Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 8, 2012

Odds Still in Romney’s Favor

It seems like every time I declare Mitt Romney to be in the catbird seat, he does everything in his power to disprove me. But last night, the former Massachusetts governor outdid himself, having been swept by Rick Santorum in contests in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. And it isn’t simply the fact that Romney lost; it’s the magnitude of his losses. Governor Romney finished third in Minnesota with 17 percent of the vote total, behind both Ron Paul (27 percent) and Santorum (45 percent). In Missouri, Romney lost to Santorum by a staggering 30 points (55 percent v. 25 percent). And in Colorado, a state Romney won in 2008 with more than 60 percent of the vote, Santorum bested him by five points (40 percent v. 35 percent).

Conn Carroll of the Washington Examiner points out that in both Missouri and Minnesota, a state Romney won in 2008, he did not win a single county. (There are 114 counties in Missouri.)

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It seems like every time I declare Mitt Romney to be in the catbird seat, he does everything in his power to disprove me. But last night, the former Massachusetts governor outdid himself, having been swept by Rick Santorum in contests in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. And it isn’t simply the fact that Romney lost; it’s the magnitude of his losses. Governor Romney finished third in Minnesota with 17 percent of the vote total, behind both Ron Paul (27 percent) and Santorum (45 percent). In Missouri, Romney lost to Santorum by a staggering 30 points (55 percent v. 25 percent). And in Colorado, a state Romney won in 2008 with more than 60 percent of the vote, Santorum bested him by five points (40 percent v. 35 percent).

Conn Carroll of the Washington Examiner points out that in both Missouri and Minnesota, a state Romney won in 2008, he did not win a single county. (There are 114 counties in Missouri.)

The odds of winning the nomination are very much in Romney’s favor, in part because Newt Gingrich is doing his nemesis the favor of hanging around, with the result (potentially) of denying Santorum the mano-a-mano contest with Romney he needs. On the other hand, Santorum might well supplant Gingrich as the conservative alternative whether Gingrich stays or leaves the race. Many scales have fallen from many eyes in recent days, and it’s becoming obvious to more and more GOP voters that Rick Santorum is a far stronger (and more reliably conservative) candidate than Newt Gingrich. If Santorum were to knock off Romney in Michigan, then the trajectory of this race could change in a hurry.

Now a word about both Romney and Santorum.

It’s not a state secret that Romney has not yet been able to make the sale with the conservative base of his party. The resistance to him isn’t an intense dislike, at least from most on the right. It’s more of a wariness, a lack of comfort, a sense the former Massachusetts governor isn’t in his heart a true or reliable conservative. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s a real challenge for Mitt Romney to overcome — and as we saw last night, he’s far from overcoming it.

But there appears to be more to it than that. Governor Romney reassures many GOP voters, but he inspires few of them. And as he surely must know, politics is, at least in large part, about winning people’s allegiance and loyalty. They want to believe they are part of more than a campaign; they want to believe they are part of a great cause. And most people right now can’t tell you what great cause the Romney campaign represents.

It’s too easy for commentators to pile on candidates after a bad showing, as Romney experienced last night, and forget their strengths, of which Romney has many. He’s a fine, and at times a first-rate, debater. He’s shown fluency when it comes to the issues. He’s a man of personal decency and moderate temperament. He’s shown the capacity to lift his game when necessary. And he’s disciplined and focused. But right now there’s a weakness at the core of the campaign, and the Romney team would be wise to understand what that is.

It would of course be a huge error to try to turn Romney into someone he’s not. What he needs to do is to build a compelling narrative around his genuine strengths. I’ve written before the great challenge facing America today is reforming public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century. Our health care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, infrastructure, immigration policies, and regulatory regime are outdated, worn down, and terribly out of touch with the needs of our time. This has impeded economic growth, impaired the creation of human capital, and put us on the path toward an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Each of these public institutions needs to be improved and modernized, requiring structural reforms on a large scale. It seems to me that Romney, by virtue of his experience and skill sets, can make the case he’s the person best equipped to lead this effort.

Now a word about my former Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Rick Santorum. Rick has shown impressive resilience, having won over voters almost literally one at a time. He’s very intelligent and well-informed; he’s mostly stayed clear of the Romney v. Gingrich fight, focusing on the issues rather than personal foibles of the other candidates; and he’s shown the ability to be an outstanding prosecutor for his case (as when he’s gone after RomneyCare). Santorum can also claim to be a “conviction politician,” including when those convictions were politically costly.

What Santorum has also done, and probably hasn’t received enough credit for doing, is to recalibrate his tone. At points early on during this campaign, he came across as too intense, too cock-sure, too impatient and righteous in his zeal. Those things, it’s important to say, were the result of a man of deep convictions and an admirable fearlessness. But it at times made him unsympathetic and not easy to embrace. But that began to change right around December, and he’s now projected a warmth and human quality that’s quite appealing. Even if Santorum doesn’t win the GOP nomination, he’s reestablished himself as an important and influential figure within conservatism.

For now, though, this primary race – at times fascinating, volatile, engaging and dispiriting –continues. And whoever emerges victorious will have a slightly better than even shot at becoming America’s 45th president.

 

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The Liberal Parrot Squawks Again

There is an op-ed in today’’s New York Times of truly surpassing nuttiness. It is called “”The Zuckerberg Tax,”” in reference to Mark Zuckerberg’’s impending multi-billion-dollar capital gain from Facebook’’s IPO. The author, David S. Miller, is upset that Zuckerberg will not have to pay any taxes on his vast capital gains until he sells the stock, if he ever does.

He writes, “So he recommends an annual tax on unrealized capital gains of 15 percent: For individuals and married couples who earn, say, more than $2.2 million in income, or own $5.7 million or more in publicly traded securities (representing the top 0.1 percent of families), the appreciation in their publicly traded stock and securities would be “marked to market” and taxed annually as if they had sold their positions at year’’s end, regardless of whether the
securities were actually sold. The tax could be imposed at long-term capital gains rates so tax rates would stay as they were.”

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There is an op-ed in today’’s New York Times of truly surpassing nuttiness. It is called “”The Zuckerberg Tax,”” in reference to Mark Zuckerberg’’s impending multi-billion-dollar capital gain from Facebook’’s IPO. The author, David S. Miller, is upset that Zuckerberg will not have to pay any taxes on his vast capital gains until he sells the stock, if he ever does.

He writes, “So he recommends an annual tax on unrealized capital gains of 15 percent: For individuals and married couples who earn, say, more than $2.2 million in income, or own $5.7 million or more in publicly traded securities (representing the top 0.1 percent of families), the appreciation in their publicly traded stock and securities would be “marked to market” and taxed annually as if they had sold their positions at year’’s end, regardless of whether the
securities were actually sold. The tax could be imposed at long-term capital gains rates so tax rates would stay as they were.”

Naturally (cue the liberal parrot—“ Arrrwk! Tax the rich!”), it would apply only to the very rich. But only to the very rich whose assets are in the stock of publicly-traded companies, where the capital gains can be easily and exactly calculated. If someone owned a very successful sub-chapter S corporation, however, the
tax would not apply. Nor would it apply to someone who owned, say, the King Ranch in Texas, all 1 million acres of it, or a Greenwich, Connecticut, waterfront mansion.

First, how long do you suppose it would be before the liberal parrot was demanding this tax be applied to the millionaires and billionaires who earn only $250,000 a year, and then to all capital gains in publicly held corporations? Arrrwk! Tax the Rich!

Second, the perverse economic consequences of this would be almost without end. Just for starters, if a stock subject to the tax doubled in a year— by no means unheard of for a successful company in a bull market–the owner would have to sell 7.5 percent of it to pay the tax, or sell other assets, or, as David Miller
suggests with an airy wave of his rhetorical hand, borrow against it. All of these could have very adverse business consequences for the owner.

Moreover, he says that should the stock go down the next year, then the government should pay him 15 percent of the unrealized capital loss. It’ is not unheard of for the stock market to lose 50 percent of its value in a calendar year. (It lost that much between October 2008, and the following March, in the wake of the
financial crisis). In that case, in the teeth of a terrible economy, the government would have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to reimburse the rich for their paper losses.

It is well established that a tax system dependent on taxing the rich causes government revenues to soar in good times and plunge in bad times. Just ask California, the poster child of this approach to taxation. The Miller plan would be California on steroids.

Naturally, Miller’’s argument for this tax is “fairness.” He writes that Lady Gaga (a singer, I’’m told) has to pay 35 percent on her enormous income, so why shouldn’’t Mark Zuckerberg have to pay 15 percent on his enormous capital gains? Well, for one thing, Lady Gaga’’s income is not subject to a 35 percent
tax at the corporate level.

He writes, “if  Zuckerberg never sells his shares, he can avoid all income tax and then, on his death, pass on his shares to his heirs. When they sell them, they will be taxed only on any appreciation in value since his death.”

Yeah, except that his heirs will have had to pay a 35 percent estate tax first. In 2013, the estate tax is scheduled to rise to 55 percent. Even in 2010 when, for one glorious year, there was no death tax, the heirs acquired the decedent’s cost basis along with the stock. So they have to pay the full capital gains when they sell the stock, not just the capital gains since the date of death.

Is David S. Miller, a tax lawyer, unaware of the revived estate tax? Or is he and the New York Times so intellectually dishonest as to ignore it in pursuit of their agenda? I vote for the latter.

Could anything be more relevatory of the utter intellectual bankruptcy of latter-day liberalism then this  proposal?

 

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The Palestinian Facebook Police

Some staffers and diplomats at the State Department with time on their hands are, no doubt, working hard right now to come up with a legal rationale for continuing U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority. The consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact earlier this week and the impending ouster of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad ought to make any further assistance to Mahmoud Abbas’s rogue regime legally and morally untenable. But in case apologists for keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to terrorists pledged to Israel’s destruction are paying attention, even before the new unity government takes office there are plenty of reasons to think seriously about American subsidies for the corrupt and tyrannical PA.

While many Americans are obsessing about human rights elsewhere in the Arab world, it appears the American-funded PA is practicing its own brand of tyranny. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports the Palestinian security forces are now monitoring Facebook posts by residents of the West Bank and taking those who make critical remarks about the PA’s leadership in for questioning. Because Palestinians know all too well the armed gunmen who report to Abbas and his underlings are Fatah thugs and not genuine law enforcement officers, the upshot of is only nice things are going to be said there about Abbas.

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Some staffers and diplomats at the State Department with time on their hands are, no doubt, working hard right now to come up with a legal rationale for continuing U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority. The consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact earlier this week and the impending ouster of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad ought to make any further assistance to Mahmoud Abbas’s rogue regime legally and morally untenable. But in case apologists for keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to terrorists pledged to Israel’s destruction are paying attention, even before the new unity government takes office there are plenty of reasons to think seriously about American subsidies for the corrupt and tyrannical PA.

While many Americans are obsessing about human rights elsewhere in the Arab world, it appears the American-funded PA is practicing its own brand of tyranny. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports the Palestinian security forces are now monitoring Facebook posts by residents of the West Bank and taking those who make critical remarks about the PA’s leadership in for questioning. Because Palestinians know all too well the armed gunmen who report to Abbas and his underlings are Fatah thugs and not genuine law enforcement officers, the upshot of is only nice things are going to be said there about Abbas.

The idea that the PA respected the human rights of those Palestinians who were placed under its care by the Oslo Accords was always something of a fantasy. But since the death of Yasir Arafat, many here have clung to the notion that Abbas was an improvement. But that was always more a matter of apparel than anything else, because Americans find it hard to believe a man who wears a suit to work like Abbas can be just as much of a despot as one who wore fatigues like Arafat.

Given the low standards set for human rights and governance by Abbas’s predecessor one might think Internet censorship is the least of the problems of ordinary Palestinians. But in the absence of a PA government that respects the rule of law, peace with Israel or even a civil Palestinian society will remain a distant dream.

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Newest Domestic Threat: “Sovereign Citizens”

It’s nice to see the FBI is keeping its eye on the real homegrown threat in America — Ron Paul fans:

Anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States, the FBI warned on Monday.

These extremists, sometimes known as “sovereign citizens,” believe they can live outside any type of government authority, FBI agents said at a news conference.

The extremists may refuse to pay taxes, defy government environmental regulations and believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard.

Routine encounters with police can turn violent “at the drop of a hat,” said Stuart McArthur, deputy assistant director in the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

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It’s nice to see the FBI is keeping its eye on the real homegrown threat in America — Ron Paul fans:

Anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States, the FBI warned on Monday.

These extremists, sometimes known as “sovereign citizens,” believe they can live outside any type of government authority, FBI agents said at a news conference.

The extremists may refuse to pay taxes, defy government environmental regulations and believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard.

Routine encounters with police can turn violent “at the drop of a hat,” said Stuart McArthur, deputy assistant director in the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

How large has this epidemic of “sovereign citizens” grown? According to the FBI, 18 sovereign citizens were convicted of mainly white-collar crimes in 2010 and 2011, up from 10 in 2009. Two of these sovereign citizens were involved in two separate police shootings in 2010 and 2011.

So there’s certainly been some violence coming from these anti-government activists. But based on the data provided by the FBI, is this really a threat that warrants a major press conference?

It’s hard to reconcile this report with the one in the New York Times today, which claims homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslims poses “little threat” to the U.S. The evidence? According to a new study, there were only 20 Muslim Americans charged with terror attacks or plots in 2011 – down from 47 in 2009:

A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.

The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.

Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.

Left-wing blogs have been touting both of these stories, warning about the danger of sovereign citizens and declaring that the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism is overblown, and largely invented by Rep. Peter King. But clearly, if you consider 20 Muslim American terrorists trying to carry out large-casualty attacks on U.S. soil over the past year a “non-existent threat,” then it’s hard to argue that 18 libertarian wackos refusing to pay taxes and flouting environmental regulations is the latest great danger to the nation.

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What’s the IHH Up to Today?

The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, better known by its Turkish acronym IHH, is an Islamist charity best known for its role in the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair, although this was but one episode in a long and troubling history.

The IHH is once again showing its true colors.  Late last month, the Syrian opposition reported it had captured 11 Iranian operatives inside Syria, and released a video of its Iranian captives. In a statement which was apparently coerced, the group confessed it was active in suppressing dissent inside Syria, and its leader pleaded for Supreme Leader Khamenei to withdraw Iranian forces. The semi-official Iranian press, meanwhile, said the captured Iranians were merely religious pilgrims.

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The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, better known by its Turkish acronym IHH, is an Islamist charity best known for its role in the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair, although this was but one episode in a long and troubling history.

The IHH is once again showing its true colors.  Late last month, the Syrian opposition reported it had captured 11 Iranian operatives inside Syria, and released a video of its Iranian captives. In a statement which was apparently coerced, the group confessed it was active in suppressing dissent inside Syria, and its leader pleaded for Supreme Leader Khamenei to withdraw Iranian forces. The semi-official Iranian press, meanwhile, said the captured Iranians were merely religious pilgrims.

Enter the IHH, a group which has now intervened to win the release the Iranian Eleven. The Iranians subsequently were detained crossing into Turkey. Alas, whereas their capture might once have provided absolute proof of Iranian human rights violations in Syria, the head of Turkish intelligence is notoriously sympathetic to Iran, and so the opportunity will be lost. The IHH may describe itself as a humanitarian organization, but in practice, its main goal is to provide aid and comfort to terrorists.

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What Diplomats Can Learn from the Military

I’m spending the week in frigid Wiesbaden, where the V Corps is preparing to take over the mission in Afghanistan. As is often the case, there is much more learning outside the classroom than inside it. Indeed, there are few organizations in government as dedicated to learning as the U.S. military. The State Department may have its Foreign Service Institute where diplomats can take classes to prepare for new jobs, but in embassies and the State Department, learning does not occur on a day-to-day basis as it does in the military.

Before any exercise, for example, soldiers and sailors study precedents. After -action reviews often take longer than exercises or missions themselves. Non-Commissioned Officers take their roles seriously to ensure that soldiers recognize mistakes and more importantly, learn from them; they have no equivalent in the Foreign Service.

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I’m spending the week in frigid Wiesbaden, where the V Corps is preparing to take over the mission in Afghanistan. As is often the case, there is much more learning outside the classroom than inside it. Indeed, there are few organizations in government as dedicated to learning as the U.S. military. The State Department may have its Foreign Service Institute where diplomats can take classes to prepare for new jobs, but in embassies and the State Department, learning does not occur on a day-to-day basis as it does in the military.

Before any exercise, for example, soldiers and sailors study precedents. After -action reviews often take longer than exercises or missions themselves. Non-Commissioned Officers take their roles seriously to ensure that soldiers recognize mistakes and more importantly, learn from them; they have no equivalent in the Foreign Service.

It’s no secret the State Department is poor at negotiations. In recent years, the North Koreans, Russians, and Iranians have outmaneuvered their American counterparts to the detriment of U.S. national security. Top-level negotiators edit junior diplomats’ cables and memorandums of conversation to substitute what was said with what they wished they had said. Seldom do ambassadors tolerate independent process observers.

Perhaps the State Department should take a lesson from their comrades in uniform. After every negotiating session, officials should identify what they won, what they lost, what they might have done better, and be merciless in identifying pivotal mistakes. Any new diplomat entering a region should be required to read and drill in the detail of the negotiations and their after-action reports, rather than simply taking the last agreement as a starting point.

Take the efforts to negotiate with the Taliban: While these negotiations have become the central pillar for Obama’s efforts to extricate America from Afghanistan, they are hardly new, yet there has never been a State Department effort to review their previous, unsuccessful negotiations, to determine what went wrong. I wrote about the 1995-2000 Taliban talks for COMMENTARY, but I was glad to see Karl Inderfurth, a participant in those earlier negotiations, revisit his experience in Foreign Policy. He counseled better preparation for negotiations:

“Several probing questions need to be asked of Taliban representatives,” he wrote:

  • Do the Taliban accept a political solution to the Afghanistan conflict, and what is their vision of it?
  • Do the Taliban have a political and economic plan for the future of Afghanistan?
  • Will they accept the international instruments to which Afghanistan has acceded, particularly with regard to human rights?
  • Will they honor and enforce the rights of women, minorities and ethnic groups?
  • Will they respect the role of shuras (tribal councils): local, provincial and national?
  • Are they willing to support and abide by internationally acceptable mechanisms of legitimization, like elections, referendums or tribal consensus?

None of these questions, he related, could be answered affirmatively in the 1990s. “Can they be [answered affirmatively] today?” he asked.

Without undertaking extensive reviews of lessons learned, regular role-playing exercises—the diplomatic equivalent of war games with seasoned experts playing adversaries—and preparing extensively ahead of meetings, American diplomats, no matter how capable they might be, will get played.

Diplomacy can’t be done off the cuff, and failed episodes should never be forgotten. Inderfurth concludes his article by quoting Winston Churchill’s famous quip that “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” There’s a reason, however, why the United States has the most powerful military in the world, but at present lags behind in effective diplomacy.

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Weak Obama May Back Off Church Attack

President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

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President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

Given how strongly Obama’s base feels about the issue, that won’t be easy. One of the prime motivations for liberal support for the contraception mandate is that it enables the government to put the Catholic Church in its place. Making the church bend to the will of its secular critics is part of the attraction of the issue for liberals. A presidential retreat on the point is inevitalbe, now that Obama realizes there will be a heavy political cost to be paid. The White House may also realize the longer this issue stays on the front-burner the more it will endanger the president’s signature health care legislation from which it emanates. Whatever his instincts about the issue, the president simply hasn’t the stomach for a knock-down, drag-out battle to diminish religious freedom.

This episode is the Obama administration in capsule form. The problem arose from a knee-jerk ideological mandate that was imposed regardless of principle or the political cost. But once the president was called to account, his instinct was to back down. This pattern has been repeated many times in the last few years and has served to infuriate conservatives and disillusion liberals. While an administration walk back of this blunder is to be encouraged, Obama’s lack of leadership and weakness must be recognized for what it is: a formula for a one-term presidency.

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Does Obama Really Need a Super PAC?

Yesterday, there was news the Obama campaign would be starting a Super PAC before the 2012 election. Alana posted about it, stating: “After blasting Super PACs as the source of everything evil in politics for the past two years, the Obama campaign has suddenly done an about face and openly started working with one. But, as Jim Messina stressed on the campaign blog last night, it’s not because Obama wants to. No, it’s because he needs to, in order to win the election. And as we all know, winning is more important anything, especially principles and personal integrity.”

Today, on the Politico website, a poll asked visitors: “What do you think of President Obama’s decision to throw his support behind a Super PAC?” Of the respondents to this incredibly unscientific poll, 59 percent of people thought: “It’s necessary. He can’t win with one arm tied behind his back.”

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Yesterday, there was news the Obama campaign would be starting a Super PAC before the 2012 election. Alana posted about it, stating: “After blasting Super PACs as the source of everything evil in politics for the past two years, the Obama campaign has suddenly done an about face and openly started working with one. But, as Jim Messina stressed on the campaign blog last night, it’s not because Obama wants to. No, it’s because he needs to, in order to win the election. And as we all know, winning is more important anything, especially principles and personal integrity.”

Today, on the Politico website, a poll asked visitors: “What do you think of President Obama’s decision to throw his support behind a Super PAC?” Of the respondents to this incredibly unscientific poll, 59 percent of people thought: “It’s necessary. He can’t win with one arm tied behind his back.”

Without Super PACs, how much of a disadvantage would Obama really be in a general election? In July, the Huffington Post reported Obama’s record-breaking fundraising numbers–$86 million in just three months, which outpaced the total fundraising by all the Republican challengers combined by more than double.

As evidenced by last night’s Rick Santorum sweep, the Republican primary battles are likely to be drawn out and expensive for all three possible nominees. While money doesn’t necessarily buy victory (again, as evidenced last night by the cash-strapped Santorum campaign), it does help buy firepower like the Obama campaign’s 30-minute long informercial at the end of the 2008 election.

Going into the general election, whomever the Republican nominee is, will be at an incredible financial disadvantage. The Obama campaign is going to have a fundraising edge over his opponent that will make the race appear to be between David and Goliath.

The decision to take Super PAC money will likely only increase Obama’s exponentially larger coffers by a few fold. As Alana discussed, that could be more damaging in further alienating the far left who have spent the last two years calling the Citizens United ruling the most dangerous to the political process and freedom in decades. It opens yet another opportunity for the GOP to call Obama on yet another broken promise, highlighting his hypocrisy on yet another issue.  The response to the Super PAC decision is an opportunity for the nominee and the party. It’s an admission that Super PACs aren’t as unethical as they have been portrayed during the past two years and that Obama once again plays by his own set of rules. If Obama wants to make this election premised on class warfare, the Republican nominee can, and should, point out who the unprincipled one percent of the race is at every given opportunity.

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Don’t Trust “Pro-Contraceptive” Poll

A new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, which found the majority of Catholics support the Obama administration’s mandate for employers to provide health care plans covering free contraceptives, has been getting a ton of media attention the past two days.

But don’t buy into it so fast. A peek into the poll’s methodology raises enough red flags to invite serious questions about its conclusion. The leadership board of the organization that conducted the poll also includes several of President Obama’s current and former religious advisers (Rabbi David Saperstein sits on his religious advisory board, and Lisa Sowle Cahill advised his campaign in 2008).

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A new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, which found the majority of Catholics support the Obama administration’s mandate for employers to provide health care plans covering free contraceptives, has been getting a ton of media attention the past two days.

But don’t buy into it so fast. A peek into the poll’s methodology raises enough red flags to invite serious questions about its conclusion. The leadership board of the organization that conducted the poll also includes several of President Obama’s current and former religious advisers (Rabbi David Saperstein sits on his religious advisory board, and Lisa Sowle Cahill advised his campaign in 2008).

Here are three problems that immediately jump out:

1.)   No breakdown of the number of Catholic respondents.

The poll was taken from a random sample of 1,009 American adults aged 18 or older. But it doesn’t include the percentage of the sample that’s Catholic, making it impossible to figure out how meaningful the data from this group is.

2.)   Strange sample weighting.

In a poll on religious opinions, you’d expect the pollster to weigh the sample to account for accurate representation of religious affiliation. But the sample in this poll was only weighted to the following five parameters: age, sex, geographic region, education and telephone usage. The last two – education and telephone usage – seem to be far less consequential to the poll than religion, and it’s hard to see why they’d be included when religious affiliation was not. Occasionally, weighting can be used to manipulate polling data.

3.)   An odd disclaimer.

Polls typically include a margin of error. In this case, the margin is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. But they don’t usually include disclaimers like this: “In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context and order effects.”

Those are all controllable errors that professional pollsters are expected to avoid.

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Union Boss Tells Poor: “Life’s Not Fair”

The hypocrisy of opponents of school choice schemes has never been a big secret. But rarely has that quality been so brazenly exhibited as by Vincent Giordano, the head of the New Jersey Education Association, in a recent interview on New Jersey public television. When asked why he opposes giving poor parents the same opportunity to take their kids out of failing public schools and into successful private or religious institutions the wealthy have, the teachers union boss, who makes more than half a million in salary and other compensation, replied: “Life’s not always fair.”

Giordano, who has been a major antagonist of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has been doing his best to obstruct education reform in the Garden State. And, like all teachers union officials, he is ready to fight to the death to prevent school choice plans that would allow parents to use the money the state allocates to educate their kids to purchase better education than is often provided in failing public schools. But perhaps it is unfair to single out Giordano as he is no more of a hypocrite on this matter than President Obama.

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The hypocrisy of opponents of school choice schemes has never been a big secret. But rarely has that quality been so brazenly exhibited as by Vincent Giordano, the head of the New Jersey Education Association, in a recent interview on New Jersey public television. When asked why he opposes giving poor parents the same opportunity to take their kids out of failing public schools and into successful private or religious institutions the wealthy have, the teachers union boss, who makes more than half a million in salary and other compensation, replied: “Life’s not always fair.”

Giordano, who has been a major antagonist of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has been doing his best to obstruct education reform in the Garden State. And, like all teachers union officials, he is ready to fight to the death to prevent school choice plans that would allow parents to use the money the state allocates to educate their kids to purchase better education than is often provided in failing public schools. But perhaps it is unfair to single out Giordano as he is no more of a hypocrite on this matter than President Obama.

Obama, it should be recalled, did his best to end a successful experiment in school choice in the District of Columbia that allowed some poor children to escape the collapsing D.C. public education system and go to elite private schools like the Sidwell Friends School. Of course, Sidwell happens to be good enough for the president’s two daughters but not for the poor.

Obama and his teachers union allies are determined to defend the public school monopoly at all costs and oppose all efforts to allow parents to use state aid to educate as they think best. Their top down model suits the unions and their liberal political allies but not the nation’s children. Their answer to the needs of the poor who are victimized by failing public schools is always a form of the “life’s not always fair” answer given by Giordano even when it is not uttered with such shamelessness.

The question that must be put to them remains the same that advocates of choice have been asking for decades: Are not the children of the poor made in the image of God the same as that of the wealthy? And if so, how dare our nation’s leaders and educators value their liberal ideological prejudices in favor of state schools over the best interests of the children?

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Russia’s Diplomacy Embarrasses the World

Perhaps the only optimistic note we can take out of Russia’s “diplomatic initiative” in Syria is that everyone outside those two countries sees it for the cynical opportunism and obnoxious grandstanding that it is.

As I wrote yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit with Bashar al-Assad was not only dismissive of the ongoing slaughter of the Syrian people but a transparent attempt to buy time for Vladimir Putin. Today, the New York Times reports that when asked about the Russian farce, world leaders tried their best not to laugh in reporters’ faces:

In Paris, the French foreign minster, Alain Juppé, called the Syrian promises of talks “manipulation,” while in London, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said he had “very little confidence” in Russia’s initiative.

Adding to the turmoil, Turkey, a major regional player neighboring Syria, was said to be weighing its own initiative toward securing a broad consensus on ending the violence. A day after the Syria-Russia talks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was planning to discuss the crisis by phone with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, according to the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

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Perhaps the only optimistic note we can take out of Russia’s “diplomatic initiative” in Syria is that everyone outside those two countries sees it for the cynical opportunism and obnoxious grandstanding that it is.

As I wrote yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit with Bashar al-Assad was not only dismissive of the ongoing slaughter of the Syrian people but a transparent attempt to buy time for Vladimir Putin. Today, the New York Times reports that when asked about the Russian farce, world leaders tried their best not to laugh in reporters’ faces:

In Paris, the French foreign minster, Alain Juppé, called the Syrian promises of talks “manipulation,” while in London, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said he had “very little confidence” in Russia’s initiative.

Adding to the turmoil, Turkey, a major regional player neighboring Syria, was said to be weighing its own initiative toward securing a broad consensus on ending the violence. A day after the Syria-Russia talks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was planning to discuss the crisis by phone with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, according to the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Welcome to a multipolar world. You can sense the frustration of American leaders as well, by the way. Susan Rice, our ambassador to the United Nations, seems to be discovering her inner John Bolton. When Russia and China vetoed a finger-wagging resolution on Syria, she declared herself “disgusted” that “members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.” Asked last night on CNN what her message to Assad is, she answered: “Your days are numbered.”

Not if the Russians have anything to say about it. Lavrov could have at least asked Assad to take a day off from the annihilation of innocents while Lavrov was on an official state visit to Damascus. But why? Against the backdrop of the massacres, Lavrov put out a statement essentially blaming the protesters for the violence. Why not? Who is going to do anything about it?

On January 23, Princeton’s Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested it might be time to intervene in Syria. Last week, Georgetown’s Daniel Byman threw his support behind intervention. Rice may have found her inner Bolton, but academia seems to have found its inner Tony Blair. That the Turks took one look at Russia’s “diplomacy” and said maybe we ought to do this ourselves tells you much about the inherent chaos of these popular uprisings. It has helped the credibility of the protesters not to have visible leaders who could be targeted or discredited, but a leaderless revolution often gets initial results and then leaves the question hanging in the air: What happens now?

Russia has now humiliated the international community twice in the past week, all in the service of murderous tyranny. We may not be out of diplomatic options, but the West better find someone other than Russia to conduct that diplomacy.

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Michigan Will Be Do or Die for Romney

In the wake of Rick Santorum’s big night yesterday, Mitt Romney might be inclined to tell himself that the Pennsylvanian can’t duplicate those victories elsewhere and that his advantage in money and organization will ultimately enable him to prevail in most states in a race that now looks to be long and hard but still in his pocket. But he should put all such consoling thoughts out of his head. Though Santorum is still weak where Romney is strong, all that could change later this month if he wins in another state where everyone is assuming Romney can’t lose.

Romney needs to approach the next two primaries in Michigan and Arizona as if his hopes for the presidency depend on them, because they do. If Santorum comes out of nowhere to steal either, but especially Michigan from Romney, then not only will there be no more talk of the former Massachusetts governor’s inevitability, but it would be the end of his frontrunner status. Losing his home state would prove that all of Romney’s advantages are worthless and that Santorum’s working class appeal is real. Romney must go to Michigan and fight hard there these next three weeks because if he loses it, he may lose the nomination.

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In the wake of Rick Santorum’s big night yesterday, Mitt Romney might be inclined to tell himself that the Pennsylvanian can’t duplicate those victories elsewhere and that his advantage in money and organization will ultimately enable him to prevail in most states in a race that now looks to be long and hard but still in his pocket. But he should put all such consoling thoughts out of his head. Though Santorum is still weak where Romney is strong, all that could change later this month if he wins in another state where everyone is assuming Romney can’t lose.

Romney needs to approach the next two primaries in Michigan and Arizona as if his hopes for the presidency depend on them, because they do. If Santorum comes out of nowhere to steal either, but especially Michigan from Romney, then not only will there be no more talk of the former Massachusetts governor’s inevitability, but it would be the end of his frontrunner status. Losing his home state would prove that all of Romney’s advantages are worthless and that Santorum’s working class appeal is real. Romney must go to Michigan and fight hard there these next three weeks because if he loses it, he may lose the nomination.

The irony for Romney is that of all the upcoming primaries, Michigan may be the best suited to respond positively to Santorum’s paean to rust belt values. Romney’s inability to connect with both conservatives and ordinary voters has handicapped him throughout the race, but in Michigan, with its depressed economy and dependence on the auto industry, it is as much of a hindrance as in the general election. Michigan, with its high unemployment and working class electorate, provides Santorum with a receptive audience for his own version of class warfare politics.

Colorado, a state where Romney was heavily favored and leading in the polls, is proof the frontrunner’s support is skin deep. Santorum came from behind to win it for a number of reasons, but the biggest of them is Republican voters are starting to respond to his message and to view him as the most likeable candidate left in the race.

If Romney thinks a barrage of negative ads can alter that dynamic, he hasn’t been paying attention. Santorum was thoroughly humanized in a way he had never been by the focus on his daughter’s illness. All of Sheldon Adelson’s money couldn’t buy better publicity for a candidate than Santorum has received from this story because it was not only touching, but it brought out the best side of a politician who has most often been perceived as a dour public scold. If the voters perceive Romney is trying to bury him with attacks, it will only make Santorum look like a victim.

Romney needs to concentrate on his economic expertise and start sounding like he cares about the voters. He has a good story to tell, but if he gets bogged down in negativity at Santorum’s expense, it will do him no good. But whatever he does, he must go all out in Michigan. A loss there to Santorum, something most of us would have thought unimaginable, is not impossible. If it happens, it will fundamentally alter the dynamic of the race and make Santorum’s nomination a more plausible scenario. It will also cause many of those Republicans who flocked to Romney simply because they thought he would win to abandon him. He must win in Michigan or start thinking about going home for real.

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Where’s the Syria Flotilla?

In May 2010, a Turkish Islamist charity with close ties to Turkey’s ruling party sponsored a flotilla which it claimed was to relieve suffering in the Gaza Strip, never mind that the standard of living in Gaza surpasses that in Turkey, according to several different measures. Many self-described human rights activists and pacifist groups joined the “Save Gaza” chorus and donated their time and money to sponsoring flotillas which, in effect, would support and supply Hamas but contribute little to humanitarian causes. Here, for example, is a press release from the American Friends Service Committee, the Quakers’ non-governmental organization:

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In May 2010, a Turkish Islamist charity with close ties to Turkey’s ruling party sponsored a flotilla which it claimed was to relieve suffering in the Gaza Strip, never mind that the standard of living in Gaza surpasses that in Turkey, according to several different measures. Many self-described human rights activists and pacifist groups joined the “Save Gaza” chorus and donated their time and money to sponsoring flotillas which, in effect, would support and supply Hamas but contribute little to humanitarian causes. Here, for example, is a press release from the American Friends Service Committee, the Quakers’ non-governmental organization:

HELP LAUNCH A U.S. BOAT TO JOIN THE NEXT GAZA FREEDOM FLOTILLA

Break the Siege of Gaza

THIS IS OUR MOMENT TO ACT

Your Donations Will:
Purchase a Boat
Secure a Sailing Crew
Carry Human Rights Activists to the Shores of Gaza
Help to Rebuild Gaza

SUPPORT A VAST CIVIL SOCIETY EFFORT

The U.S. Government Sends Boats to the Middle East Carrying Arms. We Will Send a Boat to Open the Borders, and to Stand for Human Rights and the Right to Rebuild a Free Palestine.

HOLD ISRAEL ACCOUNTABLE TO INTERNATIONAL LAW

END THE OCCUPATION OF PALESTINE

HELP US SAIL SOON

EVERY MOMENT COUNTS

EVERY DOLLAR COUNTS

Alas, the American Friends Service Committee as well as Mennonite, Presbyterian, and pacifist organizations are silent on the atrocities in Syria, let alone prepared to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. Others, meanwhile, actively support the Syrian regime. How telling.

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Romney’s Excuse

Mike Allen reports on the message coming out of the Romney campaign after his three losses – and one third place showing in Minnesota, behind Ron Paul – last night:

“It’s about delegates. We could have made the decision to spend money, resources [in Colo. and Minn.], but we had to be pretty tough-minded about it — just to be focused on the delegates, and on Super Tuesday [March 6]. We could have run television, run radio, or spent more time. You can’t do everything. You gotta run your race. We’ll wake up tomorrow, focused on winning Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Super Tuesday. Hats off to Santorum: It’s a really good night for Santorum. It’s a really BAD night for Newt.”

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Mike Allen reports on the message coming out of the Romney campaign after his three losses – and one third place showing in Minnesota, behind Ron Paul – last night:

“It’s about delegates. We could have made the decision to spend money, resources [in Colo. and Minn.], but we had to be pretty tough-minded about it — just to be focused on the delegates, and on Super Tuesday [March 6]. We could have run television, run radio, or spent more time. You can’t do everything. You gotta run your race. We’ll wake up tomorrow, focused on winning Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Super Tuesday. Hats off to Santorum: It’s a really good night for Santorum. It’s a really BAD night for Newt.”

If Mitt Romney had won all three states last night, pundits would probably be dismissing them as largely inconsequential. But Rick Santorum’s three-state sweep creates a comeback narrative, giving the contests (even the entirely symbolic one in Missouri) a lot more weight. While he still trails Romney in the delegate count, Santorum now leads him in number of states won – a remarkable accomplishment that literally changes the dynamic of the race overnight.

The Romney campaign is right about one thing: Santorum devoted much more time than Romney did to campaigning in Colorado and Minnesota. But Romney didn’t exactly ignore the states either. He spent time there, and his Super PAC ran TV ads. As frontrunner, he had an advantage, especially in Minnesota where Tim Pawlenty campaigned for him, and in Colorado, which he won in the last GOP primary. His loss in the states raises the old concern – yet again – about whether he has what it takes to seal the deal with GOP voters.

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It’s Time to Scrap the Fly America Act

It’s no secret the private sector creates wealth and government squanders it. There was, of course, the proposed Bridge to Nowhere, Nancy Pelosi’s decision to spend millions in taxpayer money to assist the harvest mouse, or any number of projects highlighted on a regular basis by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Government waste is not just about pork, however, but regulation. Take the Fly America Act, a law which dates back to the Ford administration. In short, the Fly America Act requires anyone traveling on U.S. government business or on projects funded by the U.S. government to buy tickets on American carriers rather than non-U.S. flag carriers. This can add thousands of dollars per ticket and affects not only diplomats or federal government officials, but also state government bureaucrats, public university employees, and scientists and professors at private universities which receive government grants.

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It’s no secret the private sector creates wealth and government squanders it. There was, of course, the proposed Bridge to Nowhere, Nancy Pelosi’s decision to spend millions in taxpayer money to assist the harvest mouse, or any number of projects highlighted on a regular basis by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Government waste is not just about pork, however, but regulation. Take the Fly America Act, a law which dates back to the Ford administration. In short, the Fly America Act requires anyone traveling on U.S. government business or on projects funded by the U.S. government to buy tickets on American carriers rather than non-U.S. flag carriers. This can add thousands of dollars per ticket and affects not only diplomats or federal government officials, but also state government bureaucrats, public university employees, and scientists and professors at private universities which receive government grants.

The expense can be tremendous. For example, next month, I’ll fly to a small town in Romania under the sponsorship of the U.S. military to teach a class to Romanian officers heading to Afghanistan. My ticket on Expedia would cost $800 or so. But, because of U.S. government regulations—including Fly America—my ticket will instead cost about $4,500. Multiply episodes like this thousands of times per day and it adds up.

What about code shares? A Canadian friend of mine often comes to the United States to support the U.S. military. He could purchase a ticket on Air Canada for a few hundred dollars, but his contractor instead insists he purchase the ticket through a U.S. carrier. The U.S. carrier will, because of its code share, put him on the same exact plane, but the ticket might be $2,500 more expensive. Simply put, the Fly America Act takes no consideration of ticket cost or, in most cases, convenience. Fly America can add $1,000 to simple legs, like Washington to Toronto.

Congress may have passed the Fly America Act to support American airlines in an age where protectionism ran rampant, but with broad alliances and international air cooperation, that moment has passed. It’s time to ask whether Congress should encourage waste to the tune of billions of dollars per year, or whether government should instead aspire to be lean and efficient.

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Use Syria to Delegitimize Iran

Strategists teach that a coherent strategy should always have diplomatic, informational, military, and economic components.  When grouped together, each component can amplify the effectiveness of the others. The reason why American strategy across administrations is often so incoherent and ineffective is that Americans either handle these components separately, or they sequence strategies rather than take a broader approach.

Take Iran: The Obama administration initially sought diplomacy, and only after the Iranians spurned Obama’s outreach did his administration—prodded by Congress—impose sanctions. Many politicians say military strategies are a last resort, even though military strategies encompass not only bombing, but also containment and deterrence. Informational strategies are the most ignored. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, coordinate no clear strategy. Voice of America’s Persian Service is as likely to castigate American policy as criticize the Iranian regime.

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Strategists teach that a coherent strategy should always have diplomatic, informational, military, and economic components.  When grouped together, each component can amplify the effectiveness of the others. The reason why American strategy across administrations is often so incoherent and ineffective is that Americans either handle these components separately, or they sequence strategies rather than take a broader approach.

Take Iran: The Obama administration initially sought diplomacy, and only after the Iranians spurned Obama’s outreach did his administration—prodded by Congress—impose sanctions. Many politicians say military strategies are a last resort, even though military strategies encompass not only bombing, but also containment and deterrence. Informational strategies are the most ignored. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, coordinate no clear strategy. Voice of America’s Persian Service is as likely to castigate American policy as criticize the Iranian regime.

It’s time the United States engage in informational and ideological battle with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even if White House or State Department doves seek diplomacy with Iran, there is no reason why the United States should not simultaneously seek to de-legitimize the Islamic Republic.

Nowhere does the United States have a greater opportunity to do so than with regard to Syria. Iranian leaders, like other authoritarians, often couch their actions in the rhetoric of social justice. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for example, spoke about social justice—which he equated with the expansion of Islam—during his Friday prayer sermon on February 3. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini spoke often of social justice. What is occurring now in Syria, however, is the antithesis of justice, social or otherwise. Simply put, the Iranian regime is giving aid and comfort to a dictator who is killing unarmed civilians in cold blood.

Bahraini Shi’ites listen regularly to Iranian media because it covers their plight but, at the same time, castigate it for its bias on Syria, no matter that the victims in the Syrian crackdown are disproportionately Sunni. If Arab Shi’ites turn against Iran because of Syria, how might Iranians react if they knew the truth?

Indeed, one phenomenon that should worry everyone is the rise of Qassem Sulaymani, the head of Iran’s Qods Force. Usually, heads of shadowy terrorist networks like to live in the shadows yet, during the past few years, Sulaymani has built and carefully cultivated a personality cult which he might ultimately leverage in a run for the presidency. Sulaymani reportedly has been aiding if not coordinating repression in Syria, actions unpalatable even to Iranians, according to their comments beneath Iranian news articles. Yet, the United States remains largely silent on Sulaymani’s actions rather than shining a spotlight which depicts him as a murderous thug and not a war hero, as he likes to be described in Iran.

The United States should be relentless in highlighting Iranian abuses, hypocrisy, and the true character of the Iranian regime. It should do so on a daily basis not only in English, but also in Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, and last but not least, Persian. We should never cede any battlefield to Iran, not the Persian Gulf, not the oil industry, and not the informational battlefield.

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Has Romney Snatched Defeat From the Jaws of Victory?

Rick Santorum’s stunning sweep of the Tuesday primary/caucus schedule has altered a race many of us thought had finally and irrevocably swung the way of Mitt Romney after his big wins in Florida and Nevada. Romney’s camp will try to spin his defeats in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado as just a momentary bump on the road to Tampa, and there are good reasons to believe he will still eventually win. But Santorum’s hat trick comes at a moment when even conservatives were starting to buy into the idea that the former Massachusetts governor was the inevitable nominee. Moreover, the reason why Romney lost undermines the basic rationale of his candidacy.

While Romney’s comment on CNN last week about not wanting to help the poor was taken out of context, it still betrayed the candidate’s inability to connect with ordinary voters. He not only doesn’t talk like a conservative. He comes across as out of touch with their concerns and those of everyday citizens. Romney’s technocratic approach to problem solving may seem to be ideal to help fix an economic downturn, but a man who makes such gaffes cannot be said to be a lock to beat a Democratic incumbent who will ruthlessly demagogue the Republicans via class warfare tactics. Because Romney’s number one asset is his electability, the remark about the poor, which came at a moment when the national economic statistics seemed to brighten, made him look like the wrong man at the wrong moment. Yesterday’s results must leave Republicans wondering whether Santorum has the ability to take advantage of his wins and if Romney’s strengths are sufficient to overcome this setback.

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Rick Santorum’s stunning sweep of the Tuesday primary/caucus schedule has altered a race many of us thought had finally and irrevocably swung the way of Mitt Romney after his big wins in Florida and Nevada. Romney’s camp will try to spin his defeats in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado as just a momentary bump on the road to Tampa, and there are good reasons to believe he will still eventually win. But Santorum’s hat trick comes at a moment when even conservatives were starting to buy into the idea that the former Massachusetts governor was the inevitable nominee. Moreover, the reason why Romney lost undermines the basic rationale of his candidacy.

While Romney’s comment on CNN last week about not wanting to help the poor was taken out of context, it still betrayed the candidate’s inability to connect with ordinary voters. He not only doesn’t talk like a conservative. He comes across as out of touch with their concerns and those of everyday citizens. Romney’s technocratic approach to problem solving may seem to be ideal to help fix an economic downturn, but a man who makes such gaffes cannot be said to be a lock to beat a Democratic incumbent who will ruthlessly demagogue the Republicans via class warfare tactics. Because Romney’s number one asset is his electability, the remark about the poor, which came at a moment when the national economic statistics seemed to brighten, made him look like the wrong man at the wrong moment. Yesterday’s results must leave Republicans wondering whether Santorum has the ability to take advantage of his wins and if Romney’s strengths are sufficient to overcome this setback.

Romney’s loyalists will argue that Santorum is unelectable in November and his lack of a national organization and money still makes him a long shot for the nomination. There is also the fact that even if Santorum has definitely eclipsed a fading Newt Gingrich as the leading “not Romney” in the race, the former speaker is so driven by ambition and personal hatred of the frontrunner he won’t consider dropping out. Gingrich wasn’t on the ballot in Missouri’s non-binding primary and barely competed in Minnesota and Colorado. But even if it now seems unlikely he can rebound in March with wins on Super Tuesday, his continued presence in the race will divide the conservative vote to Romney’s advantage. Indeed, Romney will still be favored in Arizona and Michigan later this month and might even squeeze out a victory in Maine this week.

But by losing the Feb. 7 trifecta, Romney snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Had Romney won yesterday, he could have knocked off Santorum and solidified the narrative of his inevitability. By losing in Colorado where he was heavily favored, Romney has set up Santorum to be a dangerous rival.

Unlike both Romney and Gingrich, Santorum has become a better candidate as the race has gone on. Though Romney reaped the benefits of Gingrich’s implosion in the debates before the Florida primary, it was actually Santorum who won those encounters on the issues. Santorum’s appeal to working class voters may appall some conservatives, but it puts him in a good position to exploit Romney’s weaknesses.

Even more important, he has carved out a unique niche in this campaign as the one candidate who won’t sling mud at his rivals. While Romney and Gingrich have appeared ruthless and cynical by their willingness to say anything about each other, Santorum has been humanized by the campaign as voters got to know his family and to sympathize with him as the father of a sick and disabled child.

It should be remembered the only reason why Romney was able to become the frontrunner was the failure of more viable conservatives to get into the race or to put themselves forward as plausible candidates. Santorum seemed the most unlikely of all the contenders to get this far. But he is a genuine conservative on social issues and has the best grasp of foreign policy of any of those still standing. Though he is vulnerable on his record of support for earmarks and spending while in the Senate, should Romney attempt to “carpet bomb” him with negative ads in the upcoming primaries it will do more damage to himself than Santorum.

Santorum is still a long way from being considered a likely nominee, but his victories have changed this race from a cakewalk for a Romney to a genuine fight in which the frontrunner is favored but not certain to win. If Romney is to ultimately prevail, he will have to improve his game in the coming weeks and months. If he doesn’t, he may wind up looking back to this past week as the moment he blew the nomination.

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