Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2012

My Return to the White House

I returned to the White House today for the presentation of the portraits of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. The event included remarks by the current and former presidents, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Mrs. Bush. The spirit of the event was quite nice; the president was congenial, while Mrs. Obama was warm and charitable. But this moment belonged to America’s 43rd president and his wife. President Bush’s words were moving (particularly when speaking about his father), humorous, and gracious.

Having served in the White House for almost the entire two terms of the Bush presidency, returning to the White House activated memories that had begun to fade just a bit – from the events of 9/11, to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to Bush’s re-election, to the worst days of the Iraq war. Some of these events felt like they happened a time long ago and far away; and yet sitting in the East Room also felt familiar, almost as if the White House years had never ended. On a personal level, it was a joy to renew friendships with former colleagues, among whom can be counted some of the finest public servants imaginable.

As for President Bush, I am the first to admit I am not an entirely objective observer of the man. But I did have the benefit of having seen him up close during challenging and consequential times, and in ways that not many other Americans could ever really know. Virtually every person who worked for him or got to know him can testify to his enormous personal decency and integrity. He was one of the gutsiest politicians of our lifetime. (Consider among other things his commitment to the surge in Iraq when almost everyone else had given up on the war.) And he showed great mercy in helping the people of Africa and a ferocious commitment to pursuing his main duty, protecting our country.

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I returned to the White House today for the presentation of the portraits of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. The event included remarks by the current and former presidents, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Mrs. Bush. The spirit of the event was quite nice; the president was congenial, while Mrs. Obama was warm and charitable. But this moment belonged to America’s 43rd president and his wife. President Bush’s words were moving (particularly when speaking about his father), humorous, and gracious.

Having served in the White House for almost the entire two terms of the Bush presidency, returning to the White House activated memories that had begun to fade just a bit – from the events of 9/11, to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, to Bush’s re-election, to the worst days of the Iraq war. Some of these events felt like they happened a time long ago and far away; and yet sitting in the East Room also felt familiar, almost as if the White House years had never ended. On a personal level, it was a joy to renew friendships with former colleagues, among whom can be counted some of the finest public servants imaginable.

As for President Bush, I am the first to admit I am not an entirely objective observer of the man. But I did have the benefit of having seen him up close during challenging and consequential times, and in ways that not many other Americans could ever really know. Virtually every person who worked for him or got to know him can testify to his enormous personal decency and integrity. He was one of the gutsiest politicians of our lifetime. (Consider among other things his commitment to the surge in Iraq when almost everyone else had given up on the war.) And he showed great mercy in helping the people of Africa and a ferocious commitment to pursuing his main duty, protecting our country.

George W. Bush was hardly flawless, and certainly neither were those of us who worked under him. Yet having faced crises of considerable dimensions, President Bush served his nation exceedingly well and with honor.

“We cannot live our dreams,” Oliver Wendell Holmes said in summing up his years on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. “We are lucky enough if we can give a sample of our best, and if in our hearts we can feel that it has been nobly done.”

President Bush gave his best; and in his heart, he can take some comfort that it was nobly done.

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Scoop Jackson at 100

Freedom25, a group that seeks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, reminds us that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Henry Jackson, the intrepid Democratic senator from Washington State who was a bulwark of the fight for freedom against Communism.

Jackson is worth remembering not just because of his hard work for the just cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry and his dogged opposition to appeasement of the Soviet Union. His career embodied a rare brand of patriotism as well as insight into international affairs. He was also the best example of a political breed that is now all but extinct: a liberal on domestic issues who was an ardent hawk on foreign affairs. It is on the shoulders of men like Jackson that a genuine bipartisan consensus on defense issues, opposition to Soviet tyranny and support for the State of Israel was built. Though he passed away in 1983, all these years later he is still deeply missed by his country.

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Freedom25, a group that seeks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, reminds us that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Henry Jackson, the intrepid Democratic senator from Washington State who was a bulwark of the fight for freedom against Communism.

Jackson is worth remembering not just because of his hard work for the just cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry and his dogged opposition to appeasement of the Soviet Union. His career embodied a rare brand of patriotism as well as insight into international affairs. He was also the best example of a political breed that is now all but extinct: a liberal on domestic issues who was an ardent hawk on foreign affairs. It is on the shoulders of men like Jackson that a genuine bipartisan consensus on defense issues, opposition to Soviet tyranny and support for the State of Israel was built. Though he passed away in 1983, all these years later he is still deeply missed by his country.

The expression “Scoop Jackson Democrat” is a term that is now falling out of use because there are few liberals left who understand that while Americans can afford to differ on domestic policy and the economy, we must present a united front against foes of liberty. Though once his sort of politician was commonplace in an era when both major parties were “big tents,” nowadays it is inconceivable that a Democrat who shared Jackson’s worldview could survive a primary. This principle was conclusively proven when Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination for the Senate the last time he ran for re-election in 2006 because of his support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieberman, who is retiring from the Senate this year largely because another independent run would be unlikely to succeed, is aptly termed the last such “Scoop Jackson Democrat.”

Though nowadays many claim credit for securing the freedom of Soviet Jewry, in the early days of the movement, support from major political figures was by no means automatic. But Jackson, whose opposition to Soviet imperialism was a matter of principle, not political convenience, was steadfast in his advocacy for Moscow’s captives. Undeterred by the fashionable support for détente with the Soviet Union championed by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Jackson became a thorn in the side of both the Nixon and Ford administrations as well as of the Kremlin. His sponsorship of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment linking Soviet trading rights to the right of Jews to emigrate became an impassable roadblock to those who wished to prioritize commerce with the evil empire over freedom. Despite Kissinger’s efforts to outmaneuver him, Jackson prevailed, and his signature legislation became the lever by which Soviet policy was undermined and eventually overthrown.

Today, we hear a great deal about the need for bipartisanship, a line of argument that is generally a cover for getting officials to throw their principles overboard in order to accommodate the majority. Jackson’s brand of bipartisanship was of a different variety. It was forged in a belief that the defense of freedom at home and abroad was a higher calling than the appeal of parties or presidents. Without him, the consensus in support of Israel’s fight for survival as well as opposition to Soviet tyranny would have been diminished if not impossible.

Though Jackson’s brand of Democrat may no longer be the flavor of month, his example still inspires new generations of thinkers and activists who uphold the ideas he held dear. It is no accident that when a British group dedicated to those principles was formed, it took his name. Henry Jackson’s 100th birthday is an occasion for us to celebrate the victories he won on behalf of Soviet Jewry and American ideas, but it should also be a moment for us to rededicate ourselves to the brand of patriotism for which he is the exemplar. May his memory be for a blessing.

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Insider Dealing With Drug Lobby?

House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.

We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:

“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”

The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”

The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.

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House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.

We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:

“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”

The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”

The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.

The political campaign aspect is the most troubling part of the deal, and it’s not likely to sit well with Obama’s base. According to the emails, the administration killed Democrat-supported provisions that would cut into drug company profits in order to secure the industry’s political and financial support. And that’s not the only part that will enrage the left. The emails show Obama completely flouted his 2008 promises to stand up against special interests and conduct negotiations transparently — mere months after he was elected. As Phil Klein writes:

Taken together, the emails paint a picture of insider deal making with a powerful special interest – something that stands in stark contrast to Obama’s campaign pledges.

In 2008, Obama ran an ad titled “Billy,” blasting then PhRMA president Billy Tauzin and the art of deal making in Washington. “I don’t want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing,” Obama vowed.

Yet months into his presidency, Obama cut a deal with Tauzin’s lobbying group, and did so behind closed doors – a violation of his pledge to broadcast all health care negotiations on C-SPAN.

The presidency did not crush Obama’s idealism. He was never a reformer, not even at the beginning of his term. Just look at the defense today from Obama’s supporters in Congress:

“President Obama’s efforts to enlist the support of private industry are exactly what presidents have always done to enact major legislation,” U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado said in a joint statement.

In other words, it’s not Obama’s fault that voters actually believed his principled campaign rhetoric. He was just doing “exactly what presidents have always done.”

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Edwards Verdict Averts Miscarriage of Justice

To their credit, the jury in the John Edwards trial wasn’t bamboozled by the federal effort to treat the former presidential candidate’s personal misconduct as a federal crime. Nor did they validate the government’s effort to expand the scope of election finance laws by treating any expenditure relating to a candidate as being a campaign contribution. After a week of deliberations following a long trial and a confusing charge from the judge, Edwards was acquitted on one charge, and the jury were deadlocked on the other five counts. A mistrial was declared on the unresolved issues, meaning the Justice Department could return to the federal court in North Carolina to try Edwards again. But after an expensive and time-consuming flop, the U.S. Attorney should take the hint. It’s time to end the government’s attempt to jail the unpopular former senator and Democratic presidential candidate.

Like the high profile trials of people like Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and the ongoing prosecution of Roger Clemens, Edwards was singled out because he is famous, rich and extremely disliked by the general public. Edwards’ personal misbehavior made him one of the most loathsome people in the country. But there was no justification for putting him on trial for lying to his now-deceased wife and the country about his affair and fathering an illegitimate child with a campaign videographer. As unjustified as the first attempt to use the campaign finance laws to punish him was, a second bite of the apple would be outrageous.

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To their credit, the jury in the John Edwards trial wasn’t bamboozled by the federal effort to treat the former presidential candidate’s personal misconduct as a federal crime. Nor did they validate the government’s effort to expand the scope of election finance laws by treating any expenditure relating to a candidate as being a campaign contribution. After a week of deliberations following a long trial and a confusing charge from the judge, Edwards was acquitted on one charge, and the jury were deadlocked on the other five counts. A mistrial was declared on the unresolved issues, meaning the Justice Department could return to the federal court in North Carolina to try Edwards again. But after an expensive and time-consuming flop, the U.S. Attorney should take the hint. It’s time to end the government’s attempt to jail the unpopular former senator and Democratic presidential candidate.

Like the high profile trials of people like Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and the ongoing prosecution of Roger Clemens, Edwards was singled out because he is famous, rich and extremely disliked by the general public. Edwards’ personal misbehavior made him one of the most loathsome people in the country. But there was no justification for putting him on trial for lying to his now-deceased wife and the country about his affair and fathering an illegitimate child with a campaign videographer. As unjustified as the first attempt to use the campaign finance laws to punish him was, a second bite of the apple would be outrageous.

As I previously noted, there was a broader principle at stake in this trial than just whether Edwards would be further humiliated for his disgraceful conduct. Had the government succeeded in getting a judge and jury to agree that gifts from friends that were used to try and cover up his affair were campaign contributions, it would have opened up every politician in the country to prosecution on virtually any financial transaction while they were running for office. It may be, as some have pointed out, that the courts’ legalization of independent advocacy groups under the Citizens United decision would have provided a venue for what Edwards’ friends did in 2008. But a guilty verdict would still have validated a power grab to the government that could have made a great deal of political mischief in the hands of partisan prosecutors.

Having been beaten in court, the prosecutors should give up on this ill-considered celebrity scalp hunt and move on to trying real criminals. Edwards deserves to be treated as a pariah, but had he been convicted, it would have been a massive miscarriage of justice. Though we have often had reason to ponder the wisdom of jury trials, in this case the system appears to have worked.

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Republicans Aren’t Rolling Over

Obama chief strategist David Axelrod shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of Republicans turned up at the kickoff at the Statehouse in Boston for his campaign event tearing down Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Though the event was supposedly a secret, it reportedly was leaked on Twitter, and a GOP response team was quick to react. Romney supporters chanting “Solyndra” — a reference to the failed energy company that was the recipient of so much Obama administration largesse, heckled Axelrod, turning the gathering into a bipartisan shouting match rather than an Obama show. The same day, Romney staged an event at the Fremont, California headquarters of Solyndra in a carefully planned attempt to upstage the Democrat’s efforts to seize control of the news cycle.

While all of this can and should just be put down to the usual give and take of a hotly contested presidential campaign, it does show that a lot has changed since the last time Axelrod was running a national campaign. Whereas in 2008, the campaign of John McCain was clearly outmatched in terms of technology and smarts by the “hope and change” juggernaut that put Barack Obama in the White House, in 2012 the GOP is determined not to roll over for the Democrats. If today is any indication of how things will go the next five months, Axelrod is in for a long, hard slog against an opponent capable of nimbly returning serve and scoring points even on days that the Chicago campaign guru thought would belong to him.

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Obama chief strategist David Axelrod shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of Republicans turned up at the kickoff at the Statehouse in Boston for his campaign event tearing down Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Though the event was supposedly a secret, it reportedly was leaked on Twitter, and a GOP response team was quick to react. Romney supporters chanting “Solyndra” — a reference to the failed energy company that was the recipient of so much Obama administration largesse, heckled Axelrod, turning the gathering into a bipartisan shouting match rather than an Obama show. The same day, Romney staged an event at the Fremont, California headquarters of Solyndra in a carefully planned attempt to upstage the Democrat’s efforts to seize control of the news cycle.

While all of this can and should just be put down to the usual give and take of a hotly contested presidential campaign, it does show that a lot has changed since the last time Axelrod was running a national campaign. Whereas in 2008, the campaign of John McCain was clearly outmatched in terms of technology and smarts by the “hope and change” juggernaut that put Barack Obama in the White House, in 2012 the GOP is determined not to roll over for the Democrats. If today is any indication of how things will go the next five months, Axelrod is in for a long, hard slog against an opponent capable of nimbly returning serve and scoring points even on days that the Chicago campaign guru thought would belong to him.

As for the civility of the GOP tactics, any Democratic complaints about the heckling in Boston today would be hypocritical. Pro-Obama hecklers have dogged Romney since the beginning of the campaign. As Byron York notes in the Washington Examiner, Romney was practically shouted down by Democrat kibitzers in New Hampshire and earlier this year in Detroit. Last week, the president’s campaign even organized a high-ranking delegation of hecklers to try to derail a Romney event at a West Philadelphia charter school by dragooning Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as well as District Attorney Seth Williams to show up and speak against the Republican candidate.

While Axelrod can expect things to go more smoothly on other days, the success of Romney’s staff in turning the tables on the Democrats proves they are capable of playing in the big leagues of national politics. That’s something McCain’s staff showed time and again in 2008 that they were not always capable of doing. The GOP effort will also not be handicapped by the enormous financial disadvantage that they labored under four years ago when the Obama campaign amassed a war chest that dwarfed McCain’s resources.

The Democrats still have the advantage of incumbency, a presidential candidate who is still a historic figure who appeals to the imagination of the public and the home cooking that the liberal press always gives the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. But the Boston and Solyndra events should impress upon Axelrod and his minions that they are in for the fight of their lives this year against opponents who are determined to beat him at his own games.

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Is Iran Destroying Nuclear Evidence?

Those wondering why Iran finally broke down and signed a deal allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country got their answer today. Both the IAEA and an American think tank released pictures from satellite images that show that buildings at the military facility at Parchin were recently razed. Because Parchin has been the focus of concern that the Iranians have been developing devices to test military applications of nuclear technology, including triggers for bombs, any effort to sanitize the site prior to the arrival of IAEA inspectors may make the watchdog agency’s efforts to police the program pointless.

The possible destruction of evidence at Parchin is just one more indication that Iran’s negotiating strategy with the West is a ruse intended to create delays that will enable the regime to get closer to its nuclear goal. With the P5+1 talks scheduled to resume next month, this development ought to place even more pressure on President Obama and his European allies not to give in to Iranian demands for acquiescence to continuance of their nuclear project or the lifting of sanctions.

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Those wondering why Iran finally broke down and signed a deal allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country got their answer today. Both the IAEA and an American think tank released pictures from satellite images that show that buildings at the military facility at Parchin were recently razed. Because Parchin has been the focus of concern that the Iranians have been developing devices to test military applications of nuclear technology, including triggers for bombs, any effort to sanitize the site prior to the arrival of IAEA inspectors may make the watchdog agency’s efforts to police the program pointless.

The possible destruction of evidence at Parchin is just one more indication that Iran’s negotiating strategy with the West is a ruse intended to create delays that will enable the regime to get closer to its nuclear goal. With the P5+1 talks scheduled to resume next month, this development ought to place even more pressure on President Obama and his European allies not to give in to Iranian demands for acquiescence to continuance of their nuclear project or the lifting of sanctions.

Though the Iranians have tried to convince Western negotiators that their supreme religious authority had issued a fatwa against a nuclear bomb, Parchin was the place that seemed to give the lie to this assertion. Inspectors have never been allowed to enter the Parchin site, and it was hoped the new agreement with the IAEA would allow the agency to get to the bottom of suspicions it was being used specifically for work that could only be applicable for bombs. Though the Iranians may think they can fool EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton into thinking they are only interested in peaceful applications of nuclear technology, a cleanup at Parchin prior to the arrival of inspectors can only confirm that their aim is deception, not transparency. That is especially true because prior to the emergence of this evidence, it was clear there was intense activity going on at Parchin that could only be an indication that the notion of a peaceful Iranian nuclear program was a myth intended to disarm the West.

Though the United States and the EU refused to back off sanctions at last week’s P5+1 meeting in Baghdad, there is little doubt that both the president and the Europeans would prefer not to implement the existing sanctions or to expand them into an oil boycott of Tehran. The Iranians are counting on that reluctance to help them succeed at the next round of talks. The indications that they are embarked on a cover-up of their military research — the fruits of which can easily have been moved to some secret or underground facility — ought to put the West on its guard. It also ought to make it inconceivable that there be any abandonment of sanctions prior to the elimination of Iran’s nuclear facilities and the destruction of their stockpile of refined uranium.

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Partisan Gridlock Could “Devastate” Troops

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”

And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.

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Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”

And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.

Moreover, the contingency funds are also used to support Afghan security forces. A 15 percent cut in their ranks—soon to be 350,000—could result in the layoff of 52,000 soldiers and police. That is a huge number and could tilt the balance of power in favor of the Taliban in critical areas even as Afghan security forces are being asked to step into the lead. One consequence would be that the remaining U.S. troops still in Afghanistan would be in greater danger and could suffer higher casualties.

It is hard to imagine a more ill-advised idea than cutting funds for troops in combat—yet that is what will happen unless Congress can somehow agree on an alternative before Dec. 31. That seems increasingly unlikely to happen, however, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems intent on extracting big tax increases from Republicans in return for turning off the sequester. Partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, therefore, has the potential to “devastate” our fighting men and women even as they are on the frontlines.

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Another Obama Surrogate Flop

Today’s theme for the Obama campaign was to focus on Mitt Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts. The plan, outlined in a memo by campaign senior strategist David Axelrod and leaked to the New York Times, was to label the GOP nominee as someone who promised to bring jobs to the Bay State and failed. Unfortunately, the main witness for the prosecution in this indictment, Romney’s successor, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, didn’t stick to the script.

Appearing this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Patrick committed the cardinal sin of defending Bain Capital, the private firm Romney managed and the object of a scathing campaign of distortion by the Obama camp. Just as bad was the fact that he praised Romney as a person and admitted that unemployment was low when he left office, thus undermining Axelrod’s main theme of the day. This prompted Republicans to begin tweeting about a possible “hostage video” alert along the lines of Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker’s disastrous backtracking from similarly fair-minded comments about Romney and Bain.

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Today’s theme for the Obama campaign was to focus on Mitt Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts. The plan, outlined in a memo by campaign senior strategist David Axelrod and leaked to the New York Times, was to label the GOP nominee as someone who promised to bring jobs to the Bay State and failed. Unfortunately, the main witness for the prosecution in this indictment, Romney’s successor, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, didn’t stick to the script.

Appearing this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Patrick committed the cardinal sin of defending Bain Capital, the private firm Romney managed and the object of a scathing campaign of distortion by the Obama camp. Just as bad was the fact that he praised Romney as a person and admitted that unemployment was low when he left office, thus undermining Axelrod’s main theme of the day. This prompted Republicans to begin tweeting about a possible “hostage video” alert along the lines of Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker’s disastrous backtracking from similarly fair-minded comments about Romney and Bain.

Patrick is close to both President Obama and Axelrod, so left-wing conspiracy theorists who termed Booker’s outbreak of honesty on “Meet the Press” last week a plot to advance the Newark mayor’s career aren’t going to be able to play the same game with the Massachusetts governor. And it’s not as if Patrick didn’t try to make a distinction between his criticisms of Romney and defense of Bain. But the failure of this latest Obama surrogate to substantiate the case against Romney indicates not so much unrest among Democrats but the weak nature of this line of attack.

It may also be true that Patrick’s statements on the Bain issue may not be another case of heresy as far as his party is concerned but a realization that the Democratic talking point about Romney exemplifying the evils of private capital isn’t working. As Politico reports:

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday, Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company.”

“They have a role in the private economy, and I’ve got a lot of friends there,” Patrick added. “I think the Bain strategy has been distorted in some of the public discussions.”

“I think the issue isn’t about Bain. I think it’s about whether he’s accomplished in either his public or private life the kinds of things he wants to accomplish for the United States,” the Massachusetts governor said.

“It’s never been about Bain,” Patrick emphasized during another Thursday appearance, on CNN’s “Starting Point.”

Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats, they have done everything possible in recent months to make it about Bain. Thus, Patrick’s statement is going to be interpreted as yet another instance of dissension on what has been a central theme in the president’s re-election campaign.

Patrick was on similarly shaky ground while following Axelrod’s playbook about jobs in Massachusetts:

But the Massachusetts-based assault on Obama’s rival started with a whimper not a bang when Patrick lavished praise on Romney during “Morning Joe.”

Patrick, who followed Romney as governor in 2007, called the GOP presidential nominee a “gentleman” and said, “He’s always been a gentleman to me, and the people who know him well and personally speak very warmly of him. I haven’t had a lot of interaction with him, but the transition [to Patrick’s governorship] was smooth.”

The governor also was asked by an MSNBC panelist about the unemployment rate in Massachusetts when Romney left office – and the answer left “Morning Joe” panelists musing about how low it was.

“I think when he left office, it was in the fours. I want to say 4.3 percent, about what the national average was,” Patrick said.

“That’s pretty good,” responded host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman.

“Yeah, not bad,” said Barnicle, a [liberal] former Boston Globe journalist, and frequent “Morning Joe” contributor. …

With host Soledad O’Brien on CNN, Patrick was more consistently on the attack, but was forced to defend his line of criticism.

O’Brien challenged Patrick with the fact that Romney added 31,000 jobs to the Massachusetts economy.

“I didn’t say he didn’t add any jobs,” Patrick explained. “I said, that in a good economy, we were growing third from the bottom compared to other states around the country.”

It all added up to a lousy day for another Obama surrogate as well as the Democratic campaign. Rather than undermining Romney’s claim to be the man with the sort of economic expertise that can help the nation’s fiscal woes, the attack wound up doing just the opposite. Though Axelrod has a reputation as a brilliant strategist, it looks like his 2008 magic is gone. He may hope the cumulative effect of the various Democratic lines of attack (the phony “war on women,” Bain Capital, and now Massachusetts) will chip away at Romney’s strength, but right now all they appear to be doing is to show the Obama campaign is floundering while searching for a strategy that can replace the “hope and change” mantra that worked so well four years ago.

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Timing of Warren Statement is Shady

Elizabeth Warren finally acknowledged to the Boston Globe that she told Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania she was Native American when she served on their faculties, but she continues to insist it had no influence on her hiring:

“At some point after I was hired by them, I . . . provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,’’ [Warren] said in a statement issued by her campaign. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.’’

Warren’s admission comes after the Boston Globe reported that Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania cited a Native American faculty member in federal diversity statistics during Warren’s tenure at the schools. Obviously Harvard and Penn didn’t both list her as Native American based on a wild hunch, so the only real explanation was that Warren told them about her alleged ancestry.

That’s what makes the timing of Warren’s statement to the Globe today so shady. If her self-proclaimed ancestry had nothing to do with her hiring, why did she only admit to telling Harvard and Penn about it after she was backed into a corner by the Globe?

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Elizabeth Warren finally acknowledged to the Boston Globe that she told Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania she was Native American when she served on their faculties, but she continues to insist it had no influence on her hiring:

“At some point after I was hired by them, I . . . provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,’’ [Warren] said in a statement issued by her campaign. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.’’

Warren’s admission comes after the Boston Globe reported that Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania cited a Native American faculty member in federal diversity statistics during Warren’s tenure at the schools. Obviously Harvard and Penn didn’t both list her as Native American based on a wild hunch, so the only real explanation was that Warren told them about her alleged ancestry.

That’s what makes the timing of Warren’s statement to the Globe today so shady. If her self-proclaimed ancestry had nothing to do with her hiring, why did she only admit to telling Harvard and Penn about it after she was backed into a corner by the Globe?

Her story is that Harvard was unaware of her heritage until after she was hired and it came up casually at a faculty lunch. That’s not exactly scandalous, and failing to mention it earlier makes her look like she had something to hide. Add that to the fact that Harvard was reportedly under enormous pressure to hire minority faculty at the time, and plenty of questions remain.

So far, other Harvard faculty involved in Warren’s hiring have backed up her story to the Globe. But does anyone really want to admit to giving someone preferential treatment because of her (now questionable) minority status? First of all, it’s an uncomfortable thing to make public, particularly as it could damage both Harvard’s and Warren’s reputations. And second, no matter how you feel about affirmative action, it would be a major embarrassment if it actually helped someone like Warren cut in line.

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Economic Shoes Are Dropping

If the stock market is truly a leading indicator (and it tends to be one of the more reliable ones), then the Obama campaign had better start worrying. May has been a brutal month for the Dow. It closed May 1 at 13,279. As it approached noon today, it’s at 12,360, down 59 on the day. That’s a decline of 7.1 percent for the month, wiping out all the gains since Jan. 1.

The reasons, of course, are not hard to find: the crisis in Europe, lackluster economic data in general, a sharp drop in consumer confidence in May, an uptick in weekly jobless claims, and more.

Perhaps the biggest news is the drop in bond rates. The benchmark ten-year treasury bond is currently yielding 1.53 percent. On July 1 last year, the ten-year treasury was yielding 3.2 percent, more than twice as much. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the federal government can finance its huge deficits more easily (and consumers can borrow more cheaply as well: mortgage rates are at near record lows). But the bad news is that bond yields go down for two reasons: a slowing economy and/or a financial crisis. As nervous investors seek safe haven, demand for treasuries rises, pushing down yields. (French and German bond rates are also very low for the same reason, yielding 2.35 percent and an astonishing 1.24 percent respectively.)

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If the stock market is truly a leading indicator (and it tends to be one of the more reliable ones), then the Obama campaign had better start worrying. May has been a brutal month for the Dow. It closed May 1 at 13,279. As it approached noon today, it’s at 12,360, down 59 on the day. That’s a decline of 7.1 percent for the month, wiping out all the gains since Jan. 1.

The reasons, of course, are not hard to find: the crisis in Europe, lackluster economic data in general, a sharp drop in consumer confidence in May, an uptick in weekly jobless claims, and more.

Perhaps the biggest news is the drop in bond rates. The benchmark ten-year treasury bond is currently yielding 1.53 percent. On July 1 last year, the ten-year treasury was yielding 3.2 percent, more than twice as much. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the federal government can finance its huge deficits more easily (and consumers can borrow more cheaply as well: mortgage rates are at near record lows). But the bad news is that bond yields go down for two reasons: a slowing economy and/or a financial crisis. As nervous investors seek safe haven, demand for treasuries rises, pushing down yields. (French and German bond rates are also very low for the same reason, yielding 2.35 percent and an astonishing 1.24 percent respectively.)

But countries at the heart of the crisis are not faring so well. Spain is not borrowing so cheaply, to put it mildly. Its current rate on ten-year bonds is 6.67 percent, more than five times what Germany has to pay to borrow. Spanish banking is near collapse and the country is in deep recession. If Spain were unable to meet its obligations and rescue its banking sector, it would be a much bigger deal than Greece’s problems. At about $1.5 trillion, its economy is five times the size of the Greek economy. Not even Germany (the world’s fourth largest economy) can write a check that big.

All eyes will be on tomorrow’s release of the jobs report for May, at 8:30 a.m., an hour before the market opens. But there are a lot of other economic shoes to drop in the next few weeks. As Bette Davis, playing Margot Channing, said in “All About Eve”: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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Israel, Alone at the Table

The popularity of the notion that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should consider taking unilateral action seems to be growing. I wrote in January about the proposal from Michael Zantovsky, the Czech ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, that the two sides engage in “coordinated unilateralism,” which would allow each to take steps without waiting for a negotiated settlement. Then a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a recent event dedicated to this idea at which Robert Malley suggested the Israelis and the Palestinians take “parallel unilateral steps,” and Ami Ayalon proposed something called a “friendly unilateralism.”

The point seemed to be that the current model for negotiations is outdated and unrealistic. That certainly does seem to be the case–the Palestinian leadership has gone from saying no to every Israeli offer to simply ignoring the offers altogether. Because no one knows how long the Palestinian silent treatment is supposed to last, a movement to figure out how else to attain peace has been gaining steam. The latest possible converts to this new plan, according to this Jodi Rudoren report, include Ehud Barak. But Rudoren mentions the obstacles to such action:

The Palestinian Authority has opposed any effort by Israel to decree the contours of its territory and abandon a negotiated settlement on a wide variety of issues, including the future of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority, however, did take its own unilateral steps last fall, when it pursued United Nations recognition, something it is considering doing again. Israel has criticized such efforts for stepping outside the bounds of negotiations. The Obama administration has strongly opposed unilateral action by either side, and some senior Israeli officials have worried that such a move by Israel could provoke an uprising by Palestinians.

“The core issues of the conflict can only be resolved by direct negotiations,” Daniel B. Shapiro, the United States ambassador to Israel, said Wednesday. Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, also objected to the call for unilateralism, saying, “This policy won’t lead to a solution and would prolong the conflict. It will end the idea of the two-state solution.”

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The popularity of the notion that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should consider taking unilateral action seems to be growing. I wrote in January about the proposal from Michael Zantovsky, the Czech ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, that the two sides engage in “coordinated unilateralism,” which would allow each to take steps without waiting for a negotiated settlement. Then a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a recent event dedicated to this idea at which Robert Malley suggested the Israelis and the Palestinians take “parallel unilateral steps,” and Ami Ayalon proposed something called a “friendly unilateralism.”

The point seemed to be that the current model for negotiations is outdated and unrealistic. That certainly does seem to be the case–the Palestinian leadership has gone from saying no to every Israeli offer to simply ignoring the offers altogether. Because no one knows how long the Palestinian silent treatment is supposed to last, a movement to figure out how else to attain peace has been gaining steam. The latest possible converts to this new plan, according to this Jodi Rudoren report, include Ehud Barak. But Rudoren mentions the obstacles to such action:

The Palestinian Authority has opposed any effort by Israel to decree the contours of its territory and abandon a negotiated settlement on a wide variety of issues, including the future of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority, however, did take its own unilateral steps last fall, when it pursued United Nations recognition, something it is considering doing again. Israel has criticized such efforts for stepping outside the bounds of negotiations. The Obama administration has strongly opposed unilateral action by either side, and some senior Israeli officials have worried that such a move by Israel could provoke an uprising by Palestinians.

“The core issues of the conflict can only be resolved by direct negotiations,” Daniel B. Shapiro, the United States ambassador to Israel, said Wednesday. Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, also objected to the call for unilateralism, saying, “This policy won’t lead to a solution and would prolong the conflict. It will end the idea of the two-state solution.”

That sums it up pretty well. According to the Palestinian Authority, they can take unilateral steps because without unilateral steps the two-state solution is dead, and Israel cannot take unilateral steps because that would kill the two-state solution. Also, the Palestinians may conduct a new terror war against Israel if they don’t like where this is going.

And according to the United States, whose leadership claims to practice “realism,” the Oslo process hasn’t ceased to be, it’s simply resting, or stunned, or pining for the fjords.

But for now, the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, and the terrorist enclave it has since become, casts a shadow over any proposed unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. So Benjamin Netanyahu continues to reiterate his willingness to negotiate at any time, without preconditions. How long can the world expect Bibi to sit alone at that table? In the absence of Palestinian interest and American diplomatic creativity (or even flexibility), we’re about to find out.

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White House Opposes Gender-Selection Ban

The House of Representatives is poised to vote on a bill today that would ban gender-selection abortions. The legislation comes at a critical time, just days after a pro-life group videotaped a Planned Parenthood staffer assisting an undercover activist who claimed she wanted an abortion if her baby was a girl.

The White House announced its opposition to the gender selection ban last night, in a statement to ABC’s Jake Tapper:

Note: The White House got back to me this evening to say the president opposes the bill.

White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith says in a statement: “The administration opposes gender discrimination in all forms, but the end result of this legislation would be to subject doctors to criminal prosecution if they fail to determine the motivations behind a very personal and private decision. The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way.”

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The House of Representatives is poised to vote on a bill today that would ban gender-selection abortions. The legislation comes at a critical time, just days after a pro-life group videotaped a Planned Parenthood staffer assisting an undercover activist who claimed she wanted an abortion if her baby was a girl.

The White House announced its opposition to the gender selection ban last night, in a statement to ABC’s Jake Tapper:

Note: The White House got back to me this evening to say the president opposes the bill.

White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith says in a statement: “The administration opposes gender discrimination in all forms, but the end result of this legislation would be to subject doctors to criminal prosecution if they fail to determine the motivations behind a very personal and private decision. The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way.”

But contrary to the White House’s claim, there is no reason to believe doctors would be prosecuted for failing to determine whether an abortion was motivated by gender-selection. The legislation would make it illegal for abortion providers to perform the procedure “knowing that such abortion is sought based on the sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of a parent of that child.” The evidence would have to prove doctors or clinicians were aware of the sex-selection and knowingly performed the abortion anyway.

A recent poll found that 77 percent of Americans support some law criminalizing gender-based abortions, and clearly opposition to the practice is pretty much universal in the U.S. The problem is, the pro-choice movement doesn’t want to open the door to any laws that would humanize the fetus — if it’s just a lump of cells, it should make no difference why the woman chooses to terminate the pregnancy.

On the other side, it’s probably impossible to eradicate sex-selection abortions so long as abortion remains legal. Even the legislation will only prevent providers from knowingly performing them. There’s no reason why a woman couldn’t make the choice based on gender and simply not inform the provider.

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The Issue is Freedom, Not Soft Drinks

New York City Mayor Bloomberg struck what he claims is another blow for the cause of public health yesterday by announcing a ban on the sale of all sugared drinks in containers that measure larger than 16 ounce servings. Because soft drinks are widely believed to be part of the obesity epidemic, he believes it is his duty to try and stop the citizens of Gotham from harming themselves. As the New York Times reports:

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in the Governor’s Room at City Hall.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

But even if we concede that drinking too much soda is an unhealthy practice, what the mayor again fails to understand is that the purpose of government is to protect freedom, not to heedlessly infringe upon it merely for the sake of what some people may believe is doing good. Like the city’s ban on the use of trans fats and draconian restrictions on smoking, the new soda regulations are an intolerable intrusion into the private sphere. Though the mayor seems to relish his reputation as the embodiment of the concept of the so-called nanny state, what is going on here is something far more sinister than a billionaire version of Mary Poppins presiding at Gracie Mansion. Rather, it is yet another installment of what Jonah Goldberg rightly termed “liberal fascism.”

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New York City Mayor Bloomberg struck what he claims is another blow for the cause of public health yesterday by announcing a ban on the sale of all sugared drinks in containers that measure larger than 16 ounce servings. Because soft drinks are widely believed to be part of the obesity epidemic, he believes it is his duty to try and stop the citizens of Gotham from harming themselves. As the New York Times reports:

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in the Governor’s Room at City Hall.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

But even if we concede that drinking too much soda is an unhealthy practice, what the mayor again fails to understand is that the purpose of government is to protect freedom, not to heedlessly infringe upon it merely for the sake of what some people may believe is doing good. Like the city’s ban on the use of trans fats and draconian restrictions on smoking, the new soda regulations are an intolerable intrusion into the private sphere. Though the mayor seems to relish his reputation as the embodiment of the concept of the so-called nanny state, what is going on here is something far more sinister than a billionaire version of Mary Poppins presiding at Gracie Mansion. Rather, it is yet another installment of what Jonah Goldberg rightly termed “liberal fascism.”

Though the term “fascist” has become merely a left-wing epithet aimed at non-liberals, its historic roots are in a movement that above all saw the ends as justifying the means. The Italian fascist state of Benito Mussolini earned a brief popularity around the world for “making the trains run on time” because his regime appeared to make a chaotic political culture more efficient. But the price paid in terms of freedom for the train timetable was very high. Though Bloomberg is no Mussolini, the underlying principle here is the same. He believes it is his duty to solve any problem even if it means expanding the scope of government to govern personal diet.

The point here is not to defend drinking excessive amounts of soda, consuming trans fats or smoking. It is to point out that these are personal choices that cannot reasonably be interpreted to fall under the purview of municipal government. The danger is that the end of personal liberty is not usually accomplished in one broad stroke but is lost by a process of erosion whereby seemingly sensible measures gradually accumulate to create a new reality wherein the once broad protection of the law for private behavior is destroyed piecemeal.

Those who defend the mayor’s actions claim the medical costs of the illnesses caused by drinking, eating and smoking are affected in one way or another by the public and that gives government the right to regulate and/or ban such items. But there is a difference between personal behavior that poses a direct threat to public safety — such as drivng while under the influence of alcohol — and those that constitute minute and indirect contributions to serious problems. If the mayor is allowed to ban private diet or health choices under the principle that he has the right to “do something” about anything that is a public concern, then there is literally no limit to his power to infringe on personal liberty or to intrude on commerce.

It may well be that Americans ought not to drink 20 ounce soda bottles any more than they should smoke. But if we are to live in a free country, they must have the right to do so. Those choices have consequences, but so does giving government the power to take those choices away from us. As grievous as our nation’s health problems may be, the damage from the latter may far outweigh it.

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Obama, Romney Tied in Key Battlegrounds

Today’s NBC/Marist poll finds that President Obama and Mitt Romney are now in a dead heat in three critical battleground states that swung to Obama in 2008:

President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney are deadlocked in three key presidential battleground states, according to a new round of NBC/Marist polls.

In Iowa, the two rivals are tied at 44 percent among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a candidate. Ten percent of voters in the Hawkeye State are completely undecided.

In Colorado, Obama gets support from 46 percent of registered voters, while Romney gets 45 percent.

And in Nevada, the president is at 48 percent and Romney is at 46 percent.

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Today’s NBC/Marist poll finds that President Obama and Mitt Romney are now in a dead heat in three critical battleground states that swung to Obama in 2008:

President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney are deadlocked in three key presidential battleground states, according to a new round of NBC/Marist polls.

In Iowa, the two rivals are tied at 44 percent among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a candidate. Ten percent of voters in the Hawkeye State are completely undecided.

In Colorado, Obama gets support from 46 percent of registered voters, while Romney gets 45 percent.

And in Nevada, the president is at 48 percent and Romney is at 46 percent.

Colorado, Nevada and Iowa are particularly important to the Obama campaign because one of his most viable electoral paths requires him to win all three. Previous polls have shown Obama with an edge in these states, so Romney seems to be gaining ground. And as Jim Geraghty notes at the National Review, this is a tie among registered voters; we can probably assume that Romney’s numbers would be slightly higher among likely voters, which tend to skew more conservative.

At the National Journal, Josh Kraushaar weighs in on why this poll should raise alarms for the Obama campaign:

President Obama’s campaign team has increasingly focused on the Southwest as their must-win battleground region as it seeks to cobble a path to 270 electoral votes. But today’s crop of NBC/Marist state polls suggest that Obama is in as much trouble in swing states like Colorado and Nevada as he is in the more-traditional battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida. …

The electoral map CW has been that Romney has a tougher path to 270 electoral votes since the demographic changes in the Southwest would give the president a slight edge in Colorado and New Mexico, and allow him to compete in Nevada. But if those states are looking as vulnerable as Ohio, Florida and Virginia for the president, Obama has as little room for error as Romney.

Indeed. The Obama campaign’s ostentatious overconfidence earlier this month is looking sillier by the day. This is going to be a close race, even if Obama’s own supporters (and some of his campaign staff) still don’t grasp that yet.

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University Deserves Kudos, Not Blame

As a country with more than enough real enemies, the last thing Israel needs is for its supporters to start attacking its friends. But that’s what seems to have happened to the University of Texas – which has been attacked as an anti-Israel boycotter for taking a courageous stand against the boycott.

It began when Israel National News published a perfectly fair article with an unfortunate headline: “New Boycott: U. of Texas Cancels Book Including Israelis.” The headline seems to accuse the university itself of boycotting Israelis, and that’s how many people evidently read it: Comments such as “U of Texas Press bows to boycotters,” or the more generic “scandalous!” and “shameful,” soon appeared on Twitter and Facebook.

What actually happened, as the news story makes clear, is that the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies wanted to publish a collection of women’s writing about life in the Middle East that would include both Arab and Israeli authors. The problem began when a Palestinian woman who had been invited to contribute threatened to withdraw her own article if the two Israelis contributors weren’t excluded.

The university, quite properly, told her to go ahead and withdraw; the book could live without her contribution. But she countered by persuading other contributors to withdraw their manuscripts as well. Ultimately, according to Inside Higher Ed, 13 of the 29 authors did so, and a few others were wavering. That left the university with four choices:

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As a country with more than enough real enemies, the last thing Israel needs is for its supporters to start attacking its friends. But that’s what seems to have happened to the University of Texas – which has been attacked as an anti-Israel boycotter for taking a courageous stand against the boycott.

It began when Israel National News published a perfectly fair article with an unfortunate headline: “New Boycott: U. of Texas Cancels Book Including Israelis.” The headline seems to accuse the university itself of boycotting Israelis, and that’s how many people evidently read it: Comments such as “U of Texas Press bows to boycotters,” or the more generic “scandalous!” and “shameful,” soon appeared on Twitter and Facebook.

What actually happened, as the news story makes clear, is that the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies wanted to publish a collection of women’s writing about life in the Middle East that would include both Arab and Israeli authors. The problem began when a Palestinian woman who had been invited to contribute threatened to withdraw her own article if the two Israelis contributors weren’t excluded.

The university, quite properly, told her to go ahead and withdraw; the book could live without her contribution. But she countered by persuading other contributors to withdraw their manuscripts as well. Ultimately, according to Inside Higher Ed, 13 of the 29 authors did so, and a few others were wavering. That left the university with four choices:

First, it could violate every known standard of professional behavior, and open itself to lawsuits, by publishing the withdrawn manuscripts without their authors’ consent. Second, it could make itself a professional laughingstock by publishing a collection of articles on life in the Middle East that didn’t include a single Arab author. Its critics seem to think it should have chosen one of these two. Yet it should be obvious that no self-respecting university would seriously consider either of them.

The third option was to capitulate to the boycotters and publish 27 of the 29 articles, excluding only the two Israeli contributions. Many universities would likely have done exactly that: Just consider the craven behavior of Yale University Press, which capitulated to Muslim pressure to exclude pictures of controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed from a book about the controversy over the Danish cartoons. But Texas, to its credit, did no such thing.

Instead, it chose the final option: It stood up to the boycotters and announced that if the Israelis aren’t published, the boycotters won’t be, either – even at the cost of canceling a book in which the university had already invested a good deal of time, effort and money. As Kamran Scot Aghaie, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, quite properly said, he refuses to “censor” people “based on religion or national origin. To do so is simply discrimination, and it’s wrong.”

That’s exactly how a self-respecting university should respond to anti-Israel boycotters. And for having done so, the University of Texas deserves kudos, not blame.

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Why Not Sell Weapons to Italy?

I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.

There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?

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I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.

There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?

If we expect our allies to carry more of their burden of Western defense then we have to be prepared to sell them the tools to get the job done. In fact, I am mystified that we are not willing to sell the even more sophisticated F-22 to Japan and other close allies. The Reaper drone, while highly effective, isn’t nearly as cutting edge. It is precisely the sort of effective weapons system that will allow our allies to do more to help us.

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Justice Finally Served for Liberia

Say what you will about international law and international organizations, but it is undoubtedly a good thing that Charles Taylor, the murderous former dictator of Liberia, was just sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He thus becomes the first head of state convicted of crimes by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials of the post-World War II era.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. The New York Times sums up his gruesome record by noting that he was found guilty “of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his part in fomenting mass brutality that included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition.”

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Say what you will about international law and international organizations, but it is undoubtedly a good thing that Charles Taylor, the murderous former dictator of Liberia, was just sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He thus becomes the first head of state convicted of crimes by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials of the post-World War II era.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. The New York Times sums up his gruesome record by noting that he was found guilty “of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his part in fomenting mass brutality that included murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition.”

Sure, it’s possible to criticize the international court for Sierra Leone, or the one for the former Yugoslavia, on the grounds that they are slow and unwieldy in delivering justice. And, sure, the international legal system theoretically could be abused to generate politically motivated indictments of Israeli or American generals and politicians—but so far that’s been more of a problem in national courts such as the Turkish court, which just issued indictments against various Israeli soldiers. By contrast, international courts are delivering justice at the end of the day for at least some war criminals. That’s more than national courts can say.

Far from this being an infringement on individual liberty, as so many conservative critics of the UN fear, this is actually a great enhancement of liberty by delivering justice for the victims of criminal states. Perhaps if such trials become a regular feature of the international community, then in the future dictators may actually think twice before committing fresh atrocities.

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Manhattanhenge

If you happen to be in Manhattan today and the skies are clear at sunset, take a look west as the sun goes down. Thanks to the island’s famous grid system of streets there are two days of the year, May 30 and July 11, when the sun sets right smack in the middle of each east-west street.

Because the broad Hudson River runs along Manhattan’s west side, you can see the sun almost all the way to the horizon. It’s amazingly dramatic as the reddened sunlight floods through the narrow, high-walled streets of Gotham. For me, it always marked the official beginning of the New York summer.

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If you happen to be in Manhattan today and the skies are clear at sunset, take a look west as the sun goes down. Thanks to the island’s famous grid system of streets there are two days of the year, May 30 and July 11, when the sun sets right smack in the middle of each east-west street.

Because the broad Hudson River runs along Manhattan’s west side, you can see the sun almost all the way to the horizon. It’s amazingly dramatic as the reddened sunlight floods through the narrow, high-walled streets of Gotham. For me, it always marked the official beginning of the New York summer.

If Manhattan ran perfectly north-south, Manhattanhenge would fall on the equinox, marking the start of spring and fall. But the island tilts about 30 degrees to the northeast and the grid system is aligned with the island, not the compass. To be sure, New Yorkers talk about east, west, north, and south as though those compass points aligned with New York streets and avenues. Just what you might expect of the citizens of this famously self-centered metropolis.

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Paying for Religious Pluralism

A milestone of sorts was crossed yesterday when the Israeli government agreed to pay the wages of non-Orthodox rabbis currently serving on local religious councils. Acting on the advice of the Supreme Court, the country’s attorney general ruled that a Reform rabbi who is serving on a council should be paid just as Orthodox rabbis who serve in the same capacity are currently financed by the state. The decision was the result of delicate negotiations and hair-splitting in which the state didn’t actually recognize the Reform rabbi in question — Rabbi Miri Gold of Kibbutz Gezer — as a rabbi per se, but as a “rabbi of a non-Orthodox community.” Nor will she or any other such official be given any authority over religious matters but just given the right to serve their specific communities. Nonetheless, the decision was still criticized by Orthodox politicians and organizations that begrudge the least whiff of state approval or funds for the Reform or Conservative rabbinate.

The decision, while welcome by Diaspora Jewry, will also serve to highlight the ongoing inequality between Jewish denominations in Israel wherein Orthodoxy is considered the official, subsidized authority on Judaism and Reform and Conservative Judaism are wrongly treated as illegitimate knock-offs. This is bitterly resented by the majority of American Jews who identify with non-Orthodox religious streams and is the cause of no small amount of tension with Israel. But the deal that produced this advance for their denominations also ought to make it clear to Americans that the problem is not so much Israeli prejudice against their beliefs but a system in which any rabbi is paid by the state.

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A milestone of sorts was crossed yesterday when the Israeli government agreed to pay the wages of non-Orthodox rabbis currently serving on local religious councils. Acting on the advice of the Supreme Court, the country’s attorney general ruled that a Reform rabbi who is serving on a council should be paid just as Orthodox rabbis who serve in the same capacity are currently financed by the state. The decision was the result of delicate negotiations and hair-splitting in which the state didn’t actually recognize the Reform rabbi in question — Rabbi Miri Gold of Kibbutz Gezer — as a rabbi per se, but as a “rabbi of a non-Orthodox community.” Nor will she or any other such official be given any authority over religious matters but just given the right to serve their specific communities. Nonetheless, the decision was still criticized by Orthodox politicians and organizations that begrudge the least whiff of state approval or funds for the Reform or Conservative rabbinate.

The decision, while welcome by Diaspora Jewry, will also serve to highlight the ongoing inequality between Jewish denominations in Israel wherein Orthodoxy is considered the official, subsidized authority on Judaism and Reform and Conservative Judaism are wrongly treated as illegitimate knock-offs. This is bitterly resented by the majority of American Jews who identify with non-Orthodox religious streams and is the cause of no small amount of tension with Israel. But the deal that produced this advance for their denominations also ought to make it clear to Americans that the problem is not so much Israeli prejudice against their beliefs but a system in which any rabbi is paid by the state.

For all of the ongoing controversy about defining Jewish identity in Israel, the real source of friction there is not so much one of “who is a Jew” but who is a rabbi. And any country where rabbis are in effect employees of the state, as priests or imams are in other nations, is one in which the assignment of rabbinical status is inherently political. That means the debate about recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel is not really one of competing doctrines as it is a scramble for government patronage.

Seen in that light, it is no mystery that the Orthodox political parties, who can count on the support of a large share of the Israeli electorate and whose influence is magnified by a system of proportional representation in the country’s parliament, have zealously defended their stranglehold on the state-financed religious bureaucracy. Nor is it imaginable, even with the best of wills on the part of Israel’s political leadership, that this monopoly will ever be broken up until the distant and perhaps unattainable day when Reform and Conservative Judaism commands the support of a sizeable electoral constituency of its own.

It is possible that a scheme of electoral reform that will make it harder for niche parties to win seats in the Knesset — something Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current grand coalition could pass if it wanted to — will diminish the influence of the Orthodox. But so long as the synagogue that even most secular and non-religious Israelis choose not to go to is Orthodox, there will be no groundswell there for equal rights for the rabbis of religious streams with little popular backing.

A far more urgent issue for most Israelis than the discrimination against Reform and Conservative rabbis is the oppressive nature of the taxpayer-financed official religious authority that is the bailiwick of ultra-Orthodox officials who have the ability to make an application for a marriage license the equivalent of a visit from the Spanish Inquisition. Like much of the structure of the Israeli bureaucracy, the whole idea of state-subsidized religion (and it should be specified that all faiths including Christianity and Islam are also given government support in Israel — the only reason non-Orthodox Jews are left out is because they refuse to register as being separate faiths that are distinct from traditional Orthodox Judaism) is the core of the problem. Until Israel fixes that, Diaspora Jews will continue to complain about the lack of religious pluralism and to largely misunderstand the source of the problem.

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Wake Up and Smell the Arabic Coffee

Even Israeli leaders are calling for stronger Western action against Syria. In the wake of the Houla massacre, Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized the expulsions of Syrian diplomats as inadequate and said, “More concrete action is required. These are crimes against humanity and it’s impossible that the international community is going to stand aside.”

On one level this might not seem terribly surprising—Syria is, after all, in a longstanding state of war with Israel, and the Assad regime has long been a leading backer of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other anti-Israeli terrorist groups. So it makes sense that Israeli leaders would call for tougher action against Assad. Except that for years Israeli leaders have viewed the Assad regime as a bulwark of stability and have dismissed calls for supporting the opposition. I remember a few years ago having an argument with a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem on this very issue; he dismissed my suggestion that it would be better for Assad to go as the fantasy of an American who did not have to live next door to Syria.

Now even the Israelis realize that the Assads deliver a faux stability and that their removal actually has the potential—not the certainty but the potential—to improve the strategic outlook for Israel while hurting Israel’s main enemy, Iran. If only the Obama administration had reached a similar conclusion.

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Even Israeli leaders are calling for stronger Western action against Syria. In the wake of the Houla massacre, Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized the expulsions of Syrian diplomats as inadequate and said, “More concrete action is required. These are crimes against humanity and it’s impossible that the international community is going to stand aside.”

On one level this might not seem terribly surprising—Syria is, after all, in a longstanding state of war with Israel, and the Assad regime has long been a leading backer of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other anti-Israeli terrorist groups. So it makes sense that Israeli leaders would call for tougher action against Assad. Except that for years Israeli leaders have viewed the Assad regime as a bulwark of stability and have dismissed calls for supporting the opposition. I remember a few years ago having an argument with a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem on this very issue; he dismissed my suggestion that it would be better for Assad to go as the fantasy of an American who did not have to live next door to Syria.

Now even the Israelis realize that the Assads deliver a faux stability and that their removal actually has the potential—not the certainty but the potential—to improve the strategic outlook for Israel while hurting Israel’s main enemy, Iran. If only the Obama administration had reached a similar conclusion.

Instead, even in the wake of the latest atrocities, the president and his aides are still locked in diplomatic never-never land where the magical intervention of Kofi Annan or Vladimir Putin will somehow resolve the situation. They should wake up and smell the Arabic coffee. Only American-led action has any chance of ending the killing anytime soon.

There is no mystery about what it would take: provide arms, communications gear and other important help to the more moderate factions of Syrian rebels; help them to become better organized; support Turkey in establishing safe zones inside Syria; and possibly commit to using air strikes, either to defend the safe zones or to strike regime targets. Yet there is little sign the Obama administration is reconsidering its opposition to such steps. Thus, the killing goes on.

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