Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 6, 2012

U.S. Still Lost as Assad Regime Totters

For more than a year, optimists have been predicting the end of the Assad regime in Syria. Those forecasts have been proven wrong, as the Syrian dictator has not lost his willingness to kill as many people as possible in order to hold on. Nor has he been deprived of the crucial foreign support from Iran, Hezbollah and most importantly, Russia. But today’s news that his prime minister has defected may finally be the signal that the tipping point has been reached in the conflict that has taken the lives of thousands of Syrians. While Bashar al-Assad’s forces still seem full of fight, they have noticeably faltered in their efforts to finish off the opposition or even to keep them out of Damascus and other major cities. No one could credibly accuse someone who had served in this brutal government of having much of a conscience about all the massacres committed in order to preserve Assad’s grip on power, but it may be that Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab has read the writing on the wall and understands it is better not to go down with a sinking ship.

Nevertheless, this latest sign that finally President Obama’s forecast about Assad’s demise is coming true is no reason for the administration to celebrate. Obama helped prolong the agony of Syria and the life of Assad’s government by not acting more forcefully to depose him earlier in the struggle. But now that the country is in a state of chaos with Islamists appearing to dominate the opposition forces, the United States is faced with a far more dangerous situation. During the weekend, the New York Times reported that both the State Department and the Pentagon were planning for the post-Assad era in Syria. That’s good, but the problem is it may be too late for the United States to have much influence on the outcome if, as now seems possible, Assad is actually defeated.

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For more than a year, optimists have been predicting the end of the Assad regime in Syria. Those forecasts have been proven wrong, as the Syrian dictator has not lost his willingness to kill as many people as possible in order to hold on. Nor has he been deprived of the crucial foreign support from Iran, Hezbollah and most importantly, Russia. But today’s news that his prime minister has defected may finally be the signal that the tipping point has been reached in the conflict that has taken the lives of thousands of Syrians. While Bashar al-Assad’s forces still seem full of fight, they have noticeably faltered in their efforts to finish off the opposition or even to keep them out of Damascus and other major cities. No one could credibly accuse someone who had served in this brutal government of having much of a conscience about all the massacres committed in order to preserve Assad’s grip on power, but it may be that Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab has read the writing on the wall and understands it is better not to go down with a sinking ship.

Nevertheless, this latest sign that finally President Obama’s forecast about Assad’s demise is coming true is no reason for the administration to celebrate. Obama helped prolong the agony of Syria and the life of Assad’s government by not acting more forcefully to depose him earlier in the struggle. But now that the country is in a state of chaos with Islamists appearing to dominate the opposition forces, the United States is faced with a far more dangerous situation. During the weekend, the New York Times reported that both the State Department and the Pentagon were planning for the post-Assad era in Syria. That’s good, but the problem is it may be too late for the United States to have much influence on the outcome if, as now seems possible, Assad is actually defeated.

Having decided last year to “lead from behind” on Syria, President Obama is in no position to have much of an impact on what will follow Assad’s fall. While the U.S., along with its European allies, has been supplying the rebels with some help in recent months, that is not likely to buy much goodwill with a Syrian people who will be justified in thinking the U.S. stood by as they were being killed by Assad’s loyalists. Nor will the U.S. be in a position to prevent the humanitarian disasters that may well unfold in the coming months. Score settling could result in the mass slaughter of Syrian Alawites who are seen as supporters and beneficiaries of the Assad clan during their decades ruling in Damascus.

Having held itself largely aloof from the conflict, it will not be possible for the Obama administration to do anything different as conditions there worsen. By failing to choose in Syria, as it largely failed to do in Egypt, the president has set us up for the worst of all worlds, with a stable situation rendered unstable and the United States getting no credit for helping to affect change. If this is what some pundits consider a successful foreign policy, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.

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Politifact Backs Romney on Tax Issue

Fact-checking website Politifact — which has had a mixed record refereeing the election so far — gave Sen. Harry Reid a “pants-on-fire” rating for his charge that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.

In an Internal Revenue Service study of nearly 4 million 2009 tax returns of filers reporting more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, 20,752 of these taxpayers — or just 0.529 percent — had no U.S. income tax liability. About half of those did have income tax liability in other countries. …

To gauge tax patterns for even higher-income earners, the best we can do is to look at another IRS study detailing the taxes paid by the top 400 earners in the nation in 2008. To make this list, you would have to have earned roughly $109 million that year. Among those 400 top taxpayers, 30 — or 7.5 percent — had an effective tax rate of between 0 and 10 percent. Given how the statistics are calculated, it’s impossible to know how many paid no taxes, but it’s safe to assume it’s well below 7.5 percent.

Neither study directly addresses Romney’s situation — he falls somewhere in the middle of the two studies — but the data does show that for earners both below and above him, it’s unlikely they paid zero taxes for one year, and it’s even more far-fetched to think they did so for 10 years.

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Fact-checking website Politifact — which has had a mixed record refereeing the election so far — gave Sen. Harry Reid a “pants-on-fire” rating for his charge that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.

In an Internal Revenue Service study of nearly 4 million 2009 tax returns of filers reporting more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, 20,752 of these taxpayers — or just 0.529 percent — had no U.S. income tax liability. About half of those did have income tax liability in other countries. …

To gauge tax patterns for even higher-income earners, the best we can do is to look at another IRS study detailing the taxes paid by the top 400 earners in the nation in 2008. To make this list, you would have to have earned roughly $109 million that year. Among those 400 top taxpayers, 30 — or 7.5 percent — had an effective tax rate of between 0 and 10 percent. Given how the statistics are calculated, it’s impossible to know how many paid no taxes, but it’s safe to assume it’s well below 7.5 percent.

Neither study directly addresses Romney’s situation — he falls somewhere in the middle of the two studies — but the data does show that for earners both below and above him, it’s unlikely they paid zero taxes for one year, and it’s even more far-fetched to think they did so for 10 years.

Politifact also quoted tax experts and economists who agree that it’s highly unlikely Romney avoided paying taxes for 10 years. Phil Klein points out that it’s impossible to know for sure without actually seeing Romney’s tax returns — which is precisely what makes Reid’s accusations so slimy — but this is the closest Romney is going to get to debunking the charges without coughing up the papers.

The Romney campaign can now say Reid’s accusations were debunked by fact-checkers, but it’s not going to be enough to stop the smears.

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What Money Won’t Buy Even for Adelson

If you listen long enough to liberals complaining about the Citizens United decision, you’d think the country is being sold lock, stock and barrel to wealthy donors to presidential candidates. But the most publicized political contributor in the country isn’t getting much deference for the big bucks he’s throwing in the direction of Mitt Romney. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has been pilloried from coast to coast by liberals who don’t like his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and fund Republicans intent on defeating Barack Obama. Adelson is doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to political speech, but even he can’t guarantee his candidate will do as he wishes. As Eli Lake and Dan Ephron report in the Daily Beast, Adelson asked Mitt Romney if he’ll pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and got little satisfaction.

Romney is rightly staying away from talking about pardoning Pollard. An election campaign pledge on that issue would have been inappropriate as it would have politicized a strong case for clemency that many serious people, including former CIA chief James Woolsey, feel is overdue. As for Jerusalem, while Adelson is dead right in calling out the foolishness of a several-decades-old policy, again, Romney is no fool. By saying he will do so in cooperation with the Israeli government, he is keeping his options open. But the real point here is not whether Adelson’s requests were wrong — they weren’t — but the idea that political donors can call in IOUs from candidates is bunk. While his millions will buy Adelson the ability to make his requests in person and, as his spokesman said, an invitation to the White House Chanukah party — they don’t ensure Romney will give him what he wants.

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If you listen long enough to liberals complaining about the Citizens United decision, you’d think the country is being sold lock, stock and barrel to wealthy donors to presidential candidates. But the most publicized political contributor in the country isn’t getting much deference for the big bucks he’s throwing in the direction of Mitt Romney. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has been pilloried from coast to coast by liberals who don’t like his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and fund Republicans intent on defeating Barack Obama. Adelson is doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to political speech, but even he can’t guarantee his candidate will do as he wishes. As Eli Lake and Dan Ephron report in the Daily Beast, Adelson asked Mitt Romney if he’ll pardon convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and move the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and got little satisfaction.

Romney is rightly staying away from talking about pardoning Pollard. An election campaign pledge on that issue would have been inappropriate as it would have politicized a strong case for clemency that many serious people, including former CIA chief James Woolsey, feel is overdue. As for Jerusalem, while Adelson is dead right in calling out the foolishness of a several-decades-old policy, again, Romney is no fool. By saying he will do so in cooperation with the Israeli government, he is keeping his options open. But the real point here is not whether Adelson’s requests were wrong — they weren’t — but the idea that political donors can call in IOUs from candidates is bunk. While his millions will buy Adelson the ability to make his requests in person and, as his spokesman said, an invitation to the White House Chanukah party — they don’t ensure Romney will give him what he wants.

Unlike a great many political donors, Adelson’s political contributions are not primarily related to promoting his business. Instead, he is interested in promoting causes he cares about, principally the security of the state of Israel. The willingness of Jewish Democrats to smear Adelson because he rightly sees President Obama as no friend to Israel is unconscionable, especially because he is well-known for his generosity to a host of non-political issues and charities.

Adelson is hardly alone in his desire to see Pollard freed after 27 years in prison. As I wrote in a COMMENTARY article on the Pollard case published last year, the former U.S. Navy analyst is no hero. He broke his oath to the United States and did much damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as to loyal American Jews who serve in the government. But his punishment was disproportionate–no spy for a friendly government has ever received anything close to a life sentence. Nevertheless, it was foolish of anyone to expect even someone as sympathetic to Israel as Romney to say anything about the case during the election campaign.

As for moving the embassy, that is an evergreen request from pro-Israel contributors and activists of all political stripes. Romney has come closer to pledging to move the embassy than most candidates. It’s an idea that makes sense, because it is absurd for the U.S. to pretend Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital and doing so only allows the Palestinians to go on dreaming that America will someday help them drive the Jews out of Jerusalem. If Romney does move the embassy, it will be a shocking case of a candidate actually keeping a promise that no one expects him to keep. But if, in the unlikely event that happens, it will not be the result of Adelson’s contributions, but a decision on the part of the new administration that President Obama’s desire to distance the U.S. from Israel needs to be symbolically reversed.

But the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this discussion is not about the rights and wrongs of Adelson’s requests but how this story effectively debunks liberal myths about campaign contributions. Not only is Adelson not getting his way on these requests, but the Romney campaign isn’t shy about making it clear that even the most beneficent contributor to the candidate’s coffers can expect nothing more than a civil hearing.

Try as they might, liberals will never be able to take money out of politics. But the free flow of political contributions and the speech such money buys rarely results in the quid pro quo that horrified leftists assume such transactions always entail. Adelson is backing Romney because he can’t stand Obama. The only thing he can be sure of getting for his money is helping the chances that the president will be defeated. Beyond that, all he can do is hope his candidate will live up to his promises and do the right thing on those issues where there is no promise. Which puts Adelson pretty much in the same boat as every other citizen, even those without millions to give politicians.

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Group Calls for Romney Apology

File this in the “Never Going to Happen” folder. The Hill reports that Jewish Voice for Peace is sending Mitt Romney a petition demanding that he apologize for his comments about Palestinian culture:

Jewish Voice for Peace has called Romney’s comments at a Jerusalem fundraiser last Monday “racist and ignorant.” Romney says he did not mean to denigrate Palestinians when he credited “the power of at least culture” and the “hand of providence” for Israel’s superior economy.

The petition, addressed to “Governor Mitt Romney,” urges him to apologize. …

“Your comments were not a reflection of the values Jews, Americans, and our allies hold dear. We call on you to apologize to the Palestinian people for your willful lack of understanding of the facts on the ground and the racist assumptions behind them.”

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File this in the “Never Going to Happen” folder. The Hill reports that Jewish Voice for Peace is sending Mitt Romney a petition demanding that he apologize for his comments about Palestinian culture:

Jewish Voice for Peace has called Romney’s comments at a Jerusalem fundraiser last Monday “racist and ignorant.” Romney says he did not mean to denigrate Palestinians when he credited “the power of at least culture” and the “hand of providence” for Israel’s superior economy.

The petition, addressed to “Governor Mitt Romney,” urges him to apologize. …

“Your comments were not a reflection of the values Jews, Americans, and our allies hold dear. We call on you to apologize to the Palestinian people for your willful lack of understanding of the facts on the ground and the racist assumptions behind them.”

The Hill calls Jewish Voice for Peace a “liberal Jewish group,” but it’s far more accurate to describe it as a fiercely anti-Israel group. JVP is one of the most outspoken supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel in the U.S. As NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg and Yitzhak Santis wrote in the New York Jewish Week last month, JVP “provide[s] a useful cover for non-Jews to justify gratuitous Israel-bashing.” Steinberg and Yitzhak wrote that JVP’s Rabbinical Council has defended Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian group which has dabbled in false deicide charges against Jews. The Anti-Defamation League has written:

Sabeel often compares the Palestinians to the crucified Jesus, and Israel to his murderers, alluding to the ugly and false deicide charge against all the Jewish people – a concept rejected by prominent historians and repudiated by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations.

In his paper, The Zionist Ideology of Domination Versus the Reign of God, the organization’s Jerusalem-based director, Rev. Naim Ateek, compares what he calls the “powers of darkness” against which Jesus fought to “the evil structures that have dominated the Palestinians for the last hundred years.”

In his Easter message in spring 2001, Ateek described the political situation in these words: “It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him…Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.”

The JVP is a fringe group that doesn’t have standing to influence mainstream politics in the first place. But it’s comical that it would demand an apology from Romney about his supposedly “offensive” comments, after its Rabbinical Council defended a group such as Sabeel.

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Real Election Stakes: ObamaCare Advances

While much of the political discussion in the last couple of weeks centered on marginal or made up issues such as Mitt Romney’s tax returns or whether or not he committed gaffes abroad, the implementation of ObamaCare this month is placing the real stakes of the fall election in focus. On August 1, the preventive mandate ordered by the Department of Health and Human Services went into effect, forcing nearly all employers in the country, including those whose religious and moral scruples forbid it, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization. The implementation of the HHS mandate, only staved off in some instances by challenges from religious institutions and individuals, will compel businesses around the nation to choose between violating their religious beliefs or give up providing insurance and face heavy government fines.

At the same time, as the New York Times reported yesterday, the federal government is moving quickly to set up health exchanges in states that are refusing to take part in ObamaCare. This means Washington will be operating health markets in perhaps half of the states in the union. With the refusal of Republican governors and legislatures to take part in this massive expansion of federal power, the result of their principled decision will be to give the Obama administration the opportunity to set up an even more massive and unwieldy bureaucracy than even its opponents envisioned. Combined with the merciless advance of the HHS Mandate, it’s clear that while the two parties and their presidential candidates will be trading blows on a wide array of issues, the one thing we know for sure that will hang on the outcome will be whether the government will be proceeding after January to continue the implementation of ObamaCare.

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While much of the political discussion in the last couple of weeks centered on marginal or made up issues such as Mitt Romney’s tax returns or whether or not he committed gaffes abroad, the implementation of ObamaCare this month is placing the real stakes of the fall election in focus. On August 1, the preventive mandate ordered by the Department of Health and Human Services went into effect, forcing nearly all employers in the country, including those whose religious and moral scruples forbid it, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization. The implementation of the HHS mandate, only staved off in some instances by challenges from religious institutions and individuals, will compel businesses around the nation to choose between violating their religious beliefs or give up providing insurance and face heavy government fines.

At the same time, as the New York Times reported yesterday, the federal government is moving quickly to set up health exchanges in states that are refusing to take part in ObamaCare. This means Washington will be operating health markets in perhaps half of the states in the union. With the refusal of Republican governors and legislatures to take part in this massive expansion of federal power, the result of their principled decision will be to give the Obama administration the opportunity to set up an even more massive and unwieldy bureaucracy than even its opponents envisioned. Combined with the merciless advance of the HHS Mandate, it’s clear that while the two parties and their presidential candidates will be trading blows on a wide array of issues, the one thing we know for sure that will hang on the outcome will be whether the government will be proceeding after January to continue the implementation of ObamaCare.

The August 1 date is just the start of an era which, if not derailed by a change at the White House, will mean a raft of intrusive federal health care regulations that will allow an increasingly powerful federal government to severely restrict religious freedom.

As the Heritage Foundation wrote on its blog last week, the attempts to delay the religious exemptions being offered by the administration are so limited as to create a narrow definition of religious liberty. Yet this unprecedented attack on individual rights is proceeding without much coverage in the media except those few stories devoted to scattered protests or the lawsuits launched to stave off the law’s implementation.

The same can be said about the federal health exchanges that are in the works. Though Republicans who have opted their states out of the mess are in the right, the administration is leaping into this opening. While we can be sure that the scope of this task and the details are so daunting so as to ensure a healthy dose of corruption and incompetence, the bottom line is that by next spring, the government will be knee-deep in running health markets around the country with negative consequences that we are only just beginning to envision.

All of this means the sooner the Republicans stop playing defense about Romney’s record and return to hammering the president on his unpopular health care boondoggle and speaking up in defense of religious freedom, the better their chances will be in November.

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Dems Back Reid Attacks on Romney’s Taxes

Democrats are starting to throw their support behind Sen. Harry Reid’s completely unsourced attacks on Mitt Romney’s tax returns. While the Obama campaign hasn’t endorsed Reid’s comments explicitly, it’s been using them as an opening to smack Romney for his failure to release more than two years of his tax information. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is defending Reid’s credibility, calling his allegations “a fact”:

“Harry Reid made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact,” Pelosi told The Huffington Post in a Sunday interview. “Whether he did or not can easily be disposed of: Mitt Romney can release his tax returns and show whether he paid taxes.”

Both Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus came out swinging against Reid on Sunday over his claims about Romney potentially not paying taxes. Asked to respond to Priebus calling Reid “a dirty liar” over the situation, Pelosi initially responded, “Who?” She went on to say that Priebus doesn’t know what he’s talking about since he wasn’t part of Reid’s conversations.

“Well he doesn’t know that,” Pelosi said. “Harry Reid is a person who is, as we know, A, is a fighter, B, he wouldn’t say this unless it was true that somebody told him that.”

Pelosi’s comments will at least help extend the news life of this story, giving the Obama campaign more time to hammer Romney to release his returns. But are Democrats also taking a risk with this attack?

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Democrats are starting to throw their support behind Sen. Harry Reid’s completely unsourced attacks on Mitt Romney’s tax returns. While the Obama campaign hasn’t endorsed Reid’s comments explicitly, it’s been using them as an opening to smack Romney for his failure to release more than two years of his tax information. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is defending Reid’s credibility, calling his allegations “a fact”:

“Harry Reid made a statement that is true. Somebody told him. It is a fact,” Pelosi told The Huffington Post in a Sunday interview. “Whether he did or not can easily be disposed of: Mitt Romney can release his tax returns and show whether he paid taxes.”

Both Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus came out swinging against Reid on Sunday over his claims about Romney potentially not paying taxes. Asked to respond to Priebus calling Reid “a dirty liar” over the situation, Pelosi initially responded, “Who?” She went on to say that Priebus doesn’t know what he’s talking about since he wasn’t part of Reid’s conversations.

“Well he doesn’t know that,” Pelosi said. “Harry Reid is a person who is, as we know, A, is a fighter, B, he wouldn’t say this unless it was true that somebody told him that.”

Pelosi’s comments will at least help extend the news life of this story, giving the Obama campaign more time to hammer Romney to release his returns. But are Democrats also taking a risk with this attack?

Larry Sabato argues they are in USA Today:

Team Obama’s tactic isn’t without risk, said Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia. “Suppose Romney reverses course and releases the extra tax returns, and they show that he did pay substantial taxes,” Sabato said. “Both Reid and Obama would have to apologize, I would think.”

Sabato, however, concludes that the Obama campaign has made the calculation that Romney, who became wealthy in his years in private equity, won’t release more returns. “Every new complicated return gives Democrats and the media lots of openings for negative charges and stories,” he said.

Obama or Reid apologize for a slanderous statement about Romney? Don’t hold your breath. Democrats are tacitly supporting Reid’s comments because they don’t see a downside here. Even if Romney releases his tax returns and proves Reid’s baseless claims false, the story won’t be about Reid — it’ll be about whatever is in Romney’s returns. And if Romney’s previous tax documents are any indication, Democrats will have a ton of fresh attack fodder that has nothing to do with tax dodging. His income and his investment information will probably be more than enough to keep the DNC busy for a few weeks.

On the other hand, if Romney doesn’t release his returns — the most likely scenario at this point — then Democrats will have a few weeks to slime his reputation with baseless claims about tax fraud. It’s a win-win for them.

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Romney Outraises Obama by Wide Margin

For the second month in a row, Mitt Romney outraised President Obama by a wide margin. Obama and the DNC brought in $75 million, the campaign announced on Twitter, while the Romney campaign and the RNC raised $101 million:

The gap is slightly smaller than it was in June, when Romney raised $106 million and Obama brought in $71 million, but it’s the second-straight month that Romney has pulled in nine figures and the third-straight month he has outraised the incumbent president.

The fundraising numbers are split between the candidates’ campaign committees, their respective national party committees and joint fundraising committees that raise money for both entities.

Romney’s campaign said the three combined had $185.9 million in the bank at the end of July; Obama’s team did not announce a cash-on-hand figure.

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For the second month in a row, Mitt Romney outraised President Obama by a wide margin. Obama and the DNC brought in $75 million, the campaign announced on Twitter, while the Romney campaign and the RNC raised $101 million:

The gap is slightly smaller than it was in June, when Romney raised $106 million and Obama brought in $71 million, but it’s the second-straight month that Romney has pulled in nine figures and the third-straight month he has outraised the incumbent president.

The fundraising numbers are split between the candidates’ campaign committees, their respective national party committees and joint fundraising committees that raise money for both entities.

Romney’s campaign said the three combined had $185.9 million in the bank at the end of July; Obama’s team did not announce a cash-on-hand figure.

Romney had a $25 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama early last month, and it’s undoubtedly grown since then. Obama has also been spending his campaign money at an unprecedented rate, according to the New York Times:

President Obama has spent more campaign cash more quickly than any incumbent in recent history, betting that heavy early investments in personnel, field offices and a high-tech campaign infrastructure will propel him to victory in November.

Since the beginning of last year, Mr. Obama and the Democrats have burned through millions of dollars to find and register voters. They have spent almost $50 million subsidizing Democratic state parties to hire workers, pay for cellphones and update voter lists. They have spent tens of millions of dollars on polling, online advertising and software development to turn Mr. Obama’s fallow volunteers corps into a grass-roots army.

But now Mr. Obama’s big-dollar bet is being tested. With less than a month to go before the national party conventions begin, the president’s once commanding cash advantage has evaporated, leaving Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee with about $25 million more cash on hand than the Democrats as of the beginning of July.

Obama will have less money for advertising blitzes this fall, but let’s also look at this in perspective. There’s a finite amount of advertising dollars you can spend before you saturate the airwaves, so perhaps the Obama campaign isn’t concerned about lagging in that area. The most critical element for the president is getting his base to turn out and vote, which is why he burned through so much cash investing in on-the-ground infrastructure.

Which is one reason Democrats are probably so concerned about the voter ID law. It doesn’t seem like much to ask a voter to show proof of identity, but it could also require some degree of pre-planning (either to apply for an ID or to bring an ID along) that the very low-interest, apathetic voters just don’t feel like investing. And these are the same voters who get-out-the-vote operations tend to target.

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Convention Lineups: More Upside for GOP?

The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

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The Republican Party has released the first round of names for the national convention speaking slots in Tampa later this month, and the response has been mostly yawns from the conservative media. That’s understandable: unlike the Obama campaign, which (presumably) doesn’t have a vice presidential announcement to make, and thus nothing to hide in its convention schedule, the Romney campaign has yet to announce Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. So the big names will have to wait.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among seven headline speakers announced today for the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The first look at featured speakers also includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

This is a mix of rising stars (Martinez, Haley), popular party figures (Rice, McCain, Kasich), and the obvious home-stater (Scott). These are not the names conservatives are lining up to hear, though Huckabee should be considered an exception. The former Arkansas governor’s great talent has always been communication–just contrast the tone of coverage Huckabee tends to receive from the notoriously socially liberal press with that of Rick Santorum. As important as evangelicals are to GOP get-out-the-vote efforts, Huckabee could be an important campaign surrogate for a candidate many social conservatives are still unsure about.

Otherwise, the Democratic convention is the subject of far more chatter, and appropriately so. In addition to the high-profile role Bill Clinton will play, Politico has a story today examining the risk of giving Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren a prime-time speech. Warren’s candidacy has been mired in controversy since news broke that Warren apparently listed herself as a minority to exploit quota hiring in academia by claiming Native American heritage she has been unable–and unwilling–to confirm.

Perhaps even more damaging, however, is that Warren popularized the “you didn’t build that” line of argument that was picked up by President Obama in an attempt to praise government that seemed to sneer at business owners. (Obama has said that his words were taken out of context, but arguably the worst part of his remarks were what came before the infamous lines, when he said, in a mocking tone: “I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.”)

Republicans will also luck out by the prominence–or lack thereof–given to potential Democratic presidential candidates for the 2016 cycle. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, expected to be a serious contender in four years, is practically avoiding the entire convention rather than use the free media as a launching pad. But it gets even better for Republicans: In what has to have GOP 2016 contenders practically giddy, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is still, amazingly enough, talking about running for president in 2016. He will have a speaking role at the convention, and is also chairing the rules committee.

O’Malley’s sensational inability to govern is by now legendary. He seems to have accepted his failures as well; he has pretty much stopped spending time in the state he governs. O’Malley (or O’Taxey, as Marylanders have taken to calling him) seems to be following California’s model of governing but, like Jon Corzine in New Jersey, hopes to be out of office when the state finally goes careening off the fiscal cliff (Corzine was defeated in time to save the state’s finances). The Republican convention will likely feature a prime-time speech from Chris Christie. If so, the contrast between the two parties’ ability to govern will be starkly in the GOP’s favor.

If O’Malley, Warren, and an impeached former president are the best the Democratic convention will have to offer, expect a lot more enthusiasm from conservatives when the GOP’s big names are finally announced this month.

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Palestinians Waiting for Obama to Win

Israel is being criticized today in the world press for playing hardball with five of the 12 non-aligned nations that had hoped to gather in Ramallah to formally back the Palestinian Authority’s latest attempt to get the United Nations to back their bid for statehood. The delegations from Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia and Malaysia who sought to enter the territories while sticking to their non-recognition of the Jewish state were not allowed in, effectively spiking the entire event. The collapse of what the PA had hoped would be a “Ramallah Declaration” was just the latest indication that the Palestinians’ latest UN bid might end as badly as their first try. However, the Palestinians are smart enough to know that placing your chips on the ability of a disorganized and powerless faction like the Non-Aligned Movement isn’t a good bet.

Far more significant than the posturing in Ramallah were the comments by aides of PA President Mahmoud Abbas that their UN campaign would be largely put on hold until after the U.S. presidential election. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas is planning to soft pedal his UN effort until November because he understands that any talk about the Palestinians could hinder Obama’s re-election hopes. Though the PA has been dismayed by the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive that has seen their concerns pigeonholed in Washington, Abbas is clearly hoping for a better result once Obama is safely returned to office.

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Israel is being criticized today in the world press for playing hardball with five of the 12 non-aligned nations that had hoped to gather in Ramallah to formally back the Palestinian Authority’s latest attempt to get the United Nations to back their bid for statehood. The delegations from Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia and Malaysia who sought to enter the territories while sticking to their non-recognition of the Jewish state were not allowed in, effectively spiking the entire event. The collapse of what the PA had hoped would be a “Ramallah Declaration” was just the latest indication that the Palestinians’ latest UN bid might end as badly as their first try. However, the Palestinians are smart enough to know that placing your chips on the ability of a disorganized and powerless faction like the Non-Aligned Movement isn’t a good bet.

Far more significant than the posturing in Ramallah were the comments by aides of PA President Mahmoud Abbas that their UN campaign would be largely put on hold until after the U.S. presidential election. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas is planning to soft pedal his UN effort until November because he understands that any talk about the Palestinians could hinder Obama’s re-election hopes. Though the PA has been dismayed by the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive that has seen their concerns pigeonholed in Washington, Abbas is clearly hoping for a better result once Obama is safely returned to office.

Abbas had hoped the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement’s Palestine Committee in Ramallah would give him a boost, but the collapse of the publicity stunt is yet another setback for his diplomatic offensive. Israel will be accused of playing the bully in this incident, and the Palestinians may think it will serve their cause, but the spectacle of nations that don’t recognize Israel’s existence seeking entry via Israeli crossings is not likely to harm the Jewish state.

If anything, the contretemps is a reminder that what the PA is trying to execute is an end run around the peace process. They want independence and Israel’s withdrawal from disputed territory but are not willing to negotiate about it and instead are simply demanding the UN hand it to them on a silver platter. Last summer, the world press was abuzz with predictions of a “diplomatic tsunami” which would swamp Israel as the Palestinians were acclaimed at the UN. But the tsunami was barely a light sprinkle as the world yawned and refused to back their play. Though it is still possible that with the help of the Non-Aligned nations they can upgrade their membership privileges via a UN General Assembly resolution, such a step would entail considerable risks for the PA, including the loss of U.S. funding as well as Israeli financial retaliation.

As for their cherished hopes that a second Obama administration would do their bidding, that is exactly the sort of rumbling that scares Democrats who fear Jewish voters will remember the three years of administration pressure on Israel rather than the last few months of friendship. But even though the Palestinians have good reason to think that a Romney administration would be far less willing to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction as Obama has done, they need to remember why they’ve accomplished nothing in the past four years.

Even though Obama has been the least friendly president to Israel in at least a generation, the Palestinians got nothing out of it. President Obama picked fights with Israel over settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem, but the Palestinians still struck out because they foolishly thought Obama would do all their dirty work for them and still refused to negotiate.

Israelis may worry about what Obama’s re-election will mean for them, as they know it is a certainty that the charm offensive will end the day after the election. But they can take comfort in the fact that it isn’t likely that Mahmoud Abbas will get any braver or smarter in the next four years. Even with a friend in the White House, the Palestinians will gain no territory or a state so long as they are unwilling to negotiate. Nor can they hope to achieve those goals unless they are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Because that is still a virtual impossibility, their faith in Obama or the ability of any American politician to help them is clearly misplaced.

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Ryan-for-VP Rumors Heat Up

Mitt Romney’s VP announcement could come any day now, and a lot of the latest chatter has focused around Rep. Paul Ryan, who has made some moves lately that ignited speculation. Politicker reports:

Mr. Ryan was scheduled to speak at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s Defending the American Dream Summit in Washington tonight, but he cancelled the appearance. …

Organizers told us they were unsure why Mr. Ryan pulled out of the planned speech. …

The cancelled speech isn’t the only thing that caused speculation to swirl around Mr. Ryan this afternoon. Eagle-eyed Politico reporter Ken Vogel also noted Mr. Ryan’s political action committee, Prosperity PAC, filed amended versions of its three most recent monthly fundraising reports today.

“Preparing for big announcement w FEC cleanup?” Mr. Vogel asked.

Mr. Seifert said the reports had to be amended when Mr. Ryan’s staff noticed a donation made in April was accidentally counted for both the Prosperity Action Committee and the congressman’s joint action committee, a mistake which carried over into subsequent reports.

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Mitt Romney’s VP announcement could come any day now, and a lot of the latest chatter has focused around Rep. Paul Ryan, who has made some moves lately that ignited speculation. Politicker reports:

Mr. Ryan was scheduled to speak at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s Defending the American Dream Summit in Washington tonight, but he cancelled the appearance. …

Organizers told us they were unsure why Mr. Ryan pulled out of the planned speech. …

The cancelled speech isn’t the only thing that caused speculation to swirl around Mr. Ryan this afternoon. Eagle-eyed Politico reporter Ken Vogel also noted Mr. Ryan’s political action committee, Prosperity PAC, filed amended versions of its three most recent monthly fundraising reports today.

“Preparing for big announcement w FEC cleanup?” Mr. Vogel asked.

Mr. Seifert said the reports had to be amended when Mr. Ryan’s staff noticed a donation made in April was accidentally counted for both the Prosperity Action Committee and the congressman’s joint action committee, a mistake which carried over into subsequent reports.

Both the FEC cleanup and the cancelled speech could be completely unrelated and innocuous, but at this point, any unusual activity by any of the VP possibilities is going to be heavily analyzed. Knowing that, it’s interesting Ryan decided to amend its fundraising reports at this time, when he could have waited until next month and aroused far less interest. Why choose this time to do it?

Ryan, Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman appear to be the three most likely picks at this point. At National Review, Jay Nordlinger makes the case for Portman, defending him against charges that he’s too “vanilla”:

I don’t know whether he’s the right choice for VP this year. I could argue for about five of them. I could probably bump that up to about eight. But the idea that Portman’s not a real conservative — the genuine article, a child of Reagan — is nuts. “He doesn’t excite me,” people say. Well . . . different people are excited by different things. A superb conservative leader who can help keep this country from swirling down the drain? Not unexciting.

Portman’s perceived dullness may be one problem, but his association with the Bush administration’s economic policies seems to be a far bigger one. The Obama administration is dying to turn this into an argument between President Clinton’s economic policies (as ridiculous as that is, considering Obama has been in office nearly a full term), and the supposed “failed policies of the Bush years.” Why else was Clinton tapped as the keynote for the Democratic National Convention? They’d love nothing more than to tie Romney to the “policies that got us into this mess in the first place,” as Team Obama is fond of saying.

And while Tim Pawlenty positioned himself as a Tea Party type during the last year or so, he still lacks the charisma to really excite the base. He has the experience on the campaign trail and clearly knows how to give a stump speech. But does he have the fire in his belly to take what the Obama campaign is going to throw at him? Remember, he choked at last summer’s debate when he couldn’t bring himself to say “Obamneycare” to Romney’s face. More than that, choosing Pawlenty could end up demoralizing a party that is looking for a gloves-off fight between conservative small-government principles and Obama’s nanny-statism.

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol and Stephen Hayes make the case for either Ryan or Marco Rubio:

It’s become conventional wisdom that Ryan and Rubio would be “bold” picks, while other choices like Ohio Senator Rob Portman and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty are “safe.” Perhaps. But what looks safe can be risky. Portman, a good man and respected public servant, was George W. Bush’s budget director. Pawlenty’s presidential campaign was a disaster. The 2010 election was the best for Republicans in a long time. Ryan and Rubio embody the spirit of 2010. Pawlenty and Portman don’t.

But beyond all of the calculations—beyond demography, geography, and the polls—is the most compelling reason for Romney to pick Ryan or Rubio: Doing so would signal that Romney understands the magnitude of the problems facing the country and would demonstrate that he has the will to solve them. It would suggest that Romney knows this is a big moment, and that he’s willing to run a big campaign. And at a time when the country so desperately needs real leadership, Romney would make clear that he’s ready to provide it by picking either Ryan or Rubio.

If Romney is looking for someone who can tap into the energy of the 2010 Tea Party and make this an election about change, he can’t go wrong with Rubio or Ryan.

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Karzai Purges the Moderates

Afghan President Hamid Karzai acquiesced to the impeachment of both Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Besmillah Mohammadi. The Washington Post and New York Times dutifully reported the parliamentary allegations of corruption and passivity in the face of Pakistani provocations.

The reality is different. As my colleague Ahmad Majidyar pointed out, the “Afghan ministers’ impeachment is not a move against corruption; it’s a political game by some in the presidential palace.” Had the parliament been serious about corruption, then Karzai and many of his close allies, not to mention many of the parliamentarians voting for impeachment, would have been first on the chopping block.

The fact is that Wardak was probably the toughest, most independent, and competent minister in the cabinet. He was a close ally in the fight against the Taliban, and paid little heed to attempts by the Iranians and Pakistanis to buy him off. He was not a proponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to talk to the Taliban, but then again, hardly anyone is outside the White House and State Department.

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai acquiesced to the impeachment of both Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Besmillah Mohammadi. The Washington Post and New York Times dutifully reported the parliamentary allegations of corruption and passivity in the face of Pakistani provocations.

The reality is different. As my colleague Ahmad Majidyar pointed out, the “Afghan ministers’ impeachment is not a move against corruption; it’s a political game by some in the presidential palace.” Had the parliament been serious about corruption, then Karzai and many of his close allies, not to mention many of the parliamentarians voting for impeachment, would have been first on the chopping block.

The fact is that Wardak was probably the toughest, most independent, and competent minister in the cabinet. He was a close ally in the fight against the Taliban, and paid little heed to attempts by the Iranians and Pakistanis to buy him off. He was not a proponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to talk to the Taliban, but then again, hardly anyone is outside the White House and State Department.

The two ministers sacked represent the two most important portfolios as President Obama prepares for the draw down of U.S. forces and transition to full Afghan control. Much is now up-for-grabs. Karzai is not interested in democracy or Afghanistan’s future; he is interested in Karzai. If he chooses to appoint political flunkies to the post, any gains ISAF has made in recent months can come crashing down.

What we have just witnessed was not a triumph of democracy or accountability; rather, it was Karzai’s equivalent of the Saturday Night Massacre.

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Hamas a Threat to Egypt as Well as Israel

The outcome of the latest terrorist attack along the Egyptian-Israeli border leaves the two nations with a confusing situation. Masked Palestinian gunmen from the Gaza Strip entered Egyptian territory at sundown from the smuggling tunnels run by Hamas and then proceeded to attack an Egyptian military post. They killed 16 Egyptian soldiers who were settling down to their Ramadan feast, stole vehicles which they then loaded with explosives, and headed to the Israeli border with the apparent goal of kidnapping and/or killing Israeli soldiers and civilians. Fortunately, the Israel army reacted swiftly, blowing up one vehicle, killing several of the terrorists and forcing the others to flee into the Sinai. No Israelis were harmed.

The attack is an embarrassment in more than one way for the Egyptian government that is now dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is allied with Hamas, which along with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, condemned the incident. But the lax security in the Sinai since the fall of the Mubarak regime has led not only to Sinai becoming a lawless region where terrorists roam freely. Even more important, the attack, which is just the latest attempt by Gaza-based Palestinians to assault Israel via the Sinai, makes it clear the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza has made it a terrorist enclave that presents a danger to Egypt as well as Israel. Though Israel is the boogeyman of Egyptian popular culture and the focus of a relentless hate campaign in the media there, it may turn out that the Palestinians are the real threat. The question is whether the slaughter of their soldiers — a crime that cannot be blamed on Israel — willl motivate the Egyptian army and the government in Cairo to crack down on both Sinai and Hamas-run Gaza.

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The outcome of the latest terrorist attack along the Egyptian-Israeli border leaves the two nations with a confusing situation. Masked Palestinian gunmen from the Gaza Strip entered Egyptian territory at sundown from the smuggling tunnels run by Hamas and then proceeded to attack an Egyptian military post. They killed 16 Egyptian soldiers who were settling down to their Ramadan feast, stole vehicles which they then loaded with explosives, and headed to the Israeli border with the apparent goal of kidnapping and/or killing Israeli soldiers and civilians. Fortunately, the Israel army reacted swiftly, blowing up one vehicle, killing several of the terrorists and forcing the others to flee into the Sinai. No Israelis were harmed.

The attack is an embarrassment in more than one way for the Egyptian government that is now dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is allied with Hamas, which along with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, condemned the incident. But the lax security in the Sinai since the fall of the Mubarak regime has led not only to Sinai becoming a lawless region where terrorists roam freely. Even more important, the attack, which is just the latest attempt by Gaza-based Palestinians to assault Israel via the Sinai, makes it clear the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza has made it a terrorist enclave that presents a danger to Egypt as well as Israel. Though Israel is the boogeyman of Egyptian popular culture and the focus of a relentless hate campaign in the media there, it may turn out that the Palestinians are the real threat. The question is whether the slaughter of their soldiers — a crime that cannot be blamed on Israel — willl motivate the Egyptian army and the government in Cairo to crack down on both Sinai and Hamas-run Gaza.

The Israeli government has been calling for Egypt to police Sinai more thoroughly. Their neighbors have said this would require the two countries to renegotiate the 1979 peace treaty that calls for Egypt to keep its main forces away from the border. But the problem is not really limited to the Sinai. The danger stems from the fact that Gaza has become a haven not just for every armed Palestinian terrorist group but also global jihadis who may not be willing to take orders from Hamas.

In the wake of Mubarak’s fall, Egypt largely dropped its enforcement of the blockade of Gaza, making it easier for terrorists as well as arms and material to enter the Hamas-run statelet. But the majority of Egyptians who support the Brotherhood must now reckon with the fact that having an Islamist terror state on their border presents a danger to them as well as to Israel. It may be asking a lot of a country where anti-Semitism is so deeply engrained in popular culture and where hatred of Israel is endemic to realize that keeping the border with the Jewish state quiet is in their interest. But as ordinary Egyptians as well as the new government begin to realize that what they have nurtured in Gaza is a danger akin to Afghanistan prior to 9/11, traditional Egyptian antipathy for the Palestinians could begin to rein in a reckless policy of antagonizing Israel.

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