that issue.

With that in mind, we are hearing two competing portends.

One, he will not call for a raising of the retirement age or a reduction of benefits for social security, one of the key Bowles-Simpson recommendations. It’s equally hard to imagine him touching Medicare or Medicaid, so entitlements, it would seem, are off the table. As would, it goes without saying, decreases to defense or security besides whatever few weapons non-functional weapons systems or redundant staff Gates is willing to throw out for the sake of appearances.

Instead, Obama, it appears, will call for that old standby: the partial budget freeze and earmark ban. It is unclear to me that this is in any way different than last year, when he also proposed a partial budget freeze and earmark ban that, to my knowledge, never went anywhere and was so full of holes it was essentially meaningless. It is also perhaps a bad sign that, in addition, he is also proposing some new spending in this speech, specifically in the areas of “innovation, education and infrastructure,” which presumably fall out of the scope of discretionary spending or earmarks by being “a priority” and super-serious.

So there you have it: the great fiscal pivot that I and others predicated for Obama will turn on McCain-tested-and-approved budget theatrics and a total dodge of any fixes for the institutional spending that is presently bankrupting us. But man, that WikiLeaks. Those are guys are assholes, am I right? Hey everybody, am I right?

*unless a Republican somewhere says something stupid and unserious.

Posted by Brad @ 2:47 pm on January 25th 2011

2012 Watch – Rick Perry Edition

At some point, it seems that Rick Perry will become a formidable candidate for President. If not this cycle, than the one after. Which is why it’s at least worth noting this story, if for no other reason than it is sure to be used against him in any future Republican primary.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry likes to tell Washington to stop meddling in state affairs. He vocally opposed the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus program to spur the economy and assist cash-strapped states.

Perry also likes to trumpet that his state balanced its budget in 2009, while keeping billions in its rainy day fund.

But he couldn’t have done that without a lot of help from … guess where? Washington.

Turns out Texas was the state that depended the most on those very stimulus funds to plug nearly 97% of its shortfall for fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Texas, which crafts a budget every two years, was facing a $6.6 billion shortfall for its 2010-2011 fiscal years. It plugged nearly all of that deficit with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act money, allowing it to leave its $9.1 billion rainy day fund untouched.

Posted by Brad @ 1:36 pm on January 25th 2011

Ask President Obama! – the YouTube Presser

The questions are surprisingly awesome, and it will take a lot of sifting through for the White House communications staff to find any he will actually be happy to answer. Of the top 100 vote-getters in the contest, my rough calculation has a full 90 of them being about the legalization of marijuana.

Posted by Brad @ 1:11 pm on January 25th 2011

A Fascinating Project in Sovereignty From Montana

Montana state Sen. Greg Hinkle (R) has authored and is pushing a bill known as the Sheriff’s First law, which would require any federal law enforcement agents operating in a county to obtain the elected Sheriff’s express consent before making any search, seizure, or arrest within the county. Or, as supporters of the bill have put it, to move power away from federal agents and back to “the guy that we know and the rascal we can throw out.” Critics, of course, argue that doing this is reactionary and akin to a sort of backdoor secessionism. Supporters argue that they’re getting rather sick of the federal government usurping the role of not only making laws that for no earthly reason couldn’t be best left to states and local government, but also increasingly taking it upon themselves to enforce those law themselves to boot.

The debate over this bill is really interesting. Worth looking in to.

Posted by Brad @ 11:12 am on January 25th 2011

Bush White House Violated the Law Blah Blah Blah.

This time, for, in 2006, turning a government agency into a campaign arm that worked directly with the RNC to elect Republicans, using Treasury funds to support Republican campaign activity, and, during some 75 briefings on the government clock at 20 federal agencies, turning the meeting into a “how do we get Republicans elected” brainstorming sessions.

So says the Office of Special Counsel Report, five years after the fact, that precisely nobody will care about and that nobody is even guessing will so much as offer a half-assed recommendation for consequences, despite the fact that all the things in its findings are explicitly, you know, illegal.

Posted by Brad @ 11:07 am on January 25th 2011

Great Moments in Political Advertising

This is obviously meant to be tongue-in-cheek to some extent, but yowza…

Posted by Brad @ 5:36 pm on January 24th 2011

Mitt Romney Makes Marriot Suckier

They officially end their streaming porn service, which stuck in Mitt Romney’s craw as a longtime member of their board.

Posted by Brad @ 3:43 pm on January 24th 2011

Abortion ≠ Slavery

Contra Santorum et al, Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a helpful primer on the differences between fetuses and slaves. He’s not so interested in arguing about the fetuses, but the shorthand way we often speak of slavery (in Santorum’s case, referring to them as not having a right to exist, as with aborted fetuses) and how that obscures the much more interesting and convoluted truth of the matter.

Posted by Brad @ 3:25 pm on January 24th 2011

Music Video of the Week

I’ve mentioned before, I think, that I have a running list in my head of the Five Greatest Voices Ever in Music. It’s kind of an eclectic list, I guess, and isn’t necessarily meant to represent the best singers, the best music, or anything of the sort. Rather, I call them my Voice of God singers. In that, if I ever went to to the Pearly Gates and met the man himself, I wouldn’t blink if their voices came out of His mouth.

The fifth spot is always rotating, but the top four include Sam Cooke, Leonard Cohen, and Dolly Parton. And the man forever in contention for #1 is Ralph Stanley. Here he is at NPR, putting in five minutes to do a Tiny Desk concert (quite a popular thing with the staff, and if you dig this check out others).

Ralph Stanley – NPR Tiny Desk Concern (“Gloryland”, “Turn Back, Turn Back”, and “Amazing Grace.”)

Some people work their whole lives to achieve vocal mastery through great technical mastery or mountains of experience and hard work or the tried-and-true “belting it out”. Ralph is one of those guys that can just breathe out a line, and the sky parts and heavens open up.

Posted by Brad @ 2:30 pm on January 24th 2011

Rahm Emanuel Tossed off Ballot for Chicago Mayor?

That’s the news being reported.

While politicians often egregiously carpet-bag, the fact that Rahm was a Congressman from Chicago, and left in the last year only to follow a fellow-Chicagoan to the White House where he was tasked with, you know, running the government, makes the case against him – that he and his family haven’t actually lived in their Chicago apartment in this last year -strike me as awful specious.

Posted by Brad @ 1:03 pm on January 24th 2011

Where are the Progressive Deficit Hawks?

Asks Don Taylor (via the Daily Dish). His points make an intuitive sense. We talk a lot about Republican hypocrisy on not raising taxes or not being specific enough on spending cuts, but the truth is Republicans are incentivized in such a way that, frankly, if the federal government goes broke, they’re more or less okay with that outcome. This was a popular progressive thought in the 00s – not even starving the beast, but the sheer fact that Republicans, out of office, win on pointing out where government isn’t working, so, in office, they don’t exactly have much of an incentive to get everything running smoothly. If everything goes tits up – “see, we told you big government sucks!”

Versus for progressives, if the government is unable to fund its priorities, its usually gonna be liberal priorities that go under the gun. And yet, progressives are, largely, as silent on the issue as Republicans (N.B., repealing Republican tax cuts won’t get it done), perhaps because the liberal imagination mostly confines budget-balancing to a matter of more progressive taxation. There is not, beyond that, any sense of choices, or any sense of urgency on budgetary matters, which feeds into the cycle where fiscal hawkishness doesn’t matter until it does, at which point progressives lose.

Posted by Brad @ 12:55 pm on January 24th 2011

This Cycle’s Winner of the “Jerk State Trying to Move Its Primary Up, Thus Screwing Up the Whole Process” Award…

Goes to Arizona, whose Republican party is passing a resolution which would jump into into February of 2012 (the first weekend, to boot), the month set aside by the RNC for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. They are calling the RNC’s bluff of not seating delegates elected for states that violate the approved procession, because, as they probably correctly note, the RNC will buckle and seat them anyway, and besides they get more power in the process by being early and not seated than late and seated.

Mecum explained that the penalties, which range from losing delegates at the nominating convention over the summer to awarding votes proportionally, likely will not matter. Delegates likely would be restored by the time the convention took place, but an early win for a candidate could help provide momentum and decide the nominee, so the state party believes there are greater benefits to breaking the rules and getting more attention in the process.

So, that probably means that all those other early states will jump their contests to January, like last time, but Arizona still gets a prominent spot in one of the follow-on weekends.

It being Arizona makes the issue even more of a potential monkey wrench, as the Arizona GOP, led by Gov. Jan Brewer, is…let’s call them pretty far right. That’ll also make illegal immigration a more live issue than it might have otherwise been (ugh), meaning that we’ll be able to enjoy another Republican cycle with two or three single-issue immigrant-bashing candidates sure that if they can somehow convince everybody in Arizona that they’re best equipped to deal with the packs of illegal immigrants going around beheading everybody, that’ll put them in line for the Presidency. Sigh.

Posted by Brad @ 11:28 am on January 24th 2011

Making the U.S. Congress Even More Like the Movie Mean Girls

This year, instead of Republicans on one side and Democrats on another, we’ll be treated to the sight Tuesday night of one giant congressional mixer, as Democrats and Republicans will pair up and be seated evenly throughout. The Supreme Court may not even show up, still in a snit over last year’s diss.

And now the big game of musical chairs is on, as Senators figure out who from the other party they’re going to sit with.

I am hereby announcing the launch of my new media consulting company, which will be devoted exclusively to cutting ads of Senators sitting next to and hopefully at some point embracing unpopular or loony members of the other party. These ads I will then sell to primary opponents for the next decade. Hey future-opponent-of-the-Democrat-sitting-next-to-Jim DeMint-or-Mitch-McConnell or future-opponent-of-the-Republican-sitting-next-to-John-Kerry-or-Harry-Reid? Call me!

And how many Highways-to-Nowhere do you have to get promised by your party leadership to agree to get paired with Nancy Pelosi?

Posted by Brad @ 11:15 am on January 24th 2011

Al Jazeera Releases “The Palestine Papers”

1,700 files in all, most of them diplomatic correspondence from 1999 to 2010 dealing with the Israel-Palestine situation. Site here.

Nothing earth-shattering, I don’t think, and pretty clearly the sources are PA or Western – not Israeli – in origin. Still, the sum total is to make Israel look more intransigent and even flippant about negotiations than, at least, the perception in America.

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