Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 4, 2013

How to Prevent Another GOP Debacle

It’s certainly true that negotiations over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff were particularly difficult ones for Republicans. President Obama had a huge negotiating advantage: If a deal wasn’t struck, taxes would go up on everyone, not just the high-income earners, and the military would be decimated by deep spending cuts. Presumably Republicans will be in a stronger position as we approach our next governing crisis: the debt ceiling deadline in early March.

There is a twin danger for the GOP, however. One is that they enter negotiations assuming the president is responsible and acting in good faith—and that a “good government” solution will be found and a grand bargain will be struck. That’s not going to happen. Mr. Obama is a dogmatist and a committed progressive. He has no interest in reining in spending or reforming entitlements. He wants to, in his words, “transform” America. And he has a burning desire to destroy the GOP.

The second danger facing Republicans is they once again engage in brinksmanship with the president—that they elevate the debt ceiling debate and (unwisely) threaten to allow the United States to default right up until the moment when they cave (which they would be forced to do).

My counsel to them would therefore be to take the threat of default off the table sooner rather than later. (One way to do this would be to pass legislation that increases the debt limit for, say, six months at a time.) Republicans should simultaneously put forward reasonable and realistic cuts to offset the increase in the debt limit, in the hope that they can secure some gains. Which leads me to my broader piece of advice. 

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It’s certainly true that negotiations over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff were particularly difficult ones for Republicans. President Obama had a huge negotiating advantage: If a deal wasn’t struck, taxes would go up on everyone, not just the high-income earners, and the military would be decimated by deep spending cuts. Presumably Republicans will be in a stronger position as we approach our next governing crisis: the debt ceiling deadline in early March.

There is a twin danger for the GOP, however. One is that they enter negotiations assuming the president is responsible and acting in good faith—and that a “good government” solution will be found and a grand bargain will be struck. That’s not going to happen. Mr. Obama is a dogmatist and a committed progressive. He has no interest in reining in spending or reforming entitlements. He wants to, in his words, “transform” America. And he has a burning desire to destroy the GOP.

The second danger facing Republicans is they once again engage in brinksmanship with the president—that they elevate the debt ceiling debate and (unwisely) threaten to allow the United States to default right up until the moment when they cave (which they would be forced to do).

My counsel to them would therefore be to take the threat of default off the table sooner rather than later. (One way to do this would be to pass legislation that increases the debt limit for, say, six months at a time.) Republicans should simultaneously put forward reasonable and realistic cuts to offset the increase in the debt limit, in the hope that they can secure some gains. Which leads me to my broader piece of advice. 

The Republican Party tends to do quite poorly when it engages in high-profile negotiations/confrontations with Democratic presidents. It happened to Newt Gingrich in 1995 over Medicare and the government shutdown. It happened to the GOP Congress in 1998 over impeachment. And it happened to John Boehner and the GOP in the summer of 2011 and December 2012 over the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff.

The reason for this has been, in part, because it’s impossible to govern when a party controls just one legislative chamber. The president, especially one with a sympathetic press, has enormous things working in his favor in any showdown with Congress. 

On the flip side, the two greatest electoral gains for Republicans in Congress happened in 1994 and 2010. Those elections were not preceded by dramatic, high-stakes, last-second negotiations that took place in a crisis atmosphere. Rather, they came in the aftermath of Democratic presidents and Democratically-controlled Congress’ overreaching. Republicans forcefully criticized the policies of Clinton (in 1993 and 1994) and Obama (in 2009 and 2010)–but they did not threaten to shut down the government, cause America to go into default, and encourage America to go over any fiscal cliffs.

So what does that mean for the here and now? The mindset of the GOP should be to jettison the idea that Obama is a responsible interlocutor (Speaker Boehner seems to have gotten that message in pledging that he will no longer negotiate one-on-one with Obama). Second, congressional Republicans should accept the fact that even though they have a majority in the House, their power to shape the governing agenda is still severely limited. There will be no meaningful reforms of entitlements or the tax code. Accept it; and accept that they cannot undo the damage of Obamaism so long as he remains president.

Republicans should of course check Mr. Obama’s ambitions where they can and when they occupy the political high ground (like on the implementation of ObamaCare). But trying to put America on a different course right now, given the present circumstances, is a fool’s errand. Prudence is a political virtue–and in this case, prudence argues for modesty of aims and expectations.

At the same time, Republicans in the House should pass bills with an eye toward sketching out an ambitious governing agenda—not in the hopes that it will ever become law during the Obama years, but simply to lay out a compelling alternative to Obama.

In sum, then: Republicans need to carefully pick their fights. Declare now that under no circumstances will they allow the U.S. to default on its debt–and then pass legislation to prove it. At the same time, Republicans should continue to argue for re-limiting government by offering up specific proposals. Hold hearings that highlight the failures of government. Demonstrate patience. Don’t try to remake the world. And lay out a reform agenda that Republicans would implement if Obama wasn’t president and if Republicans controlled both legislative chambers.

The public will eventually grow weary of Obama and Obamaism. The job of Republicans right now is not to get in the way of that process.

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Christie’s GOP Disconnect

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s temper tantrum about the temporary delay of action on the Hurricane Sandy relief bill earlier this week was depicted in some corners as an illustration of the disconnect between the Northeast and the southern and western base of the Republican Party. There was some truth in that. The bulk of the GOP caucus in the House doesn’t care much about the concerns of Northeast Republicans let alone those of anyone else in the region. That’s just one of many concerns that the GOP must confront as it starts thinking about how to win back the White House in 2016. But despite the party’s failings, Christie’s rant illustrates that the lack of communication is a two-way street.

Like his embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s harangue about the failings of his party will play well in New Jersey. Indeed, the shift in recent months of the focus of the governor’s notoriously short temper from union bosses and liberals to right-wing Republicans—and the latter’s criticism of him—has been exactly what his re-election campaign needed. His approval ratings have reached the point where the most formidable Democrats in the state like Newark Mayor Cory Booker have abandoned the idea of running for governor. But if Christie is as serious about running for president in 2016 as many of his fans think he is, it’s time to realize that the conceit that he can be a moderate at home and a conservative in the rest of the country isn’t going to work.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s temper tantrum about the temporary delay of action on the Hurricane Sandy relief bill earlier this week was depicted in some corners as an illustration of the disconnect between the Northeast and the southern and western base of the Republican Party. There was some truth in that. The bulk of the GOP caucus in the House doesn’t care much about the concerns of Northeast Republicans let alone those of anyone else in the region. That’s just one of many concerns that the GOP must confront as it starts thinking about how to win back the White House in 2016. But despite the party’s failings, Christie’s rant illustrates that the lack of communication is a two-way street.

Like his embrace of President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s harangue about the failings of his party will play well in New Jersey. Indeed, the shift in recent months of the focus of the governor’s notoriously short temper from union bosses and liberals to right-wing Republicans—and the latter’s criticism of him—has been exactly what his re-election campaign needed. His approval ratings have reached the point where the most formidable Democrats in the state like Newark Mayor Cory Booker have abandoned the idea of running for governor. But if Christie is as serious about running for president in 2016 as many of his fans think he is, it’s time to realize that the conceit that he can be a moderate at home and a conservative in the rest of the country isn’t going to work.

Christie isn’t the first blue state governor to run into this conundrum. Mitt Romney, whose presidential candidacy was famously left out of most of Christie’s keynote speech at last year’s Republican convention thought that it was possible to run to the left while seeking the approval of the voters of Massachusetts and then tack hard right once he was running for the presidency. While he was able to capture the GOP nod on his second try, the tag of flip-flopper haunted his campaigns and undermined his efforts to win the support of both conservatives and centrists.

Christie’s case is admittedly quite different. He was elected to the governorship in 2009 without giving up his pro-life beliefs and became a cult favorite among conservatives after that via YouTube videos in which he told off liberals who had the temerity to challenge his positions.

But unlike Romney, Christie had no intention of being a one-term governor. Though it is possible that approval of his commonsense approach to budgetary matters might have earned him re-election anyway, it’s more than obvious that he decided that the only guarantee of victory is to create some distance between himself and elements of his party that are unpopular in New Jersey. While the hurricane incident could have been explained away as an extraordinary circumstance that was caused more the emergency than any political calculation, this latest example of Christie denouncing Republicans is part of his re-election strategy. The fact that Congress subsequently passed the bill will enhance his already strong position at home.

He will have little cause to regret his attacks on Republicans in 2013 and it’s likely that a smashing re-election victory this November will fuel more Christie for President talk among Republicans who hope his unique appeal is the GOP’s best hope for 2016.

But anyone who thinks his intemperate defense of a pork-laden bill and eagerness to separate himself from his party will be forgotten three years from now when Republicans are picking a presidential candidate is making assumptions that can’t be backed up. As Politico notes, conservatives are starting to realize that while it might have been amusing to watch Christie bully liberals, it isn’t so funny when they are the target. Every instance in which Christie attacks his party will provide fodder to primary opponents who will charge him with being exactly the opposite of his image: a two-faced politician who tailors his message to suit his audience’s tastes. The dynamic that leads Northeastern Republicans to run against their own party is something that is likely to haunt Christie if tries to follow in Romney’s footsteps. 

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Down the Garden Path With Iran Again

The Iranian nuclear threat has been on the back burner in recent months, as first the United States and now Israel have been distracted by elections. But the reported comments of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during a visit to India about Tehran’s interest in another round of talks with the West are sure to revive the hopes of those who believe in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” to resolve the issue.

But the question to be asked about this is not so much whether there will be more talks but whether both the Iranians and their Western negotiating partners have the same motive for continuing what can only be described as the charade of a diplomatic process. If President Obama is prepared to engage in a repeat of last year’s P5+1 fiasco that took up the better part of a year doing nothing but allowing the Iranians to get that much closer to their nuclear goal, then it will be difficult to argue that he is not doing the same thing as the Iranians: stalling until it is too late to do anything about an Iranian bomb.

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The Iranian nuclear threat has been on the back burner in recent months, as first the United States and now Israel have been distracted by elections. But the reported comments of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during a visit to India about Tehran’s interest in another round of talks with the West are sure to revive the hopes of those who believe in the existence of a “window of diplomacy” to resolve the issue.

But the question to be asked about this is not so much whether there will be more talks but whether both the Iranians and their Western negotiating partners have the same motive for continuing what can only be described as the charade of a diplomatic process. If President Obama is prepared to engage in a repeat of last year’s P5+1 fiasco that took up the better part of a year doing nothing but allowing the Iranians to get that much closer to their nuclear goal, then it will be difficult to argue that he is not doing the same thing as the Iranians: stalling until it is too late to do anything about an Iranian bomb.

The Iranian motive for their attempt to lure the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 group back into another round of negotiations is obvious. Having some sort of diplomatic process in place no matter how hopeless its prospects is the only way to ensure that they are not attacked by Israel next spring and summer. It is also their only path toward persuading the international community to loosen up enforcement of the economic sanctions that have been hurting the Iranian economy and to stop the enactment of even more stringent measures against them. They want to do what they have been doing since the middle of the George W. Bush administration: run out the clock on the West while their nuclear program gets closer to completion.

The motives of the Obama administration and the rest of the P5+1 club are ostensibly very different. Some in Washington may still think the ayatollahs can be talked out of their nuclear ambitions. Others may believe that the sanctions that are making life difficult for ordinary Iranians may eventually force the regime to bend.

But after so many trips down the diplomatic garden path with the Iranians, it is hard to believe that the Obama administration is foolish enough to think another tête-à-tête or two with Tehran’s representatives will accomplish what eight years of dead-end talks didn’t do.

Were the West to step up the sanctions against Iran and tighten the noose on its economy to the point where the country’s oil exports were completely shut down, there might be a theoretical chance of success. But there are few signs that the president is interested in doing that and little chance that he could get the Russians and the Chinese to go along even if he did want to get tougher. Though the current restrictions on commerce with Iran have inflicted much pain, enforcement has been sporadic and there is no sign that the resolve of the Islamist regime has been even slightly affected.

The West will continue to engage in talks they know won’t succeed in no small measure because the alternatives–more sanctions and credible threats of the use of force–don’t appear to be in the cards. Until that changes, the Iranians are probably right to think all they have to do is to wait them out.

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Mr. Obama’s Planet

Saul Bellow used to joke that while the unexamined life is not worth living, the examined life will make you wish you were dead. The political equivalent might be that we can’t live with taxation without representation, but taxation with representation is going to kill us. 

By “us,” I mean those of us who like to find out what’s in a bill before Congress passes it; who would like our representatives to read bills before they vote on them; who want to see hearings on legislation before it is brought to a vote; and who would like to have it posted on a website for a few days before it is signed into law–just in case we have some questions after we find out what’s in it. For such people, Senator Rand Paul’s description of the Senate’s action in passing a $600 billion tax increase this week will be discouraging: 

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Saul Bellow used to joke that while the unexamined life is not worth living, the examined life will make you wish you were dead. The political equivalent might be that we can’t live with taxation without representation, but taxation with representation is going to kill us. 

By “us,” I mean those of us who like to find out what’s in a bill before Congress passes it; who would like our representatives to read bills before they vote on them; who want to see hearings on legislation before it is brought to a vote; and who would like to have it posted on a website for a few days before it is signed into law–just in case we have some questions after we find out what’s in it. For such people, Senator Rand Paul’s description of the Senate’s action in passing a $600 billion tax increase this week will be discouraging: 

I think it was 2:00 in the morning, and everybody kind of wanted to go home. And so I think nobody had a chance really to read the bill. I’m not sure the bill really was even around for anybody to read at 2:00 in the morning. It certainly defied all of the rules that we have in the Senate. We have one specific rule that says bills have to be online for 48 hours. So when things get thrown together hurriedly in the night, people have no idea what’s in these bills. 

At least the tax increase was called a tax increase. In 2010, President Obama pushed through Congress (at the last moment, with no hearings) a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income, calling it a “Medicare contribution.” But it was not a “contribution” and it had nothing to do with Medicare: it had no effect on the Medicare benefits of the person making the “contribution;” it had no effect on the Medicare benefits of anyone else; the revenue from the “contribution” did not go to the Medicare Trust Fund, but rather straight to the Treasury’s general fund, to be spent on things other than Medicare. 

The individual mandate under Obamacare will be enforced by what the legislation called a “shared responsibility payment.” None dared call it a “tax” while it was being considered, but when it got to the Supreme Court, the Obama administration argued a tax is what it was. Chief Justice John Roberts upheld it as a new kind of tax–a tax for not doing something. It used to be that taxes were levied on income earned or things done. Now we have “shared responsibility payments” for not doing what Congress wants us to do (although the chief justice agreed Congress had no power to require us to do it). Undoubtedly there will be more “failure-to-do-it” taxes in the future, now that they have been constitutionally blessed.

It would take an extraordinary novelist to come up with concepts like these–“shared responsibility payments” that are not “taxes” when they are considered but become new kinds of “taxes” after they’re passed; new “Medicare contributions” that don’t go to Medicare or its “trust fund;” $600 billion tax increases considered by the world’s greatest deliberative body at two in the morning, without the benefit of hearings or public comment or even a text. The resulting novel wouldn’t sell as fiction–no one would willingly suspend disbelief. But as non-fiction it might do quite well.

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Report: Obama Preparing to Nominate Hagel

There have been conflicting reports today on whether Chuck Hagel is still a serious contender for the defense secretary nomination. But this story comes from Josh Rogin, who has led the pack on the Chuck Hagel reporting ever since he broke the news that the former senator was being vetted for the position. And according to Rogin, the White House is preparing to go ahead with the nomination:

White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president’s choice to be the replace Leon Panetta at the helm of the Pentagon, but several sources close to the process said have told The Cable that the White House and Hagel have been in touch on a regular basis and that Hagel is indeed the expected pick. Decisions about the timing and logistics of the announcement are being finalized now.

The Cable had previously confirmed that Hagel successfully complete the vetting process, as have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.

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There have been conflicting reports today on whether Chuck Hagel is still a serious contender for the defense secretary nomination. But this story comes from Josh Rogin, who has led the pack on the Chuck Hagel reporting ever since he broke the news that the former senator was being vetted for the position. And according to Rogin, the White House is preparing to go ahead with the nomination:

White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president’s choice to be the replace Leon Panetta at the helm of the Pentagon, but several sources close to the process said have told The Cable that the White House and Hagel have been in touch on a regular basis and that Hagel is indeed the expected pick. Decisions about the timing and logistics of the announcement are being finalized now.

The Cable had previously confirmed that Hagel successfully complete the vetting process, as have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.

Based on Bill Kristol’s editorial this morning, it sounds like his sources are saying something similar:

It looks, though, as if President Obama may be determined to nominate Chuck Hagel. If he does, he will be doing himself and the nation a disservice. The next secretary of defense should be a well-respected mainstream national security leader, not an out-of-the-mainstream mediocrity. So if the president nominates Chuck Hagel, we would expect a vigorous examination of the Hagel record by senators of both parties, followed by the United States Senate withholding its consent to his selection as secretary of defense. This would give the president another chance to select a man or woman of distinction for this high office, one who would command widespread support and would be confirmed easily. And this would be a better outcome for our military, the Defense Department, and the nation.

Nothing is certain until Obama makes the announcement. If he does nominate Hagel, it was an odd political strategy to let him get his nose bloodied by the media and critics for nearly a month without stepping in and defending him. Maybe the White House figured the opposition would use up its best arguments and tire out after a few weeks. But based on some of the new and damaging stories coming out about Hagel, I’m not sure that was a wise bet. If anything, the Hagel opposition has solidified, and he’s in for a serious fight in the Senate if he’s the pick. He’d be facing off against Senate Armed Services Committee members who fundamentally disagree with him on foreign policy, including John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte. Democrats on the committee have also expressed concerns

One thing is certain. If Obama is willing to put up with all of that for a nominee, he must be really invested in this guy. And considering Hagel’s views–which are ostensibly out-of-step with Obama’s–that raises serious doubts about whether the president’s true positions on Iran, Israel and national defense are the same as the ones he’s claimed publicly.

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Congratulations to Malala Yousufzai

Malala Yousufzai, the Pashtun schoolgirl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt in Pakistan’s tribal region, today has left the hospital. Her recovery is not yet complete, and she will also undergo facial reconstruction surgery. The Pakistani government—which once tried to cut a deal with the same groups that targeted Malala and tried to deny her and her peers education solely on the basis of their gender—did the right thing by appointing her father to the Pakistani consulate so that the family might stay in the United Kingdom for the near future.

Malala’s ordeal should be a wake up call for the West. Momentum matters. Obama’s plans to withdraw “on schedule” from Afghanistan will imbue the Taliban with power they have not seen for more than a decade. They will claim that they have defeated two superpowers, and no amount of White House spin or historical fact-checking will change that perception among their Islamist followers. The idea that the Afghan government will stand on its own replicates the Soviet dream that Najibullah would last forever. As Najibullah learned, as soon as the foreign money runs out and the international community starts negotiating with his enemies, all is lost.

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Malala Yousufzai, the Pashtun schoolgirl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt in Pakistan’s tribal region, today has left the hospital. Her recovery is not yet complete, and she will also undergo facial reconstruction surgery. The Pakistani government—which once tried to cut a deal with the same groups that targeted Malala and tried to deny her and her peers education solely on the basis of their gender—did the right thing by appointing her father to the Pakistani consulate so that the family might stay in the United Kingdom for the near future.

Malala’s ordeal should be a wake up call for the West. Momentum matters. Obama’s plans to withdraw “on schedule” from Afghanistan will imbue the Taliban with power they have not seen for more than a decade. They will claim that they have defeated two superpowers, and no amount of White House spin or historical fact-checking will change that perception among their Islamist followers. The idea that the Afghan government will stand on its own replicates the Soviet dream that Najibullah would last forever. As Najibullah learned, as soon as the foreign money runs out and the international community starts negotiating with his enemies, all is lost.

Malala’s struggle also highlights international naivete about the Muslim Brotherhood. Malala deserved the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize; what we got instead was pap. In 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize went, in part, to Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni political activist from a Muslim Brotherhood background. It was the latter rather than the former which swayed the Nobel Committee: The head of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee told the Associated Press, “Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.’ He added that ‘I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.’”

The true stance of the Muslim Brotherhood and their offshoots with regard to democracy should now be glaringly obvious, be it in Turkey, in Egypt, in Gaza, or elsewhere. Karman was given the Nobel Prize not only to be a voice for women in Yemen, but also elsewhere. Despite her frequent travels, she did not bother to visit Malala, however, let alone condemn the atrocity perpetrated against her by militant Islamists. Silence can be deafening, especially when it comes from a bully pulpit.

Let us hope that Malala continues her recovery, continues her advocacy, and makes her voice strong. She is more worthy as a bully pulpit and embraces a good cause. Her voice and those of many like her will be sadly needed as Afghans again prepare to face a movement that seeks to drive the status of women back centuries.

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Cuomo Puts First Things First: Re-election

The technologies of “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are rapidly transforming the world’s energy situation. These technologies make it possible to tap into vast deposits of both natural gas and oil in shale layers around the world. The United States is particularly rich in such deposits. American domestic energy production has been rising rapidly (and imports falling commensurately), while our carbon emissions have been falling to the lowest level since 1992, because natural gas is increasingly replacing coal as a fuel in electric generating plants.

And since energy is one of the most important of economic inputs, it is transforming the world’s geopolitics as well, much to the benefit of the United States and many of its allies (such as Canada and Australia) and much to the detriment of such countries as Russia, the Gulf States of the Middle East, and Venezuela.

Naturally, the environmental movement is outraged at these developments.

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The technologies of “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are rapidly transforming the world’s energy situation. These technologies make it possible to tap into vast deposits of both natural gas and oil in shale layers around the world. The United States is particularly rich in such deposits. American domestic energy production has been rising rapidly (and imports falling commensurately), while our carbon emissions have been falling to the lowest level since 1992, because natural gas is increasingly replacing coal as a fuel in electric generating plants.

And since energy is one of the most important of economic inputs, it is transforming the world’s geopolitics as well, much to the benefit of the United States and many of its allies (such as Canada and Australia) and much to the detriment of such countries as Russia, the Gulf States of the Middle East, and Venezuela.

Naturally, the environmental movement is outraged at these developments.

This misnamed movement (it’s actually an anti-commerce movement with more than a tinge of misanthropy about it) is populated almost entirely by members of the upper middle class with comfortable six- and seven-figure incomes. They don’t care what energy costs because even if the costs doubled, it would have no impact whatever on their own standard of living. Their consumption of Chablis and Brie would not have to be cut back.

The environmental movement has disproportionate influence on Democratic politics and if you’d like a perfect example of that, just consider Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

The Marcellus shale is a vast geologic layer underlying much of upstate New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio. It is enormously rich in natural gas that can be accessed with the new technology. Pennsylvania has been exploiting this unexpected bounty with enthusiasm (Power Line has a neat little interactive map showing this). And that has had enormously positive effects on Pennsylvania’s economy and its government’s tax revenues.

The area of New York State underlain by the Marcellus shale has been in an economic depression for decades as its once booming industrial cities, such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, have seen industry flee to areas with better weather, right-to-work laws, and fewer regulations. You would think that the economic possibilities of the Marcellus shale being demonstrated so visibly in the state immediately to the south would cause New York to move quickly to bring increased jobs and mineral royalties to western New York and greatly increased tax revenue to the entire state.

You’d be wrong. The environmentalists are in full Chicken-Little mode (ground-water contamination! fuel spills! greenhouse gases! children refusing to eat their vegetables!) and Governor Cuomo pathetically cowers before them. He (and his predecessor) have been dragging their feet in the time-honored way of politicians, ordering study after study and postponing decisions until the studies are in and evaluated. If the study doesn’t produce the data they want, the study is suppressed. Only when a report was “obtained by the New York Times from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret,” did the people of New York State get to learn that the state Health Department regards gas drilling to be safe.

Of course, Pennsylvania has been an ongoing experiment for the last six years and more as to the safety of gas drilling. If there have been any disasters in the Keystone State with regard to the drilling, recovery, and transportation of gas from the Marcellus shale, it has gone unreported.

The reason Governor Cuomo has, effectively, told upstate New York to drop dead, is, of course, that Democrats running statewide for office win downstate, in New York City and its suburbs. Upstate is Republican country.

So Governor Cuomo is simply being concerned with what is most important to Governor Cuomo: his re-election. The welfare and prosperity of the State of New York come a long way second.

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Obama’s Immigration Dilemma

Last summer, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio was hard at work on an immigration reform bill, it put the White House in an awkward position. President Obama wanted to pass comprehensive immigration reform at some point to add to his legacy. But the timing was miserable for him: Obama wanted the policy victory after the election, lest prominent GOP support for immigrants erode the president’s lopsided advantage among Hispanic voters. So he did the politically expedient thing: he signed an executive order (or more accurately took “executive action”) designed to circumvent, rather than reform, the law.

This was useful for the president in two ways. First, it killed Rubio’s DREAM Act legislation. And second, it checked Republican opposition by forcing them to either oppose the move, which would look like they were opposing immigrants, or keep quiet and let Obama govern without Congress, marginalizing his opposition going forward. But that left the question of what to do about immigration–and Obama’s repeatedly broken promises to address it in comprehensive fashion–in his second term. Apparently governing by executive action is an addictive activity. The president is once again, as the Washington Post reports today, shelving comprehensive immigration reform:

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Last summer, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio was hard at work on an immigration reform bill, it put the White House in an awkward position. President Obama wanted to pass comprehensive immigration reform at some point to add to his legacy. But the timing was miserable for him: Obama wanted the policy victory after the election, lest prominent GOP support for immigrants erode the president’s lopsided advantage among Hispanic voters. So he did the politically expedient thing: he signed an executive order (or more accurately took “executive action”) designed to circumvent, rather than reform, the law.

This was useful for the president in two ways. First, it killed Rubio’s DREAM Act legislation. And second, it checked Republican opposition by forcing them to either oppose the move, which would look like they were opposing immigrants, or keep quiet and let Obama govern without Congress, marginalizing his opposition going forward. But that left the question of what to do about immigration–and Obama’s repeatedly broken promises to address it in comprehensive fashion–in his second term. Apparently governing by executive action is an addictive activity. The president is once again, as the Washington Post reports today, shelving comprehensive immigration reform:

Immigration advocates on Thursday hailed a rule change at the Department of Homeland Security that would make it easier for many undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States as they seek permanent residency, saying it will improve the lives of relatives who could have been separated for years without the changes.

For President Obama — who has called the inability to achieve comprehensive immigration reform among the biggest regrets of his first term — the new policy is among a series of steps his administration has taken over the past year aimed in part at easing the pace of deportations, which have surged during his tenure. Many of the steps came amid a presidential campaign that included sharp disagreements over immigration policy and strong support among Latinos and Asians for Obama.

The centerpiece was Obama’s decision, announced last June, to stop deporting people who were brought to the country as children and have gone on to be productive and otherwise law-abiding residents.

“He is checking off every administrative box he can of what he can do with executive authority that comports with his overall view of immigration policy,” said Angela Kelley, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank allied with the White House.

This demonstrates how effective Obama’s 2012 executive action was in boxing in the GOP. They protested last year, but then the Romney/Ryan ticket lost Hispanics by historic margins, and lost other immigrant groups as well. Chastened by the election returns and demographic trends that threatened to keep punishing the GOP, the party’s rhetoric on the issue took a more positive turn immediately after the presidential election.

What’s notable about the GOP’s response to this week’s move is that there wasn’t one. Obama’s 2012 order gave him the room go big on immigration reform in a second term, but the astounding margin of victory among immigrant groups signaled that politically, Obama–who now doesn’t have to run for reelection and thus feels no great pressure to jump into immigration reform with both feet–need be in no rush to take a polarizing issue that splits the GOP and helps his party electorally off the table.

But what’s the administration’s excuse for delaying reform yet again? It’s that they really, really wanted to do immigration reform early, but Obama’s “timetable has been complicated by the prospect of another round of fiscal negotiations over the debt ceiling in February and the president’s pledge to support a gun-control bill in the wake of the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.”

Of course the president cannot control events. And sure, man plans while God laughs, and all that. But this is a bit disingenuous. Judging by the way the “fiscal cliff” compromise was reached, Vice President Joe Biden is the White House’s negotiator with Congress, not the president–who not only wasn’t participating constructively in the last-minute dealmaking but was happy to demonstrate as much by holding a campaign-style photo op/stand-up comedy routine while Biden and the GOP leadership were busy working.

And speaking of Joe Biden, he’s the one in charge of the gun control issue as well, with the president designating Biden to lead a commission to figure out what legislation, if any, is needed or politically possible in the wake of the shooting. Since “Prime Minister” Biden (as Jonathan so aptly dubbed him yesterday) is working on all the issues that are supposedly taking up the president’s time, Obama went back to finish his Hawaii vacation.

Maybe if immigration proponents really want reform, they should just do what the GOP leadership finally did and go straight to Biden.

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Iran’s Imprisoned Baha’i Infants

President Obama’s outstretched hand has been a death knell to human rights in Iran. First, Obama chose silence against the backdrop of the Iranian regime’s worst abuses in the aftermath of the 2009 post-election uprising. What he had not announced at the time was that he had sent the Iranian supreme leader not one but two letters seeking dialogue, and did not want to upset the self-professed Deputy of the Messiah on Earth by speaking out in support of the Iranian people.

While the press turns to the human rights abuses suffered by ordinary Iranians in the aftermath of the occasional uprising, be it the 1999 student protests, the 2001 football match fixing riot, or the 2009 election unrest, the minority Baha’i community suffers continuously. The problem for the Baha’i boils down to the fact that Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet God would send to man, but the Baha’is believe that God rewards man with new revelations as mankind evolves to the point where he is about to receive them, and so they recognize a couple prophets who have revealed themselves after Muhammad. To be a Baha’i in Iran is to be, from the regime’s point of view, an apostate worthy of imprisonment or death. Iranian Baha’is are often denied entry into universities unless they renounce or deny their faith, and Baha’is who meet together for the purpose of worship or community organization are often imprisoned for years under harsh conditions.

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President Obama’s outstretched hand has been a death knell to human rights in Iran. First, Obama chose silence against the backdrop of the Iranian regime’s worst abuses in the aftermath of the 2009 post-election uprising. What he had not announced at the time was that he had sent the Iranian supreme leader not one but two letters seeking dialogue, and did not want to upset the self-professed Deputy of the Messiah on Earth by speaking out in support of the Iranian people.

While the press turns to the human rights abuses suffered by ordinary Iranians in the aftermath of the occasional uprising, be it the 1999 student protests, the 2001 football match fixing riot, or the 2009 election unrest, the minority Baha’i community suffers continuously. The problem for the Baha’i boils down to the fact that Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet God would send to man, but the Baha’is believe that God rewards man with new revelations as mankind evolves to the point where he is about to receive them, and so they recognize a couple prophets who have revealed themselves after Muhammad. To be a Baha’i in Iran is to be, from the regime’s point of view, an apostate worthy of imprisonment or death. Iranian Baha’is are often denied entry into universities unless they renounce or deny their faith, and Baha’is who meet together for the purpose of worship or community organization are often imprisoned for years under harsh conditions.

Alas, when the Iranian regime targets young mothers, they often imprison their infants under the same harsh conditions. Hence the latest news out of Iran:

Two Baha’i infants imprisoned with their mothers in Semnan Prison, were transferred to hospital due to health deterioration. According to the reports by Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Two Baha’i infants suffering from lung and ear infections, imprisoned with their mothers in Semnan prison’s Women Ward (one of the worst prisons in Iran), were transferred to hospital. Zahra Nik-A’in and Taraneh Torabi, Baha’i citizens who were sentenced to 23 and 20 months in prison, respectively, are serving their sentences at Semnana Prison despite being mothers of infants. Zahra has an 11-month old son, and Taraneh has a five-month old son. All of them are severely sick and need immediate medical care.

The Iranian regime has become masterful at stringing the Obama administration and State Department along: Hold out the hope of talks, and know that U.S. officials will self-censor their criticism out of desperation for a dialogue which Iran only insincerely embraces. Let us hope that someone in the White House will at least take the time to see the faces of Iran’s youngest victims.

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Mark Kirk Walks the Capitol Steps

Senator Mark Kirk made his return to Capitol Hill yesterday, nearly one year after suffering a stroke that almost cost him his life and forced him to relearn how to use the left side of his body. Kirk’s goal through recovery has been to walk the steps leading up to the U.S. Capitol, and he succeeded yesterday morning

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Senator Mark Kirk made his return to Capitol Hill yesterday, nearly one year after suffering a stroke that almost cost him his life and forced him to relearn how to use the left side of his body. Kirk’s goal through recovery has been to walk the steps leading up to the U.S. Capitol, and he succeeded yesterday morning

But relearning how to walk hasn’t been Kirk’s only focus during his months of rehabilitation. Since waking up from surgery last year, he’s also been working tirelessly to strengthen sanctions on Iran, as I outlined recently in the Weekly Standard. This week, Kirk gave an emotional account about what he saw while undergoing brain surgery (“angels” with “New York accents”), and how the experience has only made him more driven and goal-focused. With national security hawks like Senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl stepping down, and Iran’s nuclear program becoming the U.S.’s main geopolitical concern, it’s more essential than ever to have strong voices on foreign policy in the Senate. Congratulations to Kirk for reaching his big goal, and best wishes for continued progress in his recovery.

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The CIA’s Big Year on the Big Screen

This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012’s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

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This past year was a banner year for the CIA on celluloid. Normally the intelligence agency’s operatives are seen in movies as murderous bad guys abusing their power–see for example any of the “Bourne” films or the Denzel Washington flick “Safe House.” This is a theme that dates back to the Church Committee’s revelations of CIA abuses in the 1970s, which prompted paranoid movies like Robert Redford’s “Three Days of the Condor” and Warren Beatty’s “Parallax View.”

But a different–and more truthful–view of the agency’s operations has been presented in 2012’s “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which highlight its triumphs: in the first instance, smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis using a clever ruse of making a science-fiction movie; in the second instance, tracking down Osama bin Laden, making possible the SEAL Team Six raid that ended with his death.

What controversy the movies have aroused has been mainly about the torture scenes depicted at the beginning of “Zero Dark Thirty,” because the movie is hardly out to make even the brutal CIA interrogators out to be bad guys; it is noncommittal in its depiction of them and might even be said to skew the audience’s perspective in their favor by beginning the movie with the sounds of 9/11 to remind viewers of why they are willing to manhandle detainees.

But both films, while focusing on successful operations, also highlight some of the agency’s problems.

Ben Affleck and Jessica Chastain play dedicated, highly effective, if relatively junior, CIA personnel based on real-life models–he a clandestine service operative who specializes in exfiltrations, she an analyst working the Osama bin Laden file. Both are convinced, rightly, that they have figured out the solution to a difficult problem: how to get the diplomats out and how to track down bin Laden, respectively. And both consistently find that they are stymied by their own managers who are risk averse to a fault. Affleck nearly has his plan scuttled while carrying it out; Chastain has to constantly badger and harass her superiors to get them to devote the necessary resources to the manhunt amid many other distractions.

Thus both movies highlight the real problem with the CIA. It is not an agency made up of ruthless killers with goon squads standing by to dispose of troublesome agents, as shown in the “Bourne” movies. It is actually a hyper-cautious bureaucracy that too often fails to take chances because superiors are more motivated by covering their collective derrieres than by getting the job done. Thank goodness there are passionate risk-takers like the ones depicted by Affleck and Chastain who really do work for the Agency. Problem is, top Agency executives need to prune back the bureaucracy to let their stars shine.

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The Jobs Report

It’s another dreary jobs report out this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, detailing yet another month of the apparently endless “Obama Recovery,” the worst since the Great Depression lingered on and on in the 1930s.

Employment rose by 155,000 and the unemployment rate stayed the same at 7.8 percent (the November unemployment rate, originally reported at 7.7 percent, was revised upwards a notch in this report). It’s not surprising that it stayed the same, as the civilian workforce rose by 192,000 last month. In other words, job growth is barely keeping pace with population growth. And part of the job growth is probably due to Hurricane Sandy, as 30,000 construction jobs were added in December, not ordinarily a good month for construction jobs.

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It’s another dreary jobs report out this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, detailing yet another month of the apparently endless “Obama Recovery,” the worst since the Great Depression lingered on and on in the 1930s.

Employment rose by 155,000 and the unemployment rate stayed the same at 7.8 percent (the November unemployment rate, originally reported at 7.7 percent, was revised upwards a notch in this report). It’s not surprising that it stayed the same, as the civilian workforce rose by 192,000 last month. In other words, job growth is barely keeping pace with population growth. And part of the job growth is probably due to Hurricane Sandy, as 30,000 construction jobs were added in December, not ordinarily a good month for construction jobs.

Unemployment for blacks (14.0 percent) and teenagers (23.5 percent) remained dismal, as did unemployment for those aged 18-29 at 11.5 percent. Long-term unemployment is stuck at 4.8 million, or 39.1 percent of all unemployed, and 7.9 million are working part-time although they would rather work full-time. The number of employed people as a percentage of the total population remains at 58.6, the same as it was a year ago. That is not exactly a sign of a recovery that is gathering steam.

Why is the dismal Obama recovery so much like the dismal Roosevelt recovery of the 1930s? Could it be because both presidents pursued the same policies—high taxes on high-income earners, greatly increased regulation on business, government “investment,” and redistribution of wealth? Yep, it could be.

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Hagel: “Let the Jews Pay for it”

Adam Kredo reports that Chuck Hagel’s anti-Israel animosity was obvious well before his career in Congress. While heading up the USO, he clashed with Jewish leaders over a USO port in Haifa:

Hagel, who served as president and CEO of the World USO from 1987 to 1990, expressed intense opposition to the USO Haifa Center during a tumultuous 1989 meeting with Jewish leaders, according to multiple sources involved in the fight to keep the post open.

“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it’,” said Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which led the battle to keep USO Haifa operational. …

“He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we’, he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it,” said Halteman, who recalled being taken aback by the comment.

“I told him at the time that I found his comments to be anti-Semitic,” she said. “He was playing into that dual loyalty thing.”

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Adam Kredo reports that Chuck Hagel’s anti-Israel animosity was obvious well before his career in Congress. While heading up the USO, he clashed with Jewish leaders over a USO port in Haifa:

Hagel, who served as president and CEO of the World USO from 1987 to 1990, expressed intense opposition to the USO Haifa Center during a tumultuous 1989 meeting with Jewish leaders, according to multiple sources involved in the fight to keep the post open.

“He said to me, ‘Let the Jews pay for it’,” said Marsha Halteman, director for military and law enforcement programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which led the battle to keep USO Haifa operational. …

“He essentially told us that if we wanted to keep the USO [in Haifa] open—and when I say ‘we’, he meant ‘the Jews’—he said the Jews could pay for it,” said Halteman, who recalled being taken aback by the comment.

“I told him at the time that I found his comments to be anti-Semitic,” she said. “He was playing into that dual loyalty thing.”

Eventually, a Jewish member of the USO board helped bring in money to keep it open, reports Kredo. But the fact that Hagel went out of his way to oppose the Israeli USO port–over objections from the pro-Israel community, the Navy, and Congress–is part of a pattern. His response about the “Jews” paying for it, because it was in Israel, is also revealing. While Hagel’s supporters will likely argue that this happened back in the late 1980s, that hardly means it should be discounted. In fact, it shows how deep-seated Hagel’s hostility toward the Jewish state has been.

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The Al Jazeera Liberals

The sale of Al Gore’s Current TV to Al Jazeera is apparently more than just a business deal in which the world’s most prominent critic of fossil fuels made a fortune with an oil-rich emirate. According to the New York Times editorial page, the creation of a new Al Jazeera America is a blow struck for diversity in journalism. The Times feels Time Warner Cable is wrong to drop the new channel from its broadcast lineup. The implication is that those who have expressed shock or outrage about the spectacle of a former vice president of the United States becoming not merely a business partner but an advocate for a network that is well known for its anti-American and anti-Israel bias are either narrow-minded or in some way prejudiced against Arabs and Muslims.

The idea that the general disgust about Gore’s $100 million Arab oil windfall is more evidence of American parochialism or prejudice is absurd. No one is trying to censor Al Jazeera. If there are enough American viewers who want to watch news broadcast from the perspective of the channel’s Qatari government owners, then cable providers will give it to them and they are welcome to it. But that doesn’t obligate Time Warner or any other distributor to give it valuable space on a list of available channels if there aren’t enough viewers to justify such a decision. After all, those who want to look at the world from the point of view of those who promote 9/11 truther myths and who sympathize with those who fought the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan can always watch Al Jazeera on the Internet or find other outlier niches to hold their attention.

The real issue here is not a false argument about diversity. It is instead one about what it means to be a liberal in today’s media environment. As Alana noted yesterday, Gore refused to sell his channel to conservative Glenn Beck saying that he didn’t wish to see his vanity project fall into the hands of those who disagreed with his politics. Fair enough. But the fact that Gore sees Al Jazeera as a good match for his brand of American liberalism speaks volumes about the nature of that set of beliefs.

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The sale of Al Gore’s Current TV to Al Jazeera is apparently more than just a business deal in which the world’s most prominent critic of fossil fuels made a fortune with an oil-rich emirate. According to the New York Times editorial page, the creation of a new Al Jazeera America is a blow struck for diversity in journalism. The Times feels Time Warner Cable is wrong to drop the new channel from its broadcast lineup. The implication is that those who have expressed shock or outrage about the spectacle of a former vice president of the United States becoming not merely a business partner but an advocate for a network that is well known for its anti-American and anti-Israel bias are either narrow-minded or in some way prejudiced against Arabs and Muslims.

The idea that the general disgust about Gore’s $100 million Arab oil windfall is more evidence of American parochialism or prejudice is absurd. No one is trying to censor Al Jazeera. If there are enough American viewers who want to watch news broadcast from the perspective of the channel’s Qatari government owners, then cable providers will give it to them and they are welcome to it. But that doesn’t obligate Time Warner or any other distributor to give it valuable space on a list of available channels if there aren’t enough viewers to justify such a decision. After all, those who want to look at the world from the point of view of those who promote 9/11 truther myths and who sympathize with those who fought the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan can always watch Al Jazeera on the Internet or find other outlier niches to hold their attention.

The real issue here is not a false argument about diversity. It is instead one about what it means to be a liberal in today’s media environment. As Alana noted yesterday, Gore refused to sell his channel to conservative Glenn Beck saying that he didn’t wish to see his vanity project fall into the hands of those who disagreed with his politics. Fair enough. But the fact that Gore sees Al Jazeera as a good match for his brand of American liberalism speaks volumes about the nature of that set of beliefs.

Most Americans still think of Al Jazeera as the network that was Osama bin Laden’s outlet to the world in the years after 9/11. Since then, it has earned a reputation in some quarters as the best source of news about the Arab and Muslim world, especially during the Arab Spring protests. But its perspective remains one in which the United States and Israel are routinely pilloried and where terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are depicted as freedom fighters.

I don’t worry about Al Jazeera being able to persuade most Americans to buy into this skewed view of the world. What is worrisome is that Gore and other liberals such as the editorial writers at the Times seem to think there is a connection between this perspective and contemporary American liberalism.

Though the overwhelming majority of Americans reject this point of view and are strong supporters of Israel, polls have consistently shown us that liberals and Democrats are less likely to back the Jewish state than conservatives and Republicans. At the beginning of his career Gore was seen as the leader of the next generation of Scoop Jackson Democrats. That Al Gore would never have gotten into bed with Al Jazeera. But in his current incarnation as hypocritical environmental huckster and profiteer he seems to reflect the way the left has abandoned the principles that once united Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. While conservatives and liberals have plenty to argue about, one would have hoped that they would be united in their revulsion against the kind of bias that Al Jazeera exemplifies. If indeed there is a connection between Al Jazeera’s views and contemporary liberalism, there is a sickness on the left that ought to trouble all Americans.

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