5 Best Tuesday Columns

On Obama's tax deal, Israel's fire, and whether a sting operation on jihadis constitutes entrapment

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  • Steve Kornacki on Obama's Tax Deal  Liberals are furious about President Obama's deal with Republicans to extend to the Bush 43 tax cuts, but Salon's Steve Kornacki explains why it might just might be a shrewd maneuver. Acknowledging the "obvious comparison" between Obama going back on his campaign promise to let the tax cuts for wealthy Americans expire and George H. W. Bush's "no new taxes" pledge in 1990, Kornacki maintains the former will not have the negative political impact of the latter. Unlike Bush père, Obama is not at risk for a "congressional and grassroots revolt," since his fellow Democrats--even party activists--"by and large, believe that Obama has been operating in good faith." Even before raising taxes, Bush was viewed with "intense skepticism" by those on the right who "remembered him as the moderate," the compromise thus "confirm[ing] what the right had long suspected about him." Obama, on the other hand, has, "more wiggle room with his party's voters" and can argue that the "real prospect that the Senate will act on repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy and ratification of the START treaty before this month's lame duck session ends" made the deal a necessary trade-off.
  • Michael Kinsley on Repealing Health Reform  The recent friend-of-the-court brief filed by 32 Republican senators hoping to overturn health care legislation is a curious and politically risky maneuver that seems to run contrary to the GOP's core values, argues the Politico columnist. "If there is one thing your typical Republican politician does not care for ... it is an activist judge," writes Kinsley. "If there is one more thing your typical Republican politician does not care for, it is frivolous lawsuits that clog the courts and unfairly burden innocent doctors and small-business persons as they go about trying to create jobs." That may be changing, he notices: the new GOP "Pledge to America" contains no references to judicial activism, an indicator of Republicans' "dawning realization that you can make judicial activism work for you." The problem is that when the GOP finally argues its position in court, they will be engaging in "the kind of prissy parsing that conservatives usually have contempt for."
  • Michael Oren on the International Response to Israel's Carmel Fire  Israel has "never before confronted such a devastating natural disaster. And we could not overcome it alone," writes Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, in the Los Angeles Times. The Carmel fire has forced over 17,000 people from their homes and forced the nation to request aid to combat the devastating flames. While the U.S. and numerous European nations have responded by delivering fire retardant, aircraft, and teams of firefighters, it was the "unexpected" contributions from governments that are "usually critical" of Israel that surprised the ambassador. Despite a strained relationship, Turkey sent two fire-fighting helicopters and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad "offered to help without hesitation" (though they still declined to return to peace talks). Although there were outrageous statements made by Hamas radicals (the fire was a "punishment from Allah"), Oren notes that a lesson of this "tragedy is that friendship can blossom even in the most scorching conditions."
  • John Naughton on Dealing With a WikiLeakable World  The WikiLeaks revelations represent the "first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the Internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing," figures the Guardian columnist. And if there's one thing that the leaks make clear, it's whose side cloud computing providers such as Google, Flickr, Facebook, Myspace, and Amazon are on. Amazon has pulled its servers from the organization and Paypal denied service under government pressure. Meanwhile, it's ironic that the U.S. government--especially Hillary Clinton--is coming down hard on WikiLeaks. Clinton was the one, after all, who gave an Internet freedom speech in China this past January where she declared: "Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable." What WikiLeaks has finally exposed is that the Western democratic system has been "hollowed out." Unfortunately, no amount of blustering can fix the way the WikiLeakable world now operates, Naughton argues. "When, finally, the veil of secrecy is lifted, their reflex reaction is to kill the messenger."
  • Andrew McCarthy on the Limits of Entrapment  The recent case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the 19-year-old Oregonian who was caught by the FBI in an attempt detonate a bomb at Portland's Christmas tree lighting ceremony, is an example of the FBI's tactic of going undercover to intercept potential terrorists. It is also, as Andrew McCarthy observes in National Review, an example of the frequency with which lawyers use the entrapment defense to explain that their client was tricked by the FBI into committing the crime. McCarthy argues that this defense is not valid, that "no rational human being can be enticed, against his beliefs, into murdering another person, much less trying to murder another person, much less thousands of people, as Mohamud hoped and tried very hard to do at Pioneer Courthouse Square on November 26. No amount of money, cajoling, or appeals to anti-Americanism and cultural solidarity can get a person to take such an unspeakable action." Though groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations argue that the FBI simply profiles Muslim-Americans, McCarthy points out that the FBI, in fact, seeks out anyone who has already taken an interest in violent jihad and that "if we want to have a counterterrorism approach that actual counters terrorism--preventing it from happening rather than prosecuting it only after Americans have been killed--then this is the way it has to work."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.