It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.
That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.
Today, BuzzFeed reports the unsurprising news that the Obama campaign has lost its notorious confidence after a rough couple of weeks. The reasons are what you’d expect: Joe Biden’s gay marriage slipup, the botched Bain attacks, and the public rebukes from fellow Democrats. But toward the end of the article, Doug Schoen points out the source of the confidence problem – the Obama campaign is heading into the summer and still hasn’t settled on a definite vision for a second term:
Critics inside the party and out, however, warn that Obama has a deeper problem: He hasn’t clearly communicated a simple rationale for a second term.
“They have no clear message or overarching theme other than class warfare and attack politics,” pollster Doug Schoen told BuzzFeed. “They don’t have a vision for the second term. No clear sense as to what the administration is offering for a second term. There is widespread dissatisfaction with both parties and both candidates in primary results [Tuesday] — and no clear idea how Obama is going to unite the county and lead us forward.”
Republican candidate Mitt Romney took his campaign to inner city Philadelphia today, but the upshot of the event wasn’t so much his education and school choice agenda as the opportunity it provided for the city’s mayor to show that he was no Cory Booker. Philly Mayor Michael Nutter as well as the city’s District Attorney Seth Williams turned out for the event intent on showing they were prepared to be loyal surrogates for President Obama. Nutter, who is an advocate of school reform, stayed outside the charter school Romney visited and gave a speech to a crowd that came out to jeer the Republican saying:
“It’s nice that he decided this late in his [campaign] to see what a city like Philadelphia is about,” Nutter said. But, he added, “I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America.”
Such raillery is meaningless and to be expected in any political campaign. Romney made a strong statement at the school, and though it’s not likely he will be winning many votes in that West Philadelphia neighborhood in November, his presence there was appropriate. The interesting aspect to the event is the alacrity with which the White House recruited two of the senior officials of the city — both of which are African-Americans like Booker, who presumably have busy schedules of their own–to show up and basically heckle Romney from a street corner more than a block away. After Newark Mayor Booker’s “Meet the Press” heresy this past weekend, the Democrats seem to have decided to dragoon local office holders to publicly demonstrate their loyalty at a moment’s notice with no questions asked.
Today on a popular blog about New York City on the New York Times‘ website, the history of recent public transportation projects was rehashed in light of a recent announcement on the extension of the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal. Every single project, from this project to the longest standing joke in New York City, the 2nd Avenue subway, had one thing in common: They consistently run over budget and behind schedule.
Tucked in the end of the post the Times’ Clyde Haberman lists the trans-Hudson rail tunnel as one of the projects that has faced a “construction delay.” What was the delay? There was none. The project has been nixed because New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to fund a project that he believed would run over budget and behind schedule. Christie explained that even according to the most recent cost projections for the project the state would be unable to pay, and given the tri-state area’s history of mismanaged public transportation construction projects, the state would go bankrupt before finding the true cost, which would inevitably come to light millions of dollars and years later. Read More
It hasn’t been a very good couple of weeks for Joe Biden, and the polls show it. Though President Obama followed his vice president’s lead and endorsed gay marriage, White House resentment about the incident lingers. There has been a torrent of leaks about the president’s dissatisfaction with his number two, and Republicans have taken to targeting the veep and pointing out his numerous gaffes at every opportunity. Though the only person whose opinion he needs to care about — President Obama — has been publicly silent, all this has taken a toll on Biden’s public standing. So yesterday’s Gallup Poll in which the vice president is shown to have a negative approval rating for the first time since taking office is likely to feed the rumors circulating around Washington about Biden being dumped from the Democratic ticket this summer. It will also tempt Republicans to double down on their attacks on the vice president.
But while none of this comforts Biden, it would also be a mistake for Republicans to put much stock in any of it. Biden may not be much of an asset to Obama, but it’s not likely that he will cost him any more votes than he will win for him this year. The same was true in 2008, although the comparison with his GOP counterpart Sarah Palin helped him play the statesman. Though we spend a good deal of time handicapping the unofficial run for the vice presidency every four years, it’s a rare election in which they have any but the most marginal impact. Rumors notwithstanding, the president understands that dumping the veep would be a sign of panic. While some Republicans will enjoy slugging away at his gaffes, any effort diverted from the main task of taking down the president’s record is a waste of time.
Suffolk University finds that Elizabeth Warren’s support is actually holding steady in Massachusetts, despite the ongoing controversy about her dubious Cherokee ancestry claims. Sen. Scott Brown and Warren still appear to be in a dead heat:
Republican incumbent Scott Brown (48 percent) clings to a one-point lead over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren (47 percent) in the Massachusetts race for the U.S. Senate, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WHDH-Boston) poll of likely general-election voters in Massachusetts.
The poll result is well within the margin of error. Five percent of voters were undecided in a race that has drawn interest from across the country, even though the primaries are months away. The race has closed since a February Suffolk University/7NEWS poll showed Brown leading Warren 49 percent to 40 percent, with 11 percent either undecided or choosing someone else.
So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.
Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.
No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.
In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.
President Obama may be planning to run for re-election in part by touting his schemes to create more “fairness” by raising the taxes of the wealthy, but his Republican opponent is wisely choosing to try to trump him by focusing on the most important factor behind inequality in America: education. Mitt Romney used his appearance yesterday before the Latino Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to not just pay lip service to the issue of education but to announce his support for a step that could actually be the beginning of a sea change in governmental thinking about funding. Romney stated that if elected he would ensure that federal education funds will follow the students rather than merely being poured into the public schools in the areas where they live. If he follows through on this promise he would take the United States a significant way down the road toward a genuine system of school choice that would enable all parents, and not just the wealthy, to choose the best schools for their children rather than being stuck in what Romney rightly called failing institutions.
In an account of the speech that seemed cribbed from the Democratic campaign talking points, the New York Times tried to portray Romney’s stance as just a faint echo of Obama’s efforts on education that they claim have co-opted some traditional Republican positions. That is a gross exaggeration, because the president remains firmly in the pocket of the teacher unions and other supporters of the educational status quo. But whatever common ground may exist between the two on charter schools, Romney’s pledge on choice provides a stark contrast to the Democrat’s and one that can work to his advantage as a campaign issue. For all of his talk about equality, Obama is vulnerable here because of his ideological opposition to empowering parents rather than the government educational monopoly.
Republicans aren’t the only ones furious at the Obama administration for giving a group of Hollywood filmmakers access to potentially classified information on the Osama bin Laden raid. Government transparency advocates and press freedom groups say the incident highlights a double standard, in which filmmakers are favored for access over professional journalists:
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the special treatment given to the filmmakers “outrageous.”
“If these filmmakers got access that trained national security and military reporters did not, then it’s telling the public: ‘We are not going to allow trained journalists to tell this story. If you want to know what happened, go buy a ticket to a movie,’” she told The Daily Beast in an interview.
Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists said, “The whole interaction with the filmmakers appears to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing [attempts] in an election year to glorify the administration.”
Did the filmmakers access classified information? The White House is denying it, but government emails and transcripts obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request this week show that the filmmakers went to classified facilities and met with officials whose names had to be redacted — a sign they were given treatment that journalists typically aren’t.
Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”
Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”
With half a year left in the presidential election, the intrigue surrounding Mitt Romney’s eventual selection of a running mate has given political prognosticators an outlet for their energy that doesn’t require analyzing much polling data. It’s a human-interest story set against the background of the 2008 election, in which the GOP’s vice presidential nominee was a genuinely fascinating political personality and the Democratic nominee was an avuncular, gaffe-prone senator the president is constantly being encouraged to drop from the ticket this November.
But it is highly unlikely the public will be treated to such a spectacle this time around. Romney is pretty much defined by his aura of caution and his devotion to data and analysis, and has never shown a desire to make splashing headlines if he can avoid it. Even when he seems to be dipping his toes in the water of identity politics, there is an empirical approach to it. For example, if he were to select a woman for the ticket, the name that has come up the most has been that of Condoleezza Rice, and the most common Latino name suggested for the vice-presidential nod is that of Marco Rubio–a swing-state senator. But another distinct possibility is Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and the Washington Post profile of Portman calls attention to just how surprisingly under-the-radar Portman has flown throughout his career:
Today’s Marist/NBC poll still shows President Obama with the lead in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, but Mitt Romney has apparently gained considerable ground since the March poll:
In Florida and Virginia, Obama leads Romney by an identical four-point margin, 48 percent to 44 percent, among registered voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward a particular candidate.
In Ohio, the president is ahead by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent.
In March NBC/Marist polls — conducted during the middle of the GOP primary season — Obama led Romney by 12 points in Ohio (50 percent to 38 percent), and by a whopping 17 points in Virginia (52 percent to 35 percent). In January, Obama was ahead of Romney by eight points (49 percent to 41 percent).
The New York Times has a lengthy report on Shell’s plans this summer to drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska. Much of the article focuses on the politicking and lobbying behind President Obama’s decision to let the drilling go forward which holds the possibility of tapping a million barrels a day of crude, or close to Qatar’s entire production. One of the many oddities which goes unexplained is why drilling in the Arctic Ocean–an inherently risky undertaking given the existence of icebergs, storms, monster waves, and other dangers–is permitted while drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away–which not only has more oil (upwards of six billion barrels in all) but also could be drilled in greater safety–is not. But let’s leave that aside. What I want to address here is another neglected dimension of this important issue–the security dimension.
I saw this for myself last week when I traveled to Alaska, along with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, to meet with Coast Guard officials and to do an Arctic overflight that took me from Anchorage to Barrow–America’s northernmost city which remains, even now, frigid and snowy. The expansion of oil exploration calls for expanded security–to protect against terrorists and extreme environmentalists who might try to sabotage these operations (Greenpeace is said to be chartering a vessel to try to block Shell) and to guard against other Arctic nations such as Russia that might try to grab for themselves oil fields that rightfully belong to the U.S., Canada or other nations. There is also a need for expanded safety operations to ensure an adequate response in case of accidents or oil spills.
The news that Amnesty International’s annual report on the state of the world has condemned the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, as “unlawful” should surprise no one. The group’s obtuse effort to brand every effort of the United States to defend itself against terrorists has long since reached the level of parody. Where once it could claim some moral legitimacy as a neutral compiler and observer of human rights violations wherever they were committed, the decision of the group to treat the West’s ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies as if it were a matter of American persecution of Third World innocents has lost Amnesty its last shred of credibility.
The defense of Osama bin Laden’s right to life and liberty should place the group’s criticisms of Israel’s efforts to fend off Palestinian terrorism in perspective. While human rights monitors are vital in a world where tyrannies are still commonplace, the inability of groups like AI to tell the difference between the perpetrators of violence and those attempting to defend themselves is a fatal flaw that has rendered them irrelevant to useful discussions about how to advance the cause of humanity.