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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.