At the Univision forum today, President Obama said the “most important lesson” he’s learned since taking office is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.”
It would have been nice if he’d discovered this piece of wisdom four years ago, before he ran an entire campaign based on a promise to change Washington (via BuzzFeed):
Just a few hours after I wrote about Elizabeth Warren’s consistent lead in the polls over Scott Brown yesterday, the Boston Herald released its poll showing Brown back in the lead. The poll has Brown up by six among registered voters and four among likely voters. Mark Blumenthal suggests the sample sizes are partly to blame for the poll variation, and that the polls tell us one thing–the race is close:
The five other polls have shown Warren leading by margins varying from two to six percentage points. Relatively small sample sizes likely contribute to the variation. All but one of the new surveys sampled from 400 to 600 likely voters, for reported margins of error ranging from +/- 4 percent to +/- 5 percent.
When combined in the HuffPost Pollster Trend chart, designed to smooth out the random variation inherent in most polls, the new surveys show a virtual dead heat, with Warren just a half percentage point ahead of Brown (46.2 percent to 45.7 percent).
That will account for the attention the two candidates’ first debate will attract tonight. It will also be a good test for the question I mentioned yesterday: Warren’s populism is the only polling advantage she seems to have over Brown, who voters say is running the more positive campaign, has closer ties to the state than Warren, and has a high approval rating. So if Warren’s only advantage is her middle-class focused, soak-the-rich message, will that be sufficient to win enough public support?
The Los Angeles Times, like most major media outlets, covered the leak of a video in which Mitt Romney speaks candidly to supporters about his beliefs regarding the economy and the Middle East peace process.
The video has thrown the Romney campaign off-track and undercut Romney’s outreach to the elderly and the struggling middle class. Journalists and editorialists have reacted almost with glee as they construct an unflattering image of the “real Mitt Romney.”
“ ‘Never again’ is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.” So said President Obama earlier this year at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One wonders, in light of what is happening in Syria, how he can fail to be haunted by his administration’s unwillingness to do more to end the bloodshed there.
Especially as one reads news items such as this one: “At least 30 people, and possibly more than 100, were killed in Syria on Thursday in the northern Raqqa Province, when government warplanes bombed a gas station crowded with people, according to activist groups.”
Obama administration officials have denied there were security breakdowns at the Benghazi consulate, with UN Ambassador Susan Rice citing the two former Navy SEALs killed in the attack, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, as part of the “substantial security presence” at the compound. But the Washington Guardianreports today that Woods and Doherty were not part of the official security detail:
The officials provided the information to the Washington Guardian, saying they feared the Obama administration’s scant description of the episode left a misimpression that the two ex-Navy SEALs might have been responsible for the ambassador’s personal safety or become separated from him.
“Woods and Doherty weren’t part of the detail, nor were they personally responsible for the ambassador’s security, but they stepped into the breach when the attacks occurred and their actions saved others lives — and they shouldn’t be lumped in with the security detail,” one senior official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the State Department. …
In fact, officials said, the two men were personal service contractors whose official function was described as “embassy security,” but whose work did not involve personal protection of the ambassador or perimeter security of the compound.
Republicans not otherwise occupied by the prospect of Mitt Romney slipping further behind President Obama have the option of being equally pessimistic about their party’s chances of retaking the Senate. A Politico feature and an analysis in the New York Times by blogger Nate Silver both highlight the raft of recent polls that show that the GOP’s once bright hopes of capturing the upper chamber from the Democrats have declined precipitately in the last month. But any attempt to pin the blame for this trend on the party’s presidential candidate is probably a mistake. There are states in which Romney will not help the rest of the ticket, but if Republicans wind up losing the Senate it will not be his fault alone.
That the odds have now shifted in favor of the Democrats retaining control of the Senate is not in dispute. As we all know, a certain GOP pickup in Missouri became a likely Democratic hold the moment Todd Akin opened his mouth to talk about rape victims. But the Akin fiasco highlights an important truth about imposing a national narrative on what is essentially a series of separate elections. Attempts to wrap a number of different races with different candidates in different states are almost always something of a stretch. When you break down what is happening in the various Senate races, what we are seeing often has more to do with local factors than with Romney’s problems.
Billionaire Democratic donor Haim Saban wrote an effusive New York Times op-ed praising Obama’s Israel policy earlier this month. Today, the White House announced that Saban’s wife, Cheryl, has been nominated to represent the U.S. at the upcoming UN General Assembly. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’m sure these were totally unconnected events, and Cheryl Saban beat out a line of career diplomats for this important honor based on her resume as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children,” as well as her very serious book What Is Your Self Worth? A Woman’s Guide to Validation.
The White House announced Wednesday it has nominated Cheryl Saban, the wife of Univision chairman Haim Saban, to be a representative of the United States to the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Cheryl Saban is described as an “author, philanthropist, and advocate for women and children” in the White House announcement, serving on boards of the Saban Research Institute, Girls Inc., and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. …
The position was a marked turn for the Egyptian-born Israeli-American, who criticized Obama personally in 2011 for not visiting Israel, and labeled in 2010 the Obama administration “really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”
Josh Rogin reports that a top administration official conceded what had long become obvious during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing yesterday:
The Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact “a terrorist attack” and the U.S. government has indications that members of al Qaeda were directly involved, a top Obama administration official said Wednesday morning.
“I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in response to questioning from Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
After a week in which Mitt Romney allowed himself to become a mainstream media piñata, the Republican’s campaign is in the unenviable position of having to calm the frayed nerves of supporters who feel that a few days of bad polling numbers mean that all is lost. There is good reason for Republicans to be concerned about the way the race has gone since the conventions, but with most of the national polls still within the margin of error, the instinct to panic is, at best, premature. Nevertheless, it is likely that a New York Times article that noted that the Romney campaign is being “tightfisted” with its campaign treasury and allowing itself to be outspent in key states is bound to raise some alarms in the GOP.
But if anyone thinks the problem with the Romney campaign is that they are as cheap as the candidate supposedly is in his private life, they are missing the point about recent events. One can debate the wisdom of the campaign’s decision-making process about ad buys. But as the now infamous 47 percent video indicated, the trouble with the Romney campaign is Romney, not its pace of spending.
The World Bank issued another report on the Palestinian economy yesterday, and its conclusions were utterly predictable: The Palestinian Authority faces a fiscal crisis, and desperately needs additional handouts on top of the $1.14 billion it’s already getting this year; and the crisis is mostly Israel’s fault. But while blaming Israel is always easy, the truth is the PA hasn’t a prayer of ever resolving its fiscal crisis without addressing the real elephant in the room: Gaza.
According to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Gaza accounts for fully 48 percent of the PA’s expenditures. But since Hamas took over the territory in 2007, revenues received from Gaza have plummeted from 28 percent to a mere 4 percent of the PA’s budget. In other words, the PA has a hole equal to 44 percent of its budget due solely to its unbalanced income and outlays on Gaza. Nothing Israel does will be able to compensate for that.
Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.
The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:
The blizzard of polls that emerged yesterday afternoon had morphed into an Obama avalanche by the time dinnertime rolled around. Surveys at the national and state level disagreed with the results of the two daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, which show a tied race around 47 percent. Every other survey, with the exception of one in New Hampshire, showed Barack Obama ahead, and in most cases ahead outside the margin of error. That includes polls of the swing states Mitt Romney has to win if he is to prevail in November.
Look, when every poll but two points in the same direction, it would be madness to say signs point to the opposite. Clearly, Obama is leading, and maybe by more than a little. More damaging for Romney’s prospects is the fact that the lead is either stable or strengthening in those battleground states.
The Washington Times is reporting U.S. concern that the Qods Force, the elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), could strike at targets in the United States:
“We have seen an uptick in operational activity by the Qods Force over the last year or so,” National Counter-Terrorism Center Director Matthew G. Olsen told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Mr. Olsen said the Qods Force, the elite division of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for operations abroad, “poses a threat beyond the immediate [Middle East] region,” including to the U.S. homeland.
This conclusion should be nothing new. Indeed, Iranian authorities have long sought, if not to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States, then to maintain the option to do so. In 1980, of course, the Iranian government hired a hitman to assassinate a former pre-revolutionary Iranian diplomat living in Bethesda, Maryland. And, as Olsen sited in his testimony, the Qods Force allegedly planned an attack in Washington, DC, last year.
Yesterday, we discussed the latest attempt by the West to entice Iran to resume negotiations over the future of their nuclear program. Those talks, being conducted by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the head of the P5+1 group that includes the United States, were described as “useful and constructive” and were thought to be the prelude to further efforts to break the impasse over Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons later this month in New York, when the United Nations General Assembly convenes. But the same day that Lady Ashton was breaking bread with a representative of the Islamist regime in Istanbul, the head of Iran’s nuclear project was quoted in the London daily Al Hayat as confessing, or should we say bragging, that his country has repeatedly lied to the West in past exchanges about the subject.
As Haaretz reports, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told Al Hayat that the regime had provided false information to the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to protect their “nuclear facilities and achievements.”
“Sometimes we provided false information since there was no other choice but to mislead other intelligence agencies; sometimes we made ourselves appear weak and at other times we reported issues that made us appear strongly than we really were, he said, adding: “Ultimately it became exposed when inspectors directly asked us about these issues.”
He said such deceptions were necessary in order to prevent the IAEA’s investigation from aiding efforts to isolate and sanction Iran. These motivations are quite obvious and even understandable. The Iranians know the world is on to their plans for nuclear weapons and wish to do everything they can to throw the IAEA off the scent. What isn’t understandable is why the United States and its European partners would choose to enter into any diplomatic process with Iran that is predicated on Iran telling the truth about its facilities and keeping their word should any compromise deal ever be reached. That is why the insistence of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that diplomacy be given even more time is inexplicable if they mean what they say about wanting to stop Iran.