Commentary Magazine


Topic: gas prices

The Costs of Inaction on Iran

Last month, liberal outlets touted a report aimed at stifling calls for action on Iran. “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran” was seen as the definitive answer to those calling for the establishment of red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. The report, sponsored by The Iran Project, was signed and endorsed by an all-star cast of foreign policy establishment figures (including some who have a record of hostility toward Israel) who were eager to support a study that purported to prove that an attack on Iran’s facilities would not be worth the effort in the event that the United States were to decide that all other options had been exhausted in the effort to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That report’s one-sided arguments were all that was needed for those who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about American action on Iran to claim that the military option ought not be considered. But the biggest problem with the study was the question it did not ask: What are the costs of doing nothing about Iran?

That more pressing question is answered by a new study that has just been published by the Foreign Policy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, “The Costs of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran.” The report acknowledges that taking action entails courting severe risks for the United States, the West and Israel. But it makes clear that these not inconsiderable dangers pale beside the consequences of a policy rooted in a foolish belief that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions. The result will be the creation of an Islamist nuclear power led not by rational military figures such as in Pakistan but by a theocracy whose extremist leaders may well seek to use such weapons as well as to employ them to back up their terrorist auxiliaries. But less understood is the way a nuclear Iran would have a significant impact on the cost and supply of oil. While Americans are understandably war weary after a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, they need to know that listening to the counsels of those who wish to accommodate or ignore the Iranian threat will lead not just to a more unstable Middle East but bring with it a rise in the price of oil that could lead to them paying as much as an extra $1.40 per gallon of gas at the pump.

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Last month, liberal outlets touted a report aimed at stifling calls for action on Iran. “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran” was seen as the definitive answer to those calling for the establishment of red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. The report, sponsored by The Iran Project, was signed and endorsed by an all-star cast of foreign policy establishment figures (including some who have a record of hostility toward Israel) who were eager to support a study that purported to prove that an attack on Iran’s facilities would not be worth the effort in the event that the United States were to decide that all other options had been exhausted in the effort to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That report’s one-sided arguments were all that was needed for those who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about American action on Iran to claim that the military option ought not be considered. But the biggest problem with the study was the question it did not ask: What are the costs of doing nothing about Iran?

That more pressing question is answered by a new study that has just been published by the Foreign Policy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center, “The Costs of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran.” The report acknowledges that taking action entails courting severe risks for the United States, the West and Israel. But it makes clear that these not inconsiderable dangers pale beside the consequences of a policy rooted in a foolish belief that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions. The result will be the creation of an Islamist nuclear power led not by rational military figures such as in Pakistan but by a theocracy whose extremist leaders may well seek to use such weapons as well as to employ them to back up their terrorist auxiliaries. But less understood is the way a nuclear Iran would have a significant impact on the cost and supply of oil. While Americans are understandably war weary after a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, they need to know that listening to the counsels of those who wish to accommodate or ignore the Iranian threat will lead not just to a more unstable Middle East but bring with it a rise in the price of oil that could lead to them paying as much as an extra $1.40 per gallon of gas at the pump.

The bipartisan study analyzes a number of different scenarios that would likely arise in the event of Iran reaching its nuclear goal. Among them is domestic instability in Saudi Arabia, the destruction of Saudi oil facilities and the possibility of nuclear exchanges between Iran and Israel as well as Saudi Arabia, which would almost certainly try to acquire nukes if its dangerous Gulf rival got them.

All those scenarios point not just to the possibility of catastrophe in terms of lives lost and regimes toppled, but to disruptions in the global oil supply that will devastate economies and lead to price spikes that will be felt far away from the battlefields of the Middle East.

The futility of the P5+1 negotiations and the other attempts to talk the ayatollahs out of their nuclear plans show that faith in diplomacy and sanctions not backed up by a credible use of force means only one thing: a nuclear Iran. While the study lauded by the New York Times that sought to caution against the use of force pointed to problems that would arise from military action, the Bipartisan Center’s analysis gives a clearer picture of what will happen if the “realists” get their way.

Containment of Iran is, as even President Obama has conceded, not a viable option. Without the red lines sought by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that imply that force will be used if Iran continues to prevaricate on this question, the world will be faced with a terrible choice. But that choice is not between a world spared from the after shocks of military action and one in which Iran is denied nuclear weapons. It is between using force and facing the sort of catastrophic consequences that will create economic chaos as well as untold human suffering. Looked at in that way, it’s really not much of a choice at all.

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Another Legislative Defeat for Obama

Another (not totally unexpected) defeat for one of President Obama’s legislative proposals today. This time, the Senate rejected a measure to repeal oil company tax breaks, which the president urged them to pass in a stern speech this morning. The vote wasn’t completely split along party lines, with two Republicans supporting the measure and four Democrats opposing it.

Obama will continue to frame this as the GOP protecting the interests of Big Oil, but the fact that it failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate takes the edge off that slightly:

Obama has sought to deflect blame for high gas prices, in part by casting Republicans as allies of big oil companies. He used a Rose Garden speech to urge lawmakers to back the plan.

“Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make,” Obama said. “They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.”

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Another (not totally unexpected) defeat for one of President Obama’s legislative proposals today. This time, the Senate rejected a measure to repeal oil company tax breaks, which the president urged them to pass in a stern speech this morning. The vote wasn’t completely split along party lines, with two Republicans supporting the measure and four Democrats opposing it.

Obama will continue to frame this as the GOP protecting the interests of Big Oil, but the fact that it failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate takes the edge off that slightly:

Obama has sought to deflect blame for high gas prices, in part by casting Republicans as allies of big oil companies. He used a Rose Garden speech to urge lawmakers to back the plan.

“Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make,” Obama said. “They can stand with big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people.”

I know this fits nicely with Obama’s class warfare strategy, but it sounds completely counterintuitive. Even if there’s no hard evidence that repealing these tax breaks would raise the price of gas at the pump, it still sounds like a reasonable outcome to the average voter. And that’s the argument the GOP has been making:

Republicans alleged the Democratic proposal would hit struggling consumers.

“That was their brilliant plan on how to deal with gas prices: raise taxes on energy companies; when gas is already hovering around $4 a gallon, then block consideration of anything else, just to make sure gas prices don’t go anywhere but up,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said the bill “is not a policy that will do anything but increase the price at the pump and decrease supply.”

“That is the opposite of what we need,” Vitter said on the floor ahead of the vote.

So there is honest disagreement about whether repealing tax breaks for oil companies would raise gas prices. But everyone can at least agree it certainly won’t lower the price at the pump. Which is why this is a puzzling and politically stupid move for the Democrats. Their plan to deal with high gas prices isn’t even designed to lower high gas prices.

Instead, the plan was to use the extra money from ending the tax breaks to invest in green energy programs and pay down the deficit. Ending the tax breaks would bring in an estimated $2 billion per year. Our national debt is nearly $16 trillion. So, enough said on that.

As for using the money to invest in green energy, Obama’s stimulus allotted $38.6 billion for a green energy loan program that has been a disaster. Another $2 billion per year is not going to change that. The purpose of repealing the tax breaks for oil companies is more about Obama’s views on fairness than about achieving any practical purpose. And that fact isn’t going to be lost on the general public.

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Obama’s Energy Tour a Political Disaster

President Obama’s energy tour was supposed to placate public anger over rising gas prices, and show voters that the White House is taking their concerns seriously. Instead, the tour only ended up highlighting Obama’s dismal energy record, and gave Republicans ample opportunity to make their case to the media.

The reason is that Americans have heard these promises from Obama before, and know better than to expect results.

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President Obama’s energy tour was supposed to placate public anger over rising gas prices, and show voters that the White House is taking their concerns seriously. Instead, the tour only ended up highlighting Obama’s dismal energy record, and gave Republicans ample opportunity to make their case to the media.

The reason is that Americans have heard these promises from Obama before, and know better than to expect results.

“We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” Obama said in a major address last March. But apparently he can, and he did, because his administration squirmed out of making a decision on the Keystone XL months ago when gas prices weren’t a major concern, and is now trying to pretend it loves nothing more than drilling domestic oil.

If there was any way Obama could back out of his decision to kill the Keystone XL, he probably would. But at this point there’s not much he can do, short of acknowledging that his excuse for delaying the pipeline decision for another year was essentially a political stunt. So he’s out on the campaign trail giving ostentatious displays of support for the southern leg of the pipeline, which doesn’t even need the administration’s approval to begin with.

The charade isn’t even working with members of the president’s own party:

“I think it’s the most idiotic political move I’ve ever seen,” said Cardoza, who supports the pipeline. The California Democrat said the president needs to make a decision one way or another and stick to it.

If he’s going to build it, “do it, take your lumps, be done with it,” he added.

Cardoza said the latest maneuver amounts to “highlighting a waffle.”

“They don’t build statues to wafflers,” he said.

And Obama hasn’t just succeeded in aggravating Keystone XL supporters. He’s also managed to anger the pipeline’s opponents as well:

National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Larry Schweiger said the president had taken a “dangerous wrong turn on energy.”

“Rushing pipelines and drill rigs for rich oil executives will only delay the investments we need in renewable energy and create long-lasting damage to our waters and lands,” he said in a statement.

Obama thought he could walk the middle line on this issue by delaying the Keystone XL decision until after the election. Instead it looks like he might actually end up alienating both sides, which would be a pretty remarkable achievement.

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Obama’s Energy Secretary Gives Himself an A- On Gas Prices

How out of touch is this administration with the struggles of the average American? This out of touch:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): In controlling the cost of gasoline at the pump, do you give yourself an A-?
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: Well, the tools that we have at our disposal are limited, but I would say I would give myself a little higher than that. Since I became Secretary of Energy I’ve been doing everything I can to get long-term solutions.

The statement, made today to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will be general election gold for the GOP, played while images of rising gas prices across the country flicker across the screen.

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How out of touch is this administration with the struggles of the average American? This out of touch:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): In controlling the cost of gasoline at the pump, do you give yourself an A-?
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: Well, the tools that we have at our disposal are limited, but I would say I would give myself a little higher than that. Since I became Secretary of Energy I’ve been doing everything I can to get long-term solutions.

The statement, made today to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will be general election gold for the GOP, played while images of rising gas prices across the country flicker across the screen.

Secretary Chu stated that the tools at the administration’s disposal are limited and this is not completely devoid of truth. This administration cannot, as much as it might want to, order oil companies to lower the price of fuel. It cannot order states to lower taxes on purchases made at the pump. While this may be the case, the Secretary neglects to give himself credit for what his office has done to damage energy policy since taking office. Today Politico reports about the same hearing:

“After hundreds of thousands of pages of documents sent over, there’s not any whiff that this [Solyndra] was a politically influenced decision,” Chu told reporters Tuesday shortly after wrapping up House committee testimony on the controversial program. “That’s true of all the loans.”

The American people pay enough attention to notice that a major gas pipeline wasn’t approved as their fuel prices continue to skyrocket, they’ve seen millions of dollars set aside for “green energy” projects vanish into thin air.

My cousin, normally apolitical, has taken to posting Facebook pictures of his $100+ weekly trips to the pump. He may not notice many political events, but he’s noticed his fuel expenditures breaking his business’ bottom line over the last several months. Come November, most Americans will tell pollsters they care most about social issues, foreign policy and economic plans. When they go to pull the lever, however, they’ll be thinking about how much they just spent in gas to get to the polling station. And if the GOP plays their cards right, they’ll also be thinking about the President’s Energy Secretary that pats himself on the back for a job well done.

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Has Romney Found A Message?

The risk in pegging an election campaign to a specific issue is that the issue will be eclipsed by another or will fade in importance on its own. The campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have responded in different ways to slightly better jobs numbers. The Washington Post yesterday asked if foreign policy could end up playing a more significant role in the election than previously expected, though the Post notes that exit polling has not backed this up.

Economic fluctuation and the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of data make economic forecasting a less stable foundation of an election campaign than, say, asking simply if the public thinks they are better off now than they were four years ago. Gas prices have dented President Obama’s poll numbers recently, but that, too, may change. Romney, the more likely nominee, will have a less compelling argument against ObamaCare, for obvious reasons, though he can still run on his promise to repeal it. But beyond that, the question remains what kind of general election message will Romney present? He seems to have located one yesterday, and will be helped by Paul Ryan’s budget speech today.

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The risk in pegging an election campaign to a specific issue is that the issue will be eclipsed by another or will fade in importance on its own. The campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have responded in different ways to slightly better jobs numbers. The Washington Post yesterday asked if foreign policy could end up playing a more significant role in the election than previously expected, though the Post notes that exit polling has not backed this up.

Economic fluctuation and the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of data make economic forecasting a less stable foundation of an election campaign than, say, asking simply if the public thinks they are better off now than they were four years ago. Gas prices have dented President Obama’s poll numbers recently, but that, too, may change. Romney, the more likely nominee, will have a less compelling argument against ObamaCare, for obvious reasons, though he can still run on his promise to repeal it. But beyond that, the question remains what kind of general election message will Romney present? He seems to have located one yesterday, and will be helped by Paul Ryan’s budget speech today.

Felicia Sonmez reports:

“I joke, and I don’t mean to be flip with this — because I actually see truth in it — I don’t see how a young American can vote for a Democrat,” Romney said when asked what economic message he would have for young people.

“I apologize for being so offensive in saying that, but I catch your attention. But I mean, in the humor, there’s some truth there. And I say that for this reason: that party is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, and amounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for.”

He argued that while Democrats support “the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,” the Republican Party is “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.”

“These debts are not frightening to people my age, because we’ll be gone,” he said.

This is an issue that will not go away, because rather than pass their own budget (which they haven’t done in more than 1,000 days) Democrats prefer to attack Ryan for trying to solve problems instead of Washington’s usual tradition of kicking every can in sight farther down the road. The Democrats, led by Harry Reid, have even targeted members of their own party who tried to work with Ryan to formulate a solution to the country’s debt and entitlement crises.

On that score, Ryan today introduced his newest budget plan. As Jim Pethokoukis notes:

Longer term, the differences between the Ryan Path and the Obama budget are even starker. By 2030, debt-to-GDP would be 53% under Ryan, 128% under Obama. By 2040, debt-to-GDP would be 38% under Ryan, 194% under Obama. By 2050, debt-to-GDP would be 10% under Ryan, over 200% under Obama – assuming that under the Obama scenario, the economy hasn’t collapsed.

That last line is key to Ryan and Romney’s overall message—that you can only calculate long-term projections of Obama’s spending plans by assuming the economy hasn’t collapsed from them yet.

In 2008, the general election time frame saw one foreign policy crisis and one economic crisis. John McCain looked better on the foreign policy issue because Obama ended up changing his original response to eventually align with the response McCain gave immediately. Obama looked better on the financial crisis because of McCain’s haphazard and frantic response. The candidate who won the economic issue won the election (as usual). Foreign policy will not be high enough on the American voters’ list of priorities to focus on that, but Romney’s pitch to the disaffected youth vote and his party’s attempts to establish itself as a forward-looking group of reformers may offer a serious message that doesn’t depend on monthly jobs numbers or the price of gas.

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Tapping Strategic Oil Reserve Won’t Work

President Obama has been backed into a tight political corner over rising gas prices. While it’s true that the president has little control over present gas prices as they currently stand, it’s also true that he’s made some high-profile blunders on energy policy during his first term, which makes him an open target for public blame. The Hill’s latest poll finds that a whopping 58 percent of American voters say Obama’s policies will lead to higher gas prices:

On energy, 58 percent say Obama’s policies will result in gasoline prices increasing, while just 20 percent expect them to cut prices — and by a 46-percent-to-36-percent margin, voters believe they will cause the United States to become even more dependent on foreign oil.

Voters’ wide-ranging pessimism comes as gasoline prices have risen sharply, which often dampens attitudes among U.S. voters toward those in power, and as opinions remain sharply divided on the president’s healthcare law.

Obama is setting out on a campaign tour to defend his energy policies this week, but his tools for dealing with the public anger are minimal. He’s been playing up his support for domestic oil production, but his recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline squashes that message. He’s pushing for an end to tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, but that will do nada to reign in gas prices and has more to do with his personal views on “fairness” than anything else. Republicans are also sure to point out that if raising taxes on oil companies has any impact on gas costs whatsoever, it’s more likely to raise the price at the pump.

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President Obama has been backed into a tight political corner over rising gas prices. While it’s true that the president has little control over present gas prices as they currently stand, it’s also true that he’s made some high-profile blunders on energy policy during his first term, which makes him an open target for public blame. The Hill’s latest poll finds that a whopping 58 percent of American voters say Obama’s policies will lead to higher gas prices:

On energy, 58 percent say Obama’s policies will result in gasoline prices increasing, while just 20 percent expect them to cut prices — and by a 46-percent-to-36-percent margin, voters believe they will cause the United States to become even more dependent on foreign oil.

Voters’ wide-ranging pessimism comes as gasoline prices have risen sharply, which often dampens attitudes among U.S. voters toward those in power, and as opinions remain sharply divided on the president’s healthcare law.

Obama is setting out on a campaign tour to defend his energy policies this week, but his tools for dealing with the public anger are minimal. He’s been playing up his support for domestic oil production, but his recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline squashes that message. He’s pushing for an end to tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, but that will do nada to reign in gas prices and has more to do with his personal views on “fairness” than anything else. Republicans are also sure to point out that if raising taxes on oil companies has any impact on gas costs whatsoever, it’s more likely to raise the price at the pump.

The one big option Obama has, and the one that liberal Democrats have been lobbying for, is for him to tap into the strategic petroleum reserves. As I wrote on Friday, this would be a blatantly political move that could end up backfiring phenomenally  on the president.

And the political backlash is likely to be much greater than the political gain. There’s no way to predict exactly how the release of reserve oil would impact the market, but if history is any indication, the effect on gas prices has diminished each time the reserves have been tapped into. At the Washington Times, Stephen Dinan writes:

Last June, when President Obama last ordered a release from the U.S. reserves, oil was trading at $95.41 a barrel. It dropped about $5 over the next few days, but quickly shot back up and two weeks after the announcement the price was right back where it was before the release was announced. …

Democrats said a 1991 oil release in the middle of the first Gulf War dropped prices at the pump by 33.4 percent, and said a 2000 release by President Clinton lowered prices by 18.7 percent. President George W. Bush’s 2005 move to stop filling the reserve dropped prices 9.1 percent.

Those numbers showed declining returns over the years, and analysts said that is one reason why Mr. Obama’s recent release didn’t have much lasting effect at all: The world market is far bigger than it used to be, thus the release of U.S. reserves has less impact.

Breaking into the strategic petroleum reserves for a two-week drop in gas prices? It’s such a joke that I can’t imagine Obama would ever take the risk. And for those who think the public wouldn’t notice the president playing political games with the reserves, William Galston at TNR notes that Al Gore was shredded for proposing a similar idea during the fall of 2000. Another reason to be skeptical that Obama would actually go ahead with this plan.

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Higher Gas Prices Tripping Up Obama

One of the more amusing things in politics is how badly rising gas prices have flummoxed the president and his administration.

For example, not that long ago Obama’s Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, was calling for ramping up gasoline taxes in order to encourage consumers into buying more efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work. “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” Chu said. (The prices in Europe are around $8-$10 a gallon.) But in a congressional hearing earlier this week, Chu painfully and awkwardly recanted. “I no longer share that view,” Chu declared. After his Senate hearing Chu even went on to say, “there are many, many reasons why we do not want the price of gasoline to go up.”

So the scales have fallen from the energy secretary’s eyes. But not his alone.

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One of the more amusing things in politics is how badly rising gas prices have flummoxed the president and his administration.

For example, not that long ago Obama’s Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, was calling for ramping up gasoline taxes in order to encourage consumers into buying more efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work. “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” Chu said. (The prices in Europe are around $8-$10 a gallon.) But in a congressional hearing earlier this week, Chu painfully and awkwardly recanted. “I no longer share that view,” Chu declared. After his Senate hearing Chu even went on to say, “there are many, many reasons why we do not want the price of gasoline to go up.”

So the scales have fallen from the energy secretary’s eyes. But not his alone.

In 2008, Barack Obama was clearly sympathetic to higher gas prices; he simply wanted the increase to be “gradual” rather than for consumers to face a “shock.” Yet earlier this year, when Obama was asked by Fox’s Ed Henry whether he wanted higher gas prices, Obama mocked the question and insisted he wanted lower prices. (Obama often gets prickly and condescending when he’s caught directly contradicting his past statements.)

Then there’s the issue of drilling. Once upon a time, Obama was a critic of drilling and had a jolly good time ridiculing those who advocated it. Now he’s giving speeches in which he’s taking great pride in the drilling that’s occurring in America. What he won’t tell you is that the increase in drilling is happening on private, not public, lands, and that it’s happening in spite of Obama’s efforts, not because of them.

The president knows all this. He’s not a stupid man; he’s just a thoroughly cynical one. And so Obama is doing the best he can to pretend (a) he and his administration didn’t hold views they clearly did and (b) mislead people to think he’s responsible for things he has no legitimate claim to. And what makes this whole charade particularly Obamaesque is that while acting in the most cynical way imaginable, the president lectures his opponents about cynicism.

He’s quite a piece of work, this president.

 

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Obama Blames “Loose Talk of War” With Iran for High Gas Prices

President Obama has a special request. If you must talk publicly about the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, please do it in a whisper so as to not agitate the oil traders.

“The biggest driver of these high gas prices is speculation about possible war in the Middle East, which is why we’ve been trying to reduce some of the loose talk about war there,” Obama told WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, Florida.

In a speech last week, Obama criticized what he called “loose talk of war” by some pundits and politicians concerning Iran, which the United States and other Western nations accuse of pursuing nuclear weapons.

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President Obama has a special request. If you must talk publicly about the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program, please do it in a whisper so as to not agitate the oil traders.

“The biggest driver of these high gas prices is speculation about possible war in the Middle East, which is why we’ve been trying to reduce some of the loose talk about war there,” Obama told WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, Florida.

In a speech last week, Obama criticized what he called “loose talk of war” by some pundits and politicians concerning Iran, which the United States and other Western nations accuse of pursuing nuclear weapons.

Obama doesn’t specify who this “loose talk about war” is coming from, but it sounds like he’s pointing the finger at Israel. He explicitly says his administration has “been trying to reduce some of the loose talk” of war. And as we know, the White House has been working to persuade Israel to hold off on a possible strike. So who else could Obama be referring to in that context but the Israeli government?

Alternatively, Obama could also be trying to shift the blame for high gas prices to the Republican candidates. This is also the second time in a week Obama has lashed out at “loose talk” on Iran, and the first time he specifically singled out the GOP candidates. Mitt Romney seems to have interpreted Obama’s latest comments as a direct swipe and blasted the president on the campaign trail yesterday (via Politico):

“But instead [Obama] came up with this [excuse for high gas prices]: He said it’s because Republican presidential candidates are talking in a very muscular way about Iran and their nuclear program. Now that’s a pretty tough one to follow, and frankly, it’s disappointing to have the president of the United States take a serious foreign policy issue, which is Iran, the state sponsor of terror in the world becoming nuclear, and trying to turn that into, saying we’re somehow responsible for high gasoline prices in this country. It is a, it’s a real stretch, even for a guy who’s gotten pretty good at making excuses.”

There’s no denying the rising tensions with Iran are contributing to the spike in gas prices. But to blame the people who are talking about solutions to the Iranian nuclear threat for this is simply disgraceful. If Obama wants to blame anyone, he should be faulting the Iranian regime for continuing to pursue a nuclear weapons program in the face of international warning.

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Democrats Mull Tax Hike on Oil Companies

President Obama has been arguing for the repeal of certain oil company tax breaks for years, and it looks like the current hike in gas prices may provide the White House with a convenient opening:

After coordinating with the White House, Senate Democrats expect to consider, likely before the end of the month, legislation that would repeal tax breaks for oil and gas companies, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Details of the bill are still being decided, but the revenues could be used for consumer relief or to fund alternative energy initiatives, the aide said.

The aide said there are no easy energy solutions and that Democrats will continue to pursue the “all-of-the-above” strategy advocated by the White House.

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President Obama has been arguing for the repeal of certain oil company tax breaks for years, and it looks like the current hike in gas prices may provide the White House with a convenient opening:

After coordinating with the White House, Senate Democrats expect to consider, likely before the end of the month, legislation that would repeal tax breaks for oil and gas companies, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Details of the bill are still being decided, but the revenues could be used for consumer relief or to fund alternative energy initiatives, the aide said.

The aide said there are no easy energy solutions and that Democrats will continue to pursue the “all-of-the-above” strategy advocated by the White House.

Republicans argue that increasing the tax burden on oil companies is the last thing we should be doing during a time of high gas prices. “If someone in the administration can show me that raising taxes on American energy production will lower gas prices and create jobs, then I will gladly discuss it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement to Roll Call. “But since nobody can, and the president doesn’t, this is merely an attempt to deflect from his failed policies.”

While some Republicans maintain that repealing tax breaks for oil and gas companies will lead directly to higher gas at the pump, that claim is debatable. That said, higher taxes on oil and gas companies certainly don’t lead to lower gas prices or energy-sector job creation.

Which makes you wonder why the administration and Senate Democrats are touting this as a way of dealing with rising gas prices. According to Roll Call, Democrats are still considering whether the tax breaks would be used to pay for “consumer energy relief” or “alternative energy initiatives.” In other words, either flat-out election-year bribery with consumer energy rebates, or the subsidization of various Obama-approved “green energy” initiatives. None of which will address the underlying economic reasons behind the rising gas prices.

Republicans have had political success with the gas price debate so far, particularly by emphasizing the importance of pursuing domestic energy sources like the Keystone XL pipeline. But it sounds like Senate Democrats are preparing for another class warfare-tinged fight with the GOP, this time about tax breaks for mammoth oil companies. That could help Obama pivot back to the populist, tax-the-rich strategy that he was pursuing last fall.

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Polls Tell Democrats to Wipe That Smile Off Their Faces

In the last couple of months as the Republican presidential candidates began to tear each other to pieces and the economy began an ever so slight recovery, Democrats have begun to get back some of their old 2008 swagger. The bumpy first years of the Obama presidency followed by a landslide loss in the 2010 midterms had taken its toll on the party. A bad economy and a clear lack of presidential leadership during the debt ceiling crisis last year had left Democrats in the dumps. But the spectacle of the GOP contenders and their supporters and super PACs pointing out each other’s shortcomings cheered them up no end. After a long, hard winter of bad news it seemed that spring was bringing them back some of the hope and change mojo that might lead them to victory in 2012.

Unfortunately for them, the Obama mojo isn’t quite as potent as it once was. A New York Times/CBS poll published today confirms what the ABC News/Washington Post poll that came out yesterday told us: Even in the midst of what seemed to be a strong comeback, Obama is in deep trouble. The president’s approval ratings have dropped dramatically in recent weeks with the public disapproving of his job performance by a 47-41-percentage point margin. This is ominous news for a president at any point in his term in office but coming less than eight months away from his attempt to win re-election, it is a portent of possible disaster.

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In the last couple of months as the Republican presidential candidates began to tear each other to pieces and the economy began an ever so slight recovery, Democrats have begun to get back some of their old 2008 swagger. The bumpy first years of the Obama presidency followed by a landslide loss in the 2010 midterms had taken its toll on the party. A bad economy and a clear lack of presidential leadership during the debt ceiling crisis last year had left Democrats in the dumps. But the spectacle of the GOP contenders and their supporters and super PACs pointing out each other’s shortcomings cheered them up no end. After a long, hard winter of bad news it seemed that spring was bringing them back some of the hope and change mojo that might lead them to victory in 2012.

Unfortunately for them, the Obama mojo isn’t quite as potent as it once was. A New York Times/CBS poll published today confirms what the ABC News/Washington Post poll that came out yesterday told us: Even in the midst of what seemed to be a strong comeback, Obama is in deep trouble. The president’s approval ratings have dropped dramatically in recent weeks with the public disapproving of his job performance by a 47-41-percentage point margin. This is ominous news for a president at any point in his term in office but coming less than eight months away from his attempt to win re-election, it is a portent of possible disaster.

The president can take some solace from the fact that the Times/CBS poll still gives him a slight advantage over his two most likely Republican challengers in a head-to-head matchup. He leads Mitt Romney 47-44 and Rick Santorum 48-44 though as the paper points out, with a three percent margin of error, that makes either possible matchup a toss-up.

What’s the reason for this decline? Clearly, the rise in gas prices is a major factor. The poll shows that a clear majority of respondents think the president has the power to do something about rising prices. That faith in presidential power may be unfounded. Though Obama’s actions to restrain drilling and cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline has certainly been harmful, he is as much a hostage to a fluctuating oil market as was his predecessor. Rising gas prices fed a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the Republicans in 2008. They appear to be playing the same role this year with the Democrats; that only goes to prove that what goes around, comes around.

But gas prices are not the only reason for Obama’s worries. Though foreign policy appears to be one of his stronger points with the public, that edge is clearly declining as concerns about Iran and the chaos in Afghanistan have undermined his pose as an able commander-in-chief. Killing Osama bin Laden was a good thing and something that rightly earned him the plaudits of the public, but by itself it is not going to get Obama re-elected no matter how many times he and his surrogates mention it.

But though, like any president, Obama’s poll ratings are tied to the ebb and flow of events, perhaps there are other factors. In today’s Politico, Josh Gerstein compiles an impressive list of things President Obama has done without drawing too many protests that his predecessor could not have gotten away with. The laundry list includes actions in the war on terror that highlighted the Democrats’ hypocritical criticisms of George W. Bush as well as Obama’s cronyism, his hypocritical stance on campaign finance and his self-indulgence that has led him to play golf frequently, a sport Politico notes that the 43rd president dropped during his time in office.

Though Gerstein portrays Obama as getting off scot free from actions that would create hurricanes of outrage had Bush done any of it, perhaps the sheer volume of Obama’s hypocrisy is starting to leech into his poll ratings. Americans may not be that enthused about the Republicans in 2012, but during the last four years they have gotten to know Barack Obama pretty well. Despite a mainstream media that continues to fawn upon him and to trash his foes, the best the president can do is to merely tread water at a time when he should be soaring in the polls. That’s a sign that once he is faced with a single GOP challenger and a united opposition (something that must be acknowledged as not being a given) he may be in bigger trouble than even his cheerleaders at the Times think.

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Obama’s Energy Promises Ring Hollow

President Obama isn’t the only one whose poll numbers seem to be sinking lately. A new Rasmussen poll found that Democrats in Congress are also losing ground to the GOP on the Generic Congressional Ballot:

Republicans hold a six-point lead over Democrats on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, March 11.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44 percent of Likely U.S. Voters would vote for the Republican in their district’s congressional race if the election were held today, while 38 percent would choose the Democrat instead. Last week, the Republican led by three points, 44 percent to 41 percent.

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President Obama isn’t the only one whose poll numbers seem to be sinking lately. A new Rasmussen poll found that Democrats in Congress are also losing ground to the GOP on the Generic Congressional Ballot:

Republicans hold a six-point lead over Democrats on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, March 11.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44 percent of Likely U.S. Voters would vote for the Republican in their district’s congressional race if the election were held today, while 38 percent would choose the Democrat instead. Last week, the Republican led by three points, 44 percent to 41 percent.

It’s not clear whether the shift has anything to do with rising gas prices – which appears to be a reason behind Obama’s dip in the polls – but it sounds like the White House is pretty nervous that it is. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pushed back on criticism of Obama’s energy policy at a White House briefing this afternoon:

Salazar insisted that Obama is reviewing short- and long-term actions to lower gas prices, while also noting that there are no quick fixes to the problem.

“All options are on the table because the president obviously feels the pain that the American people are facing,” Salazar said when asked if the administration would tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a 696-million barrel emergency oil stockpile.

But based on Obama’s own comments today, he’s only interested in dragging out the same recycled energy rhetoric he’s been pushing since he took office: America needs to reduce its oil dependency and pursue clean energy alternatives. Here’s part of Obama’s statement, via CNN:

“Our focus on increased domestic oil and gas production, currently at an eight-year high, combined with the historic fuel economy standards we put in place, means that we will continue to reduce our nation’s vulnerability to the ups and downs of the global oil market. We’ve also made progress in the expansion of clean energy, with renewable energy from sources like wind and solar on track to double, along with the construction of our first advanced biofuel refineries. And yet, despite the gains we’ve made, today’s high gas prices are a painful reminder that there’s much more work to do free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil and take control of our energy future. And that’s exactly what our administration is committed to doing in the months ahead.”

This has been a regular mantra from the administration since 2009, but Obama has yet to follow through on it.

Obama in a 2009 speech: “Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results and our leaders raise their voices each time there’s a spike on gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump.”

Obama after the BP oil spill in 2010: “The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.” And yet the can was only kicked further down the road.

And remember, it was just last March when the president made his big, much-celebrated energy address. “[W]e cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” he proclaimed.

So when Obama says we need to “free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil,” and promises this is something that “our administration is committed to doing in the months ahead,” it’s hardly surprising if the American people don’t take him seriously. If this were something the administration was capable of doing in a matter of months, they would have done it the first time Obama promised it. Instead, this sounds more like empty talk to placate the public until gas prices drop again.

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The “Times,” It Ain’t A’Changing

Well, I’m back from my 12-day cruise off South America, lecturing with a Hillsdale College group. Except for two ten-hour flights on American Airlines in economy-class seats that would, were I a prisoner of war, violate the Geneva Convention, it was a great trip, with a great crowd.

Much to my surprise, on my return I found that the New York Times’s editorial page is still utterly predictable. The lead editorial this morning for instance, contains absolutely nothing new regarding drilling in the United States and U.S. waters. The Times writes:

It’’s campaign season and the pandering about gas prices is in full swing. Hardly a day goes by that a Republican politician does not throw facts to the wind and claim that rising costs at the pump are the result of President Obama’’s decisions to block the Keystone XL pipeline and impose sensible environmental regulations and modest restrictions on offshore drilling.

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Well, I’m back from my 12-day cruise off South America, lecturing with a Hillsdale College group. Except for two ten-hour flights on American Airlines in economy-class seats that would, were I a prisoner of war, violate the Geneva Convention, it was a great trip, with a great crowd.

Much to my surprise, on my return I found that the New York Times’s editorial page is still utterly predictable. The lead editorial this morning for instance, contains absolutely nothing new regarding drilling in the United States and U.S. waters. The Times writes:

It’’s campaign season and the pandering about gas prices is in full swing. Hardly a day goes by that a Republican politician does not throw facts to the wind and claim that rising costs at the pump are the result of President Obama’’s decisions to block the Keystone XL pipeline and impose sensible environmental regulations and modest restrictions on offshore drilling.

As any economist (except Paul Krugman) could tell the Times, any restrictions on future supply has an immediate upward price effect (and vice versa–promise of greater future supply brings down prices right away). So the Keystone XL pipeline decision certainly put upward pressure on gas prices. So does “modest restrictions on offshore drilling.” These modest restrictions include putting the entire east coast, the Florida gulf coast, and the entire west coast off limits to oil drilling. I hate to think what immodest restrictions would look like.

Even where drilling has been grudgingly allowed by the government, as off the north coast of Alaska, non-governmental organizations that the Times would never dream of criticizing stand ready to block any drilling. As the Times itself reports this morning, Shell Oil has launched a preemptive suit to try to forestall the inevitable legal challenges from groups masquerading as environmental groups (they are actually anti-business groups). Shell has already spent $4 billion just to get the government’s permission to drill. The Times writes:

Marvin E. Odum, Shell’’s president for the United States, said in an interview that he was “highly confident” that the company’’s plan for preventing and responding to an oil spill would survive any legal scrutiny. He said the company had filed the suit in the hopes of speeding up the judicial review of the plan that will come if and when the environmental groups — who have challenged Shell at every step of the process— file suit.

Their filing suit is more certain than the sun’s rising in the east tomorrow morning.

The Times also notes that we use 20 percent of the world’s oil (not surprising, actually, as we have 25 percent of the world’s GDP), but only 2 percent of the world’s reserves. This is lying with statistics. By definition, “proven reserves” are those that 1) are known to exist, 2) can be economically extracted with present technology and, 3) can be exploited under current law. So the vast reserves that are known to exist offshore (although even exploration is forbidden in many areas–doubtless because the left fears something might be found) don’t count. Neither do the huge reserves locked up in the oil shales of the West. Take away the legal restrictions imposed by the left, and American oil reserves probably exceed those of Saudi Arabia.

It’s nice to be back in the real world, even if it means I have to start reading the New York Times editorial page again.

 

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Obama’s Keystone Retreat a Matter of Time

Environmental activists are already up in arms about the White House’s decision to support the partial construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But they should prepare themselves for a lot more disappointment down the road.

President Obama has been playing both sides of the Keystone XL debate since the beginning, and his thumbs-up to the partial construction is the latest sign he’s only interested in delaying the pipeline long enough to hold onto environmentalist support until after November 2012.

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Environmental activists are already up in arms about the White House’s decision to support the partial construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But they should prepare themselves for a lot more disappointment down the road.

President Obama has been playing both sides of the Keystone XL debate since the beginning, and his thumbs-up to the partial construction is the latest sign he’s only interested in delaying the pipeline long enough to hold onto environmentalist support until after November 2012.

Republicans already see this issue causing problems for Obama in the general election. “I think the president is in an untenable position on the pipeline, and I’ll be surprised to see if they don’t figure out a way to retreat in the face of public [opposition] on this issue,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions on a conference call with reporters this afternoon.

With the price of gas rising, Obama has had to rework his initial political calculation on the pipeline. Previously, the issue pitted together two of his key support groups: the environmental left (which opposed the pipeline) versus the labor unions (which supported it). Rather than risk losing either side in the upcoming election, Obama punted the Keystone XL construction decision until 2013.

But now that rising gas prices are likely to become an election issue for independent voters, Obama can’t risk being seen as responsible for the pipeline’s delay. His public support for the partial construction was a nod to that shifting political reality.

Of course, once construction on the pipeline begins, environmentalists lose any hope of ever killing the Keystone XL completely. They also lose the possibility that Obama may come out strongly against the pipeline for green energy reasons. In fact, as gas prices become increasingly important as an election issue, expect Obama to back away even further from his earlier opposition to the pipeline.

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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RE: Do They Know What Obama Is up To?

Well, some American Jews plainly do. A reader passes on this account of a recent gathering in California, suggesting that there is a motivated group of Jews not at all pleased with Obama’s Middle East policy:

Last night I went to a town hall meeting on Israel featuring Congressman Brad Sherman at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA, called by the rabbi in response to the concern over the deteriorating relationship between  President Obama and the State and the people of Israel. Sherman is a 7th-term Jewish Congressman with strong ties to the Jewish community, who has always been considered very pro-Israel. Sherman must have expected a hostile crowd, as he did not allow anyone to talk to him directly. Questions were submitted in writing and chosen and paraphrased by the moderator (Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, who did do a very good job expressing the written concerns of the audience while also being fair and hospitable to Sherman).

Nearly all the questions dealt with the controversy. The meeting hall of this large congregation was packed, and the temple’s parking lot  was entirely full, forcing people to park on the street nearby.  Nearly all questions and audience feedback were negative, with virtually no applause for Sherman’s answers. There was lots of clapping for hostile questions, lots of hostile rumblings as he tried to answer charges, and some answers were booed. Even the moderator at the end basically accused Sherman of not actually answering a lot of the questions. The audience was not sold on Obama being pro-Israel, nor on Sherman’s excuses for the current situation.

Sherman portrayed himself as more pro-Israel and more concerned about Iran than any U.S. president during his Congressional service. He shrugged off the current controversy as something we will have forgotten in a few years, arguing that the U.S. relationship with Israel is fine because the foreign aid package remains and we haven’t yet stopped vetoing anti-Israel UN resolutions. While he promised action on his part concerning sanctions on Iran, he expressed skepticism that anything would really be done (at one point “joking” that the rabbi would be more useful than he, as if divine intervention would be required), and kept emphasizing that any military option would spike gas prices. These statements did not go over well.

Most negative were the reactions when when he repeatedly wrote off his and Obama’s critics as die hard right wingers who would be angry regardless. The moderator polled the audience and showed that the room was about 60/40 McCain voters, meaning there were in fact many angry Obama voters there (and that Obama opponents of all kinds are energized in this community). The most applause was for the question of whether many Jews would switch their votes to Republican because of this controversy — which fired up the crowd and those potential switchers.

Well, one crowd is not necessarily indicative of the entire community, but this suggests that those most concerned about Israel — and willing to turn out to ask questions of their congressman — are the most aggrieved by Obama’s policies. Whether this translates into a drop-off in Jews’ financial support and/or votes for Obama and like-minded lawmakers is an open question. But one wonders what they are waiting for. A declaration by Iran that they do in fact possess a nuclear weapon? An announcement by Obama that he’s going to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state unless Israel accepts his imposed deal? Really, if not now, when?

Well, some American Jews plainly do. A reader passes on this account of a recent gathering in California, suggesting that there is a motivated group of Jews not at all pleased with Obama’s Middle East policy:

Last night I went to a town hall meeting on Israel featuring Congressman Brad Sherman at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA, called by the rabbi in response to the concern over the deteriorating relationship between  President Obama and the State and the people of Israel. Sherman is a 7th-term Jewish Congressman with strong ties to the Jewish community, who has always been considered very pro-Israel. Sherman must have expected a hostile crowd, as he did not allow anyone to talk to him directly. Questions were submitted in writing and chosen and paraphrased by the moderator (Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, who did do a very good job expressing the written concerns of the audience while also being fair and hospitable to Sherman).

Nearly all the questions dealt with the controversy. The meeting hall of this large congregation was packed, and the temple’s parking lot  was entirely full, forcing people to park on the street nearby.  Nearly all questions and audience feedback were negative, with virtually no applause for Sherman’s answers. There was lots of clapping for hostile questions, lots of hostile rumblings as he tried to answer charges, and some answers were booed. Even the moderator at the end basically accused Sherman of not actually answering a lot of the questions. The audience was not sold on Obama being pro-Israel, nor on Sherman’s excuses for the current situation.

Sherman portrayed himself as more pro-Israel and more concerned about Iran than any U.S. president during his Congressional service. He shrugged off the current controversy as something we will have forgotten in a few years, arguing that the U.S. relationship with Israel is fine because the foreign aid package remains and we haven’t yet stopped vetoing anti-Israel UN resolutions. While he promised action on his part concerning sanctions on Iran, he expressed skepticism that anything would really be done (at one point “joking” that the rabbi would be more useful than he, as if divine intervention would be required), and kept emphasizing that any military option would spike gas prices. These statements did not go over well.

Most negative were the reactions when when he repeatedly wrote off his and Obama’s critics as die hard right wingers who would be angry regardless. The moderator polled the audience and showed that the room was about 60/40 McCain voters, meaning there were in fact many angry Obama voters there (and that Obama opponents of all kinds are energized in this community). The most applause was for the question of whether many Jews would switch their votes to Republican because of this controversy — which fired up the crowd and those potential switchers.

Well, one crowd is not necessarily indicative of the entire community, but this suggests that those most concerned about Israel — and willing to turn out to ask questions of their congressman — are the most aggrieved by Obama’s policies. Whether this translates into a drop-off in Jews’ financial support and/or votes for Obama and like-minded lawmakers is an open question. But one wonders what they are waiting for. A declaration by Iran that they do in fact possess a nuclear weapon? An announcement by Obama that he’s going to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state unless Israel accepts his imposed deal? Really, if not now, when?

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Hillary On The Factor

Hillary Clinton went on Bill O’Reilly’s Factor. The first half of the interview can be seen here and here. If you grade on substance, she’s fairly awful. She going to sue OPEC through the World Trade Organization and tax oil companies to bring down gas prices. (Honest. No, it’s not clear what happens if OPEC doesn’t answer the first set of written discovery requests.) She’s raising income taxes and she’s not willing to come clean on how much her health care plan will cost.

But on style it’s hard not to gape at her tour de force – pugnacious, funny (she says with a twinkle in her eye that she’d expect nothing but “fair and balanced” coverage from Fox), quick on her feet and, within the confines of her shtick, somewhat candid. She’s a phony, but sort of a real phony.

For Democrats and independents who buy into the populist economics and think someone really is going to have to go fight the mean Republicans and the big bad insurance and oil companies, it’s hard to imagine a feistier combatant.

Republicans have long worried that Barack Obama would be a soothing, deceptively alluring figure in a general election. I think what we saw on O’Reilly was that if she makes it that far, Clinton will be a different, but perhaps equally challenging, figure. Somewhere along the way she learned to articulate a nostalgic, even patriotic vision (“Let’s go back to the 50’s and 60’s,” she says) in which, she says, the middle class isn’t under seige. You can argue with her facts, but the message is clear, the audience specific, and the patter fairly effective. One wonders how skilled John McCain will be in arguing with her about health care and the relative merits of the Clinton and Bush economies. Part 2 of the interview will air tonight.

Hillary Clinton went on Bill O’Reilly’s Factor. The first half of the interview can be seen here and here. If you grade on substance, she’s fairly awful. She going to sue OPEC through the World Trade Organization and tax oil companies to bring down gas prices. (Honest. No, it’s not clear what happens if OPEC doesn’t answer the first set of written discovery requests.) She’s raising income taxes and she’s not willing to come clean on how much her health care plan will cost.

But on style it’s hard not to gape at her tour de force – pugnacious, funny (she says with a twinkle in her eye that she’d expect nothing but “fair and balanced” coverage from Fox), quick on her feet and, within the confines of her shtick, somewhat candid. She’s a phony, but sort of a real phony.

For Democrats and independents who buy into the populist economics and think someone really is going to have to go fight the mean Republicans and the big bad insurance and oil companies, it’s hard to imagine a feistier combatant.

Republicans have long worried that Barack Obama would be a soothing, deceptively alluring figure in a general election. I think what we saw on O’Reilly was that if she makes it that far, Clinton will be a different, but perhaps equally challenging, figure. Somewhere along the way she learned to articulate a nostalgic, even patriotic vision (“Let’s go back to the 50’s and 60’s,” she says) in which, she says, the middle class isn’t under seige. You can argue with her facts, but the message is clear, the audience specific, and the patter fairly effective. One wonders how skilled John McCain will be in arguing with her about health care and the relative merits of the Clinton and Bush economies. Part 2 of the interview will air tonight.

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“We Are Going to Investigate These Gas Prices”

Hillary Clinton says gas prices are the result of Enron-like market manipulation. Apparently the fact that China is buying a lot of petroleum is a market manipulation.

Hillary Clinton says gas prices are the result of Enron-like market manipulation. Apparently the fact that China is buying a lot of petroleum is a market manipulation.

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Stop Digging Already

Barack Obama issued a somewhat standard greeting for Pope Benedict XVI, but apparently couldn’t resist throwing in this:

At a time when American families face rising costs at home and a range of worries abroad, the theme of Pope Benedict’s journey, “Christ Our Hope,” offers comfort and grace as well as a challenge to all faith communities to put our faith into action for the common good. It will not only be Catholics who are listening to the Holy Father’s message of hope and peace; all Americans will be listening with open hearts and minds.

Do Catholics and other people of faith think Pope Benedict’s appeal has special resonance because of “rising costs”? Would he be less welcome if gas prices were lower? I’m fairly certain Catholics believe in the message of “comfort and grace” even when prices are steady. And if Obama isn’t saying this–for an eloquent guy he seems perpetually to be misundertood–why mention “rising costs” at all?

This seems a bald-faced attempt to say “See, economic conditions do impact religiosity.” For those who were offended the first time Obama went down this road, they won’t be thrilled to see him try it again. Using the Pontiff’s visit as an excuse to reiterate his own political defense seems crass, at best.

At some point Obama may want to give up this “false consciousness” canard and instead concede that faith is not a mere refuge from economic anxiety. But no: he was right and he’s not backing down. See? See?

Barack Obama issued a somewhat standard greeting for Pope Benedict XVI, but apparently couldn’t resist throwing in this:

At a time when American families face rising costs at home and a range of worries abroad, the theme of Pope Benedict’s journey, “Christ Our Hope,” offers comfort and grace as well as a challenge to all faith communities to put our faith into action for the common good. It will not only be Catholics who are listening to the Holy Father’s message of hope and peace; all Americans will be listening with open hearts and minds.

Do Catholics and other people of faith think Pope Benedict’s appeal has special resonance because of “rising costs”? Would he be less welcome if gas prices were lower? I’m fairly certain Catholics believe in the message of “comfort and grace” even when prices are steady. And if Obama isn’t saying this–for an eloquent guy he seems perpetually to be misundertood–why mention “rising costs” at all?

This seems a bald-faced attempt to say “See, economic conditions do impact religiosity.” For those who were offended the first time Obama went down this road, they won’t be thrilled to see him try it again. Using the Pontiff’s visit as an excuse to reiterate his own political defense seems crass, at best.

At some point Obama may want to give up this “false consciousness” canard and instead concede that faith is not a mere refuge from economic anxiety. But no: he was right and he’s not backing down. See? See?

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But I Just Want To Drive To Work

Hillary Clinton is back to “listening” and taking questions from voters. In her latest North Carolina ad, she gets asked by “Tamie of Cherryville” about high gas prices. Her answer is a lovely non sequitur: Hillary goes on about the importance of renewable energy. Great answer–to some unasked global warming question. But nothing she said, of course, will affect Tamie’s plight now or anytime in the near future.

Hillary might have offered to reduce federal gas taxes. That would help right away. She might have said, as John McCain did, that she would stop adding to the National Petroleum Reserve. She might have explained the perils of a low dollar which make oil and all other commodities expensive. Or she could have gone the Al Gore route and said it is good that gas prices are high because that’s what must happen in a market economy to encourage development and use of alternative, non-carbon based fuels. She could have even encouraged Tamie to use public transportation or carpool with her friends.

But no. Hillary is going to spend $150B on renewable energy, so that in ten years Tamie might be able to get a solar-powered car. I actually think there may be good reasons for that, but it isn’t going to help Tamie anytime soon.

That is the peril of pretending to answer voters’ questions: sometimes they really do want an answer.

Hillary Clinton is back to “listening” and taking questions from voters. In her latest North Carolina ad, she gets asked by “Tamie of Cherryville” about high gas prices. Her answer is a lovely non sequitur: Hillary goes on about the importance of renewable energy. Great answer–to some unasked global warming question. But nothing she said, of course, will affect Tamie’s plight now or anytime in the near future.

Hillary might have offered to reduce federal gas taxes. That would help right away. She might have said, as John McCain did, that she would stop adding to the National Petroleum Reserve. She might have explained the perils of a low dollar which make oil and all other commodities expensive. Or she could have gone the Al Gore route and said it is good that gas prices are high because that’s what must happen in a market economy to encourage development and use of alternative, non-carbon based fuels. She could have even encouraged Tamie to use public transportation or carpool with her friends.

But no. Hillary is going to spend $150B on renewable energy, so that in ten years Tamie might be able to get a solar-powered car. I actually think there may be good reasons for that, but it isn’t going to help Tamie anytime soon.

That is the peril of pretending to answer voters’ questions: sometimes they really do want an answer.

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More UN Fumbling

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

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