Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 9, 2012

The Real War on Women

Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

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Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

Yet, instead of getting back to discussing the birth control policy debate, Democrats and liberals in the media have continued to rage against Limbaugh. Maybe because it’s easier to argue against an indefensible comment by a radio host than to try to convince the public that your right to pay less for birth control should override the religious rights of Catholic employers. But for the most part, the news stories on the birth control mandate have been substance-less variations on the “Limbaugh Still Under Fire for ‘Slut’ Comments” theme. And Democrats continue to use the controversy to claim the Republican Party is waging a “war on women.”

A little perspective would be useful here. A radio host with a history of saying offensive things called a birth control activist some really nasty names. He later apologized. By what standard does that amount to a Republican “war on women,” or something that should be dominating the news after two weeks?

But Democrats aren’t the only ones keeping this in the news. On the other side, conservatives have been pointing out that liberal pundits and comedians have made plenty of comments about women that are just as vulgar and offensive as Limbaugh’s. Greta Van Susteren even called for journalists to skip the White House Correspondent’s Dinner because she thinks the host, comedian Louis C.K., has made sexist remarks about female politicians.

It’s important to highlight the hypocrisy of the White House and Democratic Party when it comes to civil discourse, but this is turning into a futile competition about which side can act more offended. Getting so worked up over the words of comedians and radio shock jocks – people whose job descriptions practically require them to be offensive – is a little ridiculous.

On a partially related note, Wednesday was International Women’s Day. In Egypt, women spent it wondering whether the Islamist-majority parliament will take away their right to work when the new constitution is drafted. Female activists took to the streets in protest, all at great personal risk. That’s a real war on women, and it’s something to think about if you’re an American who’s still hyperventilating over Limbaugh’s grievous insult today, 15 days after he said it and nearly a week after he apologized. Maybe you should ask yourself whether your unappeasable outrage is based on rational concerns, or whether it’s driven by something a bit more partisan.

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Counting Romney’s Delegates

In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, it’s clear to almost everyone that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all but mathematically prevented from achieving a first-ballot victory at the convention. The real question is whether Mitt Romney will win the 1,144 delegates necessary by the end of voting in June (Utah is the last state to vote, on June 26). On that question there’s a lot of informed discussion.

Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College, has a projection model for the primaries (he had a pretty good one in 2008 for the Democrats, which turned out to be quite accurate). Professor Putnam’s analysis suggests that Governor Romney is very likely to get an all-out majority. Others, like RealClearPolitics’s Sean Trende, lays out a scenario in which after the Utah race Romney still ends up with less than the number of delegates needed to win the nomination.

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In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, it’s clear to almost everyone that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all but mathematically prevented from achieving a first-ballot victory at the convention. The real question is whether Mitt Romney will win the 1,144 delegates necessary by the end of voting in June (Utah is the last state to vote, on June 26). On that question there’s a lot of informed discussion.

Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College, has a projection model for the primaries (he had a pretty good one in 2008 for the Democrats, which turned out to be quite accurate). Professor Putnam’s analysis suggests that Governor Romney is very likely to get an all-out majority. Others, like RealClearPolitics’s Sean Trende, lays out a scenario in which after the Utah race Romney still ends up with less than the number of delegates needed to win the nomination.

Just to make things interesting, let’s assume that Romney does fall short of the necessary 1,144 delegates. If that’s the case, Romney is still the favorite to win the nomination because the odds are very much in his favor that he’ll arrive in Tampa with a large enough lead on Rick Santorum (or anyone else) that after the first round of voting he’ll secure the delegates he needs.

Is it possible that between now and late June Santorum takes off like a rocket while Romney begins to collapses, with the result being that (a) Santorum ends up almost neck-and-neck with Romney in the delegate count and (b) GOP delegates, after the first round of voting, flock to Santorum because Romney is simply too weak?

Such a scenario is not impossible, but it seems to me that the odds of it occurring are quite small. It would require a dramatic shift in voting patterns that would be not only unusual but unprecedented. (Through the first two months and 23 contests, Romney has won 47 percent of the awarded delegates, Santorum 24 percent, and Gingrich 14 percent.) I have a friend who says that new paradigms are forming at a faster rate than we can do them analytical justice. He may be right and I may be wrong. The good news is that this matter will be resolved within a few months.

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Sic Transit New Republic?

The news that The New Republic has been sold to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has prompted some worries that the venerable publication may be heading in a new direction. While TNR remained steadfastly liberal in its view of most domestic issues during the past decades, it has also been a resolute defender of Israel and generally a strong proponent of sensible views on foreign policy. The fact that Hughes, who will assume the title of editor-in-chief, was an organizer of the 2008 Obama campaign leaves us wondering whether it will remain so in the future.

But no matter what happens next, it is worthwhile taking a moment to honor all that the magazine achieved under longtime editor-in-chief and publisher Martin Peretz. The distinguished historian Ron Radosh, himself a frequent contributor to both COMMENTARY and TNR, writes about this at PJMedia in an article in which the author echoes our fears while also celebrating the great journalism and the important careers that were fostered under Peretz.

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The news that The New Republic has been sold to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has prompted some worries that the venerable publication may be heading in a new direction. While TNR remained steadfastly liberal in its view of most domestic issues during the past decades, it has also been a resolute defender of Israel and generally a strong proponent of sensible views on foreign policy. The fact that Hughes, who will assume the title of editor-in-chief, was an organizer of the 2008 Obama campaign leaves us wondering whether it will remain so in the future.

But no matter what happens next, it is worthwhile taking a moment to honor all that the magazine achieved under longtime editor-in-chief and publisher Martin Peretz. The distinguished historian Ron Radosh, himself a frequent contributor to both COMMENTARY and TNR, writes about this at PJMedia in an article in which the author echoes our fears while also celebrating the great journalism and the important careers that were fostered under Peretz.

Radosh rightly points out that TNR had a unique niche in the publishing world and it would be a shame if Hughes pushed it further to the left:

I am not optimistic about the fate of the new TNR. The last thing we need is a magazine slightly — very slightly — to the right of The Nation. Nor do we need another New Yorker, in which Hendrik Hertzberg’s predictable left-liberal views dominate the political commentary — and, yes, he too came from TNR as an old editor — and where its editor-in-chief David Remnick stands by the likes of Seymour Hersh as a major investigative reporter, despite the devastating expose of him in the new COMMENTARY  by a former TNR editor, James Kirchick. …

So, this is a swan song and sad goodbye to the old TNR. I wish the magazine well, and perhaps I will turn out to be very wrong. But as a natural pessimist, and for good reason, I only expect the worst.

We share Radosh’s sentiments. Let us hope TNR thrives under its new management while remaining a strong voice in support of Israel and the West.

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In Defense of Compassionate Conservatism

The term “compassionate conservatism” is still invoked by some on the right. But for many commentators, compassionate conservatism has become a synonym for Big Government. In fact, it is distinct from — and in important respects the opposite of – the collectivist/statist impulse.

The idea was based on the writings of Richard John Neuhaus and Peter Berger, who argued in their 1977 book To Empower People that “mediating structures” such as family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary and civil associations are crucial institutions that needed to be fortified. One of the more elegant summaries of compassionate conservatism can be found in George Will’s book Statecraft as Soulcraft, where Will wrote:

The institutions that once were most directly responsible for tempering individualism — family , church, voluntary associations, town governments — with collective concerns have come to seem peripheral. Using government discriminatingly but energetically to strengthen these institutions is part of the natural program of conservatives. Far from being a rationale for statism, the political orientation … involves the use of government to prevent statism by enhancing the social competence of citizens. In the best and most mature polities, what government does is encourage society to do things through its organic working. Government can do this by enhancing, in many ways, the vigor of those intermediary institutions which shape, support and inspire individuals, drawing persons out of the orbits of individualism and into social relationships. One way that government strengthens such institutions is by not usurping their functions. But that is not the only way. Government can plan positive inducements to vigor.

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The term “compassionate conservatism” is still invoked by some on the right. But for many commentators, compassionate conservatism has become a synonym for Big Government. In fact, it is distinct from — and in important respects the opposite of – the collectivist/statist impulse.

The idea was based on the writings of Richard John Neuhaus and Peter Berger, who argued in their 1977 book To Empower People that “mediating structures” such as family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary and civil associations are crucial institutions that needed to be fortified. One of the more elegant summaries of compassionate conservatism can be found in George Will’s book Statecraft as Soulcraft, where Will wrote:

The institutions that once were most directly responsible for tempering individualism — family , church, voluntary associations, town governments — with collective concerns have come to seem peripheral. Using government discriminatingly but energetically to strengthen these institutions is part of the natural program of conservatives. Far from being a rationale for statism, the political orientation … involves the use of government to prevent statism by enhancing the social competence of citizens. In the best and most mature polities, what government does is encourage society to do things through its organic working. Government can do this by enhancing, in many ways, the vigor of those intermediary institutions which shape, support and inspire individuals, drawing persons out of the orbits of individualism and into social relationships. One way that government strengthens such institutions is by not usurping their functions. But that is not the only way. Government can plan positive inducements to vigor.

What Will wrote tracks quite closely with what George W. Bush said in his first presidential campaign speech on July 22, 1999. How well this concept works in practice is a legitimate issue to debate. But to use government to strengthen mediating structures is quite a different approach than taking over their duties.

With that said, let’s turn to the broader topic of the relationship between compassion and government. Compassion, it’s said by some, is a private virtue, not a public one, and for government to pursue compassion simply ends up creating mischief. That has certainly occurred in some instances. (The old paradigm of the welfare state, Neuhaus and Berger wrote, is to locate a social problem; define it as a government responsibility; and set up a government program designed to solve it.) But to say that for government to concern itself with compassion is per se inappropriate is itself problematic.

If by compassion we mean to feel distress at the suffering of others and having a desire to alleviate it, then government – within limits, with wisdom – can play a constructive role. We see that with relief efforts after earthquakes and hurricanes. We saw it with the Global AIDS initiative (a study at the University of British Columbia found that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief saved 1.2 million lives in just its first three years). And few conservatives I know are in principle opposed to unemployment insurance (the debate is over how long it should be given) or welfare payments to those who, through no fault of their own, are nearly destitute. These views are based on a certain view of justice, which is rooted in a Jewish and Christian view of human dignity and the common good. But a proper conservative (and American) understanding of promoting the general welfare includes helping the poor and the powerless. Public institutions should help the most vulnerable members of the human community. The question is, always, one of prudence and efficacy.

I’ve long thought it was a mistake to cede the ground of compassion and concern for the poor to liberalism. One of the reasons some of us became conservatives in the first place was in part because we believed liberalism had failed on precisely these grounds; that conservatism had something important to say when it came to caring for the weak and disadvantaged in society. That is a public as well as a private concern. That is why the wisest voices on the right believed welfare reform should be framed not as an attack on the poor or as a matter on which government should have no say and no role, but rather as a way to help them on the path toward self-sufficiency and dignity. Welfare reform succeeded because government policy took into account human nature. It rested on the proper presuppositions.

I understand that times change and new political moments give rise to different emphases. Today, for perfectly understandable reasons, there is enormous focus among conservative on re-limiting government, one I fully support. But that effort should not lead people to argue against compassion in the realm of public policy. To insist the state should be indifferent to the suffering of the poor is not a conservative virtue. The quality of mercy is not strain’d, Portia says in The Merchant of Venice, and earthly power doth show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.

How to make that work in the real world is enormously complicated. But here’s something we can say with some confidence: It isn’t a violation of the conservative creed for the state, within all the right parameters, to attempt to season justice with mercy.

 

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Celebrating Edith Pearlman

The National Book Critics’ Circle Award in fiction was awarded last night to Edith Pearlman. The victory of this avowedly Jewish writer is significant in many respects, but we take special pride in noting that one of her first published stories appeared in COMMENTARY.

For more about Pearlman’s work, please read D.G. Myers’ appreciation of her on our Literary Commentary blog, and as a special treat, her story “Settlers,” which appeared first in the January 1986 issue of COMMENTARY.

The National Book Critics’ Circle Award in fiction was awarded last night to Edith Pearlman. The victory of this avowedly Jewish writer is significant in many respects, but we take special pride in noting that one of her first published stories appeared in COMMENTARY.

For more about Pearlman’s work, please read D.G. Myers’ appreciation of her on our Literary Commentary blog, and as a special treat, her story “Settlers,” which appeared first in the January 1986 issue of COMMENTARY.

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Dagan’s Tactical Disagreement

One of the standard themes of those who claim there is no need to take action to halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear capability is that intelligence experts dispute the notion that this program poses a threat to Israel or the West. The star of this campaign is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who will be featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes” this Sunday. The interview is being hailed by some as debunking what they consider to be the alarmism expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, therefore giving cover to those who wish to table the entire subject rather than to ramp up the pressure on Tehran.

But as with many previous statements by Dagan, the excerpts of the interview that have been released are bound to disappoint Iran’s apologists. Though Dagan is fiercely antagonistic to both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposed to an air strike on Iran now, he clearly views Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to Israel and believes it must be stopped. His differences with Israel’s government center on how much time we have before it is too late and what measures would be most effective in doing the job.

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One of the standard themes of those who claim there is no need to take action to halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear capability is that intelligence experts dispute the notion that this program poses a threat to Israel or the West. The star of this campaign is former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who will be featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes” this Sunday. The interview is being hailed by some as debunking what they consider to be the alarmism expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, therefore giving cover to those who wish to table the entire subject rather than to ramp up the pressure on Tehran.

But as with many previous statements by Dagan, the excerpts of the interview that have been released are bound to disappoint Iran’s apologists. Though Dagan is fiercely antagonistic to both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposed to an air strike on Iran now, he clearly views Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to Israel and believes it must be stopped. His differences with Israel’s government center on how much time we have before it is too late and what measures would be most effective in doing the job.

Those who are promoting Dagan as a counterpoint to Netanyahu should remember a few key facts about his unprecedented public advocacy on the Iran issue that are not well known in the United States. Far from being an entirely dispassionate intelligence professional, Dagan’s anger at Netanyahu and Barak stems in no small part from the fact that the pair are the ones responsible for his being fired from his job. This happened after a series of intelligence failures–the most public of which was the disastrous hit on a Hamas official in Dubai.

Second, though interviewer Leslie Stahl focuses her attention on Dagan’s opposition to a strike on Iran now, the subtext to his position is that he spent much of his time at the head of the Mossad working on efforts to spike the ayatollah’s nuclear ambition. Under his leadership, Israeli intelligence concentrated much of its resources on covert activities whose purpose was to slow or stop progress toward an Iranian bomb. Although he says he considers the Iranian regime “rational” (though he added “not exactly our [idea of] rational”), that doesn’t mean he thinks containing a nuclear Iran (something President Obama has now specifically rejected) is a good idea.

Instead, as one might expect from a veteran spook, Dagan wants more emphasis on covert activities and other efforts that are aimed at an even more ambitious project than a mere surgical taking out of Iran’s nuclear facilities: regime change. In the sense that a democratic Iran, or at least one not ruled by Islamist fanatics, would be much safer for Israel and the rest of the world, he is, of course, right. But to say his opinions on this subject are somehow more realistic than the less grandiose intentions of Netanyahu and Barak, who only wish to make sure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei doesn’t get his hands on a nuke, is obviously a stretch.

The question of how much time Israel has before it is too late to do anything about an Iranian nuclear weapon is not unimportant. Dagan is clearly of the opinion the situation is not yet critical. But, as he was careful to point out to Stahl, “I never said a lot of time. [There is] more time.”

All of which paints a picture of a difference of opinion within the top levels of Israeli intelligence which is more about tactics and timing than, as Netanyahu’s critics as well as Israel-haters seem to imply, about the critical nature of the threat itself. Meir Dagan’s opinions deserve to be heard and considered, but they should be understood as coming from within a consensus that views Iranian nukes as a deadly threat, not outside of it.

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Defining Mitt Romney

When reporters “admit” they want this Republican presidential primary to go on forever so they have interesting stories to file, don’t believe them. They are bored out of their minds. How do I know this? The unavoidable proliferation of this year’s version of Campaign Mad Libs: “Mitt Romney is just like___.”

The answer could be George H.W. Bush, which was the New York Times’s offer yesterday. The answer could also be Michael Dukakis, which was George Will’s choice. Joseph Curl says Romney is John Kerry, but John Kerry emphatically denies that Romney is Kerry (and Kerry would know!). Politico today tells us Romney may indeed be Kerry. But also Bill Clinton. And George H.W. Bush. And Bob Dole. But the Politico story gathered some advice for how Romney can be someone other than Kerry, Dole, Clinton, or Bush–though it admits that being Clinton or Bush wouldn’t be so bad, if Romney had to be someone other than himself who also existed in the world of modern political reporters, which apparently begins in 1988. There is also one interesting and worthwhile piece of advice in the story.

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When reporters “admit” they want this Republican presidential primary to go on forever so they have interesting stories to file, don’t believe them. They are bored out of their minds. How do I know this? The unavoidable proliferation of this year’s version of Campaign Mad Libs: “Mitt Romney is just like___.”

The answer could be George H.W. Bush, which was the New York Times’s offer yesterday. The answer could also be Michael Dukakis, which was George Will’s choice. Joseph Curl says Romney is John Kerry, but John Kerry emphatically denies that Romney is Kerry (and Kerry would know!). Politico today tells us Romney may indeed be Kerry. But also Bill Clinton. And George H.W. Bush. And Bob Dole. But the Politico story gathered some advice for how Romney can be someone other than Kerry, Dole, Clinton, or Bush–though it admits that being Clinton or Bush wouldn’t be so bad, if Romney had to be someone other than himself who also existed in the world of modern political reporters, which apparently begins in 1988. There is also one interesting and worthwhile piece of advice in the story.

There are three ways, the article says, Romney can overturn the perception of him that he might be more Dole or Dukakis than Clinton or Bush. First, his selection of a vice presidential nominee should be a good selection, not a bad selection, we are told.

Second would be “some kind of highly visible conflict — including, if opportunity presents, with someone on their own side.” But Romney is already engaged in highly visible tension with conservatives, and it’s been weighing down his campaign (thus producing stories like this Politico piece).

But the flip side of this advice is a conflict with Democrats and the sitting administration. This is likely to happen whether Romney plans it or not, because he’s running for president. But that brings us to the two sentences that save the article. GOP consultant Alex Castellanos offers a way for Romney to turn one of his negatives into a positive, and if done right, it could help. Here’s Politico paraphrasing Castellanos’s suggestion:

Alternatively, he advised, Romney could get off the defensive over his record of firing workers during his business career with a kind of damn-right strategy. Under this scenario, the former investment banker might stand in front of some federal agency and promise to shut it down the same way he did unprofitable businesses.

This is not without its risks–especially considering Romney has a tendency to phrase things in ways that smother his message–but could be a way both to improve his “authenticity” score and demonstrate why his managerial experience would be so useful in the White House. That’s something he has not yet been able to do, but it’s difficult to imagine Romney winning the general election without making a strong case for his own experience. This suggestion echoes something I wrote in January, in which Romney would deal with questions about his wealth and managerial experience by, first and foremost, standing up straight, wiping the sheepish look of guilt off his face, squaring his jaw, and adamantly refusing to hide from the fact that his career has required tough decisions and, at times, steely nerves.

Politico continues: “The third way for Romney to chase away his reputation for weakness or expediency is through artful improvisation, using an unexpected crisis to project a presidential style.” This is something Romney cannot predict or engineer, so he should focus on what he’s got on his plate right now. But for all the time he’s spent in the spotlight, the media’s incessant attempts to compare him to familiar figures indicate he still has a chance to define himself.

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Why Has J Street Defended Media Matters?

Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

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Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

Ben Ami is obviously no stranger to controversy, and by now he’s probably used to catching flack from the Jewish community. But the public condemnation in this instance was so swift and forceful that Ben Ami felt the need to rush out a clearly-panicked apology and weak clarification of his comments just hours after the article was published.

“I agree that the use of the term ‘Israel Firster’ is a bad choice of words. The conspiracy theory that American Jews have dual loyalty is just that, a conspiracy theory and must be refuted in the strongest possible way,” conceded Ben Ami, before urging the American Jewish community to stop debating the subject and focus on other issues.

The whole quote-and-recantation dance wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering J Street’s unlucky history with public relations. But the comments Ben Ami made to the Post were so wildly tone-deaf, so offensive, so far-off from reality – and in an interview he had no real obligation to give – that it was hard to imagine why he would ever make them in the first place.

So why do it? The Daily Caller reports on a funding overlap between J Street and Media Matters that raises one intriguing idea:

A source told The DC that [liberal philanthropist Bill] Benter donated to Media Matters, at least in part, so the liberal organization could bring MJ Rosenberg on board as its foreign policy voice.

Rosenberg has become a lightning rod for questioning the loyalty of American supporters of Israel by calling them “Israel-Firsters,” and for taking other radical positions. Alan Dershowitz, the liberal Harvard Law School professor, has denounced him in a series of recent interviews and articles, saying that Rosenberg’s rhetoric and ideas are similar to what neo-Nazi and pro-Hezbollah websites offer.

Bill Benter is the wealthy horse-better who helped financially prop up J Street when it was first getting off the ground. He also reportedly solicited over $800,000 in J Street contributions through a mysterious Hong Kong frontwoman named Consolacion Esdicul.

J Street didn’t return a call for comment about its current association with Benter today. But if Benter did specifically fund MJ Rosenberg’s position at Media Matters, it raises questions about whether this connection had anything to do with Ben Ami inserting himself into the controversy and initially defending Rosenberg’s indefensible dual-loyalty smears. Of course, J Street is the only group that would have the answer to that, and until they respond to requests for comment, it’s impossible to know for sure.

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Holder Takes Latest Cheap Shot at NYPD

Attorney General Eric Holder doubled down on his threats of a federal investigation of the New York City Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Unit yesterday at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. Asked to comment on the brouhaha about NYPD personnel performing surveillance on Muslims in the Greater New York region, including those in New Jersey by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Politico reports that Holder repeated his previous pledge that the Justice Department is reviewing these activities, clearly with an eye toward hamstringing the department’s work.

The NYPD’s post 9/11 attack surveillance program was both prudent and lawful. To his credit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has slammed the attacks by Holder, the New York Times editorial page (here and here), as well as politicians like Lautenberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as an attempt to turn the issue into a “political football.” Sadly, the campaign to restrain law enforcement agencies from taking a close look at groups and mosques where Islamists gather is taking its cue from those groups that purport to represent American Muslims but whose real agenda is to promote the myth there has been a wave of discrimination against this group when there is no evidence to back up their claims. The upshot of this grandstanding will be a blow to the effort to root out homegrown terrorists.

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Attorney General Eric Holder doubled down on his threats of a federal investigation of the New York City Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Unit yesterday at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. Asked to comment on the brouhaha about NYPD personnel performing surveillance on Muslims in the Greater New York region, including those in New Jersey by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Politico reports that Holder repeated his previous pledge that the Justice Department is reviewing these activities, clearly with an eye toward hamstringing the department’s work.

The NYPD’s post 9/11 attack surveillance program was both prudent and lawful. To his credit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has slammed the attacks by Holder, the New York Times editorial page (here and here), as well as politicians like Lautenberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as an attempt to turn the issue into a “political football.” Sadly, the campaign to restrain law enforcement agencies from taking a close look at groups and mosques where Islamists gather is taking its cue from those groups that purport to represent American Muslims but whose real agenda is to promote the myth there has been a wave of discrimination against this group when there is no evidence to back up their claims. The upshot of this grandstanding will be a blow to the effort to root out homegrown terrorists.

At the bottom of all the outrage generated by a series of articles by the Associated Press about the NYPD’s surveillance efforts is the assertion by groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that American Muslims are somehow being deterred from attending religious services or gatherings because of this. Critics of the program believe there is no correlation between any information the NYPD might obtain from legally monitoring communities whose members have expressed support for foreign terrorist groups such as Hamas (CAIR was founded as a political front group for the Holy Land Foundation, that terrorist organization’s fundraising outlet in this country.) Given that the NYPD has foiled a number of terror attacks in recent years, the idea that it should cut back on its intelligence efforts aimed at seeking to stop terrorists and their sympathizers before they strike is the sort of politically-motivated mischief that could potentially cost lives.

It is also important to note that the claim, repeated by the New York Times in its latest editorial on the subject, that Muslims “are now wary of praying in public, joining faith-based groups or patronizing some restaurants and shops” is put forward without a shred of proof. If there has been a decline in attendance at mosques, particularly those led by figures such as Christie’s friend Imam Mohammed Qatanani, who have expressed support for Hamas, we have yet to hear of it. The Times believes “the real life consequences” of the surveillance has been to impede the government’s law enforcement activities because they undermine American Muslims’ trust in their fairness. But this is an absurd distortion of the truth.

The NYPD’s counter-terrorism record is exemplary. The mere fact that its members sought to keep tabs on those communities where Islamists might be found did nothing to harm law-abiding Muslims. Rather, like everyone else, they were protected from potential killers.

Groups like CAIR who promote the myth of the post-9/11 backlash do so to advance their own political agenda. The same can be said of outlets like the Times and liberals like Holder who seem determined to return to the mentality of September 10 when concern about Islamist terror was marginalized. Should they prevail the consequences for all Americans, no matter what their faith or ethnic background, will be serious.

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Edith Pearlman’s Pins and Buckles and Clips

Edith Pearlman won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in fiction last night for Binocular Vision, her satisfyingly fat collection of 34 stories. Although she would not have been my first choice if I had served on the prize jury — Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot is among the five or six best American novels of the past 25 years — Pearlman richly deserves the recognition that she has been denied for so long.

That she was overlooked for the National Book Award last November (in favor a sleepy-headed novel in middle-school prose) was one of the more embarrassing moments for the American critical establishment in recent memory. But such is the state of literary politics today: something like Uncritical Race Theory is the guilty conscience of a good many literary critics.

Not that Edith Pearlman is a writer without identity. She is a Jewish writer. In fact, one of her first published stories appeared in COMMENTARY. In celebration of Pearlman’s award, we are making “Settlers” available for free to her readers and ours. “I didn’t know you were interested in Judaism,” Peter Loy’s daughter says to him. “I’m not interested in Judaism,” Peter replies. “Only in Jews. They’re so complicated. . . .”

He could have been speaking for Pearlman. Now 75, she has been been exploring her interest in complicated Jews (and human beings with other kinds of complicated identity) for three-and-a-half decades. She doesn’t poke fun at the Orthodox or the Holocaust or rabbis or large Jewish families or “settlers” in the disputed territories (the settlers in her COMMENTARY story live in Boston). So her stories are not published by a large New York house, and she doesn’t get the press of a Nathan Englander or a Shalom Auslander.

Pearlman tends to write about middle-aged and middle-class Jews who (in a phrase from her story “Day of Awe”) are “giving their final years to just causes.” Her characters, in short, are familiar secularized liberal Jews, but she writes about them without either mockery or triumphant crowing about their virtuous politics. For her people, as she writes in another story, “Assimilation had become as passé as the jitterbug.”

Pearlman is fascinated by their shaky new commitments and loyalties. They bring little to their human connections beyond the strength of their heart and their willingness to adjust. Or, as she describes one woman’s approach to marriage, in a sentence that is typical of her wry and quiet prose: “She herself had brought to the union a passion for teaching, and also a cigar box of pins and buckles and clips.” The practical and the passionate sit side-by-side in Edith Pearlman’s fiction, and sometimes they are enough, as she lovingly shows, to hold people’s lives together.

Edith Pearlman won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in fiction last night for Binocular Vision, her satisfyingly fat collection of 34 stories. Although she would not have been my first choice if I had served on the prize jury — Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot is among the five or six best American novels of the past 25 years — Pearlman richly deserves the recognition that she has been denied for so long.

That she was overlooked for the National Book Award last November (in favor a sleepy-headed novel in middle-school prose) was one of the more embarrassing moments for the American critical establishment in recent memory. But such is the state of literary politics today: something like Uncritical Race Theory is the guilty conscience of a good many literary critics.

Not that Edith Pearlman is a writer without identity. She is a Jewish writer. In fact, one of her first published stories appeared in COMMENTARY. In celebration of Pearlman’s award, we are making “Settlers” available for free to her readers and ours. “I didn’t know you were interested in Judaism,” Peter Loy’s daughter says to him. “I’m not interested in Judaism,” Peter replies. “Only in Jews. They’re so complicated. . . .”

He could have been speaking for Pearlman. Now 75, she has been been exploring her interest in complicated Jews (and human beings with other kinds of complicated identity) for three-and-a-half decades. She doesn’t poke fun at the Orthodox or the Holocaust or rabbis or large Jewish families or “settlers” in the disputed territories (the settlers in her COMMENTARY story live in Boston). So her stories are not published by a large New York house, and she doesn’t get the press of a Nathan Englander or a Shalom Auslander.

Pearlman tends to write about middle-aged and middle-class Jews who (in a phrase from her story “Day of Awe”) are “giving their final years to just causes.” Her characters, in short, are familiar secularized liberal Jews, but she writes about them without either mockery or triumphant crowing about their virtuous politics. For her people, as she writes in another story, “Assimilation had become as passé as the jitterbug.”

Pearlman is fascinated by their shaky new commitments and loyalties. They bring little to their human connections beyond the strength of their heart and their willingness to adjust. Or, as she describes one woman’s approach to marriage, in a sentence that is typical of her wry and quiet prose: “She herself had brought to the union a passion for teaching, and also a cigar box of pins and buckles and clips.” The practical and the passionate sit side-by-side in Edith Pearlman’s fiction, and sometimes they are enough, as she lovingly shows, to hold people’s lives together.

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U.S.-Afghan Agreement is a Win-Win

For those who claim it is impossible to deal with Hamid Karzai and U.S. forces cannot succeed while he is in power, today’s agreement on the handling of detainees in U.S. custody is a good rebuttal.

Karzai had been demanding the U.S. immediately hand over all 3,200 detainees in our custody–he understandably views the operation of a U.S. detention facility on Afghan soil as an affront to Afghan sovereignty– even though Afghan forces are manifestly not capable of holding them securely on their own. The result was months of deadlock in negotiating a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement. That deadlock was broken today when both sides agreed to give a little. Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, they agreed that during the next six months the U.S. detention facility in Parwan will transition to full Afghan control (there are already Afghan personnel in training there) but that the U.S. would retain a veto on the release of any prisoners while our forces remain in Afghanistan. Moreover, U.S. personnel will continue to supervise the facility to make sure detainees are held safely and securely. And finally, roughly 50 non-Afghan fighters–highly dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists–will remain under full U.S. custody.

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For those who claim it is impossible to deal with Hamid Karzai and U.S. forces cannot succeed while he is in power, today’s agreement on the handling of detainees in U.S. custody is a good rebuttal.

Karzai had been demanding the U.S. immediately hand over all 3,200 detainees in our custody–he understandably views the operation of a U.S. detention facility on Afghan soil as an affront to Afghan sovereignty– even though Afghan forces are manifestly not capable of holding them securely on their own. The result was months of deadlock in negotiating a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement. That deadlock was broken today when both sides agreed to give a little. Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, they agreed that during the next six months the U.S. detention facility in Parwan will transition to full Afghan control (there are already Afghan personnel in training there) but that the U.S. would retain a veto on the release of any prisoners while our forces remain in Afghanistan. Moreover, U.S. personnel will continue to supervise the facility to make sure detainees are held safely and securely. And finally, roughly 50 non-Afghan fighters–highly dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists–will remain under full U.S. custody.

This agreement allows both sides to get what it wants–Karzai gets a demonstration of his government’s sovereignty, while the U.S. gets to keep in detention prisoners whose release would endanger our troops and hamper their efforts to pacify the country.

This looks like a win-win and offers hope that the last remaining deadlock–over “night raids”–will soon be broken.

 

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Is Diplomacy a Threat to Airline Security?

Media scrutiny boils airline security down to X-ray machines, pat downs, and perhaps some psychological profiling. Even the most thorough American passenger screening, however, does not address the problem of terrorist baggage handlers or employees overseas. In an age of airline alliances and increasing international travel, the real vulnerability to air travel may be overseas.

I have written here before about the problem at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport, destination for many European airlines and a frequent hub which I often use during vacations in Beirut or onward travel to Iraq. Hezbollah’s aborted putsch in Beirut in 2008 involved, among other things, control over the lucrative airport. One of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s more short-sighted compromises was to agree to the Doha Accords which empowered Hezbollah in Lebanon’s domestic scene in exchange for quiet. Along the way, Hezbollah regained sway over airport operations, even if its members wear Lebanon Army Uniforms when at the facility. It should give every American chills that many of the airport workers handling Lufthansa, Air France, and other flights which transfer luggage to the United States swear fealty to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

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Media scrutiny boils airline security down to X-ray machines, pat downs, and perhaps some psychological profiling. Even the most thorough American passenger screening, however, does not address the problem of terrorist baggage handlers or employees overseas. In an age of airline alliances and increasing international travel, the real vulnerability to air travel may be overseas.

I have written here before about the problem at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport, destination for many European airlines and a frequent hub which I often use during vacations in Beirut or onward travel to Iraq. Hezbollah’s aborted putsch in Beirut in 2008 involved, among other things, control over the lucrative airport. One of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s more short-sighted compromises was to agree to the Doha Accords which empowered Hezbollah in Lebanon’s domestic scene in exchange for quiet. Along the way, Hezbollah regained sway over airport operations, even if its members wear Lebanon Army Uniforms when at the facility. It should give every American chills that many of the airport workers handling Lufthansa, Air France, and other flights which transfer luggage to the United States swear fealty to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

Alas, Beirut is no longer alone. Turkish Air, a member of the Star Alliance and a partner to United Airlines and USAir, has initiated service to Mogadishu, Somalia. Bags checked in Mogadishu can now find their way to New York, Washington, and Los Angeles among other destinations. Simultaneously, Turkey has announced that it is brokering talks with Ash-Shabaab, Somalia’s al-Qaeda’s affiliate, in a move which would see it join the central government and integrate into Somalia’s national security service. What could ever go wrong here?

Diplomats do not want to undermine Lebanon’s shaky political situation by voicing concerns over its airport, nor do they want to undercut their desperate hope for resolution in Somalia by questioning the wisdom of Turkey or its state airline. It seems history, therefore, could very well repeat. The Lockerbie bombing occurred when Libyan agents smuggled a bomb onto a Pan Am feeder flight in Malta. The Malta leak may be plugged, but do American security officials truly believe the same is true in either Beirut or Mogadishu? American airlines remain vulnerable, and despite the TSA’s approach, patting down four-year-olds and strip searching grannies will not be enough to plug the holes.

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Do Bag Laws Make Sense?

When I got married a few years back, I had wanted to stay in Virginia—where taxes were lower—but my wife wanted to live in Maryland, and so we compromised and moved to Maryland. Montgomery County, Maryland, is Democrat country. Lawn signs proliferate but, like elections in Cuba, they are all for a single party. Still, despite the high taxes and looming pension crisis, the school system is good and I figured, how much harm could a county government do? A lot, it seems. With little debate and even less coverage, Montgomery County passed a law to discourage disposable bags by imposing a 5 cent charge for each plastic or paper bag used. The charge applies not only in supermarkets, but in all stores: Home Depot? Bag charge. Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Bag Charge. Barnes and Noble? Bag charge. Take-out Chinese food? Bag charge.

While county officials justify the bag tax in kindergarten environmentalism, this is nonsense. Most bag users do not litter and there are laws with hefty fines on the books for those who do. Stores provide bags because they are convenient and they encourage shopping, and most consumers recycle them at home. I use the plastic bags for trashcan liners and also to clean up after Neocatservative, our feline armchair warrior.

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When I got married a few years back, I had wanted to stay in Virginia—where taxes were lower—but my wife wanted to live in Maryland, and so we compromised and moved to Maryland. Montgomery County, Maryland, is Democrat country. Lawn signs proliferate but, like elections in Cuba, they are all for a single party. Still, despite the high taxes and looming pension crisis, the school system is good and I figured, how much harm could a county government do? A lot, it seems. With little debate and even less coverage, Montgomery County passed a law to discourage disposable bags by imposing a 5 cent charge for each plastic or paper bag used. The charge applies not only in supermarkets, but in all stores: Home Depot? Bag charge. Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Bag Charge. Barnes and Noble? Bag charge. Take-out Chinese food? Bag charge.

While county officials justify the bag tax in kindergarten environmentalism, this is nonsense. Most bag users do not litter and there are laws with hefty fines on the books for those who do. Stores provide bags because they are convenient and they encourage shopping, and most consumers recycle them at home. I use the plastic bags for trashcan liners and also to clean up after Neocatservative, our feline armchair warrior.

Government has become predatory, and the fees add up. According to an Associated Press report, county officials raised $154,000 in the first month. With the lack of inquisitiveness only reporters can muster, however, no journalist has asked what the price to business has been. While I still go to the local supermarket if I run out of milk or my pregnant wife demands pomegranates, these I can carry out without a bag. For most of our shopping, however, my wife and I now drive to Virginia where groceries and others goods are usually cheaper. We’re not profligate spenders, but l would estimate that we shifted perhaps $200 worth of food and retail shopping from Montgomery Country, Maryland to Virginia in January.

Now, Montgomery County has around 972,000 residents, 24 percent of whom are under 18 years old, leaving 738,720 adults. If each adult took $100 shopping into a neighboring county, that would mean a loss to county businesses of $73,872,000. Now, obviously not every adult is mobile or motivated enough to shift their shopping pattern. But, if the bag tax is enough to send only 1,540 county adults—a mere 0.21 percent of county adults—into Fairfax, Virginia, or a neighboring Maryland county—then it is obvious that local business will lose. For the county, the bag law might make cents, but for businesses and residents, it makes no sense.

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Derrick Bell in 1994: ‘Jewish Neoconservative Racists’

The controversy over the videotape of Harvard Law School student Barack Obama speaking in support of his professor Derrick Bell during Bell’s one-man 1990 uprising against the law school’s failure or refusal to hire a black woman as a professor has caused a predictable back-and-forth about what it might mean for Obama to have a favorable view of Bell. Michael Powell of the New York Times reflected conventional opinion in liberal media circles when he tweeted: “Derrick Bell, Radical? We’re to pretend our history cleansed? He fought 4 Civil Rights in Mississippi.”

It is incumbent on Powell and others, if they want to get in on the conversation about Bell, to explain what on earth is mainstream about comments he made in an eye-opening New York Observer interview published on October 10, 1994, that is not available online. Among other remarks, Bell denounced Henry Louis (Skip) Gates for writing a New York Times op-ed condemning black anti-Semitism:

I was furious. Even if everything he said was true, it was inexcusable not to mention what might have motivated blacks to feel this way, and to fail to talk about all the Jewish neoconservative racists who are undermining blacks in every way they can.

Bell went on to say, “Now, that wouldn’t excuse anti-Semitism, which is awful, but it would at least provide a context for this anger…”

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The controversy over the videotape of Harvard Law School student Barack Obama speaking in support of his professor Derrick Bell during Bell’s one-man 1990 uprising against the law school’s failure or refusal to hire a black woman as a professor has caused a predictable back-and-forth about what it might mean for Obama to have a favorable view of Bell. Michael Powell of the New York Times reflected conventional opinion in liberal media circles when he tweeted: “Derrick Bell, Radical? We’re to pretend our history cleansed? He fought 4 Civil Rights in Mississippi.”

It is incumbent on Powell and others, if they want to get in on the conversation about Bell, to explain what on earth is mainstream about comments he made in an eye-opening New York Observer interview published on October 10, 1994, that is not available online. Among other remarks, Bell denounced Henry Louis (Skip) Gates for writing a New York Times op-ed condemning black anti-Semitism:

I was furious. Even if everything he said was true, it was inexcusable not to mention what might have motivated blacks to feel this way, and to fail to talk about all the Jewish neoconservative racists who are undermining blacks in every way they can.

Bell went on to say, “Now, that wouldn’t excuse anti-Semitism, which is awful, but it would at least provide a context for this anger…”

It might seem nice of Bell to acknowledge the awfulness of anti-Semitism, but he didn’t mean it. The very same interview began as follows: “We should really appreciate the Louis Farrakhans and the Khalid Muhammads while we’ve got them.” Khalid Muhammad was Farrakhan’s right hand, who made a name for himself referring to Jews as, among many other things, “bloodsuckers” whose “father was the devil.”  As for Farrakhan, if you need a refresher course in his vileness, look here.

Why exactly were we supposed to appreciate them? Quoth Bell: “While these guys talk a lot, they don’t do anything. The new crop of leaders are going to be a lot more dangerous and radical, and the next phase will probably be led by charismatic individuals, maybe teenagers, who urge that instead of killing each other, they should go out in gangs and kill a whole lot of white people.”

Note how he seemed to relish this prospect even as he tut-tutted it. Note also how almost unimaginably wrong he was. For no marauding gangs of black teenagers went around killing white people after he spoke; in fact, the ongoing crime drop that followed his words had its most remarkable impact in black communities, where the number of murders fell, by some counts, as much as 80 percent over the decade that followed.

And of course, 18 years after he spoke these words, a black man who gave him a nice hug back in 1990 was elected president of the United States.

Bell, in the same interview: “Blacks will simply never gain full equality in this country.”

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Good Signs in February Jobs Numbers

In yet another sign of economic improvement, the latest jobs report showed that the U.S. added 227,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate stayed at 8.3 percent. The Hill reports that employment numbers from previous months have also been revised up:

The number is slightly better than expected and represents the third straight month the economy added more than 200,000 jobs. That’s good news for President Obama, who has seen his reelection chances improve with the better labor market.

The report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised figures for December and January up from 203,000 to 223,000, and from 243,00 to 284,000, respectively.

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In yet another sign of economic improvement, the latest jobs report showed that the U.S. added 227,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate stayed at 8.3 percent. The Hill reports that employment numbers from previous months have also been revised up:

The number is slightly better than expected and represents the third straight month the economy added more than 200,000 jobs. That’s good news for President Obama, who has seen his reelection chances improve with the better labor market.

The report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised figures for December and January up from 203,000 to 223,000, and from 243,00 to 284,000, respectively.

The reason the number of jobs increased but the unemployment rate was unchanged is because more Americans are flooding back into the jobs force, after dropping out due to the lack of available work. This is another indication that the economy is at least on the path to recovery.

However, the fact that the unemployment rate remains above 8 percent is still a political burden for Obama, and he’s likely to go into the general election with the highest unemployment rate of any president since World War II.

Republican leaders are applauding the latest jobs figures, but note that Obama is still pursuing policies that will slow the recovery and fail to reduce the national deficit.

“Three years of ‘stimulus’ spending, tax hikes, and excessive government regulations have left us with unemployment that has remained above eight percent for 37 consecutive months, and Americans are increasingly worried about the amount of debt owed to countries like China,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner in a statement this morning. “Meanwhile, gas prices have nearly doubled as the Obama administration has rejected new energy production, blocked and lobbied against projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, and promoted policies that would drive prices up even further.”

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Israel’s New Bunker Buster Missile

The U.S. military or its contractors long ago released videos of bunker buster bombs. While the Israeli military has requested advanced bunker buster bombs from the United States, the Israelis have also been manufacturing its own technology. They recently released this impressive video depicting a new concrete-busting missile which would presumably obviate the need for aircraft to fly over certain targets.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last week said “actions speak louder than words.” That may not be the maxim of Western diplomats who prefer to kick the can down the road, but it seems the Supreme Leader’s words might ring true with the Israelis, who now signal the road has run out. If I were an Iranian nuclear scientist, I’d take out life insurance now.

The U.S. military or its contractors long ago released videos of bunker buster bombs. While the Israeli military has requested advanced bunker buster bombs from the United States, the Israelis have also been manufacturing its own technology. They recently released this impressive video depicting a new concrete-busting missile which would presumably obviate the need for aircraft to fly over certain targets.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last week said “actions speak louder than words.” That may not be the maxim of Western diplomats who prefer to kick the can down the road, but it seems the Supreme Leader’s words might ring true with the Israelis, who now signal the road has run out. If I were an Iranian nuclear scientist, I’d take out life insurance now.

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Do-Nothing White House Derails Keystone

President Obama’s lobbying effort paid off yesterday, when the Senate rejected a bill that would move forward construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by a razor-thin margin:

President Obama had called senators to urge a no vote.

“We hope that the Congress will … not waste its time with ineffectual, sham legislation,’’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

But the effort – along with a vote on a measure to expand offshore drilling that was also rejected — was designed to highlight differences between the two parties and provide fodder for the campaign trail in this year’s battle for control of the White House and the Senate.

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President Obama’s lobbying effort paid off yesterday, when the Senate rejected a bill that would move forward construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by a razor-thin margin:

President Obama had called senators to urge a no vote.

“We hope that the Congress will … not waste its time with ineffectual, sham legislation,’’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

But the effort – along with a vote on a measure to expand offshore drilling that was also rejected — was designed to highlight differences between the two parties and provide fodder for the campaign trail in this year’s battle for control of the White House and the Senate.

Republicans needed 60 votes to get the Keystone construction measure attached to a transportation bill that is critical for the White House. While they were able to get 11 Democrats to support it, they still came up four votes short.

The debate over the measure put Obama in an awkward position, particularly after his constant claims the “do-nothing Republican Congress” has been holding up job creation. As yesterday’s vote highlights, Obama is actively working to delay construction on a pipeline that would create thousands of jobs.

“President Obama’s personal pleas to wavering senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office.”

After weeks of getting pummeled by Democrats and the media over the birth control battle, Republicans would be smart to pivot to the Keystone project. It’s a way to attack Obama on both energy prices and job creation, and it’s an issue that actually resonates with the general public.

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Will March be Cruel for Romney?

With about a third of the delegates chosen for the Republican convention, any reasonable analysis of the math shows Mitt Romney will almost certainly wind up being the nominee. But, as Sean Trende points out at Real Clear Politics, the frontrunner will have to wait until June at the earliest to amass the majority he needs to formally lock the contest up. That means perhaps as long as three more months for him to be attacked from the right as a “Massachusetts moderate,” which will make it harder for him to convince conservatives to turn out in November in the numbers needed to beat President Obama.

The really hard part for Romney is the prospect of a brutal March including contests in Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Louisiana, where he will be the underdog to Rick Santorum. Though the upcoming weeks will bring some bright spots such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Illinois, where Romney will be favored, this will be a difficult period for the frontrunner as Santorum and Newt Gingrich (assuming he doesn’t drop out or become as marginal as Ron Paul), continue to abuse him as a product of the establishment whose health care record is indistinguishable from that of Obama. But as grim as that prospect may be for his campaign, if their candidate can pocket one or two of the states where he is thought to have little chance, it could alter an otherwise unpromising March narrative.

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With about a third of the delegates chosen for the Republican convention, any reasonable analysis of the math shows Mitt Romney will almost certainly wind up being the nominee. But, as Sean Trende points out at Real Clear Politics, the frontrunner will have to wait until June at the earliest to amass the majority he needs to formally lock the contest up. That means perhaps as long as three more months for him to be attacked from the right as a “Massachusetts moderate,” which will make it harder for him to convince conservatives to turn out in November in the numbers needed to beat President Obama.

The really hard part for Romney is the prospect of a brutal March including contests in Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Louisiana, where he will be the underdog to Rick Santorum. Though the upcoming weeks will bring some bright spots such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Illinois, where Romney will be favored, this will be a difficult period for the frontrunner as Santorum and Newt Gingrich (assuming he doesn’t drop out or become as marginal as Ron Paul), continue to abuse him as a product of the establishment whose health care record is indistinguishable from that of Obama. But as grim as that prospect may be for his campaign, if their candidate can pocket one or two of the states where he is thought to have little chance, it could alter an otherwise unpromising March narrative.

Trende’s analysis of the upcoming contests predicts defeats for Romney in the south along with likely losses in Kansas and Missouri. A string of defeats to Santorum in those states along with what may be a replay in Illinois of his narrow victories in Michigan and Ohio would paint a portrait of a faltering “inevitable” candidate who is weakest in his party’s heartland. Even worse, it could create more pressure on Newt Gingrich to drop out in Santorum’s favor though, as I wrote yesterday, I think the odds of that happening are slim.

Yet as long as Gingrich stays in the race, Romney still has an opportunity to steal one or two southern states. Though there has not been much polling done for many of the upcoming primaries, the most recent one coming out of Alabama shows the assumption that he hasn’t a chance anywhere in the Deep South may be mistaken. An Alabama Education Association poll published on Wednesday of likely Republican voters gave Romney a 9-percentage point lead over both Santorum and Gingrich who are in a virtual tie for second. We have seen bigger leads than that turn around in less time than the few days left until Alabama and Mississippi vote, and a Santorum victory in Kansas this weekend may help provide a bit more momentum to his low-budget campaign in the south.

With evangelicals providing many, if not most of the votes in these states, pundits do well to give Santorum the edge. But if Romney is able to use his superior financial resources to pull out one or two wins it may be a sign that after his Super Tuesday victories that lengthened his delegate lead, some conservatives may be prepared to throw in the towel and make their peace with him. A victory in any one of those that we may have assumed would go to Santorum could be a game changer in that respect. If so, it could transform March from the cruelest month in the GOP calendar for Romney to one in which his nomination became that much more certain.

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