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Posts For: October 7, 2012

Iran Sends a Message. Is Obama Listening?

Many in the West interpreted the unrest in the streets of Tehran last week in the wake of the collapse the rial as a sign that the Islamist regime was shaken by the sanctions that have been imposed on its economy. The assumption is that the ayatollahs are chastened by the hardships that their people labor under and that it won’t be too long before they are ready to return to the negotiating table and make the concessions needed to craft a deal that will end the standoff over their drive for nuclear capability. But the Iranians and their terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon (some of who are currently deployed in Syria defending their ally Bashar Assad) have other ideas about the outcome of this confrontation.

Iran’s leadership cannot be completely sanguine about the willingness of their people to go on putting up with Islamist extremism at home and endless conflict abroad. But they also have no intention of being influenced by domestic public opinion or intimidated by Western leaders who are still foolish enough to believe that diplomacy can solve the problem. To the contrary, they believe that it is Israel and the West that can be intimidated and it is in that context that we should interpret the puzzling appearance of the Hezbollah drone aircraft that was shot down over the Negev desert this weekend. Instead of the Iranians receiving the memo the West wants them to read about the futility of further resistance to demands to end the enrichment of uranium that will make a nuclear bomb possible, they have just sent their own message. The drone is more than an indication that Iran will seek to retaliate against any strike on their nuclear facilities with one on Israel. It’s also a sign that the terrorists in Lebanon can strike anywhere in Europe as well as the Middle East. Rather than this drone being a reason for Israel and the West to stand down from a policy of pressing Iran to give up their nuclear dream, it is a warning that ought to reinforce the imperative need to stop them.

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Many in the West interpreted the unrest in the streets of Tehran last week in the wake of the collapse the rial as a sign that the Islamist regime was shaken by the sanctions that have been imposed on its economy. The assumption is that the ayatollahs are chastened by the hardships that their people labor under and that it won’t be too long before they are ready to return to the negotiating table and make the concessions needed to craft a deal that will end the standoff over their drive for nuclear capability. But the Iranians and their terrorist auxiliaries in Lebanon (some of who are currently deployed in Syria defending their ally Bashar Assad) have other ideas about the outcome of this confrontation.

Iran’s leadership cannot be completely sanguine about the willingness of their people to go on putting up with Islamist extremism at home and endless conflict abroad. But they also have no intention of being influenced by domestic public opinion or intimidated by Western leaders who are still foolish enough to believe that diplomacy can solve the problem. To the contrary, they believe that it is Israel and the West that can be intimidated and it is in that context that we should interpret the puzzling appearance of the Hezbollah drone aircraft that was shot down over the Negev desert this weekend. Instead of the Iranians receiving the memo the West wants them to read about the futility of further resistance to demands to end the enrichment of uranium that will make a nuclear bomb possible, they have just sent their own message. The drone is more than an indication that Iran will seek to retaliate against any strike on their nuclear facilities with one on Israel. It’s also a sign that the terrorists in Lebanon can strike anywhere in Europe as well as the Middle East. Rather than this drone being a reason for Israel and the West to stand down from a policy of pressing Iran to give up their nuclear dream, it is a warning that ought to reinforce the imperative need to stop them.

As Haaretz reports, the drone is not the first Hezbollah attempt to penetrate Israeli airspace in this manner. Nor is it the only provocation they have delivered in recent months:

Israel .. believes Hezbollah, with Iranian backing, is behind a string of attempted attacks on Israeli diplomatic targets in India, Thailand and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, plus a deadly bombing earlier this year that killed five Israeli tourists in a Bulgarian resort. Last week, Israel announced the arrest of an Arab citizen it accused of spying for Hezbollah, the latest in a string of such cases.

Many speculated that the aircraft was trying to gather intelligence on Israel’s secretive nuclear reactor in the southern desert town of Dimona.

Iran’s terrorist network is part of the regime’s security blanket which it thinks guarantees that it can never be forced to do give up its nuclear dream. Far from being on their last legs or being weakened, Tehran thinks it can intimidate the Europeans and Americans into thinking the attempt to muscle them on the nuclear question is hopeless. They long ago concluded that President Obama doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to them and think all they need to do to win is to hold on while sending messages about their willingness to start a fire no one in the West is interested in putting out.

Instead of seeing Hezbollah’s drone as an indication of the folly of threatening the use of force, this should be a warning of the necessity of setting red lines that will make it clear that diplomacy will go out the window unless they stop enriching uranium. Without them, Tehran will continue to believe they need not fear American resolve on the issue and that they can, in turn, act with impunity. If President Obama is serious about his promise to stop the Iranians he will understand that a passive reaction to this provocation will produce the opposite of what he wants: an emboldened Iranian government that will see no point in bowing to the West on the nuclear issue.

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Post-Debate Polls Show Senate Back in Play

A week is a lifetime in politics. Just seven days ago, even some Republicans were writing off Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president. But as the latest polls taken since his victory in Wednesday’s debate show, the race is up for grabs again. Even more significant, the altered political environment that stems from the puncturing of the Obama balloon of inevitability may be having some effect on other races as well.

The first polls after the debate showed a dramatic movement toward Romney in swing states. The national tracking polls also showed either a reduced margin for Obama, as in the case of Gallup, or an Obama lead being turned into one for Romney, as Rasmussen reported. But the key swing state of Ohio showed not only movement in the top ballot race but in the one below it. Rasmussen’s latest survey of the Ohio Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel indicates that this crucial battle has changed from one in which Brown had a strong lead into a flat-footed tie. That not only alters the odds about that seat, but with Ohio moving from leans-Democratic to tossup on the national Senate map, it means control of the upper house may once again be back in play this year. While the youthful Mandel has been running a surprisingly strong underdog effort, it can only be supposed that a surge for him is not unconnected to the boost Romney got in Ohio in the days after the debate.

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A week is a lifetime in politics. Just seven days ago, even some Republicans were writing off Mitt Romney’s chances of being elected president. But as the latest polls taken since his victory in Wednesday’s debate show, the race is up for grabs again. Even more significant, the altered political environment that stems from the puncturing of the Obama balloon of inevitability may be having some effect on other races as well.

The first polls after the debate showed a dramatic movement toward Romney in swing states. The national tracking polls also showed either a reduced margin for Obama, as in the case of Gallup, or an Obama lead being turned into one for Romney, as Rasmussen reported. But the key swing state of Ohio showed not only movement in the top ballot race but in the one below it. Rasmussen’s latest survey of the Ohio Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel indicates that this crucial battle has changed from one in which Brown had a strong lead into a flat-footed tie. That not only alters the odds about that seat, but with Ohio moving from leans-Democratic to tossup on the national Senate map, it means control of the upper house may once again be back in play this year. While the youthful Mandel has been running a surprisingly strong underdog effort, it can only be supposed that a surge for him is not unconnected to the boost Romney got in Ohio in the days after the debate.

It’s possible Romney’s post-debate bounce may not last. Liberal efforts to spin the contradictory results of Friday’s federal jobs report may spin the needle back in the president’s direction in the next few days. But it is also possible that all the debate has done is correct the post-convention Obama surge that turned what had been a tight race all year into one in which he had a small edge.

Romney’s September swoon hadn’t just hurt him but also lowered the chances of the Republicans taking back the Senate this fall, as many had assumed they would earlier in the year. The problem wasn’t just Missouri, where Todd Akin’s idiotic comments about pregnancy and rape turned a sure GOP victory into a likely loss to Claire McCaskill. In the past few weeks, some races that had been thought to be easy GOP victories, like the ones in Indiana, Arizona, Montana and North Dakota, became toss-ups. Scott Brown also lost ground to liberal icon Elizabeth Warren.

But the past few days have shown that just as Romney has gotten himself back in the game, he may be helping Senate candidates too. While Democrats will scream that Rasmussen is a Republican outlier, if Mandel is tied with Brown now that has to be seen as an indication that Republicans are on the upswing in Ohio. While Brown, like Obama, must still be considered the favorite, the idea that Ohio has drifted from a toss-up to a Democratic leaner must now be thrown out. With Democratic seats like the one in Connecticut and Ohio now looking better for the GOP, Romney can now look forward to a stretch run in which he not only has given himself a chance to win, but also allowed his party to dream of a sweep of both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

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The Jobs Report—III

The Sunday talk shows are, not surprisingly, spending a lot of time on the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent. The Obama talking heads are calling it “the lowest unemployment rate of the Obama presidency.”

Just for the record, that is not strictly accurate. When Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, the latest unemployment figure that the BLS had reported was 7.2 percent for December 2008. When the January unemployment rate came in a few weeks later, it was 7.6 percent. Only in February did the rate go above 7.8 percent, coming in at 8.1.

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The Sunday talk shows are, not surprisingly, spending a lot of time on the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent. The Obama talking heads are calling it “the lowest unemployment rate of the Obama presidency.”

Just for the record, that is not strictly accurate. When Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, the latest unemployment figure that the BLS had reported was 7.2 percent for December 2008. When the January unemployment rate came in a few weeks later, it was 7.6 percent. Only in February did the rate go above 7.8 percent, coming in at 8.1.

It continued to rise rapidly, reaching 10.2 percent in October 2009. (Unemployment is a lagging indicator: the recession officially ended in June 2009.) It stayed above 10 percent for three months, and then stayed above 9 percent for the next 21 months (with the exception of March 2011, when it briefly dipped to 8.9 percent). Only in October 2011, did it fall below 9 percent and stay there.

(The Wall Street Journal has a nifty interactive chart for monthly unemployment figures since January 1948. It shows graphically—in both the literal and metaphoric senses of the word—how brutal unemployment has been during the Obama presidency, far worse than any comparable period in the half-century measured by the chart.)

It’s still brutal, for job creation is still very anemic (a mere 114,000 in September). Most of what is making the jobs number decline is an increase in part-time jobs and the exit from the work force of people who are retiring or going on Social Security disability. The baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, is the pig in the work-force python. They are now retiring at the rate of about 3,000 a day. That is helping lower the unemployment number, but not helping the true unemployment situation.

It might be noted, as well, that the next jobs report comes out on November 2, the Friday before the election. That’s the traditional day to drop a bombshell on your opponent because it does not leave him enough time to respond effectively.  Will the next unemployment figure be as bad news for Obama as last Friday’s was good news, a bombshell courtesy of the BLS? Assuming the September number was not manipulated, and I haven’t the slightest evidence (as opposed to hmmm-you-don’t-suppose? thoughts) that it is, it is at least even money that it will bounce back up, undoing the statistical anomaly of the previous month.

That would give the talking heads on Sunday, November 4, something to talk about.

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Religious Freedom at the Ballot Box

When Mitt Romney mentioned the issue of religious freedom during last week’s presidential debate, the lines on the graph indicating the interest of members of CNN’s focus group spiked. But, contrary to the liberal spinners who dismissed the point as mere rhetoric, efforts to constrict religious liberty are very much an issue in 2012. The main focus is the effort to push back against the Obama administration’s efforts to enforce the Department of Health and Human Services mandate to force institutions and individuals to pay for services that offend their consciences and faith. This dangerous by-product of ObamaCare has raised the stakes on the health care debate because unless it is repealed, it will result in a redefinition of religious freedom that will ensure that free exercise of faith will be banned from the public square.

Just as significant is a referendum battle in Florida that will not only help determine the future of religious liberty in this country, but whether we are capable of facing up to our troubled past. Florida’s Amendment 8 is an effort to formally allow the state to legalize aid to religious institutions providing social services as well as education. It was made necessary by a lawsuit launched by left-wingers determined to prevent religious groups from providing aid to prisoners in the state’s jails who say the Florida Constitution bans the flow of state money to any religious institution, group or individual. They are right, since Florida was one of many states to pass a so-called Blaine amendment in the late 19th century as part of a campaign of discrimination against Catholics. Though the left looks to such Blaine amendments to enforce their ideas about an impenetrable wall of separation between church and state, it is nothing more than a holdover from an era of religious hate. Repealing it via the passage of Amendment 8 will not just make things easier for religious social service and education providers in Florida. But it could also be a turning point for the battle to defend religious liberty in America.

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When Mitt Romney mentioned the issue of religious freedom during last week’s presidential debate, the lines on the graph indicating the interest of members of CNN’s focus group spiked. But, contrary to the liberal spinners who dismissed the point as mere rhetoric, efforts to constrict religious liberty are very much an issue in 2012. The main focus is the effort to push back against the Obama administration’s efforts to enforce the Department of Health and Human Services mandate to force institutions and individuals to pay for services that offend their consciences and faith. This dangerous by-product of ObamaCare has raised the stakes on the health care debate because unless it is repealed, it will result in a redefinition of religious freedom that will ensure that free exercise of faith will be banned from the public square.

Just as significant is a referendum battle in Florida that will not only help determine the future of religious liberty in this country, but whether we are capable of facing up to our troubled past. Florida’s Amendment 8 is an effort to formally allow the state to legalize aid to religious institutions providing social services as well as education. It was made necessary by a lawsuit launched by left-wingers determined to prevent religious groups from providing aid to prisoners in the state’s jails who say the Florida Constitution bans the flow of state money to any religious institution, group or individual. They are right, since Florida was one of many states to pass a so-called Blaine amendment in the late 19th century as part of a campaign of discrimination against Catholics. Though the left looks to such Blaine amendments to enforce their ideas about an impenetrable wall of separation between church and state, it is nothing more than a holdover from an era of religious hate. Repealing it via the passage of Amendment 8 will not just make things easier for religious social service and education providers in Florida. But it could also be a turning point for the battle to defend religious liberty in America.

The Amendment 8 battle has to some extent been overshadowed by the controversy over Amendment 6 that would ban state money from being used for abortion. But the church-state controversy is one that is just as, if not far more, significant.

As with the Obamacare mandate, what the radical separationists opposing Amendment 8 really want is a definition of religious freedom that confines it to the right to go to the church or synagogue of your choice and to pray at home but forbids citizens from acting on their religious convictions. In particular, the Blaine amendments, named for James G. Blaine, a Maine senator, secretary of state and Republican presidential candidate in 1884, sought to discriminate against Catholic schools. Until the late 19th century, Americans understood that public education meant not just state-run schools but those run by faith groups as well as private non-denominational institutions. But inspired by their fear and loathing of Catholic immigrants, the Protestant majority passed these laws advocated by Blaine.

Amendment 8 would reverse this historic wrong and would bring Florida’s laws in line with those of the federal government. That liberals would defend such a despicable legacy tells us all we need to know about both their hypocrisy and their hostility to liberty. Were, as the left would like, the existing Blaine amendment in Florida to be fully enforced, that would devastate the efforts of the most effective social service providers. It could also lead to the banning of state aid for busing and school text books in religious schools. That’s why Amendment 8 is needed.

But what Amendment 8 opponents fear most is that Florida will move toward school choice that puts all religious schools on an equal footing with government-run institutions. That isn’t the direct purpose of the amendment, but it is fair to say that it would make it possible. However, that is an issue on which liberals are on shakier ground than they think.

School choice opponents say vouchers would mean draining government money from public schools. But what it would really mean is that education funds would follow the student rather than be arbitrarily earmarked for government schools that are often failing students, especially the poor who have no other viable options. School choice would force public schools to compete. The result would help make all schools better and make it possible for all parents, not just the wealthy, to choose the schools their children attend.

The fight to protect religious freedom is more than a one-front battle with ObamaCare at the forefront. Victory in Florida for Amendment 8 might be a turning point in the long-running battle to roll back hateful Blaine Amendments.

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Dems Out Andrea Mitchell as Partisan

We’ve often noted in this space the enormous advantage President Obama derives from having the mainstream media firmly in his pocket. But it appears the geniuses running his campaign don’t understand that the best way to exploit this edge is not to make it so obvious as to remove any doubt that the press has gone in the tank. That was exactly what they did when they used a clip of NBC’s Andrea Mitchell spouting Obama talking points on the air in a new web ad.

NBC has reacted to this breach of the informal rules of engagement between liberal journos and the Obami with high dudgeon and has asked the Democrats to take the ad down. Much as they did when the president’s re-election campaign used a clip of Tom Brokaw, the network says that since they haven’t granted permission for the use of the material it ought not to be aired in the context of a partisan ad. But this complaint merely highlights the fact that people like Mitchell often carry the water for the president in segments that are labeled straight news when they are nothing more than partisan spin.

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We’ve often noted in this space the enormous advantage President Obama derives from having the mainstream media firmly in his pocket. But it appears the geniuses running his campaign don’t understand that the best way to exploit this edge is not to make it so obvious as to remove any doubt that the press has gone in the tank. That was exactly what they did when they used a clip of NBC’s Andrea Mitchell spouting Obama talking points on the air in a new web ad.

NBC has reacted to this breach of the informal rules of engagement between liberal journos and the Obami with high dudgeon and has asked the Democrats to take the ad down. Much as they did when the president’s re-election campaign used a clip of Tom Brokaw, the network says that since they haven’t granted permission for the use of the material it ought not to be aired in the context of a partisan ad. But this complaint merely highlights the fact that people like Mitchell often carry the water for the president in segments that are labeled straight news when they are nothing more than partisan spin.

Mitchell has come under increasing fire from media critics for conducting a series of hit and run attacks on Mitt Romney, exposed in a series of encounters on MSNBC with GOP surrogate John Sununu in which her partisanship is not debatable. In the clip used by the Obama campaign, Mitchell quotes a liberal group’s claim that Romney’s tax plan will cost $4.8 trillion and will therefore raise taxes on the middle class, a charge that other, more credible analysts, have debunked. This is a point on which even liberal fact checkers have concluded that the Democrats’ pants are on fire, but Mitchell loyally spouted the allegation on the air as if it were objective fact.

The scandal here is not, as NBC seems to be saying, that the Democrats are stealing their material without permission, but that the Democrats were not charged for the air time taken up by Mitchell’s flacking for Obama in the first place.

Mitchell is hardly the only partisan hack masquerading as a fair-minded journalist on one of the networks and perhaps isn’t even the worst (CNN’s Soledad O’Brien certainly gives her a run for her money in this category). But the Obama ad removes even the flimsy veil of false objectivity from her conduct.

But what is interesting is how obtuse the Obama campaign is about using Mitchell. Making her the star of an Obama ad just reinforces the point Sununu and others have made over and over again about her bias. But while the ad is paid for by the Democrats, the in-kind contributions they have been receiving from Mitchell and other liberal media spinners continues to be free of charge.

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Rejected by U.S., Syrian Rebels Radicalize

The costs of American inaction in Syria continue to pile up. Not only is a Syria-Turkey war growing more likely, but so is the likelihood of further radicalization among the rebels. That, at any rate, is a warning that is coming from rebel commanders themselves and they should know. The latest evidence is this New York Times article, which paraphrases one rebel leader as follows:

The Syrian people are being radicalized by a combination of a grinding conflict and their belief that they have been abandoned by a watching world.

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The costs of American inaction in Syria continue to pile up. Not only is a Syria-Turkey war growing more likely, but so is the likelihood of further radicalization among the rebels. That, at any rate, is a warning that is coming from rebel commanders themselves and they should know. The latest evidence is this New York Times article, which paraphrases one rebel leader as follows:

The Syrian people are being radicalized by a combination of a grinding conflict and their belief that they have been abandoned by a watching world.

If the West continues to turn its back on Syria’s suffering, he said, Syrians will turn their backs in return, and this may imperil Western interests and security at one of the crossroads of the Middle East.

That is a warning we should take seriously. In Libya, we intervened to oust a dictator and even though we have not eradicated the danger from anti-American groups (witness the slaying of our ambassador), the regime in Tripoli is notably pro-Western. If in Syria we do nothing, and Assad gets toppled anyway, what kind of regime will emerge in his wake? Whatever its nature, one can practically guarantee that it will be less friendly to American interests than a regime that were to emerge after an American-led intervention against Assad.

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