Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 8, 2012

More Evidence of a Weak Economy

The Department of Labor releases the unemployment figures tomorrow morning. But here is a noteworthy economic finding. Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, increased to 9.1 percent in February from 8.6 percent in January. The 0.5-percentage-point increase in February compared with January is the largest such month-to-month change Gallup has recorded in its not-seasonally adjusted measure since December 2010.

There’s more. In addition to the 9.1 percent of workers who are unemployed, 10.0 percent are working part time but want full-time work. (This  percentage is higher than the 9.6 percent of February 2011.) As a result, in February Gallup’s underemployment measure, which combines the percentage of workers who are unemployed and the percentage working part time but wanting full-time work, increased to 19.1 — or almost one in five people.

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The Department of Labor releases the unemployment figures tomorrow morning. But here is a noteworthy economic finding. Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, increased to 9.1 percent in February from 8.6 percent in January. The 0.5-percentage-point increase in February compared with January is the largest such month-to-month change Gallup has recorded in its not-seasonally adjusted measure since December 2010.

There’s more. In addition to the 9.1 percent of workers who are unemployed, 10.0 percent are working part time but want full-time work. (This  percentage is higher than the 9.6 percent of February 2011.) As a result, in February Gallup’s underemployment measure, which combines the percentage of workers who are unemployed and the percentage working part time but wanting full-time work, increased to 19.1 — or almost one in five people.

Gallup concludes, “Regardless of what the government reports, Gallup’s unemployment and underemployment measures show a substantial deterioration since mid-January.”

The president’s hopes for re-election hinge on the economy getting significantly stronger, not weaker, between now and November. We’ll see what tomorrow’s Bureau of Labor Statistics job report brings. But based on Gallup’s findings, David Axelrod might want to keep the corks in the champagne bottle.

 

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No Proof of Iran Nukes? Satellite Images Continue to Erase Doubts

As the world debates what it, if anything, the West and Israel will do about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, there has been a constant undercurrent of skepticism in which it is claimed that suspicions about Tehran’s intentions are completely unfounded. The blowback from the intelligence failures prior to the Iraq war has given an undeserved credence to these attempts to stifle discussion of the issue. But though the political left continues to trumpet the belief that Iran is the victim of a conspiracy to rush to war, evidence continues to pile up that points to only one conclusion: the Iranians are working overtime to put a genocidal weapon in the hands of their fanatic Islamist leaders.

The latest addition to the dossier against Iran was presented in yesterday’s Guardian which published an article in which unnamed western diplomats leaked findings by International Atomic Energy Agency experts who said satellite images of an Iranian facility in Parchin reveal evidence of testing of an experimental neutron device used to trigger a nuclear explosion. If true, this gives the lie to the notion that the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program is medical research, as the regime claims. The only possible use for such a technology would be in the production of a weapon.

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As the world debates what it, if anything, the West and Israel will do about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, there has been a constant undercurrent of skepticism in which it is claimed that suspicions about Tehran’s intentions are completely unfounded. The blowback from the intelligence failures prior to the Iraq war has given an undeserved credence to these attempts to stifle discussion of the issue. But though the political left continues to trumpet the belief that Iran is the victim of a conspiracy to rush to war, evidence continues to pile up that points to only one conclusion: the Iranians are working overtime to put a genocidal weapon in the hands of their fanatic Islamist leaders.

The latest addition to the dossier against Iran was presented in yesterday’s Guardian which published an article in which unnamed western diplomats leaked findings by International Atomic Energy Agency experts who said satellite images of an Iranian facility in Parchin reveal evidence of testing of an experimental neutron device used to trigger a nuclear explosion. If true, this gives the lie to the notion that the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program is medical research, as the regime claims. The only possible use for such a technology would be in the production of a weapon.

According to the Guardian, satellite images revealed evidence of crews attempting to clean up the aftermath of tests that required the removal of huge amounts of contaminated soil that led experts to believe a neutron-initiator had been tried out there. This is not the first time the IAEA has uncovered worrisome signs from Parchin. Last fall, the agency said experiments with conventional high explosives that were meant to initiate a nuclear chain reaction had been conducted at the place. The Iranians have refused to allow international inspectors to visit Parchin, but it is expected that this ban will be lifted once the clean up effort there is completed.

The Iranians have been trying to cover their tracks on their nuclear program for years, but given the technology available to investigators, there is a limit to the amount of information Tehran can conceal from the world.

But no amount of high tech spy work can offset the sense of complacency about Iran that has infected much of the U.S. intelligence and defense establishment, many of whose members continue to feed the disinformation about the threat being disseminated by those who oppose efforts to stop Iran. As the dossier against Iran gets thicker, the validity of the excuses for delay and inaction are growing less credible. It may well be that President Obama has managed to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to put off a decision on striking Iran for the next few months. But while the world waits in vain for diplomacy to resolve this problem, there is little doubt the Iranians are working steadily toward realizing their nuclear ambitions.

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Citizens United Decision’s Real Victim: Incumbent Protection Plans

The primary defeat of an incumbent Republican member of Congress on Tuesday in Ohio has provoked some cries of dismay from the media and other sectors of the chattering classes. No one really cares about Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost her race in her Cincinnati-area district to a relatively unknown podiatrist. But the reason for concern we are told is the fact that Schmidt was, in part, taken down by a GOP insurgency in which a super PAC played a significant role. That’s the conceit of a New York Times feature this morning about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that limited the federal government’s ability to restrict political speech in the form of election advertisements. A Houston-based political action committee called the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent about $200,000 to help defeat Schmidt and is taking an active role in other races where incumbents are being challenged.

The Times story attempts to paint such super PACs as tools of corporate interests, which fits in with the liberal critique of Citizens United as undermining democracy. But the real moral of this story is very different. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents. The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan.

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The primary defeat of an incumbent Republican member of Congress on Tuesday in Ohio has provoked some cries of dismay from the media and other sectors of the chattering classes. No one really cares about Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost her race in her Cincinnati-area district to a relatively unknown podiatrist. But the reason for concern we are told is the fact that Schmidt was, in part, taken down by a GOP insurgency in which a super PAC played a significant role. That’s the conceit of a New York Times feature this morning about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that limited the federal government’s ability to restrict political speech in the form of election advertisements. A Houston-based political action committee called the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent about $200,000 to help defeat Schmidt and is taking an active role in other races where incumbents are being challenged.

The Times story attempts to paint such super PACs as tools of corporate interests, which fits in with the liberal critique of Citizens United as undermining democracy. But the real moral of this story is very different. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents. The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan.

As The Hill points out in their piece on Schmidt’s loss, ethics charges as well as her lack of sympathy for Tea Party principles made her vulnerable. Her opponent Brad Wenstrup was also a more formidable foe than was generally understood. But the infusion of cash into this race by the super PAC helped offset the otherwise enormous advantage that a sitting member of the House such as Schmidt has in such a primary. Incumbents are magnets for campaign contributions because everyone with a cause or an interest to be served by congressional legislation or influence wants to be in their good graces. There is no such incentive to help their challengers.

Incumbents always think there is something not quite kosher about anything that makes it easy for those out of power to hold them accountable. The mainstream media, which prizes its constitutionally protected right to exercise influence on elections, similarly looks askance at efforts to break up their monopoly on campaign information via campaign advertising. Citizens United has not injected more money into our political system since money has always been — and always will be — an integral part of campaigns. Though incumbents will always have great advantages, what the High Court has done is to tilt the playing field a little bit more towards the challengers. Though President Obama and the liberal chorus in which the Times plays a key role decries this change, what they are complaining about is more democracy, not less.

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Washington Should Help Syrian Opposition

There is something perverse and a little bit circular about the administration argument that we can’t help the Syrian opposition until they get better organized. As this National Journal article notes, Hillary Clinton last week told a House committee the opposition in Libya “had a face, both the people who were doing the outreach diplomatically and the fighters. We could actually meet with them. We could eyeball them. We could ask them tough questions. Here, you know, when [Ayman al-] Zawahiri of al-Qaida comes out and supports the Syrian opposition, you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘If we arm, who are we arming?”

The problem is that the Syrian opposition is not likely to get better organized until the U.S. and other outside powers make a decision to help them. In fact by deciding to provide money, arms, and other aid we could support the more moderate and responsible elements of the opposition while sidelining the extremists. No doubt we should be careful about where we distribute arms, but handing out small arms does not pose much of a strategic threat to Israel or other American allies even if they fall into the wrong hands. No one is suggesting giving Stingers to the Free Syrian Army.

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There is something perverse and a little bit circular about the administration argument that we can’t help the Syrian opposition until they get better organized. As this National Journal article notes, Hillary Clinton last week told a House committee the opposition in Libya “had a face, both the people who were doing the outreach diplomatically and the fighters. We could actually meet with them. We could eyeball them. We could ask them tough questions. Here, you know, when [Ayman al-] Zawahiri of al-Qaida comes out and supports the Syrian opposition, you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘If we arm, who are we arming?”

The problem is that the Syrian opposition is not likely to get better organized until the U.S. and other outside powers make a decision to help them. In fact by deciding to provide money, arms, and other aid we could support the more moderate and responsible elements of the opposition while sidelining the extremists. No doubt we should be careful about where we distribute arms, but handing out small arms does not pose much of a strategic threat to Israel or other American allies even if they fall into the wrong hands. No one is suggesting giving Stingers to the Free Syrian Army.

In addition to supporting responsible rebels, we should also be acting to grow the ranks of the moderate opposition by using all of the influence at our disposal to convince government, military and business leaders in Syria to defect. Instead, we are standing on the sidelines complaining about the deficiencies of the opposition even as Bashar al-Assad and his gang are slaughtering civilians in the street.

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A Race Without Gingrich?

Jonathan makes a persuasive case that Newt Gingrich will stick around for the long haul, but in the event that the former speaker does decide to drop out, how much would that boost Rick Santorum’s chances of winning the nomination? Nate Silver does the math, and finds the benefit could be significant:

Mr. Santorum would have carried four states that he actually lost. The first two are the ones Mr. Gingrich won originally, South Carolina and Georgia, although his margin would have been very small in South Carolina. His share of the Gingrich vote would also have been enough to push him past Mr. Romney in Ohio and Alaska. He would not have won Michigan — Mr. Gingrich received very few votes there so there was little marginal benefit to Mr. Santorum — although it would have flipped one congressional district and therefore given him the majority of delegates in the state. …

With those qualifications in mind, this general result should hold: Mr. Romney would still be significantly ahead in the delegate count. I have him with 404 delegates versus 264 for Mr. Santorum and 71 for Mr. Paul.

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Jonathan makes a persuasive case that Newt Gingrich will stick around for the long haul, but in the event that the former speaker does decide to drop out, how much would that boost Rick Santorum’s chances of winning the nomination? Nate Silver does the math, and finds the benefit could be significant:

Mr. Santorum would have carried four states that he actually lost. The first two are the ones Mr. Gingrich won originally, South Carolina and Georgia, although his margin would have been very small in South Carolina. His share of the Gingrich vote would also have been enough to push him past Mr. Romney in Ohio and Alaska. He would not have won Michigan — Mr. Gingrich received very few votes there so there was little marginal benefit to Mr. Santorum — although it would have flipped one congressional district and therefore given him the majority of delegates in the state. …

With those qualifications in mind, this general result should hold: Mr. Romney would still be significantly ahead in the delegate count. I have him with 404 delegates versus 264 for Mr. Santorum and 71 for Mr. Paul.

Under this model, Santorum would have more than 100 more delegates right now than he does currently. He’d been in a much more solid position but would still trail Romney by 140 delegates.

So, as much as the Santorum campaign is justified in trying to nudge Gingrich out, it’s simply not accurate to say Gingrich is the only thing holding Santorum back from slaying Romney. Even in a Newt-less race, Santorum would still have a tough path to the nomination. And the more states Gingrich sticks around for, the less Santorum stands to gain if/when the former speaker exits the field.

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Underestimating Mitt Romney

For the sake of the argument, let’s concede many of the points made by critics of Mitt Romney. Still, the tenor of the coverage of Super Tuesday – much of which has focused on what a weak candidate Romney is — strikes me as a bit odd. After all, Romney won six out of 10 states. He won a majority of the delegates. He overwhelmed his opponents in terms of the popular vote. He’s well ahead of the rest of the field in delegates (Romney’s lead over Rick Santorum is better than two-to-one). He’s won in every region in the country and the most important states.

It’s said time and again by his opponents that they were outspent by Romney, as if that somehow diminishes his victories. But here’s my deep insight of the day: Money is an important part of politics. And to complain that you’ve been beaten by Romney because he outspent you is like an NFL coach complaining they were defeated by the New England Patriots because the Patriots out-drafted your team. In football, drafts matter; and in politics, the ability to raise money and to put an organization together matters, too.

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For the sake of the argument, let’s concede many of the points made by critics of Mitt Romney. Still, the tenor of the coverage of Super Tuesday – much of which has focused on what a weak candidate Romney is — strikes me as a bit odd. After all, Romney won six out of 10 states. He won a majority of the delegates. He overwhelmed his opponents in terms of the popular vote. He’s well ahead of the rest of the field in delegates (Romney’s lead over Rick Santorum is better than two-to-one). He’s won in every region in the country and the most important states.

It’s said time and again by his opponents that they were outspent by Romney, as if that somehow diminishes his victories. But here’s my deep insight of the day: Money is an important part of politics. And to complain that you’ve been beaten by Romney because he outspent you is like an NFL coach complaining they were defeated by the New England Patriots because the Patriots out-drafted your team. In football, drafts matter; and in politics, the ability to raise money and to put an organization together matters, too.

Joe Klein referred to Bill Clinton as The Natural, and I rather doubt that anyone – including Ann Romney – will ever say that about Mitt Romney. His talents lie elsewhere. He wasn’t someone born to run. But in a primary in which other candidates seemed more in tune with the rhythms and currents of the party — who are able to bring audiences to their feet by warning about the dangers sharia law pose to America, who were championed by this and that talk radio hosts, and whose roots in the conservative movement go much deeper than Romney’s – the former Massachusetts governor has won, and won again.

I don’t know how good of a candidate Mitt Romney will be between now and November. But I do know this: There have been 23 contests since January. Romney has won 14 of them, finished second seven times, and finished third twice. And he’s come back to win key states (Florida, Michigan, and Ohio) after having been down by double digits just a week or so before the vote. That doesn’t make him a political colossus. It doesn’t make him the next president of the United States. But it does make him the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination. And that ain’t nothin’.

 

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CNN Bias Exposed by Breitbart Video

The much-hyped Andrew Breitbart video of President Obama’s college days we’ve been hearing about didn’t live up to all the talk. It shows Obama embracing and praising a radical Harvard professor when he was at law school, and while it’s an interesting peak into Obama’s younger years, it’s not exactly a bombshell.

But, as Ed Morrissey explains, that’s not the point. “The point of Andrew [Breitbart]’s final project isn’t so much to make Obama’s early radical ties clear; it’s to point out how the media tried to keep them quiet.”

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The much-hyped Andrew Breitbart video of President Obama’s college days we’ve been hearing about didn’t live up to all the talk. It shows Obama embracing and praising a radical Harvard professor when he was at law school, and while it’s an interesting peak into Obama’s younger years, it’s not exactly a bombshell.

But, as Ed Morrissey explains, that’s not the point. “The point of Andrew [Breitbart]’s final project isn’t so much to make Obama’s early radical ties clear; it’s to point out how the media tried to keep them quiet.”

When the mainstream media considers it a major story that Rick Santorum’s wife once dated an abortion provider more than two decades ago, you have to wonder why it didn’t even merit a news brief that Obama is on video hugging and endorsing a radical academic who had some troubling views on white people and Jews – especially when you remember that his association with Jeremiah Wright was a big controversy back in ’08.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien (unintentionally) made this double standard even clearer today, when she tried to dismiss this as a non-story during a panel with Breitbart editor Joel Pollak. But she underestimated Pollak, and only ended up exposing her own bias and embarrassing her network in the process:

Making Obama’s “radical ties” an election issue is a losing strategy for Republicans, especially because there’s so much to attack him for in terms of his presidential record. But that doesn’t mean the media double standard for covering Republican and Democratic politicians isn’t infuriating. The Breitbart video campaign is aimed at exposing just that, and O’Brien’s comments today helped them along.

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Seven Reasons Why Newt Won’t Quit

In the wake of the Super Tuesday results that saw Newt Gingrich get beaten badly in every state but Georgia, more conservatives are talking about the necessity of the former House speaker dropping out of the presidential race if Mitt Romney is to be prevented from becoming the Republican nominee. Because Rick Santorum’s support was a multiple of his in every state but Georgia, the argument goes that it is incumbent on Gingrich to withdraw and allow Santorum to face Romney in a one-on-one battle in which the more conservative Pennsylvanian might be favored to win. Indeed, it can be argued that Gingrich’s presence on the ballot was the only reason why Santorum lost narrowly in both Michigan and Ohio in the last two weeks. If the sole object of conservatives is to nominate someone other than Romney, then Gingrich’s withdrawal appears to be not only logical but an imperative. However, the assumption that Gingrich will bow to these arguments ignores everything we know about him. Here are seven reasons why Newt isn’t likely to heed the call to withdraw:

1. He’s still holding on to hope of winning in other southern states. Gingrich’s camp is claiming he lost Tennessee because he’s concentrating on winning Alabama and Mississippi next week. But we were also told he was passing on some February contests to concentrate on Ohio where he turned out to be a non-factor this week. If there are any states where Gingrich does have a chance, it is in the Deep South, but given Santorum’s strength among evangelicals, the odds of him prevailing in either or both are dwindling. After another round of defeats, this excuse won’t hold much water.

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In the wake of the Super Tuesday results that saw Newt Gingrich get beaten badly in every state but Georgia, more conservatives are talking about the necessity of the former House speaker dropping out of the presidential race if Mitt Romney is to be prevented from becoming the Republican nominee. Because Rick Santorum’s support was a multiple of his in every state but Georgia, the argument goes that it is incumbent on Gingrich to withdraw and allow Santorum to face Romney in a one-on-one battle in which the more conservative Pennsylvanian might be favored to win. Indeed, it can be argued that Gingrich’s presence on the ballot was the only reason why Santorum lost narrowly in both Michigan and Ohio in the last two weeks. If the sole object of conservatives is to nominate someone other than Romney, then Gingrich’s withdrawal appears to be not only logical but an imperative. However, the assumption that Gingrich will bow to these arguments ignores everything we know about him. Here are seven reasons why Newt isn’t likely to heed the call to withdraw:

1. He’s still holding on to hope of winning in other southern states. Gingrich’s camp is claiming he lost Tennessee because he’s concentrating on winning Alabama and Mississippi next week. But we were also told he was passing on some February contests to concentrate on Ohio where he turned out to be a non-factor this week. If there are any states where Gingrich does have a chance, it is in the Deep South, but given Santorum’s strength among evangelicals, the odds of him prevailing in either or both are dwindling. After another round of defeats, this excuse won’t hold much water.

2. His source of funding hasn’t dried up yet. Gingrich hasn’t been raising much money lately but his super PAC isn’t broke and apparently casino mogul Sheldon Adelson hasn’t plugged the plug on him yet, perhaps because he rightly believes keeping his friend in the race will help his second choice, Romney. Considering that Gingrich was able to keep his campaign going on a shoestring throughout last summer and fall without much money in the bank, there’s no reason to think the lack of resources alone will persuade him to drop out now.

3. He doesn’t think much more of Santorum than of Romney. Gingrich may have been willing to praise Santorum back in January when he hoped that he would drop out and endorse him the way Herman Cain and Rick Perry did, but Gingrich appears to resent the notion that he has been supplanted by someone who was once very much his inferior in the GOP pecking order. Part of Gingrich’s enormous self-regard is his low opinion of those of his peers who are unwilling to treat him with the deference he thinks he deserves. This is a character trait that has often prevented Gingrich from playing nicely with the other children in the political sandbox.

4. He thinks Santorum can’t be elected. Though the polls and the primary results tell a different story, Gingrich really does believe that he is uniquely equipped to beat President Obama in November. While his calls for Lincoln-Douglas debates set the eyes of media pundits and politicians rolling, Gingrich may believe that Santorum’s political weaknesses, like those of Romney, make him unlikely to defeat Obama.

5. Dropping out would be an admission his critics were right. As we saw in his bizarre victory speech in Georgia this week, Gingrich is motivated as much by his desire to prove his numerous critics wrong as anything else. The idea that he can prevail despite his personal baggage and inconsistent policy record has become something of an article of faith with the former speaker. Pulling out now would mean everyone else was right and he was wrong, something that directly contradicts his view of reality.

6. He likes running for president. Withdrawal — especially in favor of someone he considers a lesser man — would not only be personally humiliating, it would put an end to all the attention the media has been paying to him. Gingrich sorely missed being the center of attention during his years out of office and though the burden of running for president is enough to crush many other men, he has thrived on it. Gingrich might have run just for the fun of being in the debates alone. Going back to being a political has-been is going to be tough, and like some athletes who hold on too long and have the uniforms torn off them, Newt will have to be dragged out of the race. He won’t leave it voluntarily no matter what the inducements might be.

7. Newt really thinks America deserves a Gingrich presidency. There are some politicians who run for president not so much because they want it but because they are so besotted with the notion of their own greatness that they think it is only fair to give their fellow citizens a chance to do the right thing and put them in the White House. Gingrich’s self-regard and love for his country is such that he will not willingly deny Americans this last opportunity to make him their president so long as even the faintest hope for such an outcome exists.

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Obama Quietly Trying to Kill Keystone Bill

Just yesterday, President Obama promised he was going to do whatever he could to speed up pipeline construction, and now it turns out he’s quietly lobbying behind the scenes for the exact opposite:

President Barack Obama is intervening in a Senate fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline and personally lobbying Democrats to reject an amendment calling for its construction, according to several sources familiar with the talks.

The White House lobbying effort, including phone calls from the president to Democrats, signals that the vote could be close when it heads to the floor Thursday. The president is trying to defeat an amendment that would give election-year fodder to his Republican critics who have accused him of blocking a job-creating energy project at a time of high gas prices.

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Just yesterday, President Obama promised he was going to do whatever he could to speed up pipeline construction, and now it turns out he’s quietly lobbying behind the scenes for the exact opposite:

President Barack Obama is intervening in a Senate fight over the Keystone XL oil pipeline and personally lobbying Democrats to reject an amendment calling for its construction, according to several sources familiar with the talks.

The White House lobbying effort, including phone calls from the president to Democrats, signals that the vote could be close when it heads to the floor Thursday. The president is trying to defeat an amendment that would give election-year fodder to his Republican critics who have accused him of blocking a job-creating energy project at a time of high gas prices.

The fact that Obama is personally inserting himself into this fight shows how worried the White House is. If the bill passes, Republicans will have a huge bludgeon to hit Obama with during the campaign. And if it fails, Republicans will still be able to blame Obama for blocking a pipeline that would create thousands of jobs and reduce U.S. dependency on OPEC. No wonder his campaign is panicking now that the national conversation is turning to rising gas prices.

But the longer Obama holds up Keystone XL construction, the more likely it becomes that Canada will take its oil exports elsewhere.  Alberta Premier Alison Redford said as much yesterday during a meeting with oil industry insiders in Washington, according to reports:

Meeting later Wednesday with Canadian diplomats and industry representatives, Redford again stressed Alberta’s plans to pursue exports to Asia rather than rely on the uncertainty in the U.S. market.

“We certainly want the United States to be our natural customers. But we are an exporting nation,” she said at a luncheon hosted by the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“We have resources that we must export and we will find ways to export those resources.”

Obama’s position on the Keystone XL issue has become so muddled that he’s ended up alienating all sides of the debate simultaneously. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, because that’s the way he operates on most issues involving a foreign ally.

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Standing Respectfully But Staying Mute

It’s worth wondering whether the non-controversy over the decision by an Israeli Supreme Court justice to not sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, last week is worth the space of a full article. But Ethan Bronner’s fair-minded and sober treatment of the issue recently in the New York Times does highlight something very important: the way in which Israel and Israelis usually successfully navigate the fault lines that do exist in a state both Jewish and democratic.

The justice in question, Salim Joubran, is a Christian Arab, and the first Arab appointed to a permanent seat on Israel’s highest court. In a publicly televised ceremony marking the retirement of the current chief justice and the installation of the next, Joubran stood but did not sing the words to the national anthem, which includes within it a reference to a “yearning Jewish soul” and focuses quite explicitly on the long Jewish dream to return to political independence in the Land of Israel.

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It’s worth wondering whether the non-controversy over the decision by an Israeli Supreme Court justice to not sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, last week is worth the space of a full article. But Ethan Bronner’s fair-minded and sober treatment of the issue recently in the New York Times does highlight something very important: the way in which Israel and Israelis usually successfully navigate the fault lines that do exist in a state both Jewish and democratic.

The justice in question, Salim Joubran, is a Christian Arab, and the first Arab appointed to a permanent seat on Israel’s highest court. In a publicly televised ceremony marking the retirement of the current chief justice and the installation of the next, Joubran stood but did not sing the words to the national anthem, which includes within it a reference to a “yearning Jewish soul” and focuses quite explicitly on the long Jewish dream to return to political independence in the Land of Israel.

Bronner found intemperate voices on both the right and left who sharpened their swords over the non-event, with Haaretz seeing it as another opportunity to impugn the Jewish character of the state as inherently discriminatory. Yet Bronner also wrote, “Most Israeli Jews, however, seemed to feel comfortable with Justice Joubran’s approach — standing respectfully but staying mute.” In other words, they seem to know instinctively that it is appropriate for a democracy to align its identity with that of the majority of its citizens, but that it must also make allowances for those who do not share that identity.

For his part, Joubran – who holds a position in Israeli society he is likely to find thankless far too often –  seemed to hit the right balance in his approach. There is no use denying that identification with the lyrics of “Hatikvah” may be impossible for fair reasons for non-Jewish citizens of Israel. But it is not too much for that state – on a cultural level – to ask that all its citizens and its public officials in particular still show the anthem appropriate respect, which standing in silence certainly does.

Where Bronner and Noah Kleiger, the Israeli commentator he quotes, go wrong is in their depiction of the Israeli case as unique. Kleiger may think that “Any British or French citizen – regardless of whether he is Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Jewish – can utter the words ‘God Save the Queen’ without a problem, because these words are suitable for everyone,” but he should ask atheists (or even those not quite comfortable with the idea that the Queen’s role as head of the British state and the Anglican church is God-given) whether or not they feel the same. Like the Israeli anthem, the British one makes specific claims about the identity of the British state, and it is an identity not shared by all British citizens. As in Israel, none of it makes the country any less free or democratic.

So if you’ve taken a moment to consider the extremely minor affair of Salim Joubran and the singing of “Hatikvah,” use it to consider well the way in which Israel continues to do a fine job of living up to its billing that it is both Jewish and democratic, regardless of what the critics have to say.

 

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Pakistan’s Guilt for Hosting Bin Laden

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar is a one-man encyclopedia of all things Afghanistan and Pakistan, and probably the best Afghan analyst I have ever met.  He’s also an extremely incisive analyst. Today, he tweets:

Pakistan charges Osama’s widows for illegal entry. Wouldn’t it be better if they’d done this to Osama? Or Mullah Omar and Haqqani leaders?

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My American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar is a one-man encyclopedia of all things Afghanistan and Pakistan, and probably the best Afghan analyst I have ever met.  He’s also an extremely incisive analyst. Today, he tweets:

Pakistan charges Osama’s widows for illegal entry. Wouldn’t it be better if they’d done this to Osama? Or Mullah Omar and Haqqani leaders?

Indeed. And, at the same time, isn’t charging Shikal Afridi, the doctor who confirmed bin Laden’s whereabouts, with treason evidence that Pakistan itself is guilty? After all, if the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, wasn’t shielding bin Laden, then what’s the state secret Afridi exposed?

Pakistan is not an ally. It is as much a rogue actor as the Taliban.

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A Model of Class and Grace

As the father of three children, and having been a young boy once myself, I know the enormous influence athletes can have in their lives and our culture. When I was growing up, Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys was my main sports hero, and I tried to model my character after his.

With that in mind, a word about Peyton Manning.

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As the father of three children, and having been a young boy once myself, I know the enormous influence athletes can have in their lives and our culture. When I was growing up, Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys was my main sports hero, and I tried to model my character after his.

With that in mind, a word about Peyton Manning.

Manning was released yesterday after 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts (another team is likely to sign him very soon; a dozen or so have already expressed interest in him.) In an era where we read about athletes breaking laws and codes of conduct – when too many of them cheat and act in ways that are selfish, narcissistic, and as if the rules don’t apply to them – Manning was a glowing exception. He is not only widely regarded as among the top three quarterbacks in NFL history, he is also respected for his work ethic, decency, and integrity. He has been a hugely positive figure in the Indianapolis community. And he comes from one of the great sports family in American history (his father, Archie, was quarterback for the New Orleans Saints and his younger brother Eli is quarterback for the New York Giants).

The departure with the Colts could have been ugly and rancorous. But thanks in large measure to Manning, it was anything but that. Do yourself a favor and watch this short clip of his press conference yesterday. You will see a man who embodies class bow out with grace.

 

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Hamas Won’t Stay Out of an Iran-Israel War

Yesterday, there was a flurry of attention when the Guardian reported that a member of Hamas’s Gaza political bureau said the terrorist group would stay out of any conflict between Israel and Iran. Such a stand fit in with the idea that Hamas had completely broken with its former patron and was now more interested in aligning itself with Egypt and bolstering its influence on the West Bank. If true, it would have been good news for Israel, but optimism on this score may have been, at best, premature. A more senior Hamas official is quoted today by an Iranian wire service as saying Hamas would indeed attack Israel in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran.

Ties between Hamas and Iran have become strained, especially after Hamas dropped its support for Tehran ally Bashar Assad in Syria. But it is difficult to imagine the group maintaining a cease-fire in a situation where Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are both launching missiles at Israel. Though Iran’s financial clout in Gaza has reportedly lessened in recent years, the ayatollahs probably understand the dynamic of Palestinian politics will always force Hamas to resort to violence if given the opportunity.

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Yesterday, there was a flurry of attention when the Guardian reported that a member of Hamas’s Gaza political bureau said the terrorist group would stay out of any conflict between Israel and Iran. Such a stand fit in with the idea that Hamas had completely broken with its former patron and was now more interested in aligning itself with Egypt and bolstering its influence on the West Bank. If true, it would have been good news for Israel, but optimism on this score may have been, at best, premature. A more senior Hamas official is quoted today by an Iranian wire service as saying Hamas would indeed attack Israel in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran.

Ties between Hamas and Iran have become strained, especially after Hamas dropped its support for Tehran ally Bashar Assad in Syria. But it is difficult to imagine the group maintaining a cease-fire in a situation where Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are both launching missiles at Israel. Though Iran’s financial clout in Gaza has reportedly lessened in recent years, the ayatollahs probably understand the dynamic of Palestinian politics will always force Hamas to resort to violence if given the opportunity.

The Iran-Hamas alliance has always been an awkward fit because of the Shia-Sunni religious differences between them. Unlike Hezbollah, which has always subordinated itself to its religious elders in Iran, Hamas has taken Tehran’s money and arms without pledging allegiance to the ayatollahs. But their Islamist worldview allowed for them to find common ground with Iran in their hatred for the West and Israel. And so long as Egypt was cooperating with Israel in quarantining Gaza, Hamas couldn’t be choosy about its friends. Now that Hamas’s Muslim Brotherhood allies are ascendant in Egypt, they are free to pick their own fights and need not take orders from Tehran.

But the idea that the terror group would stand down while the region was aflame runs contrary to everything we know about Hamas. It has built its reputation in Palestinian politics on violence, and for all the talk about transitioning to politics via its alliance with Fatah in the Palestinian Authority, its source of legitimacy remains its willingness to shed Israeli blood. So while Hamas may not be eager to start a fight with Israel it is sure to lose and is not of its own choosing, the humiliation of standing aside while Hezbollah and Iran attack the Jewish state might be more than its leaders can bear.

The question for Israel is not whether Hamas will fire missiles at southern Israel in the event of a strike on Iran but whether the group will hope to get by with just a token gesture rather than putting itself on a full war footing. Either way, Israel’s Defense Ministry is probably not assuming  its southern front will be quiet should war break out.

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Thank Israel, U.S. For Nuke-Free Regimes

If I were a Syrian rebel I’d be very appreciative of Israeli military might. Without Israel’s Operation Orchard, the 2007 airstrike on Bashar al-Assad’s nuclear reactor in eastern Syria, the dictator in Damascus would now be deterring any pro-rebel outside influence with a nuclear bomb. And depending on how bad things got for his regime, he might find his way to pushing the button. Toppled dictators like to take their walks of shame with big fiery bangs.

It’s amazing how despised preemptive action on the part of democracies ends up looking like a blessing when crises hit. Without the American invasion of Iraq, Muammar Qaddafi would have had an extensive WMD arsenal at his disposal while his regime unraveled last year. In March 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom woke him up to the consequences of WMD subterfuge and he gave up his program later in the year. So if not for Israeli and American preemptive action, the Arab Spring might very well have been far more deadly and destabilizing than it already is.

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If I were a Syrian rebel I’d be very appreciative of Israeli military might. Without Israel’s Operation Orchard, the 2007 airstrike on Bashar al-Assad’s nuclear reactor in eastern Syria, the dictator in Damascus would now be deterring any pro-rebel outside influence with a nuclear bomb. And depending on how bad things got for his regime, he might find his way to pushing the button. Toppled dictators like to take their walks of shame with big fiery bangs.

It’s amazing how despised preemptive action on the part of democracies ends up looking like a blessing when crises hit. Without the American invasion of Iraq, Muammar Qaddafi would have had an extensive WMD arsenal at his disposal while his regime unraveled last year. In March 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom woke him up to the consequences of WMD subterfuge and he gave up his program later in the year. So if not for Israeli and American preemptive action, the Arab Spring might very well have been far more deadly and destabilizing than it already is.

This all leads to the question of Iran. Of the many nightmare scenarios that could be birthed by a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic, the one that gets the least attention is arguably the most likely. Eventually, that thug regime will go the way of its neighbors and fall.  Indeed, the Arab Spring had a decidedly Persian kickoff. In June 2009, millions of Iranians took to the streets to demand justice in the wake of fixed presidential elections. There is no if about the fall of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And when it happens, does the world really want the mullahs who’ve been preaching Armageddon for three decades to have nuclear weapons? Leave aside the prospect of an Iranian-Israeli nuclear exchange, the misery of an Iranian-Saudi nuclear arms race, and the regional domination of a nuclear blackmailing Tehran. Peace-loving, America-fearing progressives better get their stories straight for the day the mullahs find out their time is up. If the Khomeinists face that prospect with nuclear weapons at their disposal, they’re likely to make Saddam Hussein’s exploding-oil-field retreat in 1991 look like a bunch of bonfires.

“We will destroy you all, even if we ourselves die in the process,” Ayatollah Khomeini said. “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah,” he offered on another occasion. “For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” Having watched one Arab Spring regime after another elect Islamists into office, the theocrats in Tehran will likely feel secure in the triumph of radical Islam before they self-immolate.

There are things much worse than Western military action. Foremost among them are those things that only Western military action can prevent or stop. Just ask the Syrians. It’s so bad for them they might even tell you the truth.

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More Evidence Obama is Beatable

According to conventional media wisdom, President Obama is likely to cruise to reelection next November. And when you’re just looking at the disaster of a GOP field, it’s easy to believe that. Neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum seems to have what it takes to win the White House.

The thing is, Americans don’t like Obama either. His average Gallup approval rating for February was 45 percent, and a full 50 percent of Americans believe his presidency has been a failure:

Obama’s job approval in February exceeds the lows seen last summer, when his monthly approval rating dipped to 41 percent from August through October. That followed a slide from 50 percent in May after the successful U.S. military mission in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. However, despite the recent improvement in his score, it has yet to recover to the level seen at the start of 2011, when 49 percent approved and 43 percent disapproved.

Apart from the rally in approval after the bin Laden mission, the last time Obama’s monthly approval rating averaged 50 percent or better was two years ago, in February 2010.

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According to conventional media wisdom, President Obama is likely to cruise to reelection next November. And when you’re just looking at the disaster of a GOP field, it’s easy to believe that. Neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum seems to have what it takes to win the White House.

The thing is, Americans don’t like Obama either. His average Gallup approval rating for February was 45 percent, and a full 50 percent of Americans believe his presidency has been a failure:

Obama’s job approval in February exceeds the lows seen last summer, when his monthly approval rating dipped to 41 percent from August through October. That followed a slide from 50 percent in May after the successful U.S. military mission in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. However, despite the recent improvement in his score, it has yet to recover to the level seen at the start of 2011, when 49 percent approved and 43 percent disapproved.

Apart from the rally in approval after the bin Laden mission, the last time Obama’s monthly approval rating averaged 50 percent or better was two years ago, in February 2010.

To put this in an historical context, every president who has won a second term (since Gallup began polling) has had an average approval rating above 50 percent by the February before the election. According to Gallup, “no elected president from Dwight Eisenhower through George W. Bush saw his approval rating drop below 50 percent for this long leading up to his re-election year.”

There’s a dramatic disconnect between this reality and the confidence we’re seeing from Democrats, who believe they already have next November wrapped up. With independents saying Obama’s presidency has been a failure, 53 percent to 42 percent, the president has a long way to go toward convincing Americans he deserves a second term. But if his own party thinks his reelection is already a given, Obama’s may have a hard time raising money, turning out volunteers and getting supporters out to the polls.

Republicans have spent the last year vetting and attacking each other, while Obama has been able to stay out of the fray. Despite that, his approval rating has shown little improvement. Once the general election begins and the GOP candidate gets to fully focus on attacking Obama’s record, things can only get worse for him.

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Turkey Has it Backwards on Respect

It is quite possible that Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, believes the world is flat, that two plus two equals five, and that mixing blue and yellow will yield orange.  How else – perhaps other than his deep-seeded hatred for Israel and the Jewish people – can his remarks yesterday in Brussels be received? They were so counterfactual and ignorant of history as to be laughable:

First, Bağış argued that Turkey was Israel’s only Muslim ally. Really? What about Bosnia? Azerbaijan? Albania? Uzbekistan? Informal relations with some North African Arab countries and Persian Gulf emirates and perhaps even Indonesia are warmer than with Turkey. Bağış may see Turkey as the center of the universe and seat of his imagined neo-Ottoman sultanate, but his attitude is just symptomatic of the arrogance and buffoonery which increasingly breed resentment rather than admiration toward Turkey throughout not only Europe, but the Arab Middle East as well.

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It is quite possible that Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, believes the world is flat, that two plus two equals five, and that mixing blue and yellow will yield orange.  How else – perhaps other than his deep-seeded hatred for Israel and the Jewish people – can his remarks yesterday in Brussels be received? They were so counterfactual and ignorant of history as to be laughable:

First, Bağış argued that Turkey was Israel’s only Muslim ally. Really? What about Bosnia? Azerbaijan? Albania? Uzbekistan? Informal relations with some North African Arab countries and Persian Gulf emirates and perhaps even Indonesia are warmer than with Turkey. Bağış may see Turkey as the center of the universe and seat of his imagined neo-Ottoman sultanate, but his attitude is just symptomatic of the arrogance and buffoonery which increasingly breed resentment rather than admiration toward Turkey throughout not only Europe, but the Arab Middle East as well.

Then Bağış argued that “it was in Israel’s interest to respect the people in the region, and to live in peace.” Well, on this, I’m sure Israelis could agree. If only successive Arab regimes—including those like Bashar al-Assad’s Syria which Bağış and his mentor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once embraced—had not sought to eradicate the Jewish state, Israel might have been able to live in peace. It was Hamas, a group Bağış embraces but one that seeks genocide against not only Israelis but also the Jewish people, that Turks sailing on the Mavi Marmara had sought to supply. That these same Turks videotaped themselves chanting the basest anti-Semitic slurs prior to their confrontation with Israelis enforcing what the UN defined as a lawful blockade does not compute in Bağış’s mind, nor does he recognize his compatriots’ demand that Israelis “go back to Auschwitz” and their declaration, “We’re helping the Arabs go against the U.S., don’t forget 9/11 guys.” Of course, it would be much easier for Israel to get along with the residents of Gaza—land that was given in exchange for peace—if the administration in Gaza had not launched thousands of rockets at Israel. The Iranians are also a regional people. Perhaps Turkey might use its good offices to chastise the Supreme Leader for his Friday prayer sermon last month in which he declared, “The Zionist regime is truly a cancerous tumor in this region and it must be, and will be, cut out.”

Israel does respect the region’s people. It would like nothing more than to live in peace. It has extended an olive branch to Arabs, Persians, Turks, and even Kurds—a people whose suppression Bağış continues to advocate. Unfortunately, since the days of the Mufti of Jerusalem’s unholy alliance with Hitler, regional leaders have been intent on genocide. The only relevant question European officials should ask Bağış is why he cheerleads for such groups.

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Happy Month Anniversary, Free Beacon!

A month ago, John Podhoretz gave a shout out to the Washington Free Beacon, an online investigative newspaper focusing on national security, and corruption and anti-Semitism on the Left. John noted that the site was having some “birthing pains” even as it was doing an excellent job.

Well, any hiccups seem to be a thing of the past. Matthew Continetti’s essays and Bill Gertz’s national security scoops are must reads. Former Washington Jewish Week reporter Adam Kredo has also been doing yeoman’s work investigating not only the troubling anti-Semitic accusations of dual loyalty that many at John Podesta’s Center for American Progress as well as Media Matters for America appear to embrace, but also the Jewish groups and Foundations which fund such anti-Semitism. While some media outlets embrace groups endorsing Occupy AIPAC, it was Kredo who pointed out that working for the group was the cartoonist who took second place in President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference.

If this is what the Free Beacon has achieved in just its first month, the only question out there is what will month two bring? Happy Anniversary, Free Beacon. Keep up the good work!

A month ago, John Podhoretz gave a shout out to the Washington Free Beacon, an online investigative newspaper focusing on national security, and corruption and anti-Semitism on the Left. John noted that the site was having some “birthing pains” even as it was doing an excellent job.

Well, any hiccups seem to be a thing of the past. Matthew Continetti’s essays and Bill Gertz’s national security scoops are must reads. Former Washington Jewish Week reporter Adam Kredo has also been doing yeoman’s work investigating not only the troubling anti-Semitic accusations of dual loyalty that many at John Podesta’s Center for American Progress as well as Media Matters for America appear to embrace, but also the Jewish groups and Foundations which fund such anti-Semitism. While some media outlets embrace groups endorsing Occupy AIPAC, it was Kredo who pointed out that working for the group was the cartoonist who took second place in President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference.

If this is what the Free Beacon has achieved in just its first month, the only question out there is what will month two bring? Happy Anniversary, Free Beacon. Keep up the good work!

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Big Government and the Spectrum Problem

Larry Downes has a remarkable column on CNET news about the shortage of spectrum for use by mobile broadband. It is a catalog of government ineptitude, incompetence, regulatory capture, and short-sightedness. Downes points out the rapid growth of mobile data means it needs access to more bands of useable radio spectrum, but the available inventory is close to zero. He blames a wide range of problems, most if not all of them revolving around the government. For many years, there was the outdated FCC “command and control” licensing system that committed spectrum to technologies that faded away.  There was the FCC’s inability to keep track of the licenses it had awarded.  There was the federal government’s tendency to grab and warehouse spectrum.

When the FCC shifted to an auction model – an important step forward – in the 1990s, it “still has a hard time resisting old temptations . . . . [it] attaches conditions or limits auction eligibility to micromanage emerging markets and industries – or try to . . . . One result of this tinkering has been that several recent auctions failed to meet their reserve price.” Then there is the federal law that – thanks to Congress’s vulnerability to assiduous lobbying – allows local broadcaster to force cable providers to carry their signals, thus reducing incentives for the broadcasters to give up their spectrum. And there is the government’s rejection of the proposed AT&T merger with T-Mobile last year, which “sent an unmistakable signal that [the FCC] will no longer allow market transactions as a work-around to its own plodding and sclerotic mismanagement.”

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Larry Downes has a remarkable column on CNET news about the shortage of spectrum for use by mobile broadband. It is a catalog of government ineptitude, incompetence, regulatory capture, and short-sightedness. Downes points out the rapid growth of mobile data means it needs access to more bands of useable radio spectrum, but the available inventory is close to zero. He blames a wide range of problems, most if not all of them revolving around the government. For many years, there was the outdated FCC “command and control” licensing system that committed spectrum to technologies that faded away.  There was the FCC’s inability to keep track of the licenses it had awarded.  There was the federal government’s tendency to grab and warehouse spectrum.

When the FCC shifted to an auction model – an important step forward – in the 1990s, it “still has a hard time resisting old temptations . . . . [it] attaches conditions or limits auction eligibility to micromanage emerging markets and industries – or try to . . . . One result of this tinkering has been that several recent auctions failed to meet their reserve price.” Then there is the federal law that – thanks to Congress’s vulnerability to assiduous lobbying – allows local broadcaster to force cable providers to carry their signals, thus reducing incentives for the broadcasters to give up their spectrum. And there is the government’s rejection of the proposed AT&T merger with T-Mobile last year, which “sent an unmistakable signal that [the FCC] will no longer allow market transactions as a work-around to its own plodding and sclerotic mismanagement.”

Finally, there are the tremendous delays imposed by local zoning authorities in allowing new or improved towers to be built. Paradoxically, the delays are the worst in areas that need improvement the most, including Washington, D.C., and the Bay Area. The delays appear to stem in part from local government collusion with existing service providers, and in part from the sheer spirit of NIMBY, but the frequency with which Berkeley appears in the list of problematic localities suggests that leftist resentment of business in general, or the mobile phone industry in particular, is also a factor. The result is that, in spite of recent action by Congress, we may have only three years left before the rising tide of mobile data chokes itself into immobility.

Richard Epstein had wise words yesterday about the fallacies of government by expert and the incompatibility of the administrative state with the rule of law, but as I am not an expert on spectrum policy, mobile data, or cell phones, and have no idea how to solve any of these problems, reading Downes provokes for me only two thoughts. First, what a mess. And second, this is the government that is going to run health care fairly, wisely, expertly, and efficiently? God help us all.

 

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