Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 29, 2012

Computer Viruses Won’t Stop Iran

Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

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Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

Israel’s public skepticism about the P5+1 talks being conducted by the West with Iran about its nuclear ambitions is well-founded. Even though the United States and its European, Russian and Chinese allies deserve credit for not folding completely during the second round of talks last week in Baghdad, the Iranians continue to refine uranium and to get closer to a stockpile that could create a bomb. Iran has every expectation that if it hangs tough, either President Obama or the European Union will crack sometime this summer and abandon plans for an oil embargo in exchange for an inadequate deal that would preserve Tehran’s nuclear program.

Unlike the West’s faltering diplomacy, a course of action that accomplishes nothing except to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, it must be conceded that computer viruses at least have the virtue of slowing the regime’s nuclear progress, though how much, we don’t know. But we do know that for all of the hoopla about Stuxnet, such delays were temporary and strategically insignificant. We can hope for better from Flame, but the odds are it will be just a pinprick, not a decisive stroke. As much as such schemes allow us hope for a solution short of armed conflict, unless a miracle happens and diplomacy succeeds, sooner or later the West and Israel will be faced with a choice between force and living with a nuclear Iran. Like Stuxnet, Flame may put off that day, but it cannot prevent it from happening.

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Warren May Face Primary Challenge

Massachusetts Democratic Party leaders had hoped Elizabeth Warren could train her focus on Sen. Scott Brown after the state Democratic convention, but now it looks like anxious delegates may force Warren to face a primary challenger this summer:

But Warren’s advisers and some seasoned political hands say she will have a difficult time blocking Marisa DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, from getting the 15 percent of delegate votes she needs to qualify for the primary ballot. Since the 15-percent requirement was put in place in 1982, no leading Democratic candidate has eliminated an opponent by getting more than 85 percent of the delegate vote at a convention.

At the Boston Herald, Holly Robichaud wonders whether this is a case of rogue Democratic delegates going off the reservation, or if nervous party leaders are quietly plotting to keep DeFranco around as a Plan B:

By allowing DeFranco on the ballot, does that mean Democrats think that Lieawatha is a flawed candidate? Have Democratic leaders lost control of their party? Or is this their backup plan in case October’s hot Halloween costume is a Democratic Senate candidate, complete with Indian headdress?

Certainly, delegates defecting to DeFranco would be thumbing their collective noses at Democratic party leaders, who have been plotting for months to give Lizzy a direct shot at our hometown hero, Brown.

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Massachusetts Democratic Party leaders had hoped Elizabeth Warren could train her focus on Sen. Scott Brown after the state Democratic convention, but now it looks like anxious delegates may force Warren to face a primary challenger this summer:

But Warren’s advisers and some seasoned political hands say she will have a difficult time blocking Marisa DeFranco, a North Shore immigration lawyer, from getting the 15 percent of delegate votes she needs to qualify for the primary ballot. Since the 15-percent requirement was put in place in 1982, no leading Democratic candidate has eliminated an opponent by getting more than 85 percent of the delegate vote at a convention.

At the Boston Herald, Holly Robichaud wonders whether this is a case of rogue Democratic delegates going off the reservation, or if nervous party leaders are quietly plotting to keep DeFranco around as a Plan B:

By allowing DeFranco on the ballot, does that mean Democrats think that Lieawatha is a flawed candidate? Have Democratic leaders lost control of their party? Or is this their backup plan in case October’s hot Halloween costume is a Democratic Senate candidate, complete with Indian headdress?

Certainly, delegates defecting to DeFranco would be thumbing their collective noses at Democratic party leaders, who have been plotting for months to give Lizzy a direct shot at our hometown hero, Brown.

Some Massachusetts Democrats may want DeFranco available as a fallback, but they’re also opening the party up to risk if she gets on the ballot. Warren will have to fight attacks from both the right and left, and face criticism about her Native American ancestry claims from both sides. DeFranco isn’t anywhere near a serious threat at this point, as her fundraising, name-recognition, and organization are miniscule compared to Warren’s. And Democrats have no real reason to shift support from Warren’s campaign to DeFranco’s, as the ancestry controversy doesn’t seem to be hurting the presumed Democratic frontrunner in the polls yet. But DeFranco can still end up being a drain on Warren’s resources and a distraction.

Case in point: DeFranco has already challenged Warren to four debates during the summer, and it sounds like Warren is actually considering it:

Thomas Whalen, a political historian at Boston University, said of DeFranco’s debate demand, “It’s a Hail Mary pass, but I suppose if I were in her shoes, I would do the same. If you want a really strong showing in the primary, you need to have a serious debate to puncture holes in her arguments. If Elizabeth Warren turns down the debates, it looks bad, like she is shirking. … She’s caught in a tough situation. The state Democratic Party looks bad, like how can they allow this to happen?”

The Warren campaign has to avoid blatantly disrespecting DeFranco, because the Brown campaign – and the Massachusetts media – will likely be watching closely for any perceived arrogance on Warren’s part. It was that sort of self-entitled attitude that undermined Martha Coakley’s bid in 2010.

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From Hope and Change to Pipe Hitting

Last month, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, in an article titled “From Hope to Hardball,” welcomed us to…

the Obama campaign, version 2.0. If, as Mario Cuomo once said, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose, then running for reelection may be something akin to grunting at regular intervals. In 2008, Obamaland prided itself on rejecting such brass-knuckle politicking, much of it perfected by Bill Clinton. “We don’t do war rooms,” was a Team Obama mantra, as one veteran of the campaign and the administration recalls. These days, by contrast, there are dozens of operatives raring to pounce on the slightest Republican misstep.

The outsized war-room capabilities are hardly the only Clintonite technique the Obama apparatus has adopted. President Obama has rewarded his mega-donors with frequent trips to the White House. And, just as Clinton did in 1995 and 1996, Team Obama has lashed a moderate GOP front-runner to right-wingers in Congress and portrayed him as a mortal threat to the welfare state.

Far from a badge of dishonor, though, the new ruthlessness is actually a sign of maturity.

Now (as Alana points out) comes New York’s John Heilemann, who informs us that Team Obama will “maul [Romney] for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues…”

“Thus, to a very real degree,” Heilemann reports , “2008’s candidate of hope stands poised to become 2012’s candidate of fear.” The months ahead, we’re told, “will provide a bracing revelation about what he truly is: not a savior, not a saint, not a man above the fray, but a brass-knuckled, pipe-hitting, red-in-tooth-and-claw brawler determined to do what is necessary to stay in power – in other words, a politician.”

Except that this isn’t what the politician in 2008 promised he would be like. Not by a country mile.

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Last month, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, in an article titled “From Hope to Hardball,” welcomed us to…

the Obama campaign, version 2.0. If, as Mario Cuomo once said, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose, then running for reelection may be something akin to grunting at regular intervals. In 2008, Obamaland prided itself on rejecting such brass-knuckle politicking, much of it perfected by Bill Clinton. “We don’t do war rooms,” was a Team Obama mantra, as one veteran of the campaign and the administration recalls. These days, by contrast, there are dozens of operatives raring to pounce on the slightest Republican misstep.

The outsized war-room capabilities are hardly the only Clintonite technique the Obama apparatus has adopted. President Obama has rewarded his mega-donors with frequent trips to the White House. And, just as Clinton did in 1995 and 1996, Team Obama has lashed a moderate GOP front-runner to right-wingers in Congress and portrayed him as a mortal threat to the welfare state.

Far from a badge of dishonor, though, the new ruthlessness is actually a sign of maturity.

Now (as Alana points out) comes New York’s John Heilemann, who informs us that Team Obama will “maul [Romney] for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues…”

“Thus, to a very real degree,” Heilemann reports , “2008’s candidate of hope stands poised to become 2012’s candidate of fear.” The months ahead, we’re told, “will provide a bracing revelation about what he truly is: not a savior, not a saint, not a man above the fray, but a brass-knuckled, pipe-hitting, red-in-tooth-and-claw brawler determined to do what is necessary to stay in power – in other words, a politician.”

Except that this isn’t what the politician in 2008 promised he would be like. Not by a country mile.

Just for old time’s sake, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the man who once personified hope and change.

Obama would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” And the man from Hyde Park would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.”

“I believe the American people are tired of fear and tired of distractions and tired of diversions,” Obama told us at the Jefferson-Jackson speech in Des Moines, Iowa, on November 10, 2007. “We can make this election not about fear but about the future. And that won’t just be a Democratic victory; that will be an American victory.”

“If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from,” Obama said in accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party on August 28, 2008.

His election, he told Americans, was a sign we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” On the day of his inauguration he came to proclaim “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

“The time has come to set aside childish things,” he told us on the day he took the oath of office.

Now journalists sympathetic to Obama are telling us that “the new ruthlessness” is a sign of maturity. Fear is the emotion that needs to be tapped into. Reason and elevated discourse are out; pipe-hitting is in.

Some people might argue that Obama is simply being a politician, that we all knew his promises in 2008 were misleading, a mirage, a hoax. But more than a few people took Obama at his word. It was the major part of his appeal. And if they didn’t believe he would eliminate all the divisions in our society, they did believe the core of his campaign – which was that Obama would prove to be an unusually unifying, dignified, and irenic figure in American politics – should be taken seriously.

Now I guess we’re all in on the joke. We’ve learned that for Obama, hope and fear are interchangeable. Mauling and disfiguring an opponent is fine if it’s necessary. One election you appeal to the best instincts of Americans; the next election you use brass knuckles and pick axes. No matter. The guiding ethic for Obama & Company is “Just win, baby.”

I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that it won’t work out quite that easily or quite that way. That Obama, in so completely demolishing his image from four years ago, will do considerable damage to himself and his reputation. And that history and his fellow citizens will eventually judge him to be not simply a loser of an election, but as a cynical fraud.

It didn’t have to end this way. But I rather believe it will.

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Will the Court Follow the People?

Ever since the Supreme Court listened to oral arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare, the administration and its supporters have been doing everything in their power to influence the justices to leave the president’s signature legislative achievement in place. In particular, Chief Justice Roberts and other conservatives have received not-so-subtle hints that their legacies will be judged by whether or not they allow the law to stand. I doubt that Roberts cares very much about the opinion of the president or the New York Times, but there is a school of thought that wonders about whether Justice Kennedy — the quintessential swing voter on the court — might be influenced in that fashion. However, there is the old axiom that the Supreme Court follows the election returns.

Historically, the court has, after its own fashion, validated that observation, often granting its judicial seal of approval to certain trends only after they have seen the advocates of constitutional positions triumph at the polls. The problem with this is the people can change their minds every two or four years, but once the court settles on an opinion it can be set in stone for a generation or more. Thus, it is with no small interest that we look at polls about the constitutionality of ObamaCare, a decision on which will be handed down within weeks. Rasmussen’s new poll shows that a solid 55-39 percent majority favors its repeal. Virtually every poll taken on the issue in the last two years has gotten more or less the same result. This means that if the court does strike the law down, it will not only be restoring a sense of limits to the power of the government to use the Commerce Clause to justify any conceivable expansion of federal power, it will also be following the will of the people.

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Ever since the Supreme Court listened to oral arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare, the administration and its supporters have been doing everything in their power to influence the justices to leave the president’s signature legislative achievement in place. In particular, Chief Justice Roberts and other conservatives have received not-so-subtle hints that their legacies will be judged by whether or not they allow the law to stand. I doubt that Roberts cares very much about the opinion of the president or the New York Times, but there is a school of thought that wonders about whether Justice Kennedy — the quintessential swing voter on the court — might be influenced in that fashion. However, there is the old axiom that the Supreme Court follows the election returns.

Historically, the court has, after its own fashion, validated that observation, often granting its judicial seal of approval to certain trends only after they have seen the advocates of constitutional positions triumph at the polls. The problem with this is the people can change their minds every two or four years, but once the court settles on an opinion it can be set in stone for a generation or more. Thus, it is with no small interest that we look at polls about the constitutionality of ObamaCare, a decision on which will be handed down within weeks. Rasmussen’s new poll shows that a solid 55-39 percent majority favors its repeal. Virtually every poll taken on the issue in the last two years has gotten more or less the same result. This means that if the court does strike the law down, it will not only be restoring a sense of limits to the power of the government to use the Commerce Clause to justify any conceivable expansion of federal power, it will also be following the will of the people.

After the disastrous performance of the solicitor general in defense of the law during the three fateful days of arguments, there has been a concerted effort by the left to overcome the impression that the personal mandate is doomed by appeals to the court’s history. But while it might have been argued that a court ruling that overturned the legislature’s decision would have been an overreach, doing so after that legislation had been the key issue in a midterm massacre of those who voted for it is certainly less so. As this Rasmussen poll, and all the others that got the same results illustrates, should the court strike down ObamaCare, there will be no national backlash against Roberts and his colleagues except in the editorial columns of liberal newspapers.

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Planned Parenthood’s War on Girls

In a new James O’Keefe-style sting operation on Planned Parenthood, the pro-life organization Live Action set out to prove, and succeeded in doing so, that Planned Parenthood will help any woman abort their fetus for any reason, even the most reprehensible. In previous stings, Live Action caught Planned Parenthood employees accepting donations in order to reduce the number of African Americans born in the United States. This time around, they appear to show that not only will they help a woman abort at the last possible week in order to achieve the desired sex of the baby, but they’ll also give tips on how to manipulate Medicaid in order to do so.

Planned Parenthood, which counts on taxpayer dollars to fill one third of its operating budget, is no stranger to controversy about its questionable ethics and has again refused to apologize for them. The Huffington Post reports: 

This spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America also told The Huffington Post that the organization condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender, but its policy is to provide “high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into” its health centers. That means that no Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in those states that explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortions (Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois).
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In a new James O’Keefe-style sting operation on Planned Parenthood, the pro-life organization Live Action set out to prove, and succeeded in doing so, that Planned Parenthood will help any woman abort their fetus for any reason, even the most reprehensible. In previous stings, Live Action caught Planned Parenthood employees accepting donations in order to reduce the number of African Americans born in the United States. This time around, they appear to show that not only will they help a woman abort at the last possible week in order to achieve the desired sex of the baby, but they’ll also give tips on how to manipulate Medicaid in order to do so.

Planned Parenthood, which counts on taxpayer dollars to fill one third of its operating budget, is no stranger to controversy about its questionable ethics and has again refused to apologize for them. The Huffington Post reports: 

This spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America also told The Huffington Post that the organization condemns seeking abortions on the basis of gender, but its policy is to provide “high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into” its health centers. That means that no Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in those states that explicitly prohibit sex-selective abortions (Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois).

In the same statement Planned Parenthood admits, “Within three days of this patient interaction, the staff member’s employment was ended and all staff members at this affiliate were immediately scheduled for retraining in managing unusual patient encounters.” They also claim that Live Action’s videos were edited and that a hoax was perpetrated on the Austin, Texas office. While the patient visit was indeed a “hoax” – the woman does not appear to be pregnant nor was she seeking a sex-selective abortion, Live Action has posted the entire transcript (albeit no full video) in an effort to quell claims the video was in any way altered. If the video was edited and the visit was a hoax as Planned Parenthood attests, why was the staff member immediately fired? While the organization’s supporters are trying to treat this incident as a provocation, the group still has a lot of explaining to do about its practices.

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The Consequences of Obama’s Conceit

Mark down the president’s Memorial Day speech as another solemn occasion this administration has gratingly managed to politicize. The blockquote is from an email the White House Updates account is sending around, suggesting Vietnam vets “never received the hero’s welcome they deserved” until “Obama told their story as it should have been told all along”:

In his speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., President Obama did more than just mark Memorial Day; he began the 50th commemoration of that conflict and those who served in one of America’s longest wars.

Fifty years ago, American forces stepped up operations in Vietnam. During the conflict, more than three million Americans served in the Vietnam war, and more than 58,000 American patriots gave their lives. And when U.S. forces returned home, too many never received the hero’s welcome they deserved.

Yesterday, President Obama told their story as it should have been told all along — a story of patriotism, honor, and courage. Here’s a short video to mark this important moment that you can share to help set the record straight and honor the service of Americans who fought in Vietnam.

That Vietnam Vets had to wait until this week for a president to properly honor them will be news to, among others, Ronald Reagan.

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Mark down the president’s Memorial Day speech as another solemn occasion this administration has gratingly managed to politicize. The blockquote is from an email the White House Updates account is sending around, suggesting Vietnam vets “never received the hero’s welcome they deserved” until “Obama told their story as it should have been told all along”:

In his speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., President Obama did more than just mark Memorial Day; he began the 50th commemoration of that conflict and those who served in one of America’s longest wars.

Fifty years ago, American forces stepped up operations in Vietnam. During the conflict, more than three million Americans served in the Vietnam war, and more than 58,000 American patriots gave their lives. And when U.S. forces returned home, too many never received the hero’s welcome they deserved.

Yesterday, President Obama told their story as it should have been told all along — a story of patriotism, honor, and courage. Here’s a short video to mark this important moment that you can share to help set the record straight and honor the service of Americans who fought in Vietnam.

That Vietnam Vets had to wait until this week for a president to properly honor them will be news to, among others, Ronald Reagan.

The White House’s pomposity is the flip side of Obama’s long-incubated self-pity, which holds that no president since the 1930ss has had things as rough as this one has. Not Truman ending World War II, not Eisenhower struggling with the Cold War’s first hot conflict, not JFK and LBJ navigating Vietnam, and so on.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss these Year 0 delusions with an eyeroll. They have policy implications. It was the core conceit that history began with this White House, after all, that had the president pursuing engagement with Syria’s Assad, Iran’s mullahs, and the Palestinian Authority’s kleptocrats. Outreach from multiple administrations had been consistently rebuffed. But this White House was going to inaugurate a historical break.

Three and a half years later, thousands of Syrian civilians have been murdered, the peace process has been suspended, and the Middle East has been brought to the brink of regional war on account of Iran’s ongoing nuclear program.

Individual psychology matters. Group worldviews matter. Whether policymakers take themselves to be modifying previous efforts or revolutionizing everything matters. If only there had been some way to know, during the election, that Obama would end up embracing tired old policies even as he made literally messianic promises.

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Obama’s Feeble Anti-Trump Ad

The Obama campaign wasted no time dropping a new ad that blasts Mitt Romney for attending a fundraiser with Donald Trump tonight. But if anything, the ad supports Jonathan’s earlier point. Teaming up with The Donald isn’t necessarily poisonous for Romney, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling political attack ad (via Mediaite):

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The Obama campaign wasted no time dropping a new ad that blasts Mitt Romney for attending a fundraiser with Donald Trump tonight. But if anything, the ad supports Jonathan’s earlier point. Teaming up with The Donald isn’t necessarily poisonous for Romney, and it doesn’t make for a very compelling political attack ad (via Mediaite):

Confused viewers may come away thinking they just watched a pro-McCain ad spliced with a reel of Trump’s most ridiculous fame-trolling moments. Whatever anti-Romney message there may be gets lost in the mix, so it’s understandable that the Romney campaign would think the $2 million from tonight’s fundraiser is more than worth this mild knuckle-rapping of a video.

The more unfortunate part is that Romney is lending credibility to Trump, and conservatives should be more alarmed about what that might mean for Trump’s political future than Romney’s. As Jonathan wrote earlier, independent voters likely see Trump as too ridiculous to be threatening, and his brand as an eccentric celebrity tycoon is so well-established that it probably blots out his occasional political babbling in most voters’ minds.

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Egypt Headed Off Islamist Cliff

The torching of the headquarters of Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik yesterday should have been a reminder to those blithely assuming the Muslim Brotherhood might roll over and play dead (in the wake of the seeming rebuke the party received in last week’s presidential election) that they ought never to underestimate the Islamist group. It’s true that Islamist candidates got less than half of the votes cast in the first round of voting and the emergence of Shafik–a secular former military officer who was a surprise second place finisher just behind the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi–showed there was a significant constituency for an alternative to the party that received three quarters of the vote in the parliamentary elections last year. But as Eric Trager writes in the New Republic, reports of the Brotherhood’s demise were and are greatly exaggerated. With Morsi and Shafik set to face off later this month in a runoff, the Islamists are still in an excellent position to win the presidency and complete their stranglehold on power.

Trager points out that the Brotherhood has an overwhelming advantage in organization, as it is the country’s only true national party with grass-roots cadres who are deeply committed to its triumph. With many Egyptians disgusted with the runoff’s choice of an Islamist or a Mubarak retread, the odds are very much in favor of the Brotherhood’s otherwise uninspiring candidate coming out on top. Though the Obama administration and much of its cheering section in the press have tried in recent months to downplay the nature of the threat the Brotherhood poses to regional security and U.S. influence, the completion of the party’s conquest of Egypt will be a watershed in America’s Middle East policy.

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The torching of the headquarters of Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik yesterday should have been a reminder to those blithely assuming the Muslim Brotherhood might roll over and play dead (in the wake of the seeming rebuke the party received in last week’s presidential election) that they ought never to underestimate the Islamist group. It’s true that Islamist candidates got less than half of the votes cast in the first round of voting and the emergence of Shafik–a secular former military officer who was a surprise second place finisher just behind the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi–showed there was a significant constituency for an alternative to the party that received three quarters of the vote in the parliamentary elections last year. But as Eric Trager writes in the New Republic, reports of the Brotherhood’s demise were and are greatly exaggerated. With Morsi and Shafik set to face off later this month in a runoff, the Islamists are still in an excellent position to win the presidency and complete their stranglehold on power.

Trager points out that the Brotherhood has an overwhelming advantage in organization, as it is the country’s only true national party with grass-roots cadres who are deeply committed to its triumph. With many Egyptians disgusted with the runoff’s choice of an Islamist or a Mubarak retread, the odds are very much in favor of the Brotherhood’s otherwise uninspiring candidate coming out on top. Though the Obama administration and much of its cheering section in the press have tried in recent months to downplay the nature of the threat the Brotherhood poses to regional security and U.S. influence, the completion of the party’s conquest of Egypt will be a watershed in America’s Middle East policy.

Unfortunately, it’s almost certainly too late for the United States to do anything to alter this outcome even if President Obama wanted to. Those who have criticized the administration for its abandonment of Mubarak during the initial Arab Spring protests may be hoping that Shafik will win and therefore stop the country’s drift toward extremist Islam. But outside of minority communities such as the Christian Copts who rightly fear for their fate under a government dominated by the Brotherhood, it’s not clear that most Egyptians would tolerate a retread from the old regime. In fact, Shafik may turn out to be the perfect foil for the Brotherhood, because he could move many secularists to support the Islamists rather than countenance a return to the Mubarak era.

That will mean an end to hopes for the emergence of a genuine democracy in Egypt, as it is unlikely a Brotherhood government will allow itself to ever be voted out. As Trager writes:

When only one group can organize effectively in a newly competitive political environment, single-party domination becomes practically inevitable—with potentially devastating consequences. After all, the dominant party can nominate just about anyone, and win. And if it uses its power to prevent potential competitors from emerging, it can also get away with just about anything.

The consequences for the peace treaty with Israel are obvious. President Obama may think he will have more “flexibility” to impose his ideas about Middle East peace in a second term. But unless something happens in the next three weeks to derail the Brotherhood, the basic strategic equation of the region will be altered in favor of the Islamists and their Hamas allies rendering any further talk about the peace process a fantasy.

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Booker’s Spokeswoman Walks the Plank

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is apparently still paying penance for his blasphemy against the Obama campaign on “Meet the Press” last week. NJ.com reports that Booker’s Communications Director Anne Torres stepped down today:

“I just decided it is best if I pursued other opportunities,” Torres said by phone. “We have very different views on how communications should be run.”

While a crucial part of the administration’s public face and dealings with the press, Torres’ role is strictly confined to city business. It is unclear what role, if any, she would have had in preparing Booker’s remarks on “Meet the Press,” wherein the mayor said he had “personal” problems with President Obama’s attacks on Bain Capital — problems he called nauseating.

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Newark Mayor Cory Booker is apparently still paying penance for his blasphemy against the Obama campaign on “Meet the Press” last week. NJ.com reports that Booker’s Communications Director Anne Torres stepped down today:

“I just decided it is best if I pursued other opportunities,” Torres said by phone. “We have very different views on how communications should be run.”

While a crucial part of the administration’s public face and dealings with the press, Torres’ role is strictly confined to city business. It is unclear what role, if any, she would have had in preparing Booker’s remarks on “Meet the Press,” wherein the mayor said he had “personal” problems with President Obama’s attacks on Bain Capital — problems he called nauseating.

As NJ.com reports, it’s not clear what part Torres would have played in Booker’s “Meet the Press” remarks. The implication here is that Booker’s comments didn’t accurately reflect his own beliefs, but were instead a communications blunder by his staff. Which is ridiculous – this wasn’t a speech, it was a panel discussion. Whether or not Torres prepped the mayor on the negativity in the Obama anti-Bain ads, Booker was clearly speaking for himself when he criticized them.

While the comments weren’t particularly damaging for Booker, at least not with his constituents, they did hurt Obama and are continuing to drag down his anti-Bain strategy. Did Booker part ways with his communications director under pressure from the Obama campaign, or was it a decision he came to on his own? There’s always the possibility that Booker and his communications staff clashed over the way the initial response to the controversy was handled — the creepy hostage video, for example.

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ObamaCare and the War on the Church

It may be that the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare will render moot the controversy about whether Catholic institutions can be compelled to pay for practices that they oppose on religious grounds. But no matter how the court rules, the impact of the increasingly nasty effort to discredit the church’s effort to defend itself will still be felt. A good example of how liberals are trying to brand the church’s defenders as “partisans” when the opposite is true, came in the editorial in Sunday’s New York Times that branded the lawsuit launched by church institutions as a “stunt.”

The Times argues that the government’s attempt to compel the church to violate its principles was not a violation of its rights and further claims the inadequate “compromise” proposed by the White House should have silenced their concerns. This is an absurd distortion of the facts, but far worse is the way the Times — following the Obama campaign’s playbook — tries to claim that Catholics seek to impose their beliefs on others. Quite the contrary, it is the government fiat that employees at Catholic institutions are provided with free contraception that is the imposition. The point here is not so much to advance the cause of women’s health — the justification advocates of the government’s position seek to use — but to demonize a faith group that has the temerity to stick up for its rights.

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It may be that the Supreme Court’s pending decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare will render moot the controversy about whether Catholic institutions can be compelled to pay for practices that they oppose on religious grounds. But no matter how the court rules, the impact of the increasingly nasty effort to discredit the church’s effort to defend itself will still be felt. A good example of how liberals are trying to brand the church’s defenders as “partisans” when the opposite is true, came in the editorial in Sunday’s New York Times that branded the lawsuit launched by church institutions as a “stunt.”

The Times argues that the government’s attempt to compel the church to violate its principles was not a violation of its rights and further claims the inadequate “compromise” proposed by the White House should have silenced their concerns. This is an absurd distortion of the facts, but far worse is the way the Times — following the Obama campaign’s playbook — tries to claim that Catholics seek to impose their beliefs on others. Quite the contrary, it is the government fiat that employees at Catholic institutions are provided with free contraception that is the imposition. The point here is not so much to advance the cause of women’s health — the justification advocates of the government’s position seek to use — but to demonize a faith group that has the temerity to stick up for its rights.

Religious freedom is not just the right to, as the Times puts it, “preach that contraception is sinful and rail against Mr. Obama for making it more readily available” (though in fact, the Church is not seeking to curtail the availability of contraception to the general public). It is also the right not to have its institutions forced to either pay for or facilitate the receipt of services that run contrary to its principles.

It bears repeating that one needn’t share the Vatican’s views on contraception to understand that a government dictat that would coerce churches to dispense it is a violation of their religious liberty. Nor would a so-called “compromise” that would maintain the imposition but shift its cost reduce the threat to freedom. But the fact, as the Times points out, that even most Catholics support contraception does not mean the church and those who agree with it should be stripped of their rights. Allowing their institutions to abstain from providing contraception coverage does not make the church a law unto itself or impose its views on others; it merely leaves them alone. Nor does the government’s obligation to advance a “compelling interest” grant it the latitude to violate those rights. Those who wish to receive free contraception don’t have to work for the church. The idea that a fanciful constitutional right to such services should trump religious freedom is the product of a mindset in which all freedoms can be annulled for the sake of some mythical and unproven greater good.

Far from the church behaving in a partisan manner by imposing the president’s fiat, it is simply standing up for itself against a government that is determined to squelch dissent on the administration’s unpopular signature legislative achievement. The Supreme Court will determine ObamaCare’s fate. But the determined campaign to silence the church and to delegitimize its attempt to defend its rights will resonate for some time.

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There’s More to the “Flip-Flopper” Label

In March 2010, Jim Geraghty published what was, to that point, “The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates.” It listed about 25 or so promises the president broke in his first year in office, plus an addendum of about 20 promises that “expired” during the campaign. In the two years since, there have been more, which Geraghty has documented as well. And the most recent of these has also become the most famous: President Obama’s self-proclaimed “evolution” on the issue of gay marriage.

Unlike his opponent, however, the media has resolutely refused to trifle the president with the appropriate label: the president is quite clearly a “flip-flopper.” Why the double standard? There is more to it than the obvious media bias.

As the Washington Post notes in an interesting article on the subject (please ignore the Post’s unforgivable headline), since John Kerry and, to a lesser extent, Al Gore, were cast as craven opportunists, it is not enough that Romney is a Republican and Obama a Democrat. But those party tags do actually factor into it, the article finds, though not simply because of the visible press bias. The article describes a new study based on an experiment testing voters’ reactions to flip-floppery, in which they are asked to react to one political type who promises to change his positions as the people do, and the other who promises to stay true to his principles:

These candidates represent a classic argument in political philosophy between the view of John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher who said that democratically elected officials should reflect constituents’ views, and that of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political thinker who argued that we elect representatives with strong values so they will follow their principles.

Voters who preferred Candidate B — Burke’s view — responded much more negatively to candidates who changed their minds on issues, said Barker, director-designate of the Institute for Social Research at California State University at Sacramento. Those voters generally prefer conservative Republicans and are more likely to rely on religious faith to guide their political choices.

Voters who preferred Candidate A — Mill’s view — were much more accepting of candidates who flipped on issues. These voters, mostly drawn to more liberal, Democratic candidates, tend to be more secular and believe that as the people’s views shift, so should their leaders’.

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In March 2010, Jim Geraghty published what was, to that point, “The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates.” It listed about 25 or so promises the president broke in his first year in office, plus an addendum of about 20 promises that “expired” during the campaign. In the two years since, there have been more, which Geraghty has documented as well. And the most recent of these has also become the most famous: President Obama’s self-proclaimed “evolution” on the issue of gay marriage.

Unlike his opponent, however, the media has resolutely refused to trifle the president with the appropriate label: the president is quite clearly a “flip-flopper.” Why the double standard? There is more to it than the obvious media bias.

As the Washington Post notes in an interesting article on the subject (please ignore the Post’s unforgivable headline), since John Kerry and, to a lesser extent, Al Gore, were cast as craven opportunists, it is not enough that Romney is a Republican and Obama a Democrat. But those party tags do actually factor into it, the article finds, though not simply because of the visible press bias. The article describes a new study based on an experiment testing voters’ reactions to flip-floppery, in which they are asked to react to one political type who promises to change his positions as the people do, and the other who promises to stay true to his principles:

These candidates represent a classic argument in political philosophy between the view of John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher who said that democratically elected officials should reflect constituents’ views, and that of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political thinker who argued that we elect representatives with strong values so they will follow their principles.

Voters who preferred Candidate B — Burke’s view — responded much more negatively to candidates who changed their minds on issues, said Barker, director-designate of the Institute for Social Research at California State University at Sacramento. Those voters generally prefer conservative Republicans and are more likely to rely on religious faith to guide their political choices.

Voters who preferred Candidate A — Mill’s view — were much more accepting of candidates who flipped on issues. These voters, mostly drawn to more liberal, Democratic candidates, tend to be more secular and believe that as the people’s views shift, so should their leaders’.

That conservatives were more drawn to a Burkean philosophy on governing isn’t too surprising. Far more interesting is the finding that liberals are much less likely to object to flip-flopping in the first place.

This helps explain why someone like John Kerry–a starkly unlikable figure for whom the label “flip-flopper” seemed particularly apt–could win the Democratic nomination despite all the obvious red flags of his candidacy. It also helps explain why Mitt Romney had such difficulty winning the Republican nomination even though he had a four-year head start and aside from Rick Perry, who possessed a strong record but who stumbled badly in the debates, the path seemed clear for Romney. He struggled not against other strong candidacies but the popular composite candidate known as Not Romney.

It is conservatives, therefore, who branded Romney a flip-flopper long before he had the chance to face John Kerry’s fate of being so labeled during the general election. The right, not nearly so tolerant of unprincipled politicians as the left, immediately flagged what seemed like Romney’s politics of convenience.

The other key takeaway from this is that it surely depends on which issues a candidate flip-flops. The Post article, to emphasize this, begins with Abraham Lincoln’s flip-flop on federal intervention to free slaves. But here is how the Post frames the other element in choosing the “right” issue on which to evolve:

In the end, voters are especially willing to accept a shift in politicians’ positions “if it’s an issue where the public has evolved in its own thinking,” Garin said.

With this in mind, it’s useful to look at two of the candidates’ more controversial changes. Obama’s switch on gay marriage, polls indicate, show him to be swimming with the tide. The public on the whole may not be overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage, but the trend is toward wider acceptance. It is logical to expect those who have undergone similar “evolutions” on the policy to give the president the benefit of the doubt here.

Romney’s more controversial change, however, is on abortion. It’s true that he has embraced the pro-life position, but voters–especially those on the right–remain skeptical. As such, he may be swimming with the tide–self-identified pro-life voters are increasing, while pro-choice voters are decreasing–but conservative doubt prevents him from fully capitalizing on the switch.

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Who’s Afraid of Mitt Romney?

John Heilemann has a big-picture report on the Obama campaign’s shift from hope to fear. Rather than focusing on an affirmative reelection message, Obama’s strategy is to paint Mitt Romney as a composite of various nightmarish right-wingers in the hope that it will scare off independent voters and shore up the progressive base:

Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

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John Heilemann has a big-picture report on the Obama campaign’s shift from hope to fear. Rather than focusing on an affirmative reelection message, Obama’s strategy is to paint Mitt Romney as a composite of various nightmarish right-wingers in the hope that it will scare off independent voters and shore up the progressive base:

Though the Obamans certainly hit John McCain hard four years ago—running more negative ads than any campaign in history—what they intend to do to Romney is more savage. They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

As I’ve written before, the problem with this is that it’s not believable. Romney was the governor of Massachusetts for four years, and held pro-choice positions until 2004. Even under President George W. Bush, who was staunchly pro-life since his teenage years, and a majority-Republican Congress, abortion remained legal. The idea that it would likely be criminalized under Romney is absurd. The same goes for denying women contraceptives. If Romney is so radical that he opposes birth control, how on earth did he get elected governor of arguably the most liberal state in the country?

Beyond Romney’s record, his personality doesn’t fit the stereotype of the extreme right-winger. He’s mild-mannered and accentless, and walks without swagger. He chooses his words carefully and rarely goes off message. The Obama campaign can compare him to fringe characters like Joe Arpaio all it wants, but the disparity is unmistakable.

The progressive media outlets will definitely pick it up, but, again, it’s hard to see Comedy Central, “SNL” and late-night talk shows buying into the Romney-the-Tea-Party-Extremist narrative. Even when these shows do take shots at Romney, they steer clear of that line. For example, here are some lyrics from Mick Jagger’s performance on “SNL” last week:

“Mr. Romney, you know, he’s a mensch. But he always plays a straight affair. Yes, Mr. Romney he’s a hard-working man, and he always says his prayers. Yeah, but there’s one little thing about him – don’t ever let him cut your hair.”

The hair cut part is a reference to the Romney high school bullying story, but take a look at the rest of the lyrics. A mensch, who plays a straight affair, is hard-working and says his prayers? That’s it? The Obama campaign has a lot of work ahead if they’re going to turn that guy into a boogeyman.

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Dead-End Diplomatic Initiatives in Syria

Last Friday, in a village near the Syrian town of Houla, a horrifying massacre unfolded. After government forces attacked an opposition rally, they shelled the town and then sent in the shabiha, the notorious Alawite-dominated, pro-government militia that carries out the same role in Syria as Serbian goon squads did during the Bosnian civil war. The shabiha went door to door, killing people either by shooting them or slitting their throats. At least 108 people were killed, among them 49 children and 34 women.

Given the terrible nature of these atrocities, the response from what is known as the international community is almost comically ineffectual. The UN Security Council voted to condemn the massacre–but not to do anything about it. Now UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan has traveled to Syria to try to “salvage” his ineffectual peace plan. He thunders from his high perch:

“I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process.”

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Last Friday, in a village near the Syrian town of Houla, a horrifying massacre unfolded. After government forces attacked an opposition rally, they shelled the town and then sent in the shabiha, the notorious Alawite-dominated, pro-government militia that carries out the same role in Syria as Serbian goon squads did during the Bosnian civil war. The shabiha went door to door, killing people either by shooting them or slitting their throats. At least 108 people were killed, among them 49 children and 34 women.

Given the terrible nature of these atrocities, the response from what is known as the international community is almost comically ineffectual. The UN Security Council voted to condemn the massacre–but not to do anything about it. Now UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan has traveled to Syria to try to “salvage” his ineffectual peace plan. He thunders from his high perch:

“I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process.”

Were this quote not contained in the New York Times, I could swear that it came from the Onion–it is such a pitch-perfect parody of the weasel words that international bureaucrats use to avoid assuming responsibility for doing something about an assault on human rights. (What steps could the government of Syria possibly take to convince Annan that it’s NOT serious about resolving “this crisis peacefully,” short of using chemical weapons on the protesters?) Only it’s not a parody.

And nor is this Times headline: “U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out With Russia’s Aid.” The administration must be living in some alternative universe if it thinks that Russia–Syria’s second-closest ally (after Iran) and one of its chief sources of weapons–will suddenly turn on the Assad regime after having stood by it during the massacres of the past year.

All of the attention being devoted to such dead-end diplomatic initiatives is simply indicative of the fundamental lack of seriousness in Washington regarding events in Syria. President Obama may have created an Atrocities Prevention Board, but he is doing nothing serious to prevent the ongoing atrocities in Syria.

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GOP Rolls Out Attack Ad on Equity Failures

American Crossroads is out with a new ad today pushing back on President Obama’s Bain Capital attacks by assailing his own epic “public equity” failures, such as Solyndra and the auto bailout:

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American Crossroads is out with a new ad today pushing back on President Obama’s Bain Capital attacks by assailing his own epic “public equity” failures, such as Solyndra and the auto bailout:

So far, Mitt Romney has steered clear of negative attacks when responding to the Bain Capital criticism. Instead, he’s highlighted his record of achievement at Bain, and pointed out that even top Democrats and Obama campaign surrogates have called the president’s attacks on private equity unfair. But, as the American Crossroads ad shows, there’s also plenty of ammo to strike back with. While Bain Capital may not have succeeded at turning around every company it bought – such is the nature of the business – at least it wasn’t playing recklessly with taxpayer money. Kimberly Strassel argued this point in the Wall Street Journal last week:

All those Republicans grousing about the president’s attacks on private equity might instead be seizing on this beautiful point of contrast. Mr. Obama, after all, is no mere mortal president. Even as he’s been busy with the day job, he’s found time to moonlight as CEO-in-Chief of half the nation’s industry. Detroit, the energy sector, health care—he’s all over these guys like a cheap spreadsheet.

Like Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama has presided over bankruptcies, layoffs, lost pensions, run-ups in debt. Yet unlike Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama’s C-suite required billions in taxpayer dollars and subsidies, as well as mandates, regulations, union payoffs and moral hazard. Don’t like “vulture” capitalism? Check out the form the president’s had on offer these past three years: “crony” capitalism.

This is a line of attack the Romney campaign has been waiting to roll out for awhile. It looks like American Crossroads and other outside groups will be doing the heavy lifting for now, but Mike Allen reports that Romney is planning a targeted campaign against specific stimulus projects in individual states:

A senior aide tells us Mitt Romney plans to begin hitting specific stimulus projects as he travels, arguing that President Obama has actually subtracted jobs: “Were these investments the best return on tax dollars, or given for ideological reasons, to donors, for political reasons? He spent $800 billion of everybody’s money. How’d it work out? It was the mother of all earmarks, not a jobs plan. By wasting all of this money, you had the worst of all worlds: It destroyed confidence in the economy, and makes people less likely to borrow money. Dodd-Frank has been a disaster for the economy. Where are the steady hands? Who’s in charge of energy? Where’s the strong, confident voice on the economy?”

Smart points. The last thing the Obama campaign wants to bring up now is Solyndra, drawing attention to its failures on both energy and the economic stimulus. The more Romney talks about this, the more it seems like the Obama campaign severely underestimated its opposition.

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Why Trump Doesn’t Hurt Romney

During the weekend, George Will noted on ABC’s “This Week” that Donald Trump is a “bloviating ignoramus.” Trump later replied on Twitter saying, “George Will may be the dumbest (and most overrated) political commentator of all time. If the Republicans listen to him, they will lose.” Suffice it to say that only one of them is right, and it isn’t Trump. But the point of this contest of intellect versus celebrity cash — whether Mitt Romney is making a huge mistake by allowing Trump to host a Las Vegas fundraiser for him today at which an estimated $2 million may be raised — isn’t so easily decided.

There’s no question that Romney does not enhance his prestige by associating with Trump. The real estate mogul turned television celebrity is a buffoon, and his much-publicized dabbling in birther theories is an embarrassment. The fact that he is still raising doubts about President Obama’s birthplace ought to make the Republican candidate unwilling to be seen anywhere near him. Romney’s willingness to accept Trump’s endorsement (while stating that he entertains no doubts about the president having been born in the United States) in the heat of the GOP primaries might have been excused, because at that time, he needed any help he could get. But with the nomination in hand and the general election campaign already begun in all but name, Will’s befuddlement about his judgment is understandable. However, there are two explanations which, while not providing much reassurance about Romney’s taste, should calm his supporters.

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During the weekend, George Will noted on ABC’s “This Week” that Donald Trump is a “bloviating ignoramus.” Trump later replied on Twitter saying, “George Will may be the dumbest (and most overrated) political commentator of all time. If the Republicans listen to him, they will lose.” Suffice it to say that only one of them is right, and it isn’t Trump. But the point of this contest of intellect versus celebrity cash — whether Mitt Romney is making a huge mistake by allowing Trump to host a Las Vegas fundraiser for him today at which an estimated $2 million may be raised — isn’t so easily decided.

There’s no question that Romney does not enhance his prestige by associating with Trump. The real estate mogul turned television celebrity is a buffoon, and his much-publicized dabbling in birther theories is an embarrassment. The fact that he is still raising doubts about President Obama’s birthplace ought to make the Republican candidate unwilling to be seen anywhere near him. Romney’s willingness to accept Trump’s endorsement (while stating that he entertains no doubts about the president having been born in the United States) in the heat of the GOP primaries might have been excused, because at that time, he needed any help he could get. But with the nomination in hand and the general election campaign already begun in all but name, Will’s befuddlement about his judgment is understandable. However, there are two explanations which, while not providing much reassurance about Romney’s taste, should calm his supporters.

The first and most obvious explanation is that Trump’s help as a fundraiser is not inconsiderable. Romney entered this race determined not to be outspent the way John McCain was four years ago, and it is clear that in his mind the money Trump is helping to raise for him is worth the media kerfuffle that is sure to follow anytime the famous developer opens his mouth. It might be argued that at this point Romney doesn’t need Trump. But perhaps Romney thinks the $2 million Trump is putting in his hand far outweighs the negative impact of the controversy.

But the other reason may show that Romney is not quite as out of touch as he may at times seem. Though Trump is an absurd figure whose public behavior has always been better fodder for the tabloids than the op-ed page, Romney may understand that he is not quite as toxic as most of us who think and write about politics believe. To the vast majority of the American public, Trump is first and foremost the star of a reality TV show, not a birther. Indeed, his overbearing persona and egotism was perceived as an act long before anyone ever saw “The Apprentice.” Though he may say ridiculous things and promote moronic causes like birther theories, its pretty clear most Americans see him as an inside joke that they have been made privy to, not a vicious hater. Put me down as one of those who find it disconcerting that so many people find him entertaining. And there’s no question that Trump will feed into the Obama campaign’s effort to demonize Republicans as a bunch of extremist fools. But Romney’s probably right to think he is not quite as radioactive to the voting public as my instincts say he is.

Just as it would be better if President Obama kept his Hollywood fan club at a further distance, it would be beneficial for the state of the nation’s political health if Romney stayed away from Trump. But I doubt that Romney will lose many votes because he accepts Trump’s embrace. These are mere sideshows that will only affect the outcome of the contest in the center ring.

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Truth About Abortion?

Reading about the movement toward some version of a pro-life view that Alana, Jonathan and Pete discussed last week, it struck me that there’s such a squishy amorphous center, with the only clear positions on the issue at the fringes.

It seems to me that the general vagueness can be put down to the fact that even after four decades of debate, we still haven’t given ourselves really honest answers to the stark questions surrounding abortion. And I’m not talking about the constitutional issues.

Does life begin at conception? If life doesn’t begin at conception, when does it begin, and what do we mean by “life” anyway? Is it a “fetus” in there, or a baby human being?  Is it painful for the “fetus” to be chopped up and vacuumed out?

The fact is, these aren’t difficult questions to answer.

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Reading about the movement toward some version of a pro-life view that Alana, Jonathan and Pete discussed last week, it struck me that there’s such a squishy amorphous center, with the only clear positions on the issue at the fringes.

It seems to me that the general vagueness can be put down to the fact that even after four decades of debate, we still haven’t given ourselves really honest answers to the stark questions surrounding abortion. And I’m not talking about the constitutional issues.

Does life begin at conception? If life doesn’t begin at conception, when does it begin, and what do we mean by “life” anyway? Is it a “fetus” in there, or a baby human being?  Is it painful for the “fetus” to be chopped up and vacuumed out?

The fact is, these aren’t difficult questions to answer.

Of course life begins at conception.  That’s so obvious that claiming anything else is an absurdity. If it isn’t life that’s conceived when sperm meets egg, then what the hell is it?

What is life, and when does a baby become a baby? Well, maybe we can’t define it very well, but we know it when we see it. And, as Pete pointed out, ever-more sophisticated sonography is allowing us to see it earlier and earlier in the process.

Because, duh, a baby is a baby is a baby. It may not be a full-fledged, kicking and screaming infant until after it’s born, but, I ask again, if it’s not a human baby before that, then what on earth could it possibly be? Some kind of misplaced gallstone?

And, yes, given that this is a human being we’re talking about, one who reacts to the world in many ways, inside and outside the womb, it seems reasonable to believe it hurts, doesn’t it?

The problem is, if we really told ourselves the truth about this, everyone would be against abortion. Wouldn’t they?

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Space Ship Launch Opens New Vistas

It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of what Elon Musk’s SpaceX corporation did a few days ago when it launched a space ship that docked with the international space station. It is as significant, in its way, as the first commercial airline flight in the U.S. which was undertaken in 1914 by the St. Petersburg-Tampa Air Boat Line. It heralds the moment when space flight is moving out of the domain of government and into the private sector, potentially opening vast new vistas of travel.

There are, to be sure, significant differences between the history of flight inside the Earth’s atmosphere and outside of it. The former was, from the start, a private undertaking launched not by the Theodore Roosevelt administration but by the Wright Brothers, a pair of bicycle mechanics. The latter was, famously, a NASA mission undertaken beginning in 1958 by an Eisenhower administration eager to match Soviet achievements in space. But aviation, too, received a significant boost from the government–aircraft design took a major leap forward because of the efforts of various air forces to build more efficient aircraft in World War I and thereafter, commercial airlines developed either under state ownership (as in Europe with the forerunners of British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, etc.) or with major state subsidies (as was the case in the U.S. where the Postal Service paid airlines to carry the mail).

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It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of what Elon Musk’s SpaceX corporation did a few days ago when it launched a space ship that docked with the international space station. It is as significant, in its way, as the first commercial airline flight in the U.S. which was undertaken in 1914 by the St. Petersburg-Tampa Air Boat Line. It heralds the moment when space flight is moving out of the domain of government and into the private sector, potentially opening vast new vistas of travel.

There are, to be sure, significant differences between the history of flight inside the Earth’s atmosphere and outside of it. The former was, from the start, a private undertaking launched not by the Theodore Roosevelt administration but by the Wright Brothers, a pair of bicycle mechanics. The latter was, famously, a NASA mission undertaken beginning in 1958 by an Eisenhower administration eager to match Soviet achievements in space. But aviation, too, received a significant boost from the government–aircraft design took a major leap forward because of the efforts of various air forces to build more efficient aircraft in World War I and thereafter, commercial airlines developed either under state ownership (as in Europe with the forerunners of British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, etc.) or with major state subsidies (as was the case in the U.S. where the Postal Service paid airlines to carry the mail).

After decades of government monopolization it appears that space flight is moving in the same direction as aviation, with NASA switching increasingly from an agency that does spacecraft design and launching in-house to one that provides subsidies to private companies such as a SpaceX to do the job themselves. To be sure, the U.S. military must and will remain a major player in space which has become vital for running communications and surveillance networks and could even be used to orbit strike platforms in the future. But the civilian role in space appears to be increasingly a joint venture between government and industry–and that is likely to prove a greater success in the long run than the exclusively NASA path which reached a dead end with the grounding of the last space shuttle last year.

It is good to see the rude energies of the private sector finally being directed beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. With passenger flights to space looming, the future of space travel looks bright for the first time since the launch of the initial space shuttle in 1982.

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