During the weekend, the New York Post reported that Mitt Romney vetoed a bill to help fund kosher food at Massachusetts nursing homes in 2003. Newt Gingrich, who happens to be courting Jewish and elderly voters in Florida, immediately jumped on the story – and got it very, very wrong in the process:
“[Romney] eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare,” Gingrich said. “I did not know this, it just came out yesterday. The more we dig in, I understand why George Soros in Europe yesterday said it makes no difference if it’s Romney or Obama, we can live with either one.”
A few weeks ago, I joked that the Obama White House is “the Hotel California of presidential administrations.” It looks like we can add another name to the list of advisers who can never leave. Last week, Haaretz reported that longtime Mideast hand Dennis Ross was still advising President Obama on the Middle East, though no one was quite sure to what extent.
Today, Haaretz follows up by noting the White House took the “unusual” step of installing a direct phone line from Ross’s office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to the White House. The State Department says Ross is an unpaid adviser, but Haaretz says Ross has been conducting some pretty important meetings on the president’s behalf:
Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:
The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’
“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”
In an intense primary battle, a lot of silly things are said. (Many of them, it turns out, are said by Sarah Palin, who seems intent on confirming every negative thing her critics have said about her.) Among them is the charge, repeated like rounds fired from a machine gun, that opposition to Newt Gingrich is based on those in the “establishment” who fear the scale of change he would bring to Washington. If you’re for Gingrich, so goes this story line, you’re for “genuine” and “fundamental” change. If you oppose Gingrich, on the other hand, you’re for “managing the decay” of America.
Except for this. The single most important idea, when it comes to fundamentally changing Washington, is the budget plan put forward by Representative Paul Ryan last April. When most massive-scale-of-change conservatives were defending Ryan’s plan against scorching criticisms from the left, Gingrich described the plan as an example of “right-wing social engineering.” It was Gingrich, not the rest of us, who was counseling caution, timidity, and an unwillingness to shape (rather than follow) public opinion. (The Medicare reform plan Gingrich eventually put out wasn’t nearly as bold and far-reaching as the one put out by Governor Romney.)
So much for Mr. Fundamental Change.
One of the interesting aspects of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story about Israel’s decision whether or not to strike at Iran’s nuclear program came from a passage in which author Ronen Bergman describes his meeting with former Mossad chief Meir Amit. Amit, who headed Israel’s intelligence agency at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War, described a meeting with the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv during the lead up to that conflict. According to the transcript of the meeting, which was given to Bergman, the American spy threatened Israel and did all in his power to prevent the Jewish state from acting to forestall the threat to its existence from Egypt and other Arab states that were poised to strike.
The lessons of this confrontation certainly put Israel’s current dilemma about attempting to pre-empt Iran’s ability to threaten the Jewish state with extinction via a nuclear weapon in perspective. Bergman provides no firm answer to the question of whether or not Israel will go ahead and strike Iran even if, as was initially the case in 1967, it must happen over the objections of the United States. But he does attempt to give a coherent framework for how the decision can be made as well as providing a bit more background on the chief Israeli critic of a strike on Iran.
Readers of “Contentions” know I have significant concerns when it comes to Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. But even critics of the former House speaker should insist that the charges leveled against him be accurate rather than fictional. And so I agree with this editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which asserts that Mitt Romney’s attacks on Gingrich’s ethics case in the 1990s are misleading.
It’s clear the charges against Gingrich were trumped up; the IRS exonerated him after a multi-year investigation (see this CNN report at the time). For Governor Romney to now say, as he repeatedly does, that Gingrich “resigned in disgrace,” simply isn’t fair. Gingrich’s resignation was not connected to the ethics charges made against him. He was, in fact, the victim of a smear. And to give that smear new life is wrong. It really ought to stop.
Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.
The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”
Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.
Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media:
On Friday, we learned that the annualized GDP growth rate in the fourth quarter was 2.8 percent. The press coverage the following days portrayed this news as encouraging. It wasn’t. The Great Recession officially ended in the middle of 2009; for the last quarter of 2011 to produce a growth rate less than 3.0 percent is evidence of a very weak economy. (Historically, the deeper the recession, the stronger the recovery.) Indeed, the GDP increase for all of 2011 was a Lost Decade-like 1.7 percent. We lost ground from 2010, which itself was a relatively sickly year (GDP grew only 3.0 percent).
As a point of comparison, this editorial points out that once the Reagan recovery began in earnest in 1983, growth stayed above 5 percent for 18 months and never fell below 3.3 percent for 13 consecutive quarters. In the Obama years, on the other hand, growth has never exceeded 4 percent in any quarter.
Yesterday’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured a battle of two surrogates: John McCain, who was there boosting Mitt Romney, and his former Senate colleague Fred Thompson, who was on hand to speak for Newt Gingrich. Given the polls that show Romney ready to win big in Florida, McCain had the better of the argument about the Republican presidential race. But when he got around to discussing the use of super PACs in the contest, Thompson made more sense.
As the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Arizona senator is still furious about the impact this had on his pet cause of campaign finance reform. His dire predictions it would all lead to “scandal” because there is “too much money washing around in politics” made for a good sound bite, but the super PACs’ role in the 2012 campaign is not so much a testament to the mistakes of the High Court but to the fallacies promoted by the campaign finance reform lobby. If McCain doesn’t like the way campaigns are being financed, and there are good reasons not to like it, then he should blame the entire reform movement, not a court that protected free speech rights.
As I noted earlier, one area in which Palestinians need no help from anyone is finding excuses to shun negotiations. Currently, of course, they are claiming Israel’s position on borders leaves no room for progress. But if you want to see the real reason talks are stalemated, take a look at what happened last week, when Israel tried to present its position on security arrangements at a negotiating session in Amman: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat refused to even let the Israeli official speak, saying he had no “mandate to negotiate security arrangements” until Israel presented “detailed documents” with its position on borders.
Everyone involved in the peace process has always understood that borders and security are intimately connected, because how much territory Israel is willing to cede will depend on the robustness of the compensatory security arrangements. That’s why even President Barack Obama, in his May 2011 speech calling for a “borders first” approach that would defer issues like Jerusalem and the refugees until later, didn’t propose deferring security; he suggested that talks focus first on “territory and security.” Thus, if the Palestinians aren’t even willing to listen to Israel’s positions on security arrangements, they clearly aren’t interested in conducting serious negotiations at all. As Israel’s chief negotiator aptly told Erekat, “If you do not have the mandate to discuss this, maybe you should leave and bring someone in your place who does have the mandate.”
With few expecting tomorrow’s Florida primary to be anything but a decisive win for Mitt Romney, some observers are turning to the question of what Newt Gingrich will do in the weeks ahead in the aftermath of this anticipated defeat. While the Republican race has been highly volatile, February could be a very lean month for Gingrich with no debates scheduled for weeks at a time and no states voting or caucusing that give him a good chance of victory. But even if Romney starts rolling up victories, few think Gingrich will withdraw even if it is clear he has little or no chance to win the nomination. Instead, Gingrich will continue to run hard while making increasingly bitter attacks on the all-but-certain GOP nominee all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
The possibility that Gingrich’s candidacy will rise from the dead one more time has to frighten Republicans who believe he has no chance to beat Barack Obama. But it is this sore loser scenario that really ought to be scaring them. As Politico reports this morning, there is every indication Gingrich will be fighting a scorched earth campaign against Romney for as long as he has a penny in his pocket. In doing so, he could help exacerbate the rift between his Tea Party supporters and Romney and make it harder, if not impossible, for the frontrunner to beat Barack Obama in November.
When I first read Jonathan’s post yesterday, I thought he was blaming President Barack Obama unfairly: The Palestinians don’t need Obama to produce excuses for shunning negotiations; they’ve produced plenty all by themselves (about which more in a separate post). But when I read the New York Times article he referenced, I was shocked – not by the Palestinians’ position, but by reporter Ethan Bronner’s. For when a Palestinian official asserted that Israel’s demand to retain the major settlement blocs “abandons … the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years,” Bronner, who as a veteran Israeli correspondent should surely have known better, parroted this without a word of demurral – thereby erasing 20 years of history in which every single proposal ever discussed had Israel keeping the settlement blocs.
President Bill Clinton’s parameters of 2000, long considered the blueprint for any final-status agreement, assigned the settlement blocs to Israel. President George W. Bush asserted in a 2004 letter that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of 2008 – which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after rejecting at the time, suddenly embraced last year, once Olmert was gone and it was off the table – also had Israel retaining the settlement blocs.
As Hamas looks to leave its long-standing offices in Damascus, where the Assad regime now teeters, Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul is neither confirming nor denying reports that the group may relocate its offices to Turkey. According to Hurriyet Daily News:
Along with Qatar and Jordan, Turkey is also among would-be hosts with Turkish President Abdullah Gül neither denying nor confirming that his country would soon welcome Hamas on its soil as Turkey’s relations with its once-ally Israel hit historically low levels.