Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 11, 2011

How to Avoid an Ultimatum

In his July 5 remarks on the “Status of Efforts to Find a Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction,” President Obama expressed the hope that everybody would “leave their ultimatums at the door.” Today, he announced the following ultimatum:

I will not sign a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day extension.  That is just not an acceptable approach.

Actually, it is the only approach that would allow the American people to weigh-in on this process. Let the President and the Speaker of the House put forth their respective offers, together with legislative language and a plain English summary. Let  the public read, review, and debate them over the next 30, 60 or 90 days. Hold hearings on C-SPAN. Then decide.

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In his July 5 remarks on the “Status of Efforts to Find a Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction,” President Obama expressed the hope that everybody would “leave their ultimatums at the door.” Today, he announced the following ultimatum:

I will not sign a 30-day or a 60-day or a 90-day extension.  That is just not an acceptable approach.

Actually, it is the only approach that would allow the American people to weigh-in on this process. Let the President and the Speaker of the House put forth their respective offers, together with legislative language and a plain English summary. Let  the public read, review, and debate them over the next 30, 60 or 90 days. Hold hearings on C-SPAN. Then decide.

Do not do what was done with ObamaCare: hold secret meetings at the White House, emerge with a “compromise” and rush it through Congress, citing a “deadline” and assuring the public (and Members of Congress) they can find out later what is in it. Last year, my modest procedural proposal for ObamaCare was rejected by the Democrats in Congress, many of whom are now private citizens as a result. Let’s give them, along with the rest of the public, a chance to participate in the current debate.

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Obama’s Journey Through Vanity Fair

At one point I thought it could be attributed to an unusual degree of cynicism, but now I wonder if it goes deeper than that. What I have in mind is President Obama’s obsession with portraying himself as our moral superior. Virtually every time he speaks these days, we are treated to another journey through what William Makepeace Thackeray aptly dubbed Vanity Fair.

For example, if you listened to the president’s news conference today, a theme we are by now wearily familiar with was repeated with numbing repetition: Obama, according to Obama, is quite simply better, much better, than those around him. He is a man of pure motives and unparalleled reasonableness, extraordinary intellectual depth, and unsurpassed seriousness. Others are driven by narrow self-interest, by the political calendar, by outside pressures. They are too ignorant or too weak to do the right thing, the good thing, the hard thing.

Not Obama.

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At one point I thought it could be attributed to an unusual degree of cynicism, but now I wonder if it goes deeper than that. What I have in mind is President Obama’s obsession with portraying himself as our moral superior. Virtually every time he speaks these days, we are treated to another journey through what William Makepeace Thackeray aptly dubbed Vanity Fair.

For example, if you listened to the president’s news conference today, a theme we are by now wearily familiar with was repeated with numbing repetition: Obama, according to Obama, is quite simply better, much better, than those around him. He is a man of pure motives and unparalleled reasonableness, extraordinary intellectual depth, and unsurpassed seriousness. Others are driven by narrow self-interest, by the political calendar, by outside pressures. They are too ignorant or too weak to do the right thing, the good thing, the hard thing.

Not Obama.

Members of Congress, from both parties, are trapped by their own ideological predispositions. Obama, according to Obama, is not. He is free from bias, able to see reality whereas others merely see shadows. It is not easy to be Obama in a fallen world.

Politics tends to draw into its orbit people who are inordinately impressed with themselves and caught up in excessive self-love. But in Barack Obama we have stumbled across someone unlike anyone we have seen before. This is a man, after all, who believed he had it within his powers to heal the planet and reverse the ocean tides. And as the hopes and dreams of his 2008 campaign continue to crash down around him — as his popularity wanes, as some of his most worshipful followers turn from him, as he is  unable to extract himself from the results of his failed policies — his narcissism seems to grow, not diminish. It is hard to tell where this will all end. But I suspect it won’t be pretty. Watching what happens to those who fall in love with their own reflection rarely is.

 

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How Are Perry’s Chances in New Hampshire?

Gov. Rick Perry has started reaching out to key Republican leaders in New Hampshire, as he tests the waters for a potential presidential run, the New Hampshire Journal reports.

“He was looking for my thoughts in terms of what the presidential field looked like and what might happen if someone came in and shook things up a little bit,” New Hampshire Senate President Peter Bragdon told the AP today.

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Gov. Rick Perry has started reaching out to key Republican leaders in New Hampshire, as he tests the waters for a potential presidential run, the New Hampshire Journal reports.

“He was looking for my thoughts in terms of what the presidential field looked like and what might happen if someone came in and shook things up a little bit,” New Hampshire Senate President Peter Bragdon told the AP today.

Despite the later start, there are reasons to be optimistic about Perry’s chances in New Hampshire if he does decide to shake things up. First, only three-quarters of Republican voters in the state have definitively decided on a candidate, which means many of them may be unsatisfied with the current field.

According to the two most recent New Hampshire polls by the University of New Hampshire and PPP, Perry currently comes in at 5th place, despite the fact that he hasn’t actually entered the race and isn’t likely to have a huge amount of name recognition. In both polls, Perry garners more support than Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich (who have all devoted time to campaigning in New Hampshire). The Texas governor also has impressively high favorability ratings, with +19 in the UNH poll and +20 in the PPP poll.

Add that to the reported outreach from New Hampshire Republicans urging Perry to run, and it looks as if he’d have a decent chance in the state if he does decide to take the leap.

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WaPo Punts on Middle East Fact Check

I don’t always agree with the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, but it usually takes a clear position one way or the other on the authenticity of stands taken by politicians. But today’s version, in which author Glenn Kessler attempts to parse the truth of Republican criticisms of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel, is a sad parody of a fact check. While foreign policy may be a bit more difficult to figure out than clear cut gaffes about taxes or history, Kessler simply punts on the question of whether Obama treated Israel poorly in the last two and a half years–giving neither a pass nor fail to Republican candidates who have blasted the president.

Kessler does give Michele Bachmann the column’s “Pinocchio” strawberry for asserting that the president was trying to force Israel back to the 1967 lines. But even he admits the president’s insistence on using those lines as the starting point for future negotiations puts Israel at a disadvantage. The Post writer though claims it is beyond his ability to decipher recent events in such a way as to enable him to determine the truth of Tim Pawlenty’s claim that Obama “thinks Israel is the problem” or Mitt Romney’s assertion that the president treats Israel the same way Europe does and that he thinks it is “at fault.” Kessler seems befuddled by Democratic spin that insists Obama is still Israel’s friend simply because he has not dismantled a decades-long security alliance. But it’s really not so  difficult to understand the basic truth of these GOP arguments.

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I don’t always agree with the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, but it usually takes a clear position one way or the other on the authenticity of stands taken by politicians. But today’s version, in which author Glenn Kessler attempts to parse the truth of Republican criticisms of President Obama’s attitude toward Israel, is a sad parody of a fact check. While foreign policy may be a bit more difficult to figure out than clear cut gaffes about taxes or history, Kessler simply punts on the question of whether Obama treated Israel poorly in the last two and a half years–giving neither a pass nor fail to Republican candidates who have blasted the president.

Kessler does give Michele Bachmann the column’s “Pinocchio” strawberry for asserting that the president was trying to force Israel back to the 1967 lines. But even he admits the president’s insistence on using those lines as the starting point for future negotiations puts Israel at a disadvantage. The Post writer though claims it is beyond his ability to decipher recent events in such a way as to enable him to determine the truth of Tim Pawlenty’s claim that Obama “thinks Israel is the problem” or Mitt Romney’s assertion that the president treats Israel the same way Europe does and that he thinks it is “at fault.” Kessler seems befuddled by Democratic spin that insists Obama is still Israel’s friend simply because he has not dismantled a decades-long security alliance. But it’s really not so  difficult to understand the basic truth of these GOP arguments.

From the first day of the Obama administration, there was no doubt the president and the entire foreign policy team was intent on reversing Bush administration policy and distancing itself from Israel. Obama’s decisions to pick fights with the Netanyahu government on settlements and, in particular, on Jerusalem were unprecedented in their nastiness. Then there is his insistence on treating 40-year-old neighborhoods in Israel’s capital as if they were the equivalent of the most remote West Bank settlements.

Even more to the point, the president’s decision to ambush Netanyahu in May with a Middle East policy speech designed to tilt the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians was a crystal clear sign of hostility. As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, while Israel can survive Obama’s presidency, you either have to be a rabid Democrat or deaf, dumb and blind to believe the relationship with the Jewish state hasn’t suffered since January 2009.

By stating Obama’s stance toward Israel is simply too nuanced for a clear cut true or false label on Republican criticisms, Kessler showed he isn’t as sophisticated or accurate a reporter as he claims to be.

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Democrats Suddenly Excited About Eating Their Peas

Both Democrats and Republicans will need to “eat their peas” and agree to Obama’s grand budget compromise, the president said during a press conference earlier today. But now that GOP leaders rejected the proposed politically-suicidal tax increases, Democratic Party leaders have suddenly become eager to make the “tough choices” necessary to strike a deal:

Democrats who just days ago were pushing back on the potential terms for a “grand bargain” to shrink the deficit now claim they wanted that deal all along, a position they made clear after House Speaker John Boehner and fellow Republicans yanked it off the table. …

Democrats who assailed the White House for putting entitlements on the table in pursuit of a major deficit-reduction package tsk-tsked Republicans over the weekend for setting their sights on something lower.

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Both Democrats and Republicans will need to “eat their peas” and agree to Obama’s grand budget compromise, the president said during a press conference earlier today. But now that GOP leaders rejected the proposed politically-suicidal tax increases, Democratic Party leaders have suddenly become eager to make the “tough choices” necessary to strike a deal:

Democrats who just days ago were pushing back on the potential terms for a “grand bargain” to shrink the deficit now claim they wanted that deal all along, a position they made clear after House Speaker John Boehner and fellow Republicans yanked it off the table. …

Democrats who assailed the White House for putting entitlements on the table in pursuit of a major deficit-reduction package tsk-tsked Republicans over the weekend for setting their sights on something lower.

One reason may be because these “tough choices” sound remarkably similar to Obama’s budget proposal from earlier this year, Yuval Levin writes:

Simply put, President Obama has offered what amounts to his own budget proposal from earlier this year (as amended by his April speech) and called it a big bipartisan deal. But what is bipartisan about it? What it is in the “big” deal outline that was in the Republican budget but not in Obama’s budget? Nothing.

But whether Democrats are on board with the president’s deal or not, it’s politically expedient for them to act as if they are. Republicans have little choice but to oppose the tax hikes, so it isn’t a real incentive for Democrats to also fight the president’s plan.

From Obama’s press conference today, we can see that the White House’s strategy on the debt ceiling is chiefly political. If the GOP opposes the president’s plan, Democrats will attempt to saddle them with the blame for the fallout. But if they agree to massive tax hikes, they’ll outrage their base and give the Democrats cover for politically unpopular tax increases.

The president is once again trying to paint the GOP as the “party of no.” This strategy backfired on the Democrats during the Obamacare debate, and there’s a good chance this can happen again. In the long term, it’s better for the Republicans to take the heat right now than to make decisions that will have lasting political repercussions with the conservative base.

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Palin Flirts With GOP Race, But It’s Clear Which Candidate She’s Not Supporting

Every time it seems as if Sarah Palin has faded from sight, she manages to inject herself back into the national conversation if not the Republican presidential contest. During the weekend, Palin returned to view with both a Newsweek cover story and a posting on Facebook that made it plain she is not going to be supporting the woman whom many in the media and the grass roots of the GOP believe to be her natural successor as the avatar of the right: Michele Bachmann.

Palin seems to thrive on the ongoing speculation about her desire to run for the presidency. However, the race has fundamentally changed since she flirted with the idea earlier in the year. While in her Newsweek interview she joined the chorus of those who long for more candidates, most Republicans have said they are hoping for a figure to emerge who can unite both the party establishment and its grass roots. Which is to say, somebody like Paul Ryan or perhaps Rick Perry but most definitely not Sarah Palin.

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Every time it seems as if Sarah Palin has faded from sight, she manages to inject herself back into the national conversation if not the Republican presidential contest. During the weekend, Palin returned to view with both a Newsweek cover story and a posting on Facebook that made it plain she is not going to be supporting the woman whom many in the media and the grass roots of the GOP believe to be her natural successor as the avatar of the right: Michele Bachmann.

Palin seems to thrive on the ongoing speculation about her desire to run for the presidency. However, the race has fundamentally changed since she flirted with the idea earlier in the year. While in her Newsweek interview she joined the chorus of those who long for more candidates, most Republicans have said they are hoping for a figure to emerge who can unite both the party establishment and its grass roots. Which is to say, somebody like Paul Ryan or perhaps Rick Perry but most definitely not Sarah Palin.

Even worse for Palin has been the emergence of a candidate whose greatest appeal is to the same segments of the GOP where Palin was strongest: Michele Bachmann. In the past two months, Bachmann has energized both the Tea Party and social conservatives in a way highly reminiscent of the effect Palin had on these voters. While she has a long way to go and must now suffer the same sort of scrutiny of her life and family that drove Palin to distraction, Bachmann is leading in Iowa and must be considered to be running second to frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Yet those who thought Palin would support Bachmann figured wrong. In a lengthy Facebook posting, Palin seemed to echo Tim Pawlenty when she said the GOP must nominate someone with governing rather than just legislative experience. Her belief the candidate must have executive experience and not be someone who merely engages in oratory is an obvious shot at Bachmann. This may or may not be a signal Palin will run, but her resentment of Bachmann can’t be disguised.

The one interesting tidbit from the Newsweek story was Palin’s desire to recapture her image as a fearless independent that bucked the Alaska Republican machine. She’s right that everyone seems to have forgotten it was her stance as a fresh, good government maverick that caused John McCain to pick her as his running mate. But the responsibility for that Sarah Palin being replaced in the mind of the public by a seemingly different hard-core partisan with a thin skin and a not-ready-for-prime-time predilection for gaffes belongs as much to her as it does to a hostile liberal media.

If we’ve learned anything from all this, it’s that Palin doesn’t wish to be supplanted as the leader of the populist wing of the Republican Party. But though Palin may have meant her comments as a hint Republicans should appeal for her to run, it’s not likely many will take the hint. Nor, I think will many social conservatives or Tea Partiers dump the charismatic Bachmann just because Palin says so. If anything, a decision to publicly oppose Bachmann will diminish Palin’s brand rather than enhance it.

 

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Response to Embassy Attack Will Be Crucial

After months of dithering and refusing to confront Syria’s dictatorial regime over its attempts to suppress dissent, it looks like last week’s visit by the American and French ambassadors to the besieged town of Hama got the Assad government’s attention. A mob of Assad’s supporters stormed the American Embassy in Damascus today and vandalized the building.

Like his Iranian allies, Assad appears to take a dim view of the Obama administration’s seriousness when it comes to such confrontations. Since Washington has been careful up until this moment to not rile him too much, Assad clearly believes the U.S. will back down in the face of a physical threat to American personnel. The question now for Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is whether they are prepared to answer this provocation in a manner the Syrians will understand. If they do not act now to convince the Syrians to back down, the cost to the West and its friends may be measured in blood rather than broken glass.

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After months of dithering and refusing to confront Syria’s dictatorial regime over its attempts to suppress dissent, it looks like last week’s visit by the American and French ambassadors to the besieged town of Hama got the Assad government’s attention. A mob of Assad’s supporters stormed the American Embassy in Damascus today and vandalized the building.

Like his Iranian allies, Assad appears to take a dim view of the Obama administration’s seriousness when it comes to such confrontations. Since Washington has been careful up until this moment to not rile him too much, Assad clearly believes the U.S. will back down in the face of a physical threat to American personnel. The question now for Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is whether they are prepared to answer this provocation in a manner the Syrians will understand. If they do not act now to convince the Syrians to back down, the cost to the West and its friends may be measured in blood rather than broken glass.

Lest there be any doubt about the message to the United States with these attacks, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford nicely summed up the situation after the first assaults on the embassy over the weekend: “How ironic that the Syrian Government lets an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere.”

President Obama may think the inconsistency of his decision to ignore the depredations being carried out by the Assad regime while going to war over much the same issue in Libya doesn’t matter. And indeed, it may not matter to many Americans who are not interested in yet another Middle East conflict. But the Syrians may take a very different point of view.

Backed as he is by Iran, and buttressed by his alliances with Hezbollah and Hamas, Assad may believe it is this fact, and not American war-weariness, that has given them carte blanche do what they like, even if it means a repeat of his father’s epic massacres in Hama. Thus, rather than restraining Syria from further depredations, the Obama government’s curious ambivalence about the Assad regime may have emboldened it to further crimes.

That means the nature of the U.S. response to this attack on our embassy could be a crucial turning point in the region. If Obama lets it go as just a case of the Arab street running amuck rather than as a deliberate act of state-sponsored violence, then you can bet both Assad and the Iranians will take it as yet another sign of American weakness. If so, then it will affect more than just the course of events in Syria. It may lead to further provocations by Hamas and Hezbollah, not to mention an Iran that is not convinced Obama means business about preventing them from obtaining nuclear weapons.  Unless the administration demonstrates that Iran and its allies will not bully it, the next provocation may be one even Barack Obama won’t be able to ignore.

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Could Youth Unemployment Complicate Obama’s Reelection Bid?

The bleak jobs report for June was discouraging for everyone, but the one demographic hit hardest by the unemployment crisis is the same group that turned out overwhelmingly to support Obama in the 2008 election — young Americans. Nearly one-in-five 16-to-24-year-olds who are looking for work can’t find a job, reports the National Journal’s Jim Tankersley–nearly a 30-year high for youth unemployment.

In 2008, analysts argued that the record youth voter turnout may have given Obama the edge in some closely-contested states. The question now is whether young voters will once again turn out in such large numbers for Obama in 2012. While 53 percent of Americans under the age of 30 still approve of the president’s job performance according to the latest Gallup poll in June, that’s a steep drop from the 74 percent that approved of him in the spring of 2009.

The dipping numbers may be due to growing disillusion with the president. Despite being one of the groups most impacted by unemployment, in 2008, young people pinned the most hope to Obama’s ability to deal with the economic crisis:

Obama and Republicans alike should pay particular attention to youth optimism about the direction of the economy. In 2008, exit polls showed that 54 percent of young voters believed that the economy would improve over the next year, compared with 47 percent of the rest of the electorate. Obama probably needs millennials to be similarly upbeat in 2012. In other words, it’s all about confidence—like so much else in the economy these days.

The fact that these hopes have been dashed may not translate to automatic support for Republicans, but there’s a good chance it will have an impact on whether or not young people show up at the polls.

The bleak jobs report for June was discouraging for everyone, but the one demographic hit hardest by the unemployment crisis is the same group that turned out overwhelmingly to support Obama in the 2008 election — young Americans. Nearly one-in-five 16-to-24-year-olds who are looking for work can’t find a job, reports the National Journal’s Jim Tankersley–nearly a 30-year high for youth unemployment.

In 2008, analysts argued that the record youth voter turnout may have given Obama the edge in some closely-contested states. The question now is whether young voters will once again turn out in such large numbers for Obama in 2012. While 53 percent of Americans under the age of 30 still approve of the president’s job performance according to the latest Gallup poll in June, that’s a steep drop from the 74 percent that approved of him in the spring of 2009.

The dipping numbers may be due to growing disillusion with the president. Despite being one of the groups most impacted by unemployment, in 2008, young people pinned the most hope to Obama’s ability to deal with the economic crisis:

Obama and Republicans alike should pay particular attention to youth optimism about the direction of the economy. In 2008, exit polls showed that 54 percent of young voters believed that the economy would improve over the next year, compared with 47 percent of the rest of the electorate. Obama probably needs millennials to be similarly upbeat in 2012. In other words, it’s all about confidence—like so much else in the economy these days.

The fact that these hopes have been dashed may not translate to automatic support for Republicans, but there’s a good chance it will have an impact on whether or not young people show up at the polls.

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Obama White House in Sheer Desperation About Economy

On Friday, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked White House press secretary Jay Carney to respond to a statement made by David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the president. Here’s what Plouffe said: “The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers. People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on, ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’”

And here’s what Carney had to say in response:

Well, I understand that we’re engaged in the – or rather, the Republicans are engaged in a primary campaign, trying to get some media attention. I don’t know where the voters that some other folks might be talking to — but — or — but most people do not sit around their kitchen table and analyze GDP and unemployment numbers. They talk about how they feel, their own economic situation is. And they measure it by whether they have a job, whether they have job security; whether their house –whether they’re meeting their house payment, whether their mortgage is underwater; whether they have the money to pay for their children’s education or they don’t; whether they’re dealing with a sick parent and can afford that, or whether they can’t. They do not sit around analyzing The Wall Street Journal or other — or Bloomberg — to look at the, you know, analyze the numbers. Now, maybe some folks do, but not most Americans. I think that’s the point David Plouffe was making; that’s the point the president was making just moments ago in his statement in the Rose Garden.

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On Friday, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked White House press secretary Jay Carney to respond to a statement made by David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the president. Here’s what Plouffe said: “The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers. People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate, they’re going to vote based on, ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’”

And here’s what Carney had to say in response:

Well, I understand that we’re engaged in the – or rather, the Republicans are engaged in a primary campaign, trying to get some media attention. I don’t know where the voters that some other folks might be talking to — but — or — but most people do not sit around their kitchen table and analyze GDP and unemployment numbers. They talk about how they feel, their own economic situation is. And they measure it by whether they have a job, whether they have job security; whether their house –whether they’re meeting their house payment, whether their mortgage is underwater; whether they have the money to pay for their children’s education or they don’t; whether they’re dealing with a sick parent and can afford that, or whether they can’t. They do not sit around analyzing The Wall Street Journal or other — or Bloomberg — to look at the, you know, analyze the numbers. Now, maybe some folks do, but not most Americans. I think that’s the point David Plouffe was making; that’s the point the president was making just moments ago in his statement in the Rose Garden.

Carney’s comments only make sense if you assume the unemployment rate, our GDP, and other economic indicators are detached from people’s economic situation. But of course they’re not. They are data that reflect certain human realities. So when you have an unemployment rate of 9.2 percent, a combined rate for jobless and discouraged workers of 16.2 percent, and six million Americans, or 44.4 percent of the jobless, out of work for more than six months, that translates into millions and millions of people who are suffering in very real, and in some cases profound, ways.

The Obama administration cannot deny the dismal economic data, so they’re trying to make the figures irrelevant. It is akin to someone who wants to break the thermometer because they want to deny the fever.

It’s a silly and unsustainable game the Obama White House is playing – and a sign of the sheer desperation that is now engulfing it.

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New Front Against Terror: Bank of China Sued by Israeli Victims

Fresh off their triumph in tying the latest Gaza flotilla up in Greek legal knots, the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center won another victory–this time in the New York courts. On Friday, the Law Center, representing victims and family members of those killed and injured by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror attacks on southern Israel in 2006 and 2007, learned that their lawsuit against the Bank of China may proceed. The Bank of China is accused of aiding and abetting those attacks because they provided wire transfer services to both terrorist groups. These transactions allowed the terror groups to be financed and to carry on its murderous activities. United States law bans normal banking activities such as transfers when they are used to conduct terrorism.

The bank’s defense is that Hamas is not considered a terrorist group in China. Whether a New York court will decide this means the financial institution had no illegal intent remains to be seen. But the arguments by the plaintiffs that the bank knew exactly whom they were dealing with and what their client used their funds to do are compelling. The Israeli government informed the bank in 2003 that the account, which had been opened in Guangzhou, China, was being used to fund terrorism, but their warning was ignored. The bank carried out dozens of transactions from overseas sources totaling several million dollars to accounts in Gaza and the West Bank controlled by Hamas and Islamic Jihad during the period under scrutiny.

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Fresh off their triumph in tying the latest Gaza flotilla up in Greek legal knots, the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center won another victory–this time in the New York courts. On Friday, the Law Center, representing victims and family members of those killed and injured by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror attacks on southern Israel in 2006 and 2007, learned that their lawsuit against the Bank of China may proceed. The Bank of China is accused of aiding and abetting those attacks because they provided wire transfer services to both terrorist groups. These transactions allowed the terror groups to be financed and to carry on its murderous activities. United States law bans normal banking activities such as transfers when they are used to conduct terrorism.

The bank’s defense is that Hamas is not considered a terrorist group in China. Whether a New York court will decide this means the financial institution had no illegal intent remains to be seen. But the arguments by the plaintiffs that the bank knew exactly whom they were dealing with and what their client used their funds to do are compelling. The Israeli government informed the bank in 2003 that the account, which had been opened in Guangzhou, China, was being used to fund terrorism, but their warning was ignored. The bank carried out dozens of transactions from overseas sources totaling several million dollars to accounts in Gaza and the West Bank controlled by Hamas and Islamic Jihad during the period under scrutiny.

While groups like al Qaeda have been successfully starved of cash by strict sanctions that prevent banks from allowing them to move money around, Palestinian terror groups have benefitted from the fact that many third world nations have given them free reign to conduct their nefarious business. But in an age where all financial institutions are linked, tough legal action can act to prevent the Gaza-based killers of Hamas from gaining access to cash raised elsewhere.

Once again, Shurat HaDin deserves credit for successfully pursuing a new front against the Palestinian terror network. Hopefully, this victory in court will be followed by others that will serve to dry up the sources of funding for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

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Bachmann Takes Lead in Iowa

The Iowa Republican poll out late last night shows that Rep. Michele Bachmann’s sharp focus on Iowa is paying off. The congresswoman has surpassed Mitt Romney in support, 25 to 21 percent. And her 76 percent favorability rating gives even more reason for optimism:

While Bachmann’s lead over Romney is just within the margin of error, the poll’s cross tabs show how much momentum her campaign has generated in Iowa.  Her favorability is ten points higher than Romney’s, who had the second highest number in that category.  Her unfavorable figure is 14 points lower than Romney’s, giving her a stellar plus 65 favorability margin.  Her numbers suggest that Bachmann has found a very effective way to appeal to caucus goers.

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The Iowa Republican poll out late last night shows that Rep. Michele Bachmann’s sharp focus on Iowa is paying off. The congresswoman has surpassed Mitt Romney in support, 25 to 21 percent. And her 76 percent favorability rating gives even more reason for optimism:

While Bachmann’s lead over Romney is just within the margin of error, the poll’s cross tabs show how much momentum her campaign has generated in Iowa.  Her favorability is ten points higher than Romney’s, who had the second highest number in that category.  Her unfavorable figure is 14 points lower than Romney’s, giving her a stellar plus 65 favorability margin.  Her numbers suggest that Bachmann has found a very effective way to appeal to caucus goers.

The latest poll also brings good news for Tim Pawlenty, who came in at third place at 9 percent (barely beating Herman Cain). Pawlenty seems to have gained momentum since last month’s Des Moines Register poll, where he only garnered 6 percent support and trailed Cain and Newt Gingrich.

After some early stumbles, Pawlenty is gaining his footing in Iowa. He’s hired Sarah Huckabee — the former director of Mike Huckabee’s successful 2008 Iowa showing — as a political adviser. He’s also become more aggressive in his attacks on Bachmann.

Meanwhile, Romney’s decision not to participate in the Ames Straw Poll affirms he’s not interested in seriously competing in the state. If support for Romney continues to die down, the Pawlenty campaign seems to be in a prime position to pick it up. Of course, that could change if Gov. Rick Perry decides to enter the race, which reports indicate he may be very close to doing.

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Pawlenty Gets Tough With Surging Bachmann

Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign took a body blow last month when he visibly faltered when presented with an opportunity to confront rival Mitt Romney in person on health care. But with many pundits writing his candidacy’s obituary and with his future seemingly riding on the outcome of the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa next month, Pawlenty came out swinging yesterday on Meet The Press.

With MTP’s David Gregory egging him on, it was no more “Minnesota Nice” for Pawlenty. He contrasted what he considers his own record as a governor with that of others who have never been in charge of anything. He claimed while he had actually done the things others say they want to do, some of his rivals were just “running around flapping their jaws.” When asked about Bachmann, he said her “record of accomplishment is non-existent.”

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Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign took a body blow last month when he visibly faltered when presented with an opportunity to confront rival Mitt Romney in person on health care. But with many pundits writing his candidacy’s obituary and with his future seemingly riding on the outcome of the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa next month, Pawlenty came out swinging yesterday on Meet The Press.

With MTP’s David Gregory egging him on, it was no more “Minnesota Nice” for Pawlenty. He contrasted what he considers his own record as a governor with that of others who have never been in charge of anything. He claimed while he had actually done the things others say they want to do, some of his rivals were just “running around flapping their jaws.” When asked about Bachmann, he said her “record of accomplishment is non-existent.”

There is a strong argument to be made that experience in actually running a state is vital in preparing to be president, especially in light of Republican critiques of President Obama having spent much of his first term learning on the job. And there is no question that Bachmann, like Obama, has spent her time in Washington concentrating on issues advocacy rather than passing legislation.

But the problem for Pawlenty in making this point is that, just like Obama, Bachmann’s ostensible weakness is also a source of strength. Having never chosen to dirty her hands making the necessary compromises to pass a budget or get colleagues and opponents to support a bill in exchange for votes on their pet issues, Bachmann is inexperienced but also pure. She wears her “non-existent record of accomplishment” as a badge of honor, not shame. As I wrote last week, Bachmann’s politics of purity is exactly what movement conservatives and activists want. For many of them, even negotiating with members on the other side of the aisle or the White House is itself a sign of weakness or a lack of virtue.

From the point of view of practical politics, that’s silly, but it is a fact that Bachmann is untainted by compromise while anyone (who as Pawlenty says of himself), “can lead a large enterprise in a public setting,” is tainted. Since many Republicans view former Republican majorities in Congress as having abandoned conservative values in order to feather their own political nests, her attitude is considered principled, not foolish.

It remains to be seen whether the new tough guy Pawlenty will be able to sufficiently diminish Bachmann’s surge in time to save his own candidacy. The Iowa Republican-Voter/Consumer Research Poll conducted during the last week in June shows Bachmann jumping ahead of Mitt Romney to first place in the Hawkeye State. Bachmann leads Romney 24-21 percent with Pawlenty tied with Herman Cain for a distant third with 9 percent. As is the case with other recent polls, Bachmann’s favorability numbers far outstrip her rivals.

These figures illustrate the need for Pawlenty to knock Bachmann off her pedestal. But given his own continuing failure to garner enough support to be considered a legitimate first tier candidate, it may be that his critique of Bachmann’s inexperience will ultimately better serve someone else–like Texas Governor Rick Perry, who may soon step into the race.

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What It Means to Engage Hezbollah

There are a number of signs the Obama White House is ready to establish something more than a modus vivendi with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. From siding with Beirut over Jerusalem regarding maritime resources to providing weapons to the Hezbollah-infiltrated LAF on the thinnest pretexts, the administration seems intent on “biting the bullet,” “living in the real world,” “negotiating with enemies not friends,” or whatever leaden catchphrase we’re using this week to justify bringing into the tent fanatics who want to destroy us. That’s the White House’s prerogative, obviously. Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution has consequences, no matter what Democratic Jews who fixate on domestic issues would like to believe.

But let’s all keep in mind what Hezbollah is, because there was a time when even the echo of something like national honor would have precluded sitting across the table from them or anyone who refused to repudiate them. We owe more than a few Hezbollah leaders death sentences, and we owe the organization itself nothing less than unremitting hostility until we or they lose (as the world’s only hyperpower, in theory I like our odds). Instead the White House is actively searching for loopholes to maintain or enhance bilateral relations with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. So it’s worth reviewing how in 1984 Hezbollah kidnapped CIA Lebanon Station Chief William Buckley as he was leaving his house in the morning. They tortured him continuously for 15 months, occasionally sending videos of him naked and screaming to U.S. bureaus and agencies in Europe, until his body gave out. In the meantime, Hezbollah used the information he provided to dismantle U.S. intelligence assets in the Levant: Read More

There are a number of signs the Obama White House is ready to establish something more than a modus vivendi with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. From siding with Beirut over Jerusalem regarding maritime resources to providing weapons to the Hezbollah-infiltrated LAF on the thinnest pretexts, the administration seems intent on “biting the bullet,” “living in the real world,” “negotiating with enemies not friends,” or whatever leaden catchphrase we’re using this week to justify bringing into the tent fanatics who want to destroy us. That’s the White House’s prerogative, obviously. Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution has consequences, no matter what Democratic Jews who fixate on domestic issues would like to believe.

But let’s all keep in mind what Hezbollah is, because there was a time when even the echo of something like national honor would have precluded sitting across the table from them or anyone who refused to repudiate them. We owe more than a few Hezbollah leaders death sentences, and we owe the organization itself nothing less than unremitting hostility until we or they lose (as the world’s only hyperpower, in theory I like our odds). Instead the White House is actively searching for loopholes to maintain or enhance bilateral relations with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. So it’s worth reviewing how in 1984 Hezbollah kidnapped CIA Lebanon Station Chief William Buckley as he was leaving his house in the morning. They tortured him continuously for 15 months, occasionally sending videos of him naked and screaming to U.S. bureaus and agencies in Europe, until his body gave out. In the meantime, Hezbollah used the information he provided to dismantle U.S. intelligence assets in the Levant:

On Monday morning, May 7, 1984, the United States embassy in Athens received a video posted in the city… It showed William Buckley undergoing torture… The camera zoomed in and out of Buckley’s nude and damaged body. He held before his genitalia a document marked “MOST SECRET”… Casey later remembered how “… They had done more than ruin his body. His eyes made it clear his mind had been played with. It was horrific, medieval and barbarous”… Buckley showed symptoms of being drugged; his eyes were dull and his lips slack. His gaze was of a person deprived of daylight for some time… Buckley had spent long periods being hooded. Buckley bore chafe marks on his wrists and neck suggesting he had been tethered with a rope or chain. A careful study of every inch of visible skin revealed puncture marks indicating he had been injected at various points.

The second video arrived 23 days later. This time it was posted to the United States Embassy on Via Veneto in Rome… It revealed Buckley continued to be horrifically treated… Buckley’s voice was slurred and his manner noticeably more egocentric as if not only the world beyond the camera, but his immediate surroundings, held increasingly less interest for him… His hands shook and his legs beat a tattoo on the floor as he mumbled pathetic pleas to be exchanged under a guarantee the United States would remove “all of its influences” from Lebanon and would persuade Israel to do the same…

On Friday, October 26, 1984, 224 days since Buckley was kidnapped, a third video arrived at the CIA. The tape was even more harrowing. Buckley was close to a gibbering wretch. His words were often incoherent; he slobbered and drooled and, most unnerving of all, he would suddenly scream in terror, his eyes rolling helplessly and his body shaking. From time to time he held up documents, which had been in his burn-bag, to the camera. Then he delivered a pathetic defence of his captor’s right to self-determination in Lebanon… William Buckley’s kidnapping was into its second year by the spring of 1985. The CIA consensus was that he would be blindfolded and chained at the ankles and wrists and kept in a cell little bigger than a coffin.

In 1988, a few years after Buckley’s torture and murder, Hezbollah kidnapped U.S. Marine Colonel Rich Higgins. Higgins, who at the time was serving as a UN military observer, was tortured and eventually murdered. We know as much because two years later Hezbollah released a videotape of his torture-scarred body hung and dangling from the ceiling. Here’s how U.S. diplomat Fred Hof described the blood debt to be paid by Hezbollah’s current leadership, including Nasrallah, for Higgins:

A friend of mine – Colonel Rich Higgins – was kidnapped by Hezbollah while he was serving as a UN military observer in Lebanon… he had been tortured and killed months before our efforts to free him finally ended. I am one of a small handful of Americans who knows the exact manner of Rich’s death. If I were to describe it to you now – which I will not – I can guarantee that a significant number of people in this room would become physically ill. When my former business partner Rich Armitage described Hezbollah a few years ago as the “A-Team” of international terrorism and suggested that there was a “blood debt” to be paid, he was referring to a leadership cadre that is steeped in blood and brutality.

And of course, there are the 63 people Hezbollah murdered when they bombed our Beirut embassy in 1982, the 241 Marines they killed in their barracks in 1983, and the 18 serviceman they killed near the Torrejon Air Force Base in 1984. These might all be water under the bridge to the reset-philic neophytes who inhabit the White House, but the Hezbollah leaders who committed these atrocities are very much aware of who is coming to whom asking for talks, and under the shadow of what crimes. Americans should be as well.

Again, the President has the right to conduct foreign policy in whatever way he thinks will promote American national interests. But citizens have an obligation to ask when we lost hold of the idea that some enemies are actually enemies, and that obsequiously asking for their time is not a sign of foreign policy sophistication. Hezbollah has been murdering and torturing Americans for decades. With the possible exception of al Qaeda, and driven by their state sponsor Iran, there is no terrorist organization more thoroughly committed to undermining American interests globally. What is the White House possibly thinking?

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