Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 21, 2012

J Street Defends OWS’s Anti-Semitism

It’s always difficult to untangle when J Street officials actually believe in the anti-Israel policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric that they push and defend, and when they’re just following the commands of donors. The group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami raised eyebrows by voluntarily injecting himself on the side of anti-Jewish language during the “Israel-Firster” debate, and then later it turned out that J Street had a potential financial incentive to take that stance. On the other hand the group and its partisans seem genuinely enthused about rolling out the red carpet for Peter Beinart and his exhortation to economically suffocate Israelis who don’t live where he tells them. As for J Street’s call on Obama to pressure Israel in the aftermath of the Flotilla even though the Israelis were in the right on self-defense, that simply had an incoherence borne of conflicted priorities.

So it’s impossible to know which dynamic — donor pressure or personal passion — was at work when J Street officials defended Occupy Wall Street from criticism of its disgraceful and extensively documented anti-Semitism. In favor of the donor theory, there’s the fact that J Street funder George Soros backed Occupy. On the side of the labor of love theory, there turn out to be deep sociological, institutional, and personal ties between pro-Occupy radicals and J Street officials – so much so that those radicals are now officially “partnering” with J Street on this weekend’s conference. Read More

It’s always difficult to untangle when J Street officials actually believe in the anti-Israel policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric that they push and defend, and when they’re just following the commands of donors. The group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami raised eyebrows by voluntarily injecting himself on the side of anti-Jewish language during the “Israel-Firster” debate, and then later it turned out that J Street had a potential financial incentive to take that stance. On the other hand the group and its partisans seem genuinely enthused about rolling out the red carpet for Peter Beinart and his exhortation to economically suffocate Israelis who don’t live where he tells them. As for J Street’s call on Obama to pressure Israel in the aftermath of the Flotilla even though the Israelis were in the right on self-defense, that simply had an incoherence borne of conflicted priorities.

So it’s impossible to know which dynamic — donor pressure or personal passion — was at work when J Street officials defended Occupy Wall Street from criticism of its disgraceful and extensively documented anti-Semitism. In favor of the donor theory, there’s the fact that J Street funder George Soros backed Occupy. On the side of the labor of love theory, there turn out to be deep sociological, institutional, and personal ties between pro-Occupy radicals and J Street officials – so much so that those radicals are now officially “partnering” with J Street on this weekend’s conference.

Most likely it was a little of Column A and a little of Column B, with J Street officials being genuinely sympathetic but wary about the optics of supporting yet another group of anti-Semites.

The debate revolves around a statement by self-declared “Jewish leaders” who, per the statement title, set out to “Denounce Right-Wing Smears of Occupy Wall Street.” The piece specifically attacked the Emergency Committee for Israel, a J Street  bête noire and a major force behind the electoral wipe out of J Street candidates in the 2010 election. Ben-Ami’s name was one of about a dozen on the bottom of the statement, and the press contact for the entire release was J Street VP Carinne Luck.

The upcoming conference will have a core, recognized, pro-Occupy new media presence. The leftwing Jewschool site recently announced that it was going to “partner with J Street” on the conference, including dispatching sponsored bloggers to cover the events. Jewschool actively pushed Occupy and continues to do so, with the most recent sympathetic post getting published just last week. “We are the 99%,” declared another post. An admittedly inaccurate Google site search for “occupy wall street” turns up over 700 hits.

It turns out that J Street officials and Jewschool officials have demonstrably been cooperating to insulate Occupy. For instance, an early version of J Street’s toe-in-the-water press release was published on a site called Occupy Judaism (later versions had additional press contacts). Daniel Sieradski, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of Jewschool owns the site. I’d direct you to the original statement on Sieradski’s site but the whole blog was taken down some time this morning, after I searched for it and found it last night. Luckily it’s still cached here.

J Street officials and Jewschool activists have long worked together to paper over the anti-Semitism of Occupy Wall Street, albeit sometimes with each being once removed from their home organizations. It would be hard to think of two more appropriate “partners” for the J Street conference.

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Can’t Explain Team Obama’s Positions? Neither Can Axelrod.

Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

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Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

I understand that some decisions are impossible to defend. But one might expect the top political aide for the president to at least offer some serious counterarguments and a plausible defense of his administration’s policies. But we saw none of that. What was on display was a third-rate political hack trying to bluff his way through an interview. It bordered on being embarrassing.

I should add that one cans see how wholly unprepared Mr. Axelrod is for an interview that actually asks of him tough questions. He’s clearly used to being pampered by people like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and it shows.

If this interview reflects the precision and professionalism of Team Obama, then this election might be easer for the GOP to win than I had imagined.

It’s clear to me that when it comes to substance and governing knowledge and ability, the president isn’t the only one in over his head; so is his senior political adviser.

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Iran Sanctions Exemptions Leave Room for Doubt About Obama’s Intentions

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that the United States was granting exemptions to Japan and several European countries from sanctions that are intended to prevent the sale of Iranian oil. However, Clinton represented the waivers as part of the administration’s effort to tighten the vise on Iran. This makes some sense, at least as far as Europe is concerned. The European Union has already forbidden its member nations from signing new oil contracts with Iran and has pledged itself to ending existing obligations by July 1. As for Japan, Clinton said the exemption was a reward for their efforts toward reducing their dependence on Iranian oil.

If these exemptions really part of an integrated strategy aimed at tightening the noose around Iran’s economy then it is fair to say that President Obama is keeping his word to implement the sanctions Congress passed last year over his objections. However, it is worth noting that the administration has history of non-enforcement of sanctions on Iran as well as the possibility that such waivers will be used as a way to prolong negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. There is also the likelihood that the exemptions have more to do with a desire to stabilize oil prices than a campaign to force the ayatollahs to renounce their nuclear plans.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that the United States was granting exemptions to Japan and several European countries from sanctions that are intended to prevent the sale of Iranian oil. However, Clinton represented the waivers as part of the administration’s effort to tighten the vise on Iran. This makes some sense, at least as far as Europe is concerned. The European Union has already forbidden its member nations from signing new oil contracts with Iran and has pledged itself to ending existing obligations by July 1. As for Japan, Clinton said the exemption was a reward for their efforts toward reducing their dependence on Iranian oil.

If these exemptions really part of an integrated strategy aimed at tightening the noose around Iran’s economy then it is fair to say that President Obama is keeping his word to implement the sanctions Congress passed last year over his objections. However, it is worth noting that the administration has history of non-enforcement of sanctions on Iran as well as the possibility that such waivers will be used as a way to prolong negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. There is also the likelihood that the exemptions have more to do with a desire to stabilize oil prices than a campaign to force the ayatollahs to renounce their nuclear plans.

Assuming that Clinton means what she says about sticking to a tough policy on Iran, the exemptions are a way to gradually achieve an oil embargo of Iran without causing a major disruption of oil markets that would harm America’s allies. And while avoiding a spike in oil prices is an imperative for the president’s re-election campaign, it is also desirable to avoid any actions that would create windfall profits for Iran.

That said, as the New York Times notes, the real test of the administration’s intentions is whether it is prepared to apply the law to China and India, the nations that are the primary consumers of Iranian oil. China has already committed itself to buying more Iranian oil in the future.

The danger here is not only that Iran doesn’t believe that President Obama has the guts to risk raising oil prices in an election year and thus will continue to defy international efforts to get it to back down. Though the waivers allow the administration some flexibility in implementation of the sanctions, the fear is that when push comes to shove, the president will lack the nerve to punish nations that still prefer to do business with Tehran. The waivers may also encourage the Iranians to use the promise of negotiations to string the West along without them ever having to give up their nukes. As with everything else about the administration’s Iran policy, the key issue here is trust. The Treasury Department has already issued thousands of exemptions to American companies who want to do business with Iran in violation of the law. So long as Obama and Clinton can keep talking tough, they may assume that the public will be unaware of the fact that the crippling sanctions Congress imposed on them are full of holes.

Given Washington’s ardent desire to prevent Israel from taking action against the existential nuclear threat from Iran on its own, the administration will have every incentive to keep granting exemptions while continuing to indulge in bellicose rhetoric aimed at Iran but really intended for the ears of American voters. An American government that is more committed to maintaining a window for dubious diplomacy with Iran than actually forcing Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions may well use the exemptions to avoid a confrontation rather than to achieve their intended purpose.

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Income Inequality in America

In the Spring issue of National Affairs, I’ve co-authored (with Robert Beschel) an essay, “How to Think About Inequality.”

The essay argues that while income inequality has never before been central to American politics, this year the divide between rich and poor promises to be a focal point. From there, the essay looks at the state of income inequality in America; its roots; and the role public policy has played in the gap between the top and bottom income earners in America. The essay concludes with reflections on income inequality and justice and sketches out the broad contours of what an “opportunity society” might look like.

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In the Spring issue of National Affairs, I’ve co-authored (with Robert Beschel) an essay, “How to Think About Inequality.”

The essay argues that while income inequality has never before been central to American politics, this year the divide between rich and poor promises to be a focal point. From there, the essay looks at the state of income inequality in America; its roots; and the role public policy has played in the gap between the top and bottom income earners in America. The essay concludes with reflections on income inequality and justice and sketches out the broad contours of what an “opportunity society” might look like.

Here’s how we put it:

Whether conservatives like it or not, income inequality is now a pressing issue in American politics — one that must be confronted, and soon. Part of that effort will require combating prevalent misperceptions about inequality with facts — about the true extent of income gaps in America, and about the overall levels of prosperity enjoyed by our citizens. This effort will also require highlighting the injustice of the left’s suggested remedies for income inequality, and the degree to which those proposals represent a radical departure from America’s ideals and traditions. Most important, conservatives will need to offer solutions to the genuine problems obscured by the fuss over inequality — namely, the decline of social mobility and the real plight of the nation’s poor.

For those interested in reading more, the essay can be found here.

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Mitt Romney, De Facto Nominee

I concur with my colleagues. The GOP presidential race isn’t officially over, but the outcome is (absent an act of God) decided. As many of us thought at the outset of this contest, Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee.

It took longer, and the struggle has been harder, than Romney and his supporters would have liked. But he’s going to win the nomination of a party whose base has been wary of him from the start and while packing some heavy bricks (in the form of RomneyCare) in his rucksack. That is an impressive achievement in its own right.

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I concur with my colleagues. The GOP presidential race isn’t officially over, but the outcome is (absent an act of God) decided. As many of us thought at the outset of this contest, Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee.

It took longer, and the struggle has been harder, than Romney and his supporters would have liked. But he’s going to win the nomination of a party whose base has been wary of him from the start and while packing some heavy bricks (in the form of RomneyCare) in his rucksack. That is an impressive achievement in its own right.

The exit poll results from Illinois (analyzed here) are interesting. What they show is that Romney has improved his standing by a considerable margin among groups that he’s done well with throughout this primary season. For example, Romney routed Santorum among Catholics (21 percentage points); those with a four-year college degree (also by 21 points); those earning at least $100,000 (by 36 points); those who describe themselves as moderate or liberal (by 20 points); and among voters who describe themselves as somewhat conservative (the margin was 23 points) and non-evangelicals (27 points). Romney also won among Tea Party supporters (by six points) and improved his standing among working class voters and those earning between $50,000-$100,000 a year (he tied Santorum in that category). The former Massachusetts governor also made inroads among evangelical Christians (he lost this group to Santorum by 10 points, a large margin but less than in comparable states). Romney did lose to Santorum by a wide margin (13 points) among those who self-identify as very conservative.

What we saw, then, is that the basic pattern of this campaign played out in Illinois, but Romney did better with almost every demographic group than he did in Ohio and Michigan. The GOP primary race template remains in place, except that Romney is growing much stronger with those groups that are inclined to support him while his opponents are doing a good deal weaker. Newt Gingrich ceased to be much of a factor a while ago, while Rick Santorum has not been able to broaden his appeal. In retrospect, Santorum’s failure to win in Ohio and Michigan did irreparable damage to his candidacy; Illinois will be seen as the state that finally broke him.

As for the state of the race right now, Governor Romney has won right around half the delegates needed to win the nomination (560 out of 1,144). He has to win less than half of the remaining delegates (roughly 45 percent) in order to secure the nomination. He’s won more than 1.3 million more votes than Santorum, his closest challenger. And Romney has won 21 of the 33 contests held so far. The chances of a brokered convention remain small; and the odds that the nomination would go to anyone other than Romney are near zero. That reality will gradually dawn on the supporters of Gingrich and Santorum, and perhaps even on the two candidates themselves.

There’s no question that between now and the general election Governor Romney needs to buttress his standing among evangelicals, rural and non-college educated voters, and those who consider themselves very conservative. He needs their enthusiastic support f he hopes to dislodge President Obama in the Fall. Governor Romney also has some repair work to do with independents; the primary campaign took its toll on him with independents. But those tasks, while not easy, are eminently doable. For now, Mitt Romney, really for the first time, can breathe a sigh of relief. Almost everyone can now see that he will win the nomination of the Republican Party. And he has a better than even chance of becoming America’s 45th president.

There are worse ways to begin the Spring than that.

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Weighing the Costs and Benefits of EPA Regulations

While Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu was giving himself an A- grade on gas prices, the White House was rolling out a new rule that would ostensibly require federal agencies to weigh the cumulative effects of energy regulations. It’s a laudable idea in theory, but then again, so was President Obama’s executive order to cut down on regulatory red tape last year. And apparently that was such a runaway success that the White House needed to announce another rule a year later intended to do basically the same thing:

Agencies now will consult stakeholders and the public on how a new rule might interact with existing rules — and whether, for example, a string of upcoming rules on one industry would create an undue burden. Officials will also consider the cumulative effects of rules in their cost-and-benefit analysis, a process that currently weighs the costs against the benefits of each individual rule.

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While Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu was giving himself an A- grade on gas prices, the White House was rolling out a new rule that would ostensibly require federal agencies to weigh the cumulative effects of energy regulations. It’s a laudable idea in theory, but then again, so was President Obama’s executive order to cut down on regulatory red tape last year. And apparently that was such a runaway success that the White House needed to announce another rule a year later intended to do basically the same thing:

Agencies now will consult stakeholders and the public on how a new rule might interact with existing rules — and whether, for example, a string of upcoming rules on one industry would create an undue burden. Officials will also consider the cumulative effects of rules in their cost-and-benefit analysis, a process that currently weighs the costs against the benefits of each individual rule.

If the White House was serious about weighing the cost-benefit of its energy regulations, it might want to take a look at some of the ways its EPA policies have impacted businesses during the past year. Take GenOn Energy, Inc., a company that was reportedly forced to shut down its energy plant in Ohio due to the financial burden of EPA regulations. Its dilemma was highlighted yesterday at a Senate hearing on the impact of Utility MACT, a new and exceptionally expensive regulation on coal plant emissions:

On February 29th of this year, GenOn Energy, Inc. announced that it would close the coal and fuel-oil fired electric generating plant in Avon Lake in 2015.  The Avon Lake Generating Station is capable of generating 734 megawatts,  providing baseload electric capacity and load-following capability to the grid, as well as essential peaking capacity and black start capability. This facility plays an important role in providing a reliable and affordable supply of electricity.

The reasons behind the closure are clear.  GenOn stated that the closure was a result of the rising costs associated with EPA’s regulations, and the fact that the overwhelming costs associated with complying with the rules could not be recovered by continuing to operate the facility.

It’s not just the closure of the facility that’s the problem. It’s also the loss of jobs, income taxes, property taxes, and energy generation along with it. This isn’t meant to diminish the real concerns over the environmental impacts of coal-fueled power plant emissions. But if the White House claims the benefit of these rules has to be weighed against the costs to communities, businesses and the economy, then it should explicitly address why it believes Utility MACT is worth these job losses and plant closures.

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Removing All Traces of Islamist Terror from Toulouse Shootings

How could the same man gun down three French soliders in the city of Toulouse — two of them Muslim, the other North African — and then attack children at a Jewish school? Something just didn’t add up. There was “no clear motive” for the attacks, the New York Times said in an early draft of its story on the shooting at Collège et Lycée Ozar Hatorah on Monday. In later versions, after an outcry of disbelief, this was self-protectively revised to read: “Speculation over the motives for the killings ranged from anger at Muslims fighting in Afghanistan — the unit of three of the soldiers has been deployed there — and anti-Semitism, to a hatred of immigrants.”

Wrong. The alleged gunman, who reportedly has claimed all three French shootings, is a 24-year-old Muslim named Mohammad Merah.

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How could the same man gun down three French soliders in the city of Toulouse — two of them Muslim, the other North African — and then attack children at a Jewish school? Something just didn’t add up. There was “no clear motive” for the attacks, the New York Times said in an early draft of its story on the shooting at Collège et Lycée Ozar Hatorah on Monday. In later versions, after an outcry of disbelief, this was self-protectively revised to read: “Speculation over the motives for the killings ranged from anger at Muslims fighting in Afghanistan — the unit of three of the soldiers has been deployed there — and anti-Semitism, to a hatred of immigrants.”

Wrong. The alleged gunman, who reportedly has claimed all three French shootings, is a 24-year-old Muslim named Mohammad Merah.

Please don’t tell M. Jay Rosenberg of Media Matters Action Network. He will be badly disappointed at the news. When I first wrote about the Toulouse school shooting on Monday, Rosenberg tweeted:

https://twitter.com/#!/dg_myers

Oops. Oh, well. Rosenberg won’t be alone in trying to cover his tracks. In reporting that “French Police Say They Have Cornered Suspect in School Shooting,” the New York Times earlier today described Merah as a “French national of Algerian descent,” carefully avoiding any mention of his religion. After saying that Merah “told negotiators that he belonged to Al Qaeda,” and after identifying his motives at last (“the attacks were meant to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest French military deployments abroad”), the Times went on to reveal that Merah “called himself a mujahedeen [sic],” which the newspaper helpfully translated as a “freedom fighter.” (Because, you know, to shoot Jewish schoolchildren in the head at close range is obviously to strike a blow for freedom.)

No further mention was made of Al Qaeda or mujahedeen, and none at all of anti-Semitism or Islamist terror. Instead, the Times found a way, like Rosenberg, to keep talking about rightists. Three times its story mentioned the political right in connection with the murders. Easily the best passage was this:

Muslims [in France] complain widely of feeling vilified by some political elements, on the right in particular, and the anti-immigration far right has been gaining unprecedented popularity in recent months.

Still no mention of Merah’s being a Muslim, by the way. Nor any suggestion that French Jews might complain of feeling targeted for murder.

And so it goes. The campaign by the mainstream media to whitewash Islamist terrorism and pin Jew hatred only on the extreme political right is being conducted even now, even as a self-confessed Islamist terrorist holds French police at bay. In a few hours, of course, Merah will be captured or killed. And the New York Times will have removed all traces of its self-embarrassment again.

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Hezbollah Donors, Agents Operating in U.S.

Of all the terror groups that pose an internal threat to the U.S., the threat from the Iran-backed Hezbollah may be the most pressing. Today House Homeland Security Committee chief Peter King is holding a hearing on the organization’s U.S.-based network. According to his findings, Hezbollah is thought to have thousands of sympathetic donors and hundreds of operatives across the country – many of them with military training:

Pinning down a reliable estimate of the number of Hezbollah operatives who now reside inside the U.S. is difficult because of their operational security expertise.  But some officials estimate that, based on cases uncovered since 9/11, there are likely several thousand sympathetic donors, while operatives probably number in the hundreds. …

Many defendants were known or suspected of having military training or direct combat experience against Israeli forces. Some were quietly convicted of fraud and deported as criminal aliens without their Hezbollah background being publicly disclosed by prosecutors, the Majority’s Investigative Staff has learned

King’s hearing will no doubt be used as fodder by Iran’s sympathizers in America, who want to discourage Israel from striking the Iranian nuclear program. The New York Times has been playing up how an Israeli attack on Iran’s facilities may spark a violent backlash against the U.S. And there’s no denying that an Israeli strike could ensnare the U.S. in some form or another.

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Of all the terror groups that pose an internal threat to the U.S., the threat from the Iran-backed Hezbollah may be the most pressing. Today House Homeland Security Committee chief Peter King is holding a hearing on the organization’s U.S.-based network. According to his findings, Hezbollah is thought to have thousands of sympathetic donors and hundreds of operatives across the country – many of them with military training:

Pinning down a reliable estimate of the number of Hezbollah operatives who now reside inside the U.S. is difficult because of their operational security expertise.  But some officials estimate that, based on cases uncovered since 9/11, there are likely several thousand sympathetic donors, while operatives probably number in the hundreds. …

Many defendants were known or suspected of having military training or direct combat experience against Israeli forces. Some were quietly convicted of fraud and deported as criminal aliens without their Hezbollah background being publicly disclosed by prosecutors, the Majority’s Investigative Staff has learned

King’s hearing will no doubt be used as fodder by Iran’s sympathizers in America, who want to discourage Israel from striking the Iranian nuclear program. The New York Times has been playing up how an Israeli attack on Iran’s facilities may spark a violent backlash against the U.S. And there’s no denying that an Israeli strike could ensnare the U.S. in some form or another.

But there are greater domestic threats than a radical anti-American regime with ties to terror operatives in the U.S. For example: a radical anti-American regime with ties to terror operatives in the U.S. that also has nuclear weapons.

King said today that his findings shouldn’t be used to discourage an Israeli strike:

“There’s no doubt that if Israel does attack Iran, this is not going to be easy, it’s not going to be surgical, and again the U.S. could find itself implicated or involved in it,” said King on CNN’s “Starting Point.”

“I don’t think we can rule out an Israeli attack. I think we need to keep all the pressure out there. Sometimes the president has had mixed signals — I think in recent weeks he’s gotten more consistent to Iran. But again, the fact that there can be complications are not a reason why Israel shouldn’t do it or we shouldn’t do it,” he added.

Exactly. This is why the argument from the appease-Iran crowd is so counter-intuitive. If there’s broad concern about the threat of Hezbollah operatives in the U.S. now, why would we expect them to be less of a threat if they were backed by mullahs with nukes? Or are we just supposed to that pray Israel and our other allies don’t do anything that might offend the regime once it obtains nuclear weapons, lest its Hezbollah allies retaliate against us domestically?

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Jeb Endorsement May Ease the Sting of Romney Advisor’s “Etch A Sketch” Gaffe

After months of speculation, former Florida governor Jeb Bush finally jumped on Mitt Romney’s bandwagon. The son and brother of the 41st and 43rd presidents issued a statement saying “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.” The endorsement, coming on the day after Romney’s impressive win in Illinois all but made his nomination inevitable, isn’t likely to be of all that much help to the frontrunner in upcoming primaries. But it is a signal that the one family that could be said to embody the Republican establishment if there even is such a thing has formally certified Romney’s nomination.

The endorsement also is welcome since it comes on a day when the Romney campaign is dealing with a gaffe by one of his advisors that has the potential to alienate conservatives just at the moment when they may be coming to terms with the fact that they must make their peace with the inevitable nominee. This morning on CNN, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney could tack back to the center after the primaries because:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.

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After months of speculation, former Florida governor Jeb Bush finally jumped on Mitt Romney’s bandwagon. The son and brother of the 41st and 43rd presidents issued a statement saying “now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.” The endorsement, coming on the day after Romney’s impressive win in Illinois all but made his nomination inevitable, isn’t likely to be of all that much help to the frontrunner in upcoming primaries. But it is a signal that the one family that could be said to embody the Republican establishment if there even is such a thing has formally certified Romney’s nomination.

The endorsement also is welcome since it comes on a day when the Romney campaign is dealing with a gaffe by one of his advisors that has the potential to alienate conservatives just at the moment when they may be coming to terms with the fact that they must make their peace with the inevitable nominee. This morning on CNN, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said that Romney could tack back to the center after the primaries because:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.

While it is true that any candidate will sound a bit different in a general election than in a primary, that’s exactly the sort of statement that reminds conservatives of Romney’s record of flip-flopping and why they don’t trust him. He is the last candidate whose staffers should be talking about fall resets. Republicans would like to believe that the Romney who spoke last night after his win about the imperative of economic freedom being the driving force of his campaign was the real candidate. Fehrstrom’s “Etch A Sketch” comment is likely to be catnip for Rick Santorum’s campaign and help ensure that, no matter what follows, Romney will get spanked in Louisiana.

That makes it more than just an ordinary gaffe. If Romney wants to convince conservatives he means it, he’ll have to start by suspending Fehrnstrom. In the meantime, he’ll hope that Jeb Bush’s belated endorsement will take some of the sting out of what may be a bad news cycle for him.

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Santorum’s Remarkable Journey

I agree completely with Alana and Jonathan that the end game is at hand regarding the Republican nomination. Barring a major development, Romney is now unstoppable. He has a commanding lead in delegates and his two main opponents, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are facing increasingly difficult situations and rapidly diminishing possibilities. Santorum has yet to win in a state not dominated by hard-line conservatives and evangelicals, states that are safely in the Republican column come November anyway. Gingrich finished in Illinois behind fringe candidate Ron Paul.

But while Rick Santorum is now very unlikely to win the nomination, it’s been a remarkable journey for him. Just consider, he was a two-term senator, having won in Republican years (1994 and 2000) and then was clobbered in the Democratic year of 2006, losing as an incumbent by 18 percentage points. That’s a pretty thin résumé to run on. He was seriously underfunded throughout most of the campaign, unable even to get on the ballot in some districts and in Virginia.

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I agree completely with Alana and Jonathan that the end game is at hand regarding the Republican nomination. Barring a major development, Romney is now unstoppable. He has a commanding lead in delegates and his two main opponents, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are facing increasingly difficult situations and rapidly diminishing possibilities. Santorum has yet to win in a state not dominated by hard-line conservatives and evangelicals, states that are safely in the Republican column come November anyway. Gingrich finished in Illinois behind fringe candidate Ron Paul.

But while Rick Santorum is now very unlikely to win the nomination, it’s been a remarkable journey for him. Just consider, he was a two-term senator, having won in Republican years (1994 and 2000) and then was clobbered in the Democratic year of 2006, losing as an incumbent by 18 percentage points. That’s a pretty thin résumé to run on. He was seriously underfunded throughout most of the campaign, unable even to get on the ballot in some districts and in Virginia.

And yet, here he is, clearly the runner-up. And, as he pointed out in his concession speech last night, he has obviously influenced the frontrunner. Romney’s victory speech—he is by no means a natural orator, but it was best I’ve heard him give—came right out of the Santorum playbook: framing the upcoming general election as a battle between personal freedom and ever greater state control of the American economy and, thus, American lives.

In other words, Santorum’s run, while it failed in its ultimate goal of the Republican nomination, brought him back from the land of the politically dead and forced the apparent winner towards his positions. He has earned a place at the table and, probably, a major job in a Romney administration.  That’s not a bad result when you think about it. It’s a whole lot more than Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachmann, or Rick Perry got out of their months on the rubber-chicken circuit.

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Ken Livingstone Does It Again

Ken Livingstone, the intolerable former mayor of London – and presently the Labour Party mayoral candidate – has done it again. ‘‘It,’’ meaning an anti-Semitic outburst, and ‘‘again’’ referring to his long history of inflammatory and offensive statements and behavior. To wit: referring to a Jewish journalist as a concentration camp guard; embracing extremist Islamist cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who promotes the destruction of the Jewish people; telling the Indian-Jewish Reuben brothers to ‘‘go back to Iran;’’ obsessively venting hate for Israel and Zionism, as manifest, for instance, in his autobiography; and so on.

His current contribution to this contemptible catalogue stems from a meeting on March 1, where he stood by his embrace of Qaradawi, as well as his employ at Press TV, a notorious Anglophone network funded by the Iranian government and anchored by, among others, George Galloway. That’s just context though; the problem was, according to Jewish observers, as follows: Read More

Ken Livingstone, the intolerable former mayor of London – and presently the Labour Party mayoral candidate – has done it again. ‘‘It,’’ meaning an anti-Semitic outburst, and ‘‘again’’ referring to his long history of inflammatory and offensive statements and behavior. To wit: referring to a Jewish journalist as a concentration camp guard; embracing extremist Islamist cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who promotes the destruction of the Jewish people; telling the Indian-Jewish Reuben brothers to ‘‘go back to Iran;’’ obsessively venting hate for Israel and Zionism, as manifest, for instance, in his autobiography; and so on.

His current contribution to this contemptible catalogue stems from a meeting on March 1, where he stood by his embrace of Qaradawi, as well as his employ at Press TV, a notorious Anglophone network funded by the Iranian government and anchored by, among others, George Galloway. That’s just context though; the problem was, according to Jewish observers, as follows:

Ken toward the end of the meeting stated that he did not expect the Jewish community to vote Labour as votes for the left are inversely proportional to wealth levels, and suggested that as the Jewish community is rich we simply wouldn’t vote for him.

Not only is the undertone of this statement anti-Semitic, but it is factually false, on two counts: first, one cannot help recalling Milton Himmelfarb’s observation that, contra Livingstone, Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans — which, to the chagrin of British conservatives, is also applicable to the Jewish community in the UK; and second, plenty of British Jews do earn like ‘‘Puerto Ricans’’ (perhaps substitute a different ethnicity here, though!) and vote accordingly. Indeed, the Jews at the meeting were Labour supporters! The indubitable falsity of the statement accentuates the anti-Semitic sentiment.

The Jews present have penned a letter to Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, and the Jewish community’s leadership is due to meet with the Opposition leader later this month. No doubt this issue will be high on the agenda, and with the recent forced retirement of Baroness Jenny Tonge as [junior governing coalition partner] Liberal Democrat whip in the Lords for the most recent of her recurrent anti-Jewish eruptions, Miliband might be under greater pressure. Nevertheless, with the mayoral election less than two months away, expectations shouldn’t be high.

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The Palestinian Excuse for Terror

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a call today to foreign terrorists to stop using the plight of the Palestinians as an excuse for their crimes. In condemning the Toulouse massacre two days after the killings, Fayyad said, “Extremists must stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.” This was in reaction to the news that Mohammed Merah, the arrested suspect in the Toulouse shootings, claimed that the atrocity was done in part to exact revenge on the Jews for their supposedly poor treatment of the Palestinians.

Fayyad is right that “solidarity” with the Palestinians ought not to be used as a reason to commit murder. But as much as that is good advice for those, like Merah, who have links to al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, it would be even better if Fayyad’s own people — including those affiliated with the PA government that he still runs — would heed his plea. Palestinian groups like Hamas (soon to become part of the PA), PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s own Fatah Party, as well as more extreme groups such as Islamic Jihad, have been using their complaints against Israel as justification for crimes just as horrible as those committed in Toulouse for decades.

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Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a call today to foreign terrorists to stop using the plight of the Palestinians as an excuse for their crimes. In condemning the Toulouse massacre two days after the killings, Fayyad said, “Extremists must stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.” This was in reaction to the news that Mohammed Merah, the arrested suspect in the Toulouse shootings, claimed that the atrocity was done in part to exact revenge on the Jews for their supposedly poor treatment of the Palestinians.

Fayyad is right that “solidarity” with the Palestinians ought not to be used as a reason to commit murder. But as much as that is good advice for those, like Merah, who have links to al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, it would be even better if Fayyad’s own people — including those affiliated with the PA government that he still runs — would heed his plea. Palestinian groups like Hamas (soon to become part of the PA), PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s own Fatah Party, as well as more extreme groups such as Islamic Jihad, have been using their complaints against Israel as justification for crimes just as horrible as those committed in Toulouse for decades.

Fayyad condemned the Toulouse shootings as an “attack on innocent lives” and a “cowardly terrorist act.” But how would he describe the missile attacks on Israeli civilians carried out by Palestinians on a regular basis to this very day from Gaza. How would he describe the routine attacks on Jews in the West Bank? And what words can he conjure him to adequately depict the depravity of the campaign of suicide bombings carried out by leaders of the ruling Fatah Party only a few years ago during the second intifada? Were the Jewish infants slaughtered at a Jerusalem pizza restaurant, or the Jewish teens blown up at a Tel Aviv discotheque or those killed in dozens of other incidents less human, less innocent than the children killed in France this week?

The Palestinians more or less invented the modern variant of terrorism in the 1970s and have always justified their policy of trying to murder as many Jewish civilians as possible because of what they say is their plight under Israeli occupation. Though the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority says it opposes terror, it continues to honor terrorists in every way possible including its television broadcasts.

Fayyad is himself one of the rare Palestinian political figures who have never been implicated in terrorism. That’s to his credit but it’s also the reason why he has virtually no constituency among his own people. Were he linked to some murders of Jews, he might not be on the way out of office since Hamas has demanded Fayyad’s ouster as part of the price for joining the PA.

The Palestinians should be worried about the Toulouse attack because it should serve as a reminder to Europeans that their delegitimization of Jewish life and Jewish self-defense in Israel cannot be separated from attacks on Jews elsewhere.  Though the Palestinian issue is merely a pretext for the revival of anti-Semitism, the killings in France could shock some on the continent enough to make them understand that killing Jews anywhere — be it in Toulouse or in the Middle East — is merely a function of that same old hatred that the Palestinians have embraced.

As much as some, such as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, have tried to draw a slanderous comparison between Israeli self-defense in Gaza and the Toulouse crime, the real analogy is to the actions of the Palestinians. Until the Palestinians renounce their war on Israel and give up violence for good, Salam Fayyad’s statement can be put down as the rankest form of hypocrisy.

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Is Burma a Sanctions Success Story?

In 2008, writing at the UK Independent, Paul Vallely contemplated whether to support sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The article was Vallely basically thinking out loud, and he launched his train of thought with the following question: Have sanctions ever worked? Not often, he decided. He listed South Africa among the few success stories, and Burma among the failures.

But it may be time to revisit the judgment on Burma. The country’s ruling party, now led by Thein Sein, has begun releasing political prisoners and has indicated that more freedom is on the way, in what some are terming Burma’s glasnost. And today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Burma has requested American and British monitors for April’s parliamentary elections, with the hope that Western sanctions will be eased if Burma can demonstrate continued movement toward democracy. Additionally, while sanctions are usually criticized as disproportionately damaging to the population rather than the government, there is much evidence that this simply isn’t the case in Burma.

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In 2008, writing at the UK Independent, Paul Vallely contemplated whether to support sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The article was Vallely basically thinking out loud, and he launched his train of thought with the following question: Have sanctions ever worked? Not often, he decided. He listed South Africa among the few success stories, and Burma among the failures.

But it may be time to revisit the judgment on Burma. The country’s ruling party, now led by Thein Sein, has begun releasing political prisoners and has indicated that more freedom is on the way, in what some are terming Burma’s glasnost. And today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Burma has requested American and British monitors for April’s parliamentary elections, with the hope that Western sanctions will be eased if Burma can demonstrate continued movement toward democracy. Additionally, while sanctions are usually criticized as disproportionately damaging to the population rather than the government, there is much evidence that this simply isn’t the case in Burma.

As Min Zin wrote in late January:

Contrary to what you might think from the headlines, it’s not western sanctions that are causing Burma’s economic woes. It’s government policy. The Burmese government’s Industry Minister, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, admitted as much when he responded to a journalist who asked whether the country has done enough to get U.S. sanctions lifted: “We have a lot of things to reform and lots of things have to change: laws, regulations and institutions, not only in the political sector but also in the economic sectors. But sanctions are up to them.”

[…]

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2010 Burma’s exports and imports stood at $8.7 billion and $4.9 billion respectively. That’s higher than the data for some of the comparable members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), such as Cambodia and Laos. Meanwhile, many experts caution that the official figures for Burma’s exports fall far short of the real numbers because they don’t cover the value of timber, gems, narcotics, rice, and other products smuggled to neighboring countries.

As far as foreign direct investment (FDI) is concerned, Burma reached a record high in 2010-11 of almost $20 billion. That’s more than the figure in the same year for Southeast Asia’s latest investment darling, Vietnam.

There is reason to proceed with caution, of course, not least because Burma, even taking the optimistic view, is still at the beginning of what can be a long process, and we’ve already reestablished diplomatic relations with the country. The parliamentary elections themselves will carry more symbolism than change, as the Journal notes:

The April 1 vote isn’t expected to dramatically change the political balance of power in Myanmar, which held its first election in 20 years in 2010 but is still dominated by current or former soldiers linked to the country’s former military regime. The vote is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats that were vacated over the past year in a parliament that has more than 600 seats overall.

Still, Western sanctions against Burma have not seemed to impoverish its citizens and have, at least recently, been an effective tool to encourage reform. Obviously the biggest change happened when Thein Sein took over from his predecessor, so it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to suggest that sanctions alone are responsible for the progress. But proponents of sanctions could use another success story, and Burma may yet provide it.

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Time to Close? GOP Horse Race is Over

I echo Jonathan’s sentiments this morning when he wrote, “for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight.” After almost a full year of following an exhausting and dramatic primary race, it’s about time to switch over to the general election.

Of course nobody is encouraging that narrative more than the Romney campaign, which sent out a fundraising email immediately after its victory last night headlined “Time to Close”:

Tonight, we have taken one more step toward restoring the promise of America. And tomorrow we wake up and start again.

This November, we face a defining decision. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot, and I intend to offer the American people a clear choice.

Tonight’s win means we are that much closer to securing the nomination, uniting our party, and taking on President Obama. We are almost there. Help us close strong in the remaining contests by donating $10 today.

At this point, it seems to be a matter of when, not if, Romney secures the nomination. Of course, the major media outlets still are still covering this as if it’s still a horse race.

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I echo Jonathan’s sentiments this morning when he wrote, “for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight.” After almost a full year of following an exhausting and dramatic primary race, it’s about time to switch over to the general election.

Of course nobody is encouraging that narrative more than the Romney campaign, which sent out a fundraising email immediately after its victory last night headlined “Time to Close”:

Tonight, we have taken one more step toward restoring the promise of America. And tomorrow we wake up and start again.

This November, we face a defining decision. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot, and I intend to offer the American people a clear choice.

Tonight’s win means we are that much closer to securing the nomination, uniting our party, and taking on President Obama. We are almost there. Help us close strong in the remaining contests by donating $10 today.

At this point, it seems to be a matter of when, not if, Romney secures the nomination. Of course, the major media outlets still are still covering this as if it’s still a horse race.

Washington Post:

Despite the solid victory for Romney, who has eeked out more modest wins elsewhere in the Midwest, the contest is unlikely to dramatically shake up the basic geometry of the race. Though Illinois is a major prize for Romney, who will claim the majority of the state’s 54 delegates, the victory does not close the door on Rick Santorum, who will also win a portion of those delegates and has vowed to soldier on.

The Wall Street Journal:

Bolstered by his strong showing Tuesday in the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney has built a commanding lead, but the prize remains elusive. While he is winning in the delegate chase, he isn’t so far ahead that he is assured of entering the party convention this summer with the nomination sewn up.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is hyping the importance of the late-April Pennsylvania primary.

Santorum will fight on until at least late April, but, barring a major shakeup, his chances of winning the nomination have evaporated. He had a chance in Illinois, and a victory there could have showed a resurgence of momentum. But now it looks like he’ll follow the predicted path. He’ll win Louisiana, lose Wisconsin, and then slug it out until Pennsylvania. With each week, the calls for him to bow out gracefully will increase.

The question is, how long will the media shut their eyes to that reality? They have their own incentives for making it seem like the race is more competitive than it actually is. But at some point, it’s going to stretch credulity to keep covering the Santorum campaign as if he still has a serious chance of winning the nomination.

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Afghan Mission Imperiled by Opposition to ‘Night Raids’

Having concluded a deal with Hamid Karzai that will involve transferring more than 3,000 detainees to Afghan custody, American negotiators are now trying to clinch a deal that would allow the continuation of “night raids”—the melodramatic label given to most Special Operations missions which occur at night when fewer civilians are likely to be in harm’s way and the targets are less likely to be on their guard and at more of a disadvantage because of America’s night-vision systems. The Wall Street Journal claims that the U.S. side is offering to allow Afghan judges to approve any future operations; I don’t know if this is true but it would make sense because similar authority was given to Iraqi judges.

The broader point is that it’s very difficult to get the Afghan government to approve what American leaders regard as their most effective terrorist-fighting tool—the ability of Special Operations Forces such as the SEALs, Rangers, and Delta Force to swoop down on “high-value targets” at night. And if it’s difficult today, when the U.S. has 90,000 troops in Afghanistan buttressing the authority of its government, imagine how difficult it will be after 2014 or even sooner when the U.S. presence will decline dramatically.

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Having concluded a deal with Hamid Karzai that will involve transferring more than 3,000 detainees to Afghan custody, American negotiators are now trying to clinch a deal that would allow the continuation of “night raids”—the melodramatic label given to most Special Operations missions which occur at night when fewer civilians are likely to be in harm’s way and the targets are less likely to be on their guard and at more of a disadvantage because of America’s night-vision systems. The Wall Street Journal claims that the U.S. side is offering to allow Afghan judges to approve any future operations; I don’t know if this is true but it would make sense because similar authority was given to Iraqi judges.

The broader point is that it’s very difficult to get the Afghan government to approve what American leaders regard as their most effective terrorist-fighting tool—the ability of Special Operations Forces such as the SEALs, Rangers, and Delta Force to swoop down on “high-value targets” at night. And if it’s difficult today, when the U.S. has 90,000 troops in Afghanistan buttressing the authority of its government, imagine how difficult it will be after 2014 or even sooner when the U.S. presence will decline dramatically.


Advocates of a steep drawdown, such as Vice President Biden, seem to imagine that even if we pull out most combat troops, our Special Operators will still have full freedom to target any concentrations of terrorists they might find. But in fact no Afghan government is likely to extend such authority, and Kabul may very well decide to kick out the U.S. military altogether if our presence becomes so minuscule that it enflames nationalist resentment stoked by the Taliban without providing an effective check on the insurgency’s advance.

Afghan leaders are most concerned about stopping the Taliban, which threaten their rule, while U.S. leaders are most concerned about Al Qaeda that threatens the American homeland. In the past decade we have essentially made a de facto compact—the Afghans will permit us to chase Al Qaeda if we support their government. If we stop effectively supporting their government, the deal is off and the U.S. will have about as much freedom to operate as it currently does in Iraq—which is to say none at all.

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America’s Coming Energy Independence

In this Wall Street Journal oped Ed Morse of Citigroup points out a little appreciated fact: that oil and natural gas production is soaring in the United States—and also in our neighbors Canada and Mexico. Thanks to technological developments such as the exploitation of oil shale, the U.S. has become the fastest growing oil producer in the world and is likely to remain that way for a decade or more. Already we produce almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia; soon we will surpass it.  Already we have become a net petroleum-exporting country for the first time since 1949; in the future we have the potential to export far more, or to lessen even more our already declining dependence on oil imports.

That will make us increasingly energy independent and lessen the strategic importance of OPEC. It is also the latest of many reasons why predictions of American decline are so overwrought.

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In this Wall Street Journal oped Ed Morse of Citigroup points out a little appreciated fact: that oil and natural gas production is soaring in the United States—and also in our neighbors Canada and Mexico. Thanks to technological developments such as the exploitation of oil shale, the U.S. has become the fastest growing oil producer in the world and is likely to remain that way for a decade or more. Already we produce almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia; soon we will surpass it.  Already we have become a net petroleum-exporting country for the first time since 1949; in the future we have the potential to export far more, or to lessen even more our already declining dependence on oil imports.

That will make us increasingly energy independent and lessen the strategic importance of OPEC. It is also the latest of many reasons why predictions of American decline are so overwrought.

The country that is supposedly going to overtake us—China—has scant energy reserves of its own and is heavily reliant on imports brought by water along sea lines which are either now controlled by the U.S. Navy or could be in a time of war. That places China at a major strategic disadvantage in the long-term. When combined with America’s other advantages—especially the fact that our population is not aging nearly as fast as China’s—this suggests that there is no reason American cannot remain No. 1 for a long time to come, provided policymakers in Washington don’t mess it up. Of course, as seen from the Obama administration’s refusal so far to approve the Keystone pipeline that will bring oil from Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, official obstructionism remains a potent obstacle to exploiting America’s natural strengths.

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Obama’s Energy Secretary Gives Himself an A- On Gas Prices

How out of touch is this administration with the struggles of the average American? This out of touch:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): In controlling the cost of gasoline at the pump, do you give yourself an A-?
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: Well, the tools that we have at our disposal are limited, but I would say I would give myself a little higher than that. Since I became Secretary of Energy I’ve been doing everything I can to get long-term solutions.

The statement, made today to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will be general election gold for the GOP, played while images of rising gas prices across the country flicker across the screen.

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How out of touch is this administration with the struggles of the average American? This out of touch:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): In controlling the cost of gasoline at the pump, do you give yourself an A-?
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: Well, the tools that we have at our disposal are limited, but I would say I would give myself a little higher than that. Since I became Secretary of Energy I’ve been doing everything I can to get long-term solutions.

The statement, made today to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will be general election gold for the GOP, played while images of rising gas prices across the country flicker across the screen.

Secretary Chu stated that the tools at the administration’s disposal are limited and this is not completely devoid of truth. This administration cannot, as much as it might want to, order oil companies to lower the price of fuel. It cannot order states to lower taxes on purchases made at the pump. While this may be the case, the Secretary neglects to give himself credit for what his office has done to damage energy policy since taking office. Today Politico reports about the same hearing:

“After hundreds of thousands of pages of documents sent over, there’s not any whiff that this [Solyndra] was a politically influenced decision,” Chu told reporters Tuesday shortly after wrapping up House committee testimony on the controversial program. “That’s true of all the loans.”

The American people pay enough attention to notice that a major gas pipeline wasn’t approved as their fuel prices continue to skyrocket, they’ve seen millions of dollars set aside for “green energy” projects vanish into thin air.

My cousin, normally apolitical, has taken to posting Facebook pictures of his $100+ weekly trips to the pump. He may not notice many political events, but he’s noticed his fuel expenditures breaking his business’ bottom line over the last several months. Come November, most Americans will tell pollsters they care most about social issues, foreign policy and economic plans. When they go to pull the lever, however, they’ll be thinking about how much they just spent in gas to get to the polling station. And if the GOP plays their cards right, they’ll also be thinking about the President’s Energy Secretary that pats himself on the back for a job well done.

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North Koreans Fool Obama Again

On Feb. 29, the Obama administration agreed to give North Korea 240,000 tons of food aid in return for a return for a North Korean moratorium on long-range missile tests, nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. Then last week North Korea announced that it was planning a satellite launch which of course involves using a long-range rocket in contravention of the “leap day” deal. This week North Korea says it will welcome International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back after a hiatus of three years, thus seemingly  upholding another aspect of the deal.

What’s going on? Why is Pyongyang making deals, then taking actions that immediately repudiate them, while promising to adhere to other parts of the accord? No one really knows whether this is sheer duplicity on the part of the North Korean leadership or a rivalry among different branches of the government, some of which might want to strike a deal and others that don’t. Given that North Korea has a young and untested leader, Kim Jong-un, anything is possible. But whatever the case there is absolutely no reason to trust the North Koreans who, under the dictatorship of Kim Jung Il, father of the current supreme leader, showed a genius for manipulating the West into reaching deals and then violating all of their commitments.

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On Feb. 29, the Obama administration agreed to give North Korea 240,000 tons of food aid in return for a return for a North Korean moratorium on long-range missile tests, nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. Then last week North Korea announced that it was planning a satellite launch which of course involves using a long-range rocket in contravention of the “leap day” deal. This week North Korea says it will welcome International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back after a hiatus of three years, thus seemingly  upholding another aspect of the deal.

What’s going on? Why is Pyongyang making deals, then taking actions that immediately repudiate them, while promising to adhere to other parts of the accord? No one really knows whether this is sheer duplicity on the part of the North Korean leadership or a rivalry among different branches of the government, some of which might want to strike a deal and others that don’t. Given that North Korea has a young and untested leader, Kim Jong-un, anything is possible. But whatever the case there is absolutely no reason to trust the North Koreans who, under the dictatorship of Kim Jung Il, father of the current supreme leader, showed a genius for manipulating the West into reaching deals and then violating all of their commitments.

The Clinton and Bush administrations were both suckered into thinking they could make a deal with Pyongyang only to be cruelly disabused of that illusion. Now it’s Obama’s turn. The only real issue left is whether the 240,000 tons of food aid will be delivered in spite of North Korea’s failure to live up to its guarantees. It might be, because the food aid was presented as a humanitarian gesture not a quid pro quo. But that’s clearly what it was and if the U.S. is to have any credibility it must now announce that no food will be forthcoming. It’s a shame that North Korea’s long-suffering population must pay the price for its leaders’ duplicity and aggression but we have precious few other ways to hold this brutal regime to account.

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Romney Juggernaut Sets Up GOP Endgame

After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

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After the walloping they took last night in Illinois, Rick Santorum’s supporters are hopeful that the next stop on the Republican primary calendar will cheer them up. Santorum is favored to win Saturday’s Louisiana Primary but that won’t change the fact that on Tuesday, he lost one of his last chances to win a state whose GOP is not dominated by evangelicals. The 47-35 percent beating he took in Illinois — which allowed Romney to win all but a handful of the state’s convention delegates — does more than merely reinforce the sense of Romney’s inevitability that is now acknowledged by all but the most diehard of his opponents’ supporters. The pattern of voting is such that there is now no longer any credible scenario that can be put forward in which Romney is denied a majority of the convention’s delegates by June.

Though the race will go on for at least another month, for the first time in this long and tortuous race, the end is clearly in sight. The April 24 Pennsylvania primary now looks to be an opportunity for Romney to close out his opponent by beating him in his home state. But even if Santorum can hold onto Pennsylvania, the May 8 trio of North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia may be his last stand especially since Romney is likely to win most of the states that vote in April. The delegate math makes it impossible for Santorum to pretend that he can actually win the nomination on his own. Not even the complete collapse of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy — the former speaker finished dead last in the field of four behind Ron Paul — has been enough to prevent the frontrunner from assuming a commanding lead that will not be overtaken.

It is true that Romney is still losing among evangelical and very conservative GOP primary voters. But he is winning virtually every other demographic slice of the electorate including Tea Party supporters. While not being acclaimed with acclamation or even a great deal of enthusiasm, the notion that Republicans are unwilling to embrace Romney may be finally being put to rest. Those voting in GOP primaries continue to assert that the ability to beat President Obama in November is the most desirable quality in a candidate and there’s little doubt that Romney has the best chance of any Republican in the race.

Romney also appears to be hitting his stride as a candidate finally articulating a compelling case for his candidacy. His victory speech last focused on the theme of economic freedom rather than merely his usual laundry list of complaints about the president. If he can stay on that message, it will help him win over doubtful conservatives as well as reminding the rest of the electorate of his economic qualifications.

Though Santorum and Gingrich continue to complain about Romney’s huge financial advantage that excuse is also not exactly galvanizing the Republican base. The inability to raise the funds needed to compete or to run a campaign that is competent enough to file qualified delegate states wherever needed — points on which both challengers have fallen short — is hardly a recommendation for a presidential candidate. Even if Santorum is able to duplicate in Louisiana the same appeal that won him Mississippi and Alabama last week, that won’t convince anyone that he can win states with more diverse electorates, let alone amass enough delegates to prevent Romney from gaining a majority by June.

This sets up a GOP endgame in which Santorum, who has done far better than anyone ever thought possible last year, will play out the hand he has been dealt in the next few weeks. But there are few, if any, other wins waiting for him on the calendar. That will raise expectations that whether or not he wins Pennsylvania, his campaign will probably come to an end in the next four to six weeks.

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