Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 14, 2012

The West is Complicit in Assad’s Massacres

For months we have been hearing prominent Americans from media pundits to President Obama promising that Bashar Assad’s Syrian tyranny was on its way out. Most of this optimism was based on a faulty understanding of the grip that the Assad clan and its Alawite allies have on the Syrian military and security services as well as a misapprehension about what constitutes the tipping point in toppling despotic regimes.

But as Assad’s forces expand their bloodthirsty crackdowns to other cities in the country after squelching the opposition in the north, it is also fair to point out that he is only getting away with this because neither President Obama and the European Union nor the Arab League which professes to be horrified by these atrocities is willing to lift a finger to stop him. Thousands have already been slaughtered and thousands more thrust into Syrian dungeons where they are being tortured by the regime. But all these people have gotten from the West are empty words such as those uttered by the president on the subject.

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For months we have been hearing prominent Americans from media pundits to President Obama promising that Bashar Assad’s Syrian tyranny was on its way out. Most of this optimism was based on a faulty understanding of the grip that the Assad clan and its Alawite allies have on the Syrian military and security services as well as a misapprehension about what constitutes the tipping point in toppling despotic regimes.

But as Assad’s forces expand their bloodthirsty crackdowns to other cities in the country after squelching the opposition in the north, it is also fair to point out that he is only getting away with this because neither President Obama and the European Union nor the Arab League which professes to be horrified by these atrocities is willing to lift a finger to stop him. Thousands have already been slaughtered and thousands more thrust into Syrian dungeons where they are being tortured by the regime. But all these people have gotten from the West are empty words such as those uttered by the president on the subject.

It needs to be re-emphasized that the difference between what is going on in Syria and what happened in Tunisia and Egypt last year is that unlike the heads of those regimes, the ruler of Damascus hasn’t lost his willingness to kill in order to hold onto power. It is an iron rule of history that such governments only fall when, as in the French Revolution, the collapse of the Shah’s regime in Iran or the end of the Soviet Union, the elites in power are no longer able to summon the will to violently suppress dissent. So long as Assad hasn’t lost his taste for blood  — and he obviously hasn’t — he won’t be heading for the exits.

That means if the West really cares about the wholesale slaughter going on in Syria, it is going to have to do something whether it means arming and/or training the rebels or authorizing some sort of international intervention.

Getting into a conflict, even a limited one, in Syria is something that any administration, let alone one facing re-election would be reluctant to do. But given the scale of the suffering in Syria, President Obama needs to understand that if he wants his rhetoric about human rights to have any credibility, he’s going to have show some real leadership. But given the Obama administration’s predilection for “leading from behind” as well as its obvious lack of interest in doing anything more than talk about Syria and its Iranian ally, Assad’s victims shouldn’t expect help from America anytime in the foreseeable future.

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Defense Cutbacks Put Intolerable Stress on Troops in Afghanistan

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Scales has a thoughtful op-ed in the Washington Post today suggesting that incidents such as the one in which a staff sergeant killed 16 civilians in southern Afghanistan are related to the stress of nonstop combat deployments. A Vietnam veteran, Scales points out that there is only so much that soldiers can take and that today’s generation of infantrymen has had to endure more combat rotations than his generation did. “[T]he real institutional culprit is the decade-long exploitation and cynical overuse of one of our most precious and irreplaceable national assets: our close combat soldiers and Marines,” he writes.

He makes a good point, and it’s worth focusing on just why we have had to lean so heavily on so few troopers. It’s because the army, after having been downsized by 30%, was too small to fight wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq–conflicts that nobody anticipated in the post-Cold War euphoria. Now, with the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, we are entering another “peace dividend” period with the army getting slashed by 90,000 soldiers—and that’s not even counting the possible impact of sequestration next year. If the nation orders troops into harm’s way in the future—and the odds are very great that we will, sooner or later–then today’s shrinking force will face even greater stress in the future

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Retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Scales has a thoughtful op-ed in the Washington Post today suggesting that incidents such as the one in which a staff sergeant killed 16 civilians in southern Afghanistan are related to the stress of nonstop combat deployments. A Vietnam veteran, Scales points out that there is only so much that soldiers can take and that today’s generation of infantrymen has had to endure more combat rotations than his generation did. “[T]he real institutional culprit is the decade-long exploitation and cynical overuse of one of our most precious and irreplaceable national assets: our close combat soldiers and Marines,” he writes.

He makes a good point, and it’s worth focusing on just why we have had to lean so heavily on so few troopers. It’s because the army, after having been downsized by 30%, was too small to fight wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq–conflicts that nobody anticipated in the post-Cold War euphoria. Now, with the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, we are entering another “peace dividend” period with the army getting slashed by 90,000 soldiers—and that’s not even counting the possible impact of sequestration next year. If the nation orders troops into harm’s way in the future—and the odds are very great that we will, sooner or later–then today’s shrinking force will face even greater stress in the future

That is deeply unfair and unwise. Policymakers should heed Scales’s warnings and keep the army large enough to handle future emergencies rather than shrinking the force and once again making a small group of dedicated war-fighters pay a heavy price for our lack of readiness.

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How Much Has Romney Outspent Santorum?

Rick Santorum played up his victories last night by pointing out that Mitt Romney has significantly outspent him throughout the race. “People have said, you know, you’re being outspent, and everybody’s talking about all the math and all the things – that this race is inevitable,” Santorum told his supporters. “Well for somebody who thinks this race is inevitable, [Romney’s] spent a whole lot of money against me for being inevitable.”

This is an attack line that Santorum’s likely to hammer in repeatedly in the run-up to the Illinois primary, especially since Romney and his allies are already shelling out enough money to flood the Illinois air waves with ads for the next week. Santorum, who has been trailing significantly in the fundraising department, has been blasting out emails asking for contributions so it can keep up with Romney today.

But while it’s true that Romney has outspent Santorum by a 10-1 margin, BuzzFeed reports that the disparity shrinks when you consider spending-per-delegate:

Romney is, however, getting his money’s worth: Measured by spending-per-delegate, the measure that matters, he’s running a more efficient campaign than one of his Republican rivals, Ron Paul, and a campaign that’s roughly equivalent to Newt Gingrich’s. Santorum, meanwhile, is running a more efficient campaign, but not by the order of magnitude the raw numbers suggest. Romney’s campaign has only spent about twice as much, per delegate, than Santorum; that figure increases to about three times as much if you include the SuperPACS — but nothing like the ten-to-one margin that emerges from the overall spending comparison.

There are also other gains that are more difficult to measure, i.e. the fact that some the primaries carry more weight than others regardless of the number of delegates they have. Romney has picked up more of the states that are considered “must-wins” than Santorum has, and hence those victories are more valuable.

Rick Santorum played up his victories last night by pointing out that Mitt Romney has significantly outspent him throughout the race. “People have said, you know, you’re being outspent, and everybody’s talking about all the math and all the things – that this race is inevitable,” Santorum told his supporters. “Well for somebody who thinks this race is inevitable, [Romney’s] spent a whole lot of money against me for being inevitable.”

This is an attack line that Santorum’s likely to hammer in repeatedly in the run-up to the Illinois primary, especially since Romney and his allies are already shelling out enough money to flood the Illinois air waves with ads for the next week. Santorum, who has been trailing significantly in the fundraising department, has been blasting out emails asking for contributions so it can keep up with Romney today.

But while it’s true that Romney has outspent Santorum by a 10-1 margin, BuzzFeed reports that the disparity shrinks when you consider spending-per-delegate:

Romney is, however, getting his money’s worth: Measured by spending-per-delegate, the measure that matters, he’s running a more efficient campaign than one of his Republican rivals, Ron Paul, and a campaign that’s roughly equivalent to Newt Gingrich’s. Santorum, meanwhile, is running a more efficient campaign, but not by the order of magnitude the raw numbers suggest. Romney’s campaign has only spent about twice as much, per delegate, than Santorum; that figure increases to about three times as much if you include the SuperPACS — but nothing like the ten-to-one margin that emerges from the overall spending comparison.

There are also other gains that are more difficult to measure, i.e. the fact that some the primaries carry more weight than others regardless of the number of delegates they have. Romney has picked up more of the states that are considered “must-wins” than Santorum has, and hence those victories are more valuable.

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Iran’s Gaza Missile Gambit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset today that recent missile attacks on southern Israel from Gaza ought not to be regarded as a separate struggle from the international focus on halting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. He laid the primary responsibility for the violence squarely on Tehran, saying, “Gaza is Iran.” The allusion was to the fact that the groups that launched the barrage, including Islamic Jihad, are directly linked to the Iranian regime. While some of Netanyahu’s Palestinian critics understand he is right about Iran being behind the terrorist groups who are most interested in heating up the conflict, they still reflexively blame Israel for the incidents. They claim there was something wrong about efforts to interdict terror squads as they are launching missiles or other attacks. This is not only morally obtuse in that it treats Israeli self-defense as inherently illegitimate but also helps to obscure both the immediate and underlying responsibility for the flare up.

As Jonathan Schanzer writes in Foreign Policy, the latest terror offensive that led to more than 200 missiles being fired at Israel was the brainchild of the Iranians. By starting the fight that the Israelis finished, Iran’s terrorist proxies were not just seeking to burnish their image by seeking to kill Jews; they were also punishing Hamas for walking away from its long alliance with Tehran:

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset today that recent missile attacks on southern Israel from Gaza ought not to be regarded as a separate struggle from the international focus on halting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. He laid the primary responsibility for the violence squarely on Tehran, saying, “Gaza is Iran.” The allusion was to the fact that the groups that launched the barrage, including Islamic Jihad, are directly linked to the Iranian regime. While some of Netanyahu’s Palestinian critics understand he is right about Iran being behind the terrorist groups who are most interested in heating up the conflict, they still reflexively blame Israel for the incidents. They claim there was something wrong about efforts to interdict terror squads as they are launching missiles or other attacks. This is not only morally obtuse in that it treats Israeli self-defense as inherently illegitimate but also helps to obscure both the immediate and underlying responsibility for the flare up.

As Jonathan Schanzer writes in Foreign Policy, the latest terror offensive that led to more than 200 missiles being fired at Israel was the brainchild of the Iranians. By starting the fight that the Israelis finished, Iran’s terrorist proxies were not just seeking to burnish their image by seeking to kill Jews; they were also punishing Hamas for walking away from its long alliance with Tehran:

As the Iranians see it, Hamas has outlived its usefulness.… The Iranian leadership also has its own reasons for wreaking havoc in Gaza now. For starters, it deflects international attention from Tehran’s nuclear activities. With Israel on the brink of war with the Palestinians, the international community’s Pavlovian response is to rein Israel in and call for calm on both sides. The United Nations is now rushing to avert a war in Gaza instead of looking at new ways to halt Iran’s nuclear drive.

Moreover, any unrest in the region reverberates in the oil markets. Traders don’t like to see violence near their energy sources — just look at the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, which drove oil prices up almost 15 percent, despite the fact that Lebanon is not an oil exporter. Causing spikes in oil prices is the easiest way for Iran to circumvent sanctions: The more oil costs, the more cash Tehran can raise as it takes those last fateful steps toward the nuclear threshold.

Schanzer is spot on in his diagnosis of the way the Iranians have been able to manipulate their terrorist proxies. In doing so, not only has Hamas been embarrassed, but the violence also helps exacerbate the split between its various factions, thereby making the Gaza region it rules unstable.

But the problem goes deeper than that. As Schanzer notes, though Hamas may be trying to wean itself from its Iranian sponsor, the “martyrdom” culture it helped cultivate, weapons tunnels it helped build and maintain, and small but lethal terrorist groups it continues to finance,” roils the region.

However, Iran doesn’t deserve all the blame for the “culture” of violence it helped finance for years. The process by which any group, no matter how bloodthirsty, can be outflanked in the way that Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Resistance Committee are doing to Hamas, is the fault of a Palestinian political culture that always rewards those who commit violence against Jews.

Apologists for the Palestinians will continue to try to blame all this on Israel alone or on the Jewish state and Iran. But the reason why Tehran is able to exploit this situation is that Palestinians are always ready to start killing at the drop of a hat. As much as Netanyahu is right to assert Iran’s responsibility in this episode, were the Palestinians not as besotted with bloodletting, such efforts would never succeed.

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Afghanistan Exposes Old vs. New Europe

When, against the context of the Iraq war, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the differences between Old Europe (our traditional Cold War allies) and New Europe (states freed from the yoke of communist dictatorship), diplomats and the foreign policy elite castigated him. Diplomacy, after all, downplays the importance of reality, and seeks instead to paper over differences.

I just returned from Iasi, Romania, where I had the privilege to teach a few classes for the Romanian Land Forces’ 15th Mechanized Brigade, as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan. The Romanians are not partners in name only: They have actively taken part in the fighting, have contributed Special Forces, and have taken a number of casualties across multiple rotations. In addition, the Romanians jumped on the opportunity to cooperate in missile defense, and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea town of Constanta plays an increasingly important logistics role for the United States Air Force.

Because of flight schedules, I had to stay in London for a night on my way home, and cooling my heels at the airport hotel, I got an overdose of British media. While I was there and on European time, I also had an opportunity to do an interview on the Afghanistan situation for a French station.

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When, against the context of the Iraq war, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of the differences between Old Europe (our traditional Cold War allies) and New Europe (states freed from the yoke of communist dictatorship), diplomats and the foreign policy elite castigated him. Diplomacy, after all, downplays the importance of reality, and seeks instead to paper over differences.

I just returned from Iasi, Romania, where I had the privilege to teach a few classes for the Romanian Land Forces’ 15th Mechanized Brigade, as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan. The Romanians are not partners in name only: They have actively taken part in the fighting, have contributed Special Forces, and have taken a number of casualties across multiple rotations. In addition, the Romanians jumped on the opportunity to cooperate in missile defense, and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea town of Constanta plays an increasingly important logistics role for the United States Air Force.

Because of flight schedules, I had to stay in London for a night on my way home, and cooling my heels at the airport hotel, I got an overdose of British media. While I was there and on European time, I also had an opportunity to do an interview on the Afghanistan situation for a French station.

The juxtaposition between Old Europe and New Europe was palpable. British and French journalists seemed infused with defeatism and cynicism with regard to Afghanistan, and did not bother to disguise willingness to condemn others to totalitarian subjugation. The Romanians, however, understood that ideologies can kill and that passivity in the face of evil can condemn generations to slavery.

Alas, it seems that many in the White House are almost embarrassed by the enthusiasm with which countries that either suffered under dictatorship or face a looming threat embrace liberty. The Obama administration has, at various times, thrown Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia under the bus. Beyond the frontiers of Europe, add Taiwan, South Korea, Honduras, Colombia and Israel to the list.

Realists seek to base partnerships on short-term calculations of national interest. The truest friends, however, are those who embrace liberty as their guiding principle. How tragic it is that these natural allies increasingly doubt the commitment of the United States to them, even as they bend over backwards to become the flag-bearers of that for which the United States has traditionally stood.

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Compassion, Victorian England and Us

Earlier this week, I wrote in defense of “compassionate conservatism.” Since then, I re-read portions of historian Gertrude Himmelfarb’s book Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians. It is a pioneering study of late Victorian English society, which discovered and attacked poverty with a combination of scientific rigor and moral fervor.

Himmelfarb points out that for the late Victorians, compassion was a moral sentiment, not a political principle – an active sentiment appropriate for genuine misery or sorrow that called for some charitable or benevolent action. The “driving mission” of reformers, philanthropists, and social critics was to “make compassion proportionate to and compatible with the proper ends of social policy.” Compassion properly understood was the common denominator behind enterprises like the Charity Organisation Society, the Settlement House movement, and more. “Over and over again,” Himmelfarb writes, “contemporaries testified to the extraordinary accession of social consciousness and social conscience in the last decades of the century, and most conspicuously in the 1880s.”

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Earlier this week, I wrote in defense of “compassionate conservatism.” Since then, I re-read portions of historian Gertrude Himmelfarb’s book Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians. It is a pioneering study of late Victorian English society, which discovered and attacked poverty with a combination of scientific rigor and moral fervor.

Himmelfarb points out that for the late Victorians, compassion was a moral sentiment, not a political principle – an active sentiment appropriate for genuine misery or sorrow that called for some charitable or benevolent action. The “driving mission” of reformers, philanthropists, and social critics was to “make compassion proportionate to and compatible with the proper ends of social policy.” Compassion properly understood was the common denominator behind enterprises like the Charity Organisation Society, the Settlement House movement, and more. “Over and over again,” Himmelfarb writes, “contemporaries testified to the extraordinary accession of social consciousness and social conscience in the last decades of the century, and most conspicuously in the 1880s.”

She then distinguishes between sentimental and unsentimental compassion. “In its sentimental mode,” according to Himmelfarb,

compassion is an exercise in moral indignation, in feeling good rather than doing good; this mode recognizes no principle of proportion, because feeling, unlike reasons, knows no proportion, no limit, no respect for the constrains of policy or prudence. In its unsentimental mode, compassion seeks above all to do good, and this requires a stern sense of proportion, of reason and self-control. The late Victorians … agreed that what was important was to do good to others rather than to feel good themselves. … To be truly humane, genuinely compassionate, was not to be selfless; it was only to be true to one’s “best self” and to the “common good” that included one’s own good. This was not a heroic goal, not the aspiration of a saint or a martyr. But it was eminently moral and humane.

In her last chapter, Himmelfarb argues that in “rediscovering” poverty, those of us in modern American society have much to learn from the late Victorians. “After making the most arduous attempt to objectify the problem of poverty, to divorce poverty from any moral assumptions and conditions,” she writes, “we are learning how inseparable the moral and material dimensions of that problem are. And after trying to devise social policies that are scrupulously neutral and ‘value-free,’ we are finding these policies fraught with moral implications that have grave material and social consequences.”

I raise all this in order to illustrate that compassion is not a “soft” virtue that ought to cause conservatives to roll their eyes, as if it’s simply a Trojan Horse for the liberal welfare state. Sometimes it is; but the task of a responsible conservative movement is to rescue the term from those with a collectivist mindset. How to advance unsentimental compassion in 21st century America is a complicated matter; and in the end, it depends most of all on individual hearts being moved to act on behalf of the most vulnerable members of the human community.

There was a time not all that long ago when conservatives focused much of their energies on creative ways to strengthen civil society, alleviate poverty, and assist addicts and unwed mothers in ways that are both principled and compassionate (see this piece by William Schambra in The Chronicle of Philanthropy). The degree to which government can catalyze these efforts isn’t always obvious, and we know that government can sometimes do more harm than good. But our obligation to care, to reject indifference and show solidarity with those who find themselves in the shadow of life, is clear enough.

“I am a part of all that I have met,” Tennyson wrote. “Some work of noble note, may yet be done … Come, my friends, ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

 

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Islamophobia, This Time at the NYT

Following on from the recent (prideful!) admission of the BBC’s director-general that the network has a double-standard when it comes to religious criticism (Islam is no go, but Christianity is fair game), it seems the New York Times is pursuing the same policy.

Having published an anti-Catholic advertisement by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, execs at the Times have opted, at least for the time being, not to publish an anti-Islam ad that mirrors the very same language of the anti-Catholic one:

Why send your children to parochial schools to be indoctrinated into the next generation of obedient donors and voters? Can’t you see how misplaced your loyalty is after two decades of sex scandals involving preying priests, church complicity, collusion and cover-up going all the way to the top…Join those of us who put humanity above dogma.

And compare:

Why put up with an institution that dehumanizes women and non-Muslims … [do] you keep identifying with the ideology that threatens liberty for women and menaces freedom by slaughtering, oppressing and subjugating non-Muslims… Join those of us who put humanity above the vengeful, hateful and violent teachings of Islam’s ‘‘prophet.’’

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Following on from the recent (prideful!) admission of the BBC’s director-general that the network has a double-standard when it comes to religious criticism (Islam is no go, but Christianity is fair game), it seems the New York Times is pursuing the same policy.

Having published an anti-Catholic advertisement by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, execs at the Times have opted, at least for the time being, not to publish an anti-Islam ad that mirrors the very same language of the anti-Catholic one:

Why send your children to parochial schools to be indoctrinated into the next generation of obedient donors and voters? Can’t you see how misplaced your loyalty is after two decades of sex scandals involving preying priests, church complicity, collusion and cover-up going all the way to the top…Join those of us who put humanity above dogma.

And compare:

Why put up with an institution that dehumanizes women and non-Muslims … [do] you keep identifying with the ideology that threatens liberty for women and menaces freedom by slaughtering, oppressing and subjugating non-Muslims… Join those of us who put humanity above the vengeful, hateful and violent teachings of Islam’s ‘‘prophet.’’

The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue commented that the double-standard was based on ‘‘either [anti-Catholic] bigotry or fear [of Islamic violence], and they’ve painted themselves into that corner.’’

The Times preferred instead to paint a more patriotic picture: ‘‘the fallout from running this ad now,’’ the newspaper claimed, ‘‘could put U.S. troops and/or civilians in the [Afghan] region in danger.’’

Firstly, this seems to confirm Donohue’s conclusion – that, as with the BBC, the threat of violence (literal Islamophobia) ultimately wins the day. Secondly, the Grey Lady doth protest a little too much: this defense will perhaps fall on deaf ears coming from a newspaper that so willingly published the Wikileaks’ cables, apparently without much concern for how they might imperil ‘‘U.S. troops and/or civilians’’ in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It’s not clear whether it’s more or less noble that the BBC now readily admits its double standard, whereas the Times prefers not to. Either way, the conclusion is the same: there is a reasonable debate to be had about whether these sorts of ads are appropriate, but, like the BBC, the New York Times cannot have it both ways.

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The GOP Race Remains Long, Hard Slog

The results from last night’s GOP primaries and caucuses – wins for Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama and wins for Mitt Romney in Hawaii and American Samoa — simply confirmed some existing trends. It’s a two-man race.

Mitt Romney won the night in terms of delegates (41 v. 35 for Rick Santorum). Governor Romney remains the frontrunner, with a huge lead in total delegates (498 v. 239 for Santorum). He’s won 50 percent of all the delegates awarded to date and 45 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination He’s also won more than a million more votes than Santorum during the course of the campaign so far.

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The results from last night’s GOP primaries and caucuses – wins for Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama and wins for Mitt Romney in Hawaii and American Samoa — simply confirmed some existing trends. It’s a two-man race.

Mitt Romney won the night in terms of delegates (41 v. 35 for Rick Santorum). Governor Romney remains the frontrunner, with a huge lead in total delegates (498 v. 239 for Santorum). He’s won 50 percent of all the delegates awarded to date and 45 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination He’s also won more than a million more votes than Santorum during the course of the campaign so far.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Romney has still failed to win over the conservative base of his party. He continues to have difficulty winning support of evangelicals and blue collar, lower-income, and less-educated people. While admittedly playing “away from home,” the former Massachusetts governor – despite a huge money advantage – once again missed a chance to deliver something close to a knock-out blow to his main rival, Santorum. And so the race remains a long, hard slog, with a decreasing likelihood that things will be settled before June 26 (the date of the last election, in Utah).

Rick Santorum, with two impressive wins in Mississippi and Alabama (where he was trailing in polls just before the votes were cast), lives to fight another day. Santorum did well among very conservative voters, evangelicals, and members of the Tea Party. He emerges from last night energized and renewed in spirit, hoping he gets what he desperately wants and needs: a one-on-one contest with Romney.

As others have pointed out, Newt Gingrich had another very bad night, losing in a region he ought to own. (His spokesman R.C. Hammond had called both Alabama and Mississippi “must wins” for his candidate. Those words have been rendered inoperative.) Yet Gingrich seems committed to stay in the race, at least based on his comments last evening. It’s not entirely clear why he should. As Bill Kristol points out, Gingrich has lost 20 out of 24 races in which both Gingrich and Santorum have both been on the ballot. All told, Gingrich has won only two states during the course of two-and-a-half months. He’s had ample opportunities to convince the GOP electorate that he rather than Santorum ought to be the conservative alternative to Romney. But the voters have sided, in an overwhelming fashion, with Santorum over Gingrich. Santorum has now bested Gingrich in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi — all states that Gingrich, if he were a viable nominee, should have won. The former speaker’s rage at Mitt Romney is palpable; and yet by staying in the race, Gingrich is helping the former Massachusetts governor by splitting the non-Romney vote. (CNBC’s John Harwood reports that based on a conversation he had with a friend of Sheldon Adelson, the casino owner may have written his last check for Gingrich’s super PAC, which would be a devastating blow to Gingrich.)

If Mississippi and Alabama were must wins for Santorum, then Illinois becomes extremely significant for Romney. If he fails in the contest there next Tuesday, in a state he should prevail in, then the doubts around his candidacy, which have never gone away, will only grow, even as his chances of winning the nomination in the first round of balloting shrink.

The fundamental dynamics of the race didn’t change last night. Mitt Romney continues to roll on, amassing delegates even as he loses contests, doing enough to remain the dominant leader but not enough to seal the deal. Any hopes for an early resolution to the contest is long gone. Like Democrats in 2008, this race will last until (in all likelihood) late June. Mitt Romney will almost surely arrive at the convention in Tampa with the most delegates, though he may not have the 1,144 he needs to wrap up the nomination. If that happens, he would remain the favorite to win. But the convention could end up being much more interesting and dramatic than Romney and his advisers had ever hoped it would be.

 

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Britannica Is No More: Britannica Wins!

The news out of Chicago is that the Encyclopaedia Britannica will cease publication, at least in ink on paper between boards, after 244 years. This story is being pitched as the triumph of Wikipedia over its elderly rival. “Britannica no more,” Alexander Nazaryan’s blog notice at the New York Daily News was headlined: “Wikipedia wins.”

To be fair, Nazaryan dated Britannica’s decline to an earlier time, when its ranked multiple brown-spined volumes “signified middle-class sophistication.” So true. So obviously true. Say no more. You will easily recognize the bogus middle-class sophistication in this entry on, of all things, Encyclopaedia:

The Greeks seem to have understood by encyclopaedia (έγκυκλοπaιδία, or έγκύκλιος παιδεία) instruction in the whole circle (έυ κυκλω) or complete system of learning — education in arts and sciences. Thus Pliny, in the preface to his Natural History, says that his book treated of all the subjects of the encyclopaedia of the Greeks, “Jam omnia attingenda quae Graeci της έγκυκλοπαιδίας vocant.” Quintilian (Inst. Orat. i 10) directs that before boys are placed under the rhetorician they should be instructed in the other arts, “ut efficiatur orbis ille doctrinae quam Graeci έγκυκλοπαιδείαν vocant.” Galen (De victus ratione in morbis acutis, c. 11) speaks of those who are not educated έν πην έγκυκλοπαιδεία. In these passages of Pliny and Quintilian, however, from one or both of which the modern use of the word seems to be taken, έγκύκλιος παιδεία is now read, and this seems to have been the usual expression.

Try reading that into the earpiece of a half-educated CNN news anchor! Granted, this entry is from the 11th Edition, which Robert Grudin once described as “the queen of books.” (I went out and purchased an entire set of the 11th Edition after reading Grudin’s hilarious academic novel, Book [1992], which counterposes quotations from the 11th against the English department’s Critical Theory to contrast real knowledge to its hip and prolix ersatz.) Yet the entry in the 15th Edition is not much cruder:

In the Speculum majus (“The Greater Mirror”; completed 1244), one of the most important of all encyclopaedias, the French medieval scholar Vincent of Beauvais maintained not only that his work should be perused but that the ideas it recorded should be taken to heart and imitated. Alluding to a secondary sense of the word speculum (“mirror”), he implied that his book showed the world what it is and what it should become. This theme, that encyclopaedias can contribute significantly to the improvement of mankind, recurs constantly throughout their long history.

One suspects that it is precisely this theme which has caused Nazaryan to snort “Wikipedia wins.” He travesties the theme as Britannica’s “underlying belief that ordinary individuals could better themselves intellectually through casual perusal of its tomes.” (From those last five words it’s hard to tell whether Nazaryan is making fun of the Britannica’s uppity middle-class “perusers” or only demonstrating how even a book blog — perhaps a “tome blog,” in his case — can be written pretentiously if you strain hard enough for variation.)

In plain fact, the mission of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is summed up in the two entries I have quoted. On the one hand, it intended to draw together the “whole circle” of human learning in one manageable set of volumes. On the other hand, it sought to improve mankind by making the “complete system” of knowledge readily available to anyone. If and only if Wikipedia has abandoned this mission will I join in the chant “Wikipedia wins!” Truth be told, though, I am pretty confident that Wikipedia exists to pursue the same twin goals — just in a different format.

Britannica wins, after all. The first edition was completed in 1771 and published in three volumes in Edinburgh. It was compiled, according to its title page, on a new plan: the disciplines of human knowledge, the sciences and the arts, were “digested into distinct treatises or systems,” rather than being divided and scattered “under a multitude of technical terms,” as in earlier encyclopaedias. From the beginning, then, the Britannica had the advantage of keeping important subjects together while making cross-reference easier via numerous separate articles. Not quite two-and-a-half centuries later, Wikipedia uses the same plan. Britannica wins!

The second edition was published in ten volumes between 1776 and 1783; the third, in 18 volumes between 1787 and 1797; the fourth, in 20 volumes between 1801 and 1810. The fifth edition was a reprinting of the fourth, but the sixth edition was a top-to-bottom revision. Work began with an article on chemistry by Sir Humphry Davy, and was finally published in 20 volumes in 1823.

From then on, the Britannica was a corporate effort of serious scholarship, enlisting some of the best minds and writers of its day. The authors of the queenly 11th Edition, published in 1910 and dedicated simultaneously to King George V and President William Howard Taft, included Robert Louis Stevenson, Bertrand Russell, Matthew Arnold, James G. Frazier, Alfred Russel Wallace, Leslie Stephen, Andrew Lang, Prince Kropotkin, John Muir, the economist Frank Taussig, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, T. H. Huxley, William Graham Sumner, Edmund Gosse, Arthur Waugh (Evelyn’s father), the German theologian Adolf von Harnack, J. S. Haldane, Algernon Swinburne, the musicologist Donald Tovey, Jessie L. Weston (whom T. S. Eliot made famous), Sir James Murray (editor of the OED), the football coach Walter Camp (to explain American football, naturally), George Darwin (Charles’s son), Brander Matthews, and the Jewish scholar Israel Abrahams among many others.

In short, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a literary classic. And since so many sets were purchased in so many places all over the English-speaking world across so many years, the Britannica will be available, in print, for decades to come — as long as there are antique stores and used bookstores and desperate readers (as opposed to casual perusers) to haunt them.

The news out of Chicago is that the Encyclopaedia Britannica will cease publication, at least in ink on paper between boards, after 244 years. This story is being pitched as the triumph of Wikipedia over its elderly rival. “Britannica no more,” Alexander Nazaryan’s blog notice at the New York Daily News was headlined: “Wikipedia wins.”

To be fair, Nazaryan dated Britannica’s decline to an earlier time, when its ranked multiple brown-spined volumes “signified middle-class sophistication.” So true. So obviously true. Say no more. You will easily recognize the bogus middle-class sophistication in this entry on, of all things, Encyclopaedia:

The Greeks seem to have understood by encyclopaedia (έγκυκλοπaιδία, or έγκύκλιος παιδεία) instruction in the whole circle (έυ κυκλω) or complete system of learning — education in arts and sciences. Thus Pliny, in the preface to his Natural History, says that his book treated of all the subjects of the encyclopaedia of the Greeks, “Jam omnia attingenda quae Graeci της έγκυκλοπαιδίας vocant.” Quintilian (Inst. Orat. i 10) directs that before boys are placed under the rhetorician they should be instructed in the other arts, “ut efficiatur orbis ille doctrinae quam Graeci έγκυκλοπαιδείαν vocant.” Galen (De victus ratione in morbis acutis, c. 11) speaks of those who are not educated έν πην έγκυκλοπαιδεία. In these passages of Pliny and Quintilian, however, from one or both of which the modern use of the word seems to be taken, έγκύκλιος παιδεία is now read, and this seems to have been the usual expression.

Try reading that into the earpiece of a half-educated CNN news anchor! Granted, this entry is from the 11th Edition, which Robert Grudin once described as “the queen of books.” (I went out and purchased an entire set of the 11th Edition after reading Grudin’s hilarious academic novel, Book [1992], which counterposes quotations from the 11th against the English department’s Critical Theory to contrast real knowledge to its hip and prolix ersatz.) Yet the entry in the 15th Edition is not much cruder:

In the Speculum majus (“The Greater Mirror”; completed 1244), one of the most important of all encyclopaedias, the French medieval scholar Vincent of Beauvais maintained not only that his work should be perused but that the ideas it recorded should be taken to heart and imitated. Alluding to a secondary sense of the word speculum (“mirror”), he implied that his book showed the world what it is and what it should become. This theme, that encyclopaedias can contribute significantly to the improvement of mankind, recurs constantly throughout their long history.

One suspects that it is precisely this theme which has caused Nazaryan to snort “Wikipedia wins.” He travesties the theme as Britannica’s “underlying belief that ordinary individuals could better themselves intellectually through casual perusal of its tomes.” (From those last five words it’s hard to tell whether Nazaryan is making fun of the Britannica’s uppity middle-class “perusers” or only demonstrating how even a book blog — perhaps a “tome blog,” in his case — can be written pretentiously if you strain hard enough for variation.)

In plain fact, the mission of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is summed up in the two entries I have quoted. On the one hand, it intended to draw together the “whole circle” of human learning in one manageable set of volumes. On the other hand, it sought to improve mankind by making the “complete system” of knowledge readily available to anyone. If and only if Wikipedia has abandoned this mission will I join in the chant “Wikipedia wins!” Truth be told, though, I am pretty confident that Wikipedia exists to pursue the same twin goals — just in a different format.

Britannica wins, after all. The first edition was completed in 1771 and published in three volumes in Edinburgh. It was compiled, according to its title page, on a new plan: the disciplines of human knowledge, the sciences and the arts, were “digested into distinct treatises or systems,” rather than being divided and scattered “under a multitude of technical terms,” as in earlier encyclopaedias. From the beginning, then, the Britannica had the advantage of keeping important subjects together while making cross-reference easier via numerous separate articles. Not quite two-and-a-half centuries later, Wikipedia uses the same plan. Britannica wins!

The second edition was published in ten volumes between 1776 and 1783; the third, in 18 volumes between 1787 and 1797; the fourth, in 20 volumes between 1801 and 1810. The fifth edition was a reprinting of the fourth, but the sixth edition was a top-to-bottom revision. Work began with an article on chemistry by Sir Humphry Davy, and was finally published in 20 volumes in 1823.

From then on, the Britannica was a corporate effort of serious scholarship, enlisting some of the best minds and writers of its day. The authors of the queenly 11th Edition, published in 1910 and dedicated simultaneously to King George V and President William Howard Taft, included Robert Louis Stevenson, Bertrand Russell, Matthew Arnold, James G. Frazier, Alfred Russel Wallace, Leslie Stephen, Andrew Lang, Prince Kropotkin, John Muir, the economist Frank Taussig, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, T. H. Huxley, William Graham Sumner, Edmund Gosse, Arthur Waugh (Evelyn’s father), the German theologian Adolf von Harnack, J. S. Haldane, Algernon Swinburne, the musicologist Donald Tovey, Jessie L. Weston (whom T. S. Eliot made famous), Sir James Murray (editor of the OED), the football coach Walter Camp (to explain American football, naturally), George Darwin (Charles’s son), Brander Matthews, and the Jewish scholar Israel Abrahams among many others.

In short, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a literary classic. And since so many sets were purchased in so many places all over the English-speaking world across so many years, the Britannica will be available, in print, for decades to come — as long as there are antique stores and used bookstores and desperate readers (as opposed to casual perusers) to haunt them.

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White House Hypocrisy

There’s something even more offensive than pundits and comedians using their platforms to launch nasty or sexist attacks on people they disagree with politically. And that’s the selective outrage and brazen hypocrisy of this White House, which calculatedly stirred up anger about Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments for political gain, but seemingly has no problem when liberal comedians and talk show hosts take sexist jabs at conservative women.

Sarah Palin’s ShePAC shines a light on the White House’s indefensible double-standard:

The real issue isn’t so much that the comments in the clip are offensive, though many of them obviously are. It’s the fact that the petty political scheming of this administration reaches the highest level in the White House. How else to explain the fact that Sandra Fluke warranted a sympathy phone call from President Obama, but Bill Maher’s nasty jokes about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy are shrugged off by White House officials? For that matter, how do you explain Fluke’s call, when Obama still hasn’t managed to ring up Sen. Mark Kirk since his stroke?

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There’s something even more offensive than pundits and comedians using their platforms to launch nasty or sexist attacks on people they disagree with politically. And that’s the selective outrage and brazen hypocrisy of this White House, which calculatedly stirred up anger about Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments for political gain, but seemingly has no problem when liberal comedians and talk show hosts take sexist jabs at conservative women.

Sarah Palin’s ShePAC shines a light on the White House’s indefensible double-standard:

The real issue isn’t so much that the comments in the clip are offensive, though many of them obviously are. It’s the fact that the petty political scheming of this administration reaches the highest level in the White House. How else to explain the fact that Sandra Fluke warranted a sympathy phone call from President Obama, but Bill Maher’s nasty jokes about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy are shrugged off by White House officials? For that matter, how do you explain Fluke’s call, when Obama still hasn’t managed to ring up Sen. Mark Kirk since his stroke?

The obvious conclusion is that Obama and his advisers saw a political advantage to making hay out of the Fluke controversy, and they eagerly exploited it. Only now are they starting to get burned. Obama adviser David Axelrod was pressured into canceling his appearance on Bill Maher’s show, and ShePAC is continuing to turn up the heat on Obama with its new ads.

This isn’t about taking down Maher, Ed Schultz and David Letterman, who are free to say whatever they choose to. It’s about expecting the president to spend his time leading the country rather than engaging in trivial political games and constructing phony controversies designed to help his reelection campaign.

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Obama Blames “Loose Talk of War” With Iran for High Gas Prices

President Obama has a special request. If you must talk publicly about the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, please do it in a whisper so as to not agitate the oil traders.

“The biggest driver of these high gas prices is speculation about possible war in the Middle East, which is why we’ve been trying to reduce some of the loose talk about war there,” Obama told WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, Florida.

In a speech last week, Obama criticized what he called “loose talk of war” by some pundits and politicians concerning Iran, which the United States and other Western nations accuse of pursuing nuclear weapons.

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President Obama has a special request. If you must talk publicly about the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, please do it in a whisper so as to not agitate the oil traders.

“The biggest driver of these high gas prices is speculation about possible war in the Middle East, which is why we’ve been trying to reduce some of the loose talk about war there,” Obama told WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, Florida.

In a speech last week, Obama criticized what he called “loose talk of war” by some pundits and politicians concerning Iran, which the United States and other Western nations accuse of pursuing nuclear weapons.

Obama doesn’t specify who this “loose talk about war” is coming from, but it sounds like he’s pointing the finger at Israel. He explicitly says his administration has “been trying to reduce some of the loose talk” of war. And as we know, the White House has been working to persuade Israel to hold off on a possible strike. So who else could Obama be referring to in that context but the Israeli government?

Alternatively, Obama could also be trying to shift the blame for high gas prices to the Republican candidates. This is also the second time in a week Obama has lashed out at “loose talk” on Iran, and the first time he specifically singled out the GOP candidates. Mitt Romney seems to have interpreted Obama’s latest comments as a direct swipe and blasted the president on the campaign trail yesterday (via Politico):

“But instead [Obama] came up with this [excuse for high gas prices]: He said it’s because Republican presidential candidates are talking in a very muscular way about Iran and their nuclear program. Now that’s a pretty tough one to follow, and frankly, it’s disappointing to have the president of the United States take a serious foreign policy issue, which is Iran, the state sponsor of terror in the world becoming nuclear, and trying to turn that into, saying we’re somehow responsible for high gasoline prices in this country. It is a, it’s a real stretch, even for a guy who’s gotten pretty good at making excuses.”

There’s no denying the rising tensions with Iran are contributing to the spike in gas prices. But to blame the people who are talking about solutions to the Iranian nuclear threat for this is simply disgraceful. If Obama wants to blame anyone, he should be faulting the Iranian regime for continuing to pursue a nuclear weapons program in the face of international warning.

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Churchill, Truman, and the Origins of a Modern Alliance

In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

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In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

We remember Harry Truman as a hero and a visionary–and rightly so–but Truman was himself in awe of Churchill. When Truman met Churchill in Missouri, and the two prepared to spend a train ride in conversation, Truman asked Churchill to call him Harry. Churchill said he would, but only if Truman would call him Winston. Truman balked. “I just don’t know if I can do that,” he said. “I have such admiration for you and what you mean, not only to your people, but to this country and the world.”

Humble giants, they were. Today we are lucky to just get the humility from our leaders. The second story is one of nuance–something Churchill wasn’t known for, certainly, but at one point in his famous Fulton speech deployed with utter genius. Here is an otherwise forgettable and forgotten paragraph from the speech:

The president has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom, and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. Let me however make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see.

In a footnote, White adds that when he discussed that last line with Larry Arnn, the latter pointed out the subtle brilliance of it. As White writes:

What the audience saw was the former prime minister flanked by the president of the United States and his leading advisers. So, if they focused on “nothing” but what was in front of them, they, and Stalin, could not fail to behold unity between Churchill and Truman–and, ergo, Britain and America.

The symbolism of that, too, is important. So is the seemingly insignificant incident of the Obama team’s removal of the bust of Churchill kept in the Oval Office during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama White House explained that “every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.” Indeed they do.

We also have the Obama administration’s failure on two separate occasions to support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. This is a painfully easy call, and you would have to go out of your way to get it wrong and needlessly insult our allies–which Obama did.

The Republican candidates for president have been critical of the president’s dismissive attitude toward the British, so you might imagine Cameron, leader of his country’s conservatives, would drop them a line to say hello, the way Gordon Brown met with Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election when he came to visit Bush. The Telegraph reports this is not to be the case, though Cameron will be meeting important figures, such as “the actor starring in the American television series ‘Homeland.’” The Telegraph explains:

Downing Street aides insist that there is no “snub” to the Republicans by not meeting the presidential candidates. Senior sources say that the schedule was organized by the White House.

If only Cameron had a scheduler of his own! Or access to a phone. But don’t fault Cameron for his priorities, for although he does not arrive bearing the bust of Winston Churchill or with the promise of support over the Falklands, Obama did give him a lift on Air Force One.

As in 1946, “There is nothing here but what you see.” A bit less inspiring today, however.

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ObamaCare Gross Cost Expected to Double

ObamaCare’s gross cost during the next ten years is expected to nearly double the $940 billion price tag projected in 2009. Phil Klein reports on the Democratic Party’s sketchy math that resulted in the discrepancy:

Democrats employed many accounting tricks when they were pushing through the national health care legislation, the most egregious of which was to delay full implementation of the law until 2014, so it would appear cheaper under the CBO’s standard ten-year budget window and, at least on paper, meet Obama’s pledge that the legislation would cost “around $900 billion over 10 years.” When the final CBO score came out before passage, critics noted that the true 10-year cost would be far higher than advertised once projections accounted for full implementation.

Today, the CBO released new projections from 2013 extending through 2022, and the results are as critics expected: the ten-year cost of the law’s core provisions to expand health insurance coverage has now ballooned to $1.76 trillion.

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ObamaCare’s gross cost during the next ten years is expected to nearly double the $940 billion price tag projected in 2009. Phil Klein reports on the Democratic Party’s sketchy math that resulted in the discrepancy:

Democrats employed many accounting tricks when they were pushing through the national health care legislation, the most egregious of which was to delay full implementation of the law until 2014, so it would appear cheaper under the CBO’s standard ten-year budget window and, at least on paper, meet Obama’s pledge that the legislation would cost “around $900 billion over 10 years.” When the final CBO score came out before passage, critics noted that the true 10-year cost would be far higher than advertised once projections accounted for full implementation.

Today, the CBO released new projections from 2013 extending through 2022, and the results are as critics expected: the ten-year cost of the law’s core provisions to expand health insurance coverage has now ballooned to $1.76 trillion.

However, the projected net cost of ObamaCare is actually down, though not for a particularly encouraging reason. The CBO estimates that many more Americans will lose private insurance coverage under ObamaCare than previously thought, which means the federal government will rake in more revenue from fining uninsured individuals and businesses that don’t provide coverage. IBD reports:

The projected rise in revenue is ironically largely due to the increase in the uninsured and the decline in employer-based coverage.

The government will fine individuals $45 billion — up from $34 billion — for failing to have insurance. Businesses are expected to pay $96 billion for not providing coverage, an increase of $15 billion.

Another $81 billion in higher net revenues comes largely from employees no longer getting tax-exempt health insurance but instead being paid more in taxable wages.

So ObamaCare will cost more than thought, but make up for it by increasing the number of Americans who are uninsured, and thus fineable. And remember, this is all happening because the Obama administration wanted to lower insurance costs and provide more coverage for the uninsured.

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What Can Santorum Offer Gingrich?

After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

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After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

On Santorum’s side of that equation, there are two good arguments against making such an offer.

One is that it is possible Gingrich is about to fade out of the picture anyway. Why pay a high price for his support when it might not be worth much in the coming months?

The other is a bit more principled. Having seen what Gingrich was like when he was Speaker of the House, could Santorum really bring himself to put such an inconsistent and often unfocused person only a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Gingrich may also reason that his bargaining power will increase rather than decline if neither Romney nor Santorum wins a majority of delegates by the time the primaries end. Though he may not be so foolish as to believehe could be a compromise solution in a brokered convention, it’s hard to imagine Gingrich being willing to toss in the towel at this moment when he still thinks he might be able to play the kingmaker this summer.

Yet, if Gingrich really wants to remain a factor in the presidential race, a deal that made him Santorum’s running mate might be his best bet. Indeed, one can actually imagine him getting the equally loquacious and egotistic Vice President Joe Biden to agree to Lincoln-Douglas style debates.

As for Santorum, as unpalatable as the prospect of getting into bed with a prima donna like Gingrich may be, he also needs to ask himself how much he really wants to be president and whether he is willing to pay any political price to win.

If Gingrich stays on the ballot rather than on the sidelines, the odds are Romney finds a way to win Illinois and still manages to take the nomination. For all of his bravado about the delegate math not mattering, Santorum understands at this stage, it is everything. Unless he can get his one-on-one matchup with Romney and get it soon, Santorum will probably fall short of the mark. A grand deal with Gingrich that promised him the vice presidency might actually be the only way he can achieve this scenario.

Of course, all this is pure speculation. It will probably never happen due to Santorum’s reluctance to deal with Gingrich and the former speaker’s delusions about his own non-existent chances. But if Santorum and Gingrich really believe Romney must be stopped, then sooner or later they are bound to think about the possibility of a deal.

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Newt’s New Campaign Goal Makes No Sense

The Gingrich campaign finally seems to be acknowledging that it’s mathematically impossible for them to win the nomination in the traditional way at this point. So Newt has now settled on a new goal: stay in the race in order to prevent Mitt Romney from collecting the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination. Byron York reports:

Gingrich no longer says he can capture the 1,144 delegates required to wrap up the Republican nomination. Instead, he now speaks frankly about a new plan: Keep Romney from getting to 1,144 by the end of the GOP primary season in June, and then start what Gingrich calls a “conversation” about who should be the Republican nominee. That conversation, the plan goes, would lead to a brokered GOP convention at which Gingrich would emerge as the eventual nominee.

“Our goal first is to keep Romney well below 1,000,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said an hour before Gingrich addressed a small crowd of disappointed supporters gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel. ”It doesn’t have to be 1,000, or 1,050 — it has to be below 1,100.” If Gingrich succeeds, Hammond continued, “This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we’re going to go to the convention floor.”

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The Gingrich campaign finally seems to be acknowledging that it’s mathematically impossible for them to win the nomination in the traditional way at this point. So Newt has now settled on a new goal: stay in the race in order to prevent Mitt Romney from collecting the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination. Byron York reports:

Gingrich no longer says he can capture the 1,144 delegates required to wrap up the Republican nomination. Instead, he now speaks frankly about a new plan: Keep Romney from getting to 1,144 by the end of the GOP primary season in June, and then start what Gingrich calls a “conversation” about who should be the Republican nominee. That conversation, the plan goes, would lead to a brokered GOP convention at which Gingrich would emerge as the eventual nominee.

“Our goal first is to keep Romney well below 1,000,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said an hour before Gingrich addressed a small crowd of disappointed supporters gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel. ”It doesn’t have to be 1,000, or 1,050 — it has to be below 1,100.” If Gingrich succeeds, Hammond continued, “This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we’re going to go to the convention floor.”

Of course, if the goal is to undermine Romney’s chance at the nomination, the last thing Gingrich should be doing is staying in the race. The longer he stays in, the more he helps Romney by siphoning support away from Rick Santorum and splitting the conservative vote.

And if there were ever a time when Santorum needed Gingrich out of the race, it’s now, with the crucial Illinois primary just a week away. Coming off his two victories in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum has the momentum at this point to potentially take Illinois – and deal a devastating blow to the Romney campaign in the process.

The latest poll from the Chicago Tribune shows Romney leading Santorum by just four points, 35 percent to 31 percent, with Gingrich trailing at 12 percent. If Gingrich drops out, endorses Santorum, and urges his supporters to vote for him, it could easily push the former Pennsylvania senator over the top in the state. And if, after dropping out, Gingrich agreed to pledge the delegates he’s already won to Santorum, it could completely change the dynamic of the race and actually make it competitive again.

Gingrich has the potential to do more damage to the Romney campaign than any other candidate at this point. But that would require him to drop out of the race, something he hasn’t shown any interest in doing. Instead, he’s trying to justify his losing campaign by saying he’s staying in the race to hurt Romney. Is anyone actually buying that excuse?

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UNRWA Slams Israeli Self-Defense

Much has been written about the impotence and uselessness of the United Nations and its various Middle East missions. Peacekeeping operations like those in Lebanon fail to keep any sort of peace, while refugee organizations like those in the the Gaza Strip fail to resolve refugee crises. But one thing has to be admitted: when they step up to help Israel’s enemies in times of war, they do so enthusiastically and even comprehensively. Because modern wars are fought both in the media and on the battlefield, UNRWA officials make a point of assisting Hamas in both arenas.

The documentation on how UNRWA tried to manipulate the media during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead is extensive – a 43-page pdf study can be found here – but probably the most surreal example came when UNRWA Commissioner Karen Abu Zayd hastily called a video press conference to blame Israel for the war. Claiming that “it was obvious that Hamas was trying” to observe a truce and that “only one rocket… went out on Friday [before the operation],” she accused Israel of violating an “informal 48-hour lull.” The degree to which Abu Zayd just flat fabricated that story can’t be overemphasized. Suffice to say that not only had Hamas been firing rockets at Israel for months, but on that very Friday morning they had fired 25 shells. That’s a lot more than the 1 Abu Zayd counted, but global media outlets duly parroted her propaganda anyway.

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Much has been written about the impotence and uselessness of the United Nations and its various Middle East missions. Peacekeeping operations like those in Lebanon fail to keep any sort of peace, while refugee organizations like those in the the Gaza Strip fail to resolve refugee crises. But one thing has to be admitted: when they step up to help Israel’s enemies in times of war, they do so enthusiastically and even comprehensively. Because modern wars are fought both in the media and on the battlefield, UNRWA officials make a point of assisting Hamas in both arenas.

The documentation on how UNRWA tried to manipulate the media during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead is extensive – a 43-page pdf study can be found here – but probably the most surreal example came when UNRWA Commissioner Karen Abu Zayd hastily called a video press conference to blame Israel for the war. Claiming that “it was obvious that Hamas was trying” to observe a truce and that “only one rocket… went out on Friday [before the operation],” she accused Israel of violating an “informal 48-hour lull.” The degree to which Abu Zayd just flat fabricated that story can’t be overemphasized. Suffice to say that not only had Hamas been firing rockets at Israel for months, but on that very Friday morning they had fired 25 shells. That’s a lot more than the 1 Abu Zayd counted, but global media outlets duly parroted her propaganda anyway.

In addition to helping Hamas in the media war, UNRWA also tried to shift the tempo of actual warfighting. On January 6, IDF troops hit a Hamas team that was firing rockets at Israeli civilians from outside an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp. Hamas had been launching rockets from the UNRWA school grounds since at least 2007, but UNRWA officials took the opportunity to accuse Israel of firing into the building and killing civilians inside. The idea was to create a Gaza version of “Qana,” the Lebanon II incident in which IAF planes targeting a Hezbollah rocket cell accidentally hit the apartment building the cell was using for cover, killing 28 of the human shields inside. The resulting international pressure forced Israel into a 48-hour ceasefire, allowing Hezbollah to regroup and allowing journalists to blame Israel anew when fighting resumed. UNRWA tried to do the same thing with the Jabalya school, mobilizing international calls for a ceasefire just as Hamas had become “desperate for a lull in the fighting.”

But Israel never hit the school. UNRWA just pretended it had. Called to account for their blatant fabrication, UNRWA officials blamed the demonstrable falsehood on – no joke – “a clerical error.”

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that UNRWA officials are old hands at pro-Hamas wartime propaganda and tactics. It’s who they are, it’s what they do, and now it’s happening again.

UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness just got called out for being a “terrorist stooge” after he contended that Israel’s current anti-Hamas operation is “sick sick sick.” Gunness is unapologetic about his personal affection for Hamas partisans, having proudly declared that he amplifies Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah because Abunimah “is smart, principled, and makes me giggle” (Hussein Ibish on Abunimah: “he has defended the most recalcitrant elements in Hamas… his admiration for Hamas leaders is often gushing.”)

So it makes sense that Gunness would lash out against Israel, even though the rockets falling on UNRWA schools right now are Hamas-launched Qassams that fall short.

It makes less sense for the United States to continue paying the salary of a guy who suggests that Israel is killing Palestinians for sport, but multilateralism is magic that way. At times like this I like to muse over the recent question presented by the Forward, once one of America’s great ethnic news outlets and now a shoddy proponent of neutrality about BDS: why must American Jews persist in their unfair “misconceptions” about all the good work UNRWA does?

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Mearsheimer’s Anti-Semitism Scandal

Here is John Mearsheimer, writing last year on the Foreign Policy blog of his Israel Lobby co-author Stephen Walt, defending the positive blurb he provided for a new book by Hitler apologist and Holocaust revisionist Gilad Atzmon:

There is no question that [The Wandering Who?] is provocative, both in terms of its central argument and the overly hot language that Atzmon sometimes uses. But it is also filled with interesting insights that make the reader think long and hard about an important subject. Of course, I do not agree with everything that he says in the book — what blurber does? — but I found it thought provoking and likely to be of considerable interest to Jews and non-Jews, which is what I said in my brief comment.

Mearsheimer’s blurb read:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their “Jewishness.” Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.

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Here is John Mearsheimer, writing last year on the Foreign Policy blog of his Israel Lobby co-author Stephen Walt, defending the positive blurb he provided for a new book by Hitler apologist and Holocaust revisionist Gilad Atzmon:

There is no question that [The Wandering Who?] is provocative, both in terms of its central argument and the overly hot language that Atzmon sometimes uses. But it is also filled with interesting insights that make the reader think long and hard about an important subject. Of course, I do not agree with everything that he says in the book — what blurber does? — but I found it thought provoking and likely to be of considerable interest to Jews and non-Jews, which is what I said in my brief comment.

Mearsheimer’s blurb read:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their “Jewishness.” Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.

And now here is an open letter about Atzmon posted yesterday to Electronic Intifada by Hamas supporter and one-stater Ali Abunimah. It concludes with an affirmation of Palestinian “return,” which is to say Israel’s destruction as a Jewish State, and is signed by a who’s who of the anti-Israel fringe. You really need to read the whole thing, but just to give you a sense for the content:

We call for the disavowal of Atzmon by fellow Palestinian organizers, as well as Palestine solidarity activists, and allies of the Palestinian people, and note the dangers of supporting Atzmon’s political work and writings and providing any platforms for their dissemination…Atzmon’s politics rest on one main overriding assertion that serves as springboard for vicious attacks on anyone who disagrees with his obsession with “Jewishness.”

The writers go on for another few paragraphs in that vein. At one point, they feel the need to disavow “denying the Holocaust [and allying with]… conspiracy theories, far-right, orientalist, and racist arguments, associations and entities.” That’s difficult to square with Mearsheimer’s blanket assertion that “Atzmon is neither a Holocaust denier nor an apologist for Hitler.” At another point, they reject the “anti-Semitic or racist language” that they’re repudiating along with Atzmon. That in turn sits uncomfortably with Mearsheimer’s statement that he “[doesn't] believe that Atzmon is an anti-Semite.”

Historically, Mearsheimer was content to sit back and use the same rhetoric and excuses as anti-Israel bigots. Then he ventured into supporting one of them, and then he doubled down on his support. And now not even people who want to see the Jewish State extinguished will travel with Mearsheimer’s chosen fellow traveler.

Late last year, the University of Chicago’s Conservative Quarterly Counterpoint published an article on the Mearsheimer/Atzmon controversy. The piece contained a non-exhaustive list of anti-Semitic passages from Atzmon’s book, but it was particularly notable for its pointed opening sentence: “When, after a long career built on a theory that domestic political relationships had a minimal impact on any state’s foreign policy, John Mearsheimer co-wrote The Israel Lobby, a popular book alleging the maximal impact of a small cabal on American foreign policy, we were perplexed at the incoherence.”

Quite so. Mearsheimer had to give up a lifetime of almost metaphysical theory of international relations work so he could scapegoat American Jews and pro-Israel Christians for the world’s problems. Apparently, he gave up more than a little bit of his dignity as well.

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Facts About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict You Won’t Read in Your Local Paper

Here’s a fact about the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up you probably won’t read in your local paper, as it contradicts the preferred narrative about the conflict: Even as every school in southern Israel was closed for four days, keeping tens of thousands of students home, children in the Gaza Strip continued going to school as usual.

The preferred narrative, of course, is that Israel uses “indiscriminate and excessive force” against Palestinian civilians. But it turns out real live Palestinians know better: They know Israel actually makes great efforts to avoid hitting civilian targets, and therefore, it’s perfectly safe to send their children to school. In contrast, Israelis can’t safely send their children to school, because Palestinian terrorists really do use indiscriminate force, making a school full of children an invitation to a mass-casualty incident. Indeed, a rocket hit an (empty) school in Beersheba on Sunday, and rockets have also struck (empty) schools during previous rounds.

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Here’s a fact about the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up you probably won’t read in your local paper, as it contradicts the preferred narrative about the conflict: Even as every school in southern Israel was closed for four days, keeping tens of thousands of students home, children in the Gaza Strip continued going to school as usual.

The preferred narrative, of course, is that Israel uses “indiscriminate and excessive force” against Palestinian civilians. But it turns out real live Palestinians know better: They know Israel actually makes great efforts to avoid hitting civilian targets, and therefore, it’s perfectly safe to send their children to school. In contrast, Israelis can’t safely send their children to school, because Palestinian terrorists really do use indiscriminate force, making a school full of children an invitation to a mass-casualty incident. Indeed, a rocket hit an (empty) school in Beersheba on Sunday, and rockets have also struck (empty) schools during previous rounds.

And here’s something else you probably won’t read in your local paper: Palestinian terrorists take cynical advantage of Israel’s efforts to avoid hitting civilians by launching their rockets from heavily populated civilian areas. For them, it’s a win-win situation: If Israel refrains from shooting back for fear of hitting civilians, they live to launch again another day, and if Israel does shoot back, it risks civilian casualties that provide the terrorists with wonderful propaganda. After all, they know neither the international media nor the “human-rights organizations” will bother asking why terrorists were launching rockets from civilian areas to begin with.

But don’t take my word for this: Just read what a genuine human rights activist from Gaza, Mahmoud Abu Rahma, wrote in an article posted on two Palestinian websites in December. After describing various incidents in which Palestinian civilians were killed or wounded in Israeli counterstrikes on terrorists who had ignored the civilians’ pleas not to fire rockets near their homes, he demanded: “Who will protect the citizen from the harm caused to him by the government or the muqawama [armed resistance]?”

“There are many instances of citizens falling victim to the muqawama‘s lack of consideration for them and their lives,” Abu Rahma continued. “And what’s more, there is nobody who is accountable for the muqawama‘s intolerable activities.”

Abu Rahma suffered the predictable penalty for his truth-telling: He was viciously attacked by masked men who stabbed him repeatedly. But don’t expect to see international journalists or human rights activists lining up to join his crusade against the muqawama: They prefer the old familiar narrative that it’s all Israel’s fault.

And of course, the muqawama has plenty of fans in Gaza. Asked why Palestinians support the rocket fire despite knowing Israel will retaliate, a Palestinian “friend” told Haaretz reporter Amira Hass: “The mission of the rockets is not to liberate Palestine or win the battle, but to hurt, to cause the Israelis suffering.”

Causing Israelis suffering, it seems, is a goal worth any number of Palestinian casualties. But don’t expect to read that in your local paper, either: It might spoil the narrative of innocent, peace-seeking Palestinians being wantonly attacked by Israel.

 

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J Street in Trouble for Smearing Israel

Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

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Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

First, multiple different polls with multiple different questions have confirmed that of course it’s not the case  the majority of Palestinians embrace a two-state solution. Wishing doesn’t make it so. Second, J Street tried to stack even their minimal advocacy with an outrageous lie about anti-Palestinian Israeli atrocities. Via blogger Challah Hu Akbar, who caught the smear almost immediately:

J Street has released a statement on the recent rocket attacks against Israel’s southern communities and the IDF response. In this statement, J Street says… “Israel Defense Forces… have killed over a dozen Palestinian civilians.” This is an utter lie. Prior to Sunday, Israel had successfully killed 16 terrorists, who were either active in the Popular Resistance Committees or Islamic Jihad, and no civilians. Unfortunately, two civilians were killed on Sunday.

Challah then went on to list each and every terrorist who had been killed, complete with pictures and links to most of their online martyr bios. Martyr bios. While genocidal Palestinian groups were glorifying their cretins’ battlefield demise, J Street was calling those terrorists civilians. Apparently, they’re so incompetent they can’t even toe the Palestinian line correctly.

In fairness, J Street later deleted their false smear. But that hasn’t stopped Israeli outlets from painstakingly cataloging how everyone except the organization seemed to know the dead terrorists were in fact dead terrorists (the notable exception being EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who also seemingly didn’t know). And it hasn’t stopped Israeli MK Otniel Schneller from blasting the group:

“At a time when a million Israeli citizens have been living in bomb shelters for four days and four nights, have not gone to school or work and anxiously await the next siren, the terrorists firing on them are getting encouragement and support, not just from Iran and Hezbollah, but also from the left-wing Jewish American organization J Street,” Schneller said in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday. “The anti-Israel and anti-ethical statement of J Street should serve as a warning for Israeli politicians and left-wing activists, including members of my party, against supporting and identifying with J Street, as they have done in the past,” he added.

Schneller, by the by, turns out to be a Kadima MK. The forecast for former PM Ehud Olmert’s keynote at J Street’s upcoming conference is getting awfully frosty.

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Santorum Momentum Poses a Challenge to Romney’s Math

The two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi were a trap for Rick Santorum because anything but victories for him could have been construed as devastating blows to his campaign. Wins by Mitt Romney would have demonstrated his ability to win in any part of the country including states where conservatives and evangelical voters predominate. Wins by Newt Gingrich would have given him a reason to go on other than his ego. But by sweeping both Deep South states that voted on Tuesday, Santorum added two more triumphs to the already impressive list of states that he has won. The delegate math will not be altered much today due to the proportional allocation system as well as Romney’s expected wins in Hawaii and American Samoa. But though Romney can still have a reasonable expectation of ultimately winning the nomination, Santorum’s momentum places the notion of his inevitability in doubt.

Even if, as I expect, Gingrich stays in the race after losing the last two states where he could have been said to have had a chance to win, Santorum is now in a position to do some real damage to the Romney juggernaut in the upcoming weeks. With polls already showing Romney having only a slight lead over Santorum in a large state like Illinois where he ought to win, Tuesday’s victories allow the Pennsylvanian to hope  he can add to his string of upsets. If Santorum ends March by stacking up victories in Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri, then although he will still be trailing badly in the delegate count, his path to the nomination won’t look quite so much of a fantasy as it did a few weeks ago. Though Romney will still have impressive advantages, so long as the votes are still be counted state by state, momentum has a way of overwhelming math.

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The two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi were a trap for Rick Santorum because anything but victories for him could have been construed as devastating blows to his campaign. Wins by Mitt Romney would have demonstrated his ability to win in any part of the country including states where conservatives and evangelical voters predominate. Wins by Newt Gingrich would have given him a reason to go on other than his ego. But by sweeping both Deep South states that voted on Tuesday, Santorum added two more triumphs to the already impressive list of states that he has won. The delegate math will not be altered much today due to the proportional allocation system as well as Romney’s expected wins in Hawaii and American Samoa. But though Romney can still have a reasonable expectation of ultimately winning the nomination, Santorum’s momentum places the notion of his inevitability in doubt.

Even if, as I expect, Gingrich stays in the race after losing the last two states where he could have been said to have had a chance to win, Santorum is now in a position to do some real damage to the Romney juggernaut in the upcoming weeks. With polls already showing Romney having only a slight lead over Santorum in a large state like Illinois where he ought to win, Tuesday’s victories allow the Pennsylvanian to hope  he can add to his string of upsets. If Santorum ends March by stacking up victories in Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri, then although he will still be trailing badly in the delegate count, his path to the nomination won’t look quite so much of a fantasy as it did a few weeks ago. Though Romney will still have impressive advantages, so long as the votes are still be counted state by state, momentum has a way of overwhelming math.

At the bottom of this equation remain two hard facts that remain the key factors in the GOP race.

One is the undeniable problem that Romney has with conservative voters. Due to his flip-flops on the issues during the years, they neither trust nor particularly like him. Though he has tried hard to demonstrate that his positions are now as conservative as any of his rivals, he simply doesn’t have a way to convince evangelicals or Tea Partiers that he understands and shares their values. Should he become the Republican nominee, I believe most would ultimately back him as the only alternative to four more years of Barack Obama but until then, the majority on the right will always prefer to cast their primary and caucus ballots for someone they can more readily identify with. Though even most conservatives know that Santorum is less electable than Romney, he will be able to count on the votes of conservatives so long as there is any chance he can win the nomination.

The second fact is that Romney continues to benefit from a divided conservative field. Though Gingrich spent most of his speech Tuesday night mocking Romney rather than acknowledging his own defeat, the man he derides as a “Massachusetts moderate” is the prime beneficiary of his decision to stay in the race. Though the Gingrich factor will not be as significant in the upcoming weeks, any votes that he takes away from Santorum could be decisive in handing a crucial state like Illinois to Romney in the same way that his presence helped deliver Michigan and Ohio to the frontrunner.

While Romney must still be considered the likely Republican nominee, Santorum’s victories will make his task far more difficult and ensure that even if he emerges from the gauntlet of hard fought primaries on top, he will be significantly weakened as well as having had his resources depleted. The more primaries Santorum wins, the more time Republicans will spend beating each other up rather than focusing on Obama’s weaknesses.

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