Commentary Magazine


Topic: Maryland

Bag Law Backlash Hits Montco

I’ve written twice before about the bag tax in Montgomery County, Maryland. In short, the county government overwhelming implemented a 5-cent tax on both paper and plastic bags, not only at supermarkets but also for take-out from restaurants and any retail. The purpose, local politicians said, was to reduce plastic bag litter in local waterways.

Living in Montgomery County, but only a short drive away from Virginia, I take most of my major shopping to Virginia nowadays—I figure that over the last 18 months, that’s come out to a couple thousand dollars I’d otherwise have spent locally. Not only do I resent the nickel-and-diming and paternalism—fine litterers, not those who haven’t littered—but I also use the plastic bags for any number of things: disposing of my daughter’s dirty diapers and Neocatservative’s dirty litter; preventing thawing chicken or fish from leaking in the refrigerator, and other random tasks.

Now, it seems, some Montgomery County politicians are waking up to the fact that such taxes breed resentment.

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I’ve written twice before about the bag tax in Montgomery County, Maryland. In short, the county government overwhelming implemented a 5-cent tax on both paper and plastic bags, not only at supermarkets but also for take-out from restaurants and any retail. The purpose, local politicians said, was to reduce plastic bag litter in local waterways.

Living in Montgomery County, but only a short drive away from Virginia, I take most of my major shopping to Virginia nowadays—I figure that over the last 18 months, that’s come out to a couple thousand dollars I’d otherwise have spent locally. Not only do I resent the nickel-and-diming and paternalism—fine litterers, not those who haven’t littered—but I also use the plastic bags for any number of things: disposing of my daughter’s dirty diapers and Neocatservative’s dirty litter; preventing thawing chicken or fish from leaking in the refrigerator, and other random tasks.

Now, it seems, some Montgomery County politicians are waking up to the fact that such taxes breed resentment.

The county has never established metrics to track whether the bag tax has led to fewer bags in waterways, and has never explained why paper should also be excluded. Nor have the bag tax advocates—those who pretend it’s about the environment and not county coffers—explained why retailers’ bags should be excluded when they seldom if ever find themselves in streams: I’ve never seen a heavy Bed, Bath, and Beyond or Macy’s bag floating in the wind. Now some of the same councilmen who voted in favor of the tax want to start moderating it by, for example, excluding restaurants and retailers.

According to a local news site:

Berliner, a co-sponsor of the bill, said while he still supports the goal of the original bag tax, enacted on Jan. 1, 2012, he thinks requiring people to carry reuseable bags into a hardware store or a Nordstroms to avoid the five-cent fee only breeds resentment. “One small retailer in downtown Bethesda said, ‘We have a number of customers who get angry with us because of a law Montgomery County has imposed on us,’” testified Ginanne Italiano, President of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. “‘They leave very frustrated, not because of the five cents, but because of a law that makes us charge five cents for a paper bag when it’s the plastic bags that are causing the pollution.’”

Note to politicians: Whether red light cameras programmed to ticket stopped cars, fining farmers for selling raw milk to out-of-state visitors, or overreaching bag laws, no one likes predatory government.

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Are Bag Laws About Money or Litter?

Several months ago, after Montgomery County, Maryland imposed a bag law taxing both paper and plastic bags, I questioned whether the new law would be a money loser for retail establishments. The tax gap between Maryland (where I live) and Virginia (where I shop) has never been so large. Since the bag law past, I have easily taken several hundred if not a couple thousand dollars worth of grocery and other purchases out of the county, not only to save money but also to gather the bags which I use for trash can liners, throwing away diapers, and cat litter disposal. If I can avoid an irritating shopping experience, driving an extra ten minutes (and saving $0.50/gallon on gasoline while I’m there) is well worth the price.

Proponents of the bag law and the overwhelmingly Democratic Montgomery County government say that the law is about reducing litter and promoting a cleaner environment. Few people believe police departments when they say that quotas and revenue do not play into speed limit enforcement, and the County’s bag explanations also strike a false note. Let’s put aside that there are litter laws already on the book, so the bag tax is effectively punishing the innocent rather than the guilty. In the last couple of days, I received a glossy flier in the mail promoting Montgomery County green initiatives. The flier didn’t look like it was made out of recycled paper and mailing it was a waste of money; I’d be willing to bet far more will end up in the trash than anywhere else.

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Several months ago, after Montgomery County, Maryland imposed a bag law taxing both paper and plastic bags, I questioned whether the new law would be a money loser for retail establishments. The tax gap between Maryland (where I live) and Virginia (where I shop) has never been so large. Since the bag law past, I have easily taken several hundred if not a couple thousand dollars worth of grocery and other purchases out of the county, not only to save money but also to gather the bags which I use for trash can liners, throwing away diapers, and cat litter disposal. If I can avoid an irritating shopping experience, driving an extra ten minutes (and saving $0.50/gallon on gasoline while I’m there) is well worth the price.

Proponents of the bag law and the overwhelmingly Democratic Montgomery County government say that the law is about reducing litter and promoting a cleaner environment. Few people believe police departments when they say that quotas and revenue do not play into speed limit enforcement, and the County’s bag explanations also strike a false note. Let’s put aside that there are litter laws already on the book, so the bag tax is effectively punishing the innocent rather than the guilty. In the last couple of days, I received a glossy flier in the mail promoting Montgomery County green initiatives. The flier didn’t look like it was made out of recycled paper and mailing it was a waste of money; I’d be willing to bet far more will end up in the trash than anywhere else.

Perhaps before election season, it would also make sense for the Montgomery County politicians who say that the bag fees are about putting the environment first to forego the ugly and wasteful political fliers and posters with which they litter our roads, mailboxes, and byways. They should not legislate against them—free speech is paramount—but they might show they stand consistently for principle. That is, of course, unless money and personal ambition trumps principle.

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Do Bag Laws Make Sense?

When I got married a few years back, I had wanted to stay in Virginia—where taxes were lower—but my wife wanted to live in Maryland, and so we compromised and moved to Maryland. Montgomery County, Maryland, is Democrat country. Lawn signs proliferate but, like elections in Cuba, they are all for a single party. Still, despite the high taxes and looming pension crisis, the school system is good and I figured, how much harm could a county government do? A lot, it seems. With little debate and even less coverage, Montgomery County passed a law to discourage disposable bags by imposing a 5 cent charge for each plastic or paper bag used. The charge applies not only in supermarkets, but in all stores: Home Depot? Bag charge. Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Bag Charge. Barnes and Noble? Bag charge. Take-out Chinese food? Bag charge.

While county officials justify the bag tax in kindergarten environmentalism, this is nonsense. Most bag users do not litter and there are laws with hefty fines on the books for those who do. Stores provide bags because they are convenient and they encourage shopping, and most consumers recycle them at home. I use the plastic bags for trashcan liners and also to clean up after Neocatservative, our feline armchair warrior.

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When I got married a few years back, I had wanted to stay in Virginia—where taxes were lower—but my wife wanted to live in Maryland, and so we compromised and moved to Maryland. Montgomery County, Maryland, is Democrat country. Lawn signs proliferate but, like elections in Cuba, they are all for a single party. Still, despite the high taxes and looming pension crisis, the school system is good and I figured, how much harm could a county government do? A lot, it seems. With little debate and even less coverage, Montgomery County passed a law to discourage disposable bags by imposing a 5 cent charge for each plastic or paper bag used. The charge applies not only in supermarkets, but in all stores: Home Depot? Bag charge. Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Bag Charge. Barnes and Noble? Bag charge. Take-out Chinese food? Bag charge.

While county officials justify the bag tax in kindergarten environmentalism, this is nonsense. Most bag users do not litter and there are laws with hefty fines on the books for those who do. Stores provide bags because they are convenient and they encourage shopping, and most consumers recycle them at home. I use the plastic bags for trashcan liners and also to clean up after Neocatservative, our feline armchair warrior.

Government has become predatory, and the fees add up. According to an Associated Press report, county officials raised $154,000 in the first month. With the lack of inquisitiveness only reporters can muster, however, no journalist has asked what the price to business has been. While I still go to the local supermarket if I run out of milk or my pregnant wife demands pomegranates, these I can carry out without a bag. For most of our shopping, however, my wife and I now drive to Virginia where groceries and others goods are usually cheaper. We’re not profligate spenders, but l would estimate that we shifted perhaps $200 worth of food and retail shopping from Montgomery Country, Maryland to Virginia in January.

Now, Montgomery County has around 972,000 residents, 24 percent of whom are under 18 years old, leaving 738,720 adults. If each adult took $100 shopping into a neighboring county, that would mean a loss to county businesses of $73,872,000. Now, obviously not every adult is mobile or motivated enough to shift their shopping pattern. But, if the bag tax is enough to send only 1,540 county adults—a mere 0.21 percent of county adults—into Fairfax, Virginia, or a neighboring Maryland county—then it is obvious that local business will lose. For the county, the bag law might make cents, but for businesses and residents, it makes no sense.

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Democrats Criticize Rand Paul’s Call to Cut Aid to Israel

JTA is reporting that seven Democratic senators sent a letter to top GOP senators yesterday, calling on the Republicans to repudiate Sen. Rand Paul’s comments about cutting foreign aid to Israel:

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said. …

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

It’s always great to watch Republicans and Democrats in Congress fight over which side is more pro-Israel, because the winner of that argument is always Israel. However, there was one not-so-small accuracy problem with the letter — it implied that there’s been recent interest among Republicans for Paul’s plan. And that’s simply not true.

The opening of the note reads: “We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel.” But as Ron Kampeas notes at JTA, Paul has been the only Senate Republican to recently support such a proposal. So obviously, the likelihood that Congress will actually vote to cut aid to Israel is pretty low, and Democrats are simply using Paul’s position to issue a partisan attack on the Republican Party as a whole.

JTA is reporting that seven Democratic senators sent a letter to top GOP senators yesterday, calling on the Republicans to repudiate Sen. Rand Paul’s comments about cutting foreign aid to Israel:

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said. …

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

It’s always great to watch Republicans and Democrats in Congress fight over which side is more pro-Israel, because the winner of that argument is always Israel. However, there was one not-so-small accuracy problem with the letter — it implied that there’s been recent interest among Republicans for Paul’s plan. And that’s simply not true.

The opening of the note reads: “We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel.” But as Ron Kampeas notes at JTA, Paul has been the only Senate Republican to recently support such a proposal. So obviously, the likelihood that Congress will actually vote to cut aid to Israel is pretty low, and Democrats are simply using Paul’s position to issue a partisan attack on the Republican Party as a whole.

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One More Reason Why the Military Is Among the Most Trusted of Institutions

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

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RE: Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

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Which Failed Leader Will Hang On?

There are parallel storylines that will tell us something about the two parties’ abilities to course correct. On one hand, we have Nancy Pelosi, who is determined to hang on past her expiration date. And then there is Michael Steele, whom GOP insiders have essentially already decided to oust.

The Democrats are conflicted and nervous; Pelosi is determined to steamroll the doubters:

At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in her ability to lead — a number backed up by as many as two dozen more who are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t yet taken sides.

Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December — a clear effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call. …

Even the New York Times’ editorial page has called on Pelosi to step aside.

(You gotta love the “even.”) Pelosi isn’t going quietly. “The shocker — and the true point of contention in Democratic ranks according to some party insiders — is that Pelosi is not ceding any power. She already claims to have the votes to keep the job of Democratic leader — leaving top lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to engage in a caucus-splitting battle for the No. 2 job of minority whip.” Is she posturing, or does she have the votes? Listen, she blew one vote on TARP, and not since then has she permitted a vote on any significant measure for which she did not already have the votes. If they vote next week, Pelosi wins.

Meanwhile, not a soul in the RNC is conflicted about Steele’s future. As I pointed out yesterday, the GOP insiders have already coalesced around the idea of booting him out. This report echoes what I have been hearing:

Several influential RNC members told POLITICO there is widespread — and wild — speculation about possible challengers to Steele. But the top priority of many committee members, the sources said, isn’t necessarily coming to agreement on Steele’s replacement but rather ensuring he won’t have the votes to be reelected.

“There is a growing conversation amongst the members to take a look at what the options are and to identify what kind of chairman we need for the next cycle,” added another RNC member who spoke anonymously in order to be more frank. …

“I like Michael Steele. I have worked to support Michael in the committee while he’s been chairman,” [Haley's nephew Henry] Barbour told POLITICO. “But it’s clear to me that we need a change for the next election cycle.”

Now Steele’s side won an extraordinary midterm victory, no thanks to him; Pelosi’s team was thumped, a direct result of the agenda she forced her caucus to support. Yet Pelosi could well survive, while Steele will almost certainly not. Interesting how quickly the Dems became the party of the status quo.

There are parallel storylines that will tell us something about the two parties’ abilities to course correct. On one hand, we have Nancy Pelosi, who is determined to hang on past her expiration date. And then there is Michael Steele, whom GOP insiders have essentially already decided to oust.

The Democrats are conflicted and nervous; Pelosi is determined to steamroll the doubters:

At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in her ability to lead — a number backed up by as many as two dozen more who are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t yet taken sides.

Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December — a clear effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call. …

Even the New York Times’ editorial page has called on Pelosi to step aside.

(You gotta love the “even.”) Pelosi isn’t going quietly. “The shocker — and the true point of contention in Democratic ranks according to some party insiders — is that Pelosi is not ceding any power. She already claims to have the votes to keep the job of Democratic leader — leaving top lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to engage in a caucus-splitting battle for the No. 2 job of minority whip.” Is she posturing, or does she have the votes? Listen, she blew one vote on TARP, and not since then has she permitted a vote on any significant measure for which she did not already have the votes. If they vote next week, Pelosi wins.

Meanwhile, not a soul in the RNC is conflicted about Steele’s future. As I pointed out yesterday, the GOP insiders have already coalesced around the idea of booting him out. This report echoes what I have been hearing:

Several influential RNC members told POLITICO there is widespread — and wild — speculation about possible challengers to Steele. But the top priority of many committee members, the sources said, isn’t necessarily coming to agreement on Steele’s replacement but rather ensuring he won’t have the votes to be reelected.

“There is a growing conversation amongst the members to take a look at what the options are and to identify what kind of chairman we need for the next cycle,” added another RNC member who spoke anonymously in order to be more frank. …

“I like Michael Steele. I have worked to support Michael in the committee while he’s been chairman,” [Haley's nephew Henry] Barbour told POLITICO. “But it’s clear to me that we need a change for the next election cycle.”

Now Steele’s side won an extraordinary midterm victory, no thanks to him; Pelosi’s team was thumped, a direct result of the agenda she forced her caucus to support. Yet Pelosi could well survive, while Steele will almost certainly not. Interesting how quickly the Dems became the party of the status quo.

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Thanks, but I’d Rather Not

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

Not surprisingly, they aren’t lining up around the block to take the job — as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that is:

There don’t appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer’s name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he’s not doing it.

“I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I’ve said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class,” Schumer said.

Schumer, of course, might still benefit personally from some more Democratic losses in 2012, which could push the Democrats into the minority and finally dislodge Harry Reid. There certainly will be opportunities, with Senate seats in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin up for grabs.

That leaves such luminaries as “Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.)” available for the job. Do any of these seem formidable? Some are barely presentable as the face of the Democratic Party.

But we shouldn’t get too hung up on who gets the white elephant on this one. It wasn’t Bob Menendez who lost the Democrats six seats. It was Obama and Harry Reid — plus an unemployment rate of over 9 percent. The GOP shouldn’t be faulted for calculating that those same factors — and the luck of the draw (only 10 GOP seats are up in 2012) — give them a very good shot at winning the Senate in a couple of years. So who can blame Democratic senators for ducking the call of duty on this one?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Democrats catch flak for their Stephen Colbert stunt. Steny Hoyer is embarrassed: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that comedian Stephen Colbert should not have appeared before a House subcommittee last week, blasting the move as ‘an embarrassment.’” Nancy Pelosi defends the move, affirming the sense that she’s going to be booted out of the House leadership.

The U.S. and Israeli media are catching on: Soros Street is a fraud. “The Washington Times report also revealed that one of J Street’s major donors was a Hong Kong-based businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul. According to the tax returns, Esdicul donated $811,697 over three years. Asked if J Street had conducted a background check on Esdicul, [Amy] Spitalnick said she was not at liberty to divulge the process by which it examines whether to accept money from donors.” So maybe the money is Saudi? Or Iranian? Who knows?

Republican Charles Baker catches Gov. Patrick Duval: “With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. … Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error.”

It’s not likely that Democrat Lee Fisher will catch Rob Portman in Ohio. “The numbers on the race to replace retiring Republican George Voinovich in the U.S. Senate … were in line with a number of other polls conducted in recent months, with the Republican — former Cincinnati congressman and Bush administration official Rob Portman — holding a 15 percentage point lead over the Democrat Lee Fisher, the state’s lieutenant governor.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s dismal record as senator is catching up with her. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle won’t endorse her: “The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation. … It is extremely rare that this editorial page would offer no recommendation on any race, particularly one of this importance. This is one necessary exception. Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone’s list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots.” Wow.

You really have to catch Candy Crowley’s State of the Union. After Dick Durbin declares that the Democrats have done everything right, Crowley asks: “So absolutely no culpability on the part of Democrats or the White House. This is all the Republicans’ fault that people are turning away from President Obama?” Priceless.

Chris Wallace catches Mara Liasson: Hasn’t the Obama agenda contributed to business uncertainty and kept billions on the sidelines of the economy? “Yes, I, on that part I totally agree,” admits Liasson.

The Democrats catch flak for their Stephen Colbert stunt. Steny Hoyer is embarrassed: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Sunday that comedian Stephen Colbert should not have appeared before a House subcommittee last week, blasting the move as ‘an embarrassment.’” Nancy Pelosi defends the move, affirming the sense that she’s going to be booted out of the House leadership.

The U.S. and Israeli media are catching on: Soros Street is a fraud. “The Washington Times report also revealed that one of J Street’s major donors was a Hong Kong-based businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul. According to the tax returns, Esdicul donated $811,697 over three years. Asked if J Street had conducted a background check on Esdicul, [Amy] Spitalnick said she was not at liberty to divulge the process by which it examines whether to accept money from donors.” So maybe the money is Saudi? Or Iranian? Who knows?

Republican Charles Baker catches Gov. Patrick Duval: “With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. … Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error.”

It’s not likely that Democrat Lee Fisher will catch Rob Portman in Ohio. “The numbers on the race to replace retiring Republican George Voinovich in the U.S. Senate … were in line with a number of other polls conducted in recent months, with the Republican — former Cincinnati congressman and Bush administration official Rob Portman — holding a 15 percentage point lead over the Democrat Lee Fisher, the state’s lieutenant governor.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s dismal record as senator is catching up with her. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle won’t endorse her: “The incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer, has failed to distinguish herself during her 18 years in office. There is no reason to believe that another six-year term would bring anything but more of the same uninspired representation. … It is extremely rare that this editorial page would offer no recommendation on any race, particularly one of this importance. This is one necessary exception. Boxer, first elected in 1992, would not rate on anyone’s list of most influential senators. Her most famous moments on Capitol Hill have not been ones of legislative accomplishment, but of delivering partisan shots.” Wow.

You really have to catch Candy Crowley’s State of the Union. After Dick Durbin declares that the Democrats have done everything right, Crowley asks: “So absolutely no culpability on the part of Democrats or the White House. This is all the Republicans’ fault that people are turning away from President Obama?” Priceless.

Chris Wallace catches Mara Liasson: Hasn’t the Obama agenda contributed to business uncertainty and kept billions on the sidelines of the economy? “Yes, I, on that part I totally agree,” admits Liasson.

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Dems in Fantasyland

In a Washington Post symposium on the Tea Party, Bob Shrum (who never figured out how to win a presidential race), Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (who lost a gubernatorial race in Maryland), and Donna Brazile (who vouched for Obamanomics) — what, Michael Dukasis wasn’t available to share his political genius? – are in agreement: the Tea Party is great news for Obama. Seriously. Well, are they?

When Shrum writes this sort of hooey, you wonder if he believes it or if he is desperately trying to pep up the disillusioned liberal base:

The Tea Party will prove to be the best thing that’s happened to Barack Obama and the Democrats since, well, Sarah Palin, the media-hyped 2008 vice presidential nominee who turned out to be a bursting bubble, not a lasting bounce, for the McCain campaign.

Raising the bogeywoman of the left, I suppose, suggests he’s in the base-boosting business.

Townsend is practically unintelligible:

So the Tea Party may help the president not only in this election but, most interestingly, with policy. By constantly raising the issue of the long-term deficit, it is forcing a discussion on how we pay for programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which take up a large part of the federal budget. During the Bush years, these questions went unanswered. A drug benefit was given without paying for it. In fact, taxes were cut, creating a $1.3 trillion hole.

Of course, Bush was an amateur on spending compared to Obama; but more to the point, how does focusing on spending help Obama?

Weighing in on the side of sanity, Ed Rogers explains:

The Democrats and some of their media elite allies seem to believe that the Tea Party’s rise has diminished Republican prospects in the midterm elections this fall. In fact, the Tea Party is a big problem for President Obama and his party this year and probably through 2012.

Think of the Tea Partyers as the tip of an iceberg. The visible part. … The much larger, submerged part is the roughly two-thirds of the electorate who think America is headed in the wrong direction, disapprove of Congress and believe the president is handling the economy poorly. The Democrats are about to hit the whole iceberg.

I wonder what Shrum, Brazile, and Townsend will have to say on election day. When the results come in, how will they explain that the Tea Party was really good news for Obama? They’ll no doubt move on to another explanation. Americans are crazy. Or Obama wasn’t liberal enough. It’s always something — except a repudiation of liberalism.

In a Washington Post symposium on the Tea Party, Bob Shrum (who never figured out how to win a presidential race), Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (who lost a gubernatorial race in Maryland), and Donna Brazile (who vouched for Obamanomics) — what, Michael Dukasis wasn’t available to share his political genius? – are in agreement: the Tea Party is great news for Obama. Seriously. Well, are they?

When Shrum writes this sort of hooey, you wonder if he believes it or if he is desperately trying to pep up the disillusioned liberal base:

The Tea Party will prove to be the best thing that’s happened to Barack Obama and the Democrats since, well, Sarah Palin, the media-hyped 2008 vice presidential nominee who turned out to be a bursting bubble, not a lasting bounce, for the McCain campaign.

Raising the bogeywoman of the left, I suppose, suggests he’s in the base-boosting business.

Townsend is practically unintelligible:

So the Tea Party may help the president not only in this election but, most interestingly, with policy. By constantly raising the issue of the long-term deficit, it is forcing a discussion on how we pay for programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which take up a large part of the federal budget. During the Bush years, these questions went unanswered. A drug benefit was given without paying for it. In fact, taxes were cut, creating a $1.3 trillion hole.

Of course, Bush was an amateur on spending compared to Obama; but more to the point, how does focusing on spending help Obama?

Weighing in on the side of sanity, Ed Rogers explains:

The Democrats and some of their media elite allies seem to believe that the Tea Party’s rise has diminished Republican prospects in the midterm elections this fall. In fact, the Tea Party is a big problem for President Obama and his party this year and probably through 2012.

Think of the Tea Partyers as the tip of an iceberg. The visible part. … The much larger, submerged part is the roughly two-thirds of the electorate who think America is headed in the wrong direction, disapprove of Congress and believe the president is handling the economy poorly. The Democrats are about to hit the whole iceberg.

I wonder what Shrum, Brazile, and Townsend will have to say on election day. When the results come in, how will they explain that the Tea Party was really good news for Obama? They’ll no doubt move on to another explanation. Americans are crazy. Or Obama wasn’t liberal enough. It’s always something — except a repudiation of liberalism.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?’” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?’” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

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RE: Mosque Builders Drop Mask of ‘Reconciliation’

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

The other guest on that segment of This Week, Jennifer, Rabbi Joy Levitt of the Jewish Community Center, seemed awfully ignorant of the religious history of New York City. She said:

Peter Stuyvesant refused to allow synagogues to be built in New York in the 1600s. It took an act of Congress here in Washington to allow a synagogue to be built. … The British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City. So, we understand some of this pain, and yet we’ve also experienced a tremendous amount of support in this country, so I think we actually are in a position to both understand and be helpful, to support religious tolerance in this country.

Unlike the New England Puritans, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland, the Dutch did not come to Manhattan to escape religious persecution or to build a shining city on a hill. They came to Manhattan to make a buck. Indeed, they did not even get around to building a proper church for 17 years. Named after St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has been the city’s patron saint ever since. (In fact, the modern version of Santa Claus is a wholly New York invention, developed by such New York writers as Clement Moore and the cartoonist Thomas Nast.)

Peter Stuyvesant, however, was a deeply religious man, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. He banned both Jews and Quakers from New Amsterdam. They appealed to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam in what is known as the Flushing Remonstrance, often considered the birth of religious freedom in America. The company wrote Governor Stuyvesant and instructed him in no uncertain terms to mind his own business so that the Jews and Quakers could mind theirs.

Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1654, while Stuyvesant was still very much governor of New Amsterdam. It is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, now located at Central Park West and 70th Street. It did not require an act of Congress (which wouldn’t even exist until 1789 and Washington wouldn’t be the capital until 1800). All it took was a sharp rap on the knuckles by the Dutch West India Company to remind Peter Stuyvesant what New Amsterdam was all about.

And if the British wouldn’t allow synagogues to be built in New York City, how did Shearith Israel build one on Mill Street in 1730?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Independents are fleeing from Obama and the Democrats: “Independents who embraced President Barack Obama’s call for change in 2008 are ready for a shift again, and that’s worrisome news for Democrats. Only 32 percent of those citing no allegiance to either major party say they want Democrats to keep control of Congress in this November’s elections, according to combined results of recent Associated Press-GfK polls.”

Johnny Rotten is showing more brains and character than what passes for the liberal intelligentsia: “”If Elvis-f***ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.”

Dore Gold is warning about the Obami’s infatuation with the “1967 borders” (in other words, the status quo after the 1990 armistice, a nonstarter for Israel, and another instance of reneging on the Bush-Sharon 2004 letter, which recognized that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949″). But then this is all moot so long as the PA refuses to get in the room with the Israelis and lacks the will and ability to make a binding peace deal.

The left is reeling from Obama’s backtracking on the Ground Zero mosque: “Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and liberal blogger, summed up the frustration of those on the Left … by tweeting on the microblogging website Twitter: ‘Well, it was nice spending a day thinking Obama did something courageous.’” Silly them.

The shills are straining to explain Obama’s reversal. David A. Harris of the NDJC: “I applaud his clarion statements on this matter that cut to the heart of what our country stands for — including religious liberty for all peoples and the separation of church and state.” The clarion statement praising a mosque on the graves of 3,000 dead Americans or the clarion statement that he didn’t mean it?

The Democratic leadership is sounding desperate to shut up not just the public but also the media and even Obama. “Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and appeared on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ to talk about the upcoming election, was asked for his personal view on whether the mosque should be built in New York. ‘It would be wrong to politicize the issue,’ he said, adding that the decision should be ‘up to the people of New York’ on where the Islamic center should be built.’” The people of NYC don’t want it, and Obama made it front-page news, so I think he’ll have to do better than that.

Conservative blog readers are putting it together. Here’s a particularly apt summary of Obama’s behavior on the Ground Zero mosque debacle: “He is a man of the Left, and for him and many others in this country 9/11 was the big comeuppance. There were many people who came out after 9/11 to say America had it coming, and one of them was Obama’s old friend and ghost autohagiographer Bill Ayers. In his ideas about America’s relationship with the Muslim world, Obama has much more in common with Imam Rauf than with he does with ordinary Americans and he’s not afraid to say so; he’s just really really bad at handling the blow back.”

Obama is still tanking in the polls, reaching a new low in Gallup.

Gen. David Petraeus is struggling to get out from under his commander in chief’s troop deadline for Afghanistan: “‘I don’t find it that stifling,’ he said. ‘I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact the president has been very clear, Vice President [Joe] Biden has been very clear as well more recently that this is a date when a process begins, that is conditions-based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a quote ‘responsible’ drawdown of our forces.’”

Independents are fleeing from Obama and the Democrats: “Independents who embraced President Barack Obama’s call for change in 2008 are ready for a shift again, and that’s worrisome news for Democrats. Only 32 percent of those citing no allegiance to either major party say they want Democrats to keep control of Congress in this November’s elections, according to combined results of recent Associated Press-GfK polls.”

Johnny Rotten is showing more brains and character than what passes for the liberal intelligentsia: “”If Elvis-f***ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.”

Dore Gold is warning about the Obami’s infatuation with the “1967 borders” (in other words, the status quo after the 1990 armistice, a nonstarter for Israel, and another instance of reneging on the Bush-Sharon 2004 letter, which recognized that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949″). But then this is all moot so long as the PA refuses to get in the room with the Israelis and lacks the will and ability to make a binding peace deal.

The left is reeling from Obama’s backtracking on the Ground Zero mosque: “Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and liberal blogger, summed up the frustration of those on the Left … by tweeting on the microblogging website Twitter: ‘Well, it was nice spending a day thinking Obama did something courageous.’” Silly them.

The shills are straining to explain Obama’s reversal. David A. Harris of the NDJC: “I applaud his clarion statements on this matter that cut to the heart of what our country stands for — including religious liberty for all peoples and the separation of church and state.” The clarion statement praising a mosque on the graves of 3,000 dead Americans or the clarion statement that he didn’t mean it?

The Democratic leadership is sounding desperate to shut up not just the public but also the media and even Obama. “Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and appeared on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ to talk about the upcoming election, was asked for his personal view on whether the mosque should be built in New York. ‘It would be wrong to politicize the issue,’ he said, adding that the decision should be ‘up to the people of New York’ on where the Islamic center should be built.’” The people of NYC don’t want it, and Obama made it front-page news, so I think he’ll have to do better than that.

Conservative blog readers are putting it together. Here’s a particularly apt summary of Obama’s behavior on the Ground Zero mosque debacle: “He is a man of the Left, and for him and many others in this country 9/11 was the big comeuppance. There were many people who came out after 9/11 to say America had it coming, and one of them was Obama’s old friend and ghost autohagiographer Bill Ayers. In his ideas about America’s relationship with the Muslim world, Obama has much more in common with Imam Rauf than with he does with ordinary Americans and he’s not afraid to say so; he’s just really really bad at handling the blow back.”

Obama is still tanking in the polls, reaching a new low in Gallup.

Gen. David Petraeus is struggling to get out from under his commander in chief’s troop deadline for Afghanistan: “‘I don’t find it that stifling,’ he said. ‘I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact the president has been very clear, Vice President [Joe] Biden has been very clear as well more recently that this is a date when a process begins, that is conditions-based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a quote ‘responsible’ drawdown of our forces.’”

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Turkey and the Other MIT

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

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Forget the Rule Book

Ross Douthat looks at the pre-positioning for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. He explains that there are the populists — Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — with devoted followers and equally devoted detractors, and that there is the “next in line” Republican — Mitt Romney. The name of the game, Douthat suggests, for establishment Republicans (the geniuses who preferred Charlie Crist to Marco Rubio?) is to stage ”a kind of intra-establishment coup, in which Romney is knocked from his perch as the safe, sober choice and a fresher figure takes his place.” Douthat throws out some contenders: Tim Pawlenty, Jeb Bush, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and Haley Barbour. Douthat advises Romney to “co-opt some of the populist zeal that a Palin or a Huckabee” exhibit without alienating the establishment.

What’s wrong with this analysis? It has no context, and Douthat treats the contenders as archetypes (“sober reformer,” “unpredictable populist,” etc.) rather than as actual contenders with personalities and histories. Romney’s biggest problem isn’t Palin or Huckabee or any other Republican; it is that he championed a health-care bill that looks very similar to ObamaCare, which is the object of the entire party’s ire. Oh, yes — that.

If we learned anything in 2008 it was that context matters. The “unbeatable” Hillary Clinton ran precisely the wrong campaign (“experience”) in a “change” election year. Obama never looked back after the financial meltdown, because the context had changed — wariness of George W. Bush had been transformed into fury over the economic collapse. So, yes, the GOP has a habit of giving the nod to the “runner-up” from the previous year; but we’ve had a political earthquake, and the past is not much of a guide to the new political landscape.

Moreover, if Romney or any candidate is banking on establishment Republicans, as Douthat explains, ”to rally around him once the primary voting starts — not out of love or admiration, but out of fear of the populist alternative,” he really has not been paying attention. The “establishment” isn’t really in charge of much of anything any more. The party elders, for better or worse, are being ignored. Ask Rubio, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Sharon Angle, and the rest if endorsements by the establishment and big-name donors are the key to victory. The old rules for picking presidential nominees (No congressmen! Must be a household name!) and the creaky campaign customs (The former governor of Maryland endorses candidate X!) have been blown up — first by Obama and then by the Obama backlash.

Maybe Romney four years after his first run can close the sale and figure out a way to deal with RomneyCare. But he won’t do it by splitting the difference between the Tea Party and the Beltway or by ingratiating himself with insiders (the ones who took more than a year to figure out what the Tea Partiers were all about). That sort of thinking is so 2008. The context has changed. The rules — if there are any — are different.

It’s not clear whether outsiderness or executive acumen will carry the day. The only thing for certain is that the old rule book is of absolutely no help.

Ross Douthat looks at the pre-positioning for the 2012 Republican presidential primary. He explains that there are the populists — Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee — with devoted followers and equally devoted detractors, and that there is the “next in line” Republican — Mitt Romney. The name of the game, Douthat suggests, for establishment Republicans (the geniuses who preferred Charlie Crist to Marco Rubio?) is to stage ”a kind of intra-establishment coup, in which Romney is knocked from his perch as the safe, sober choice and a fresher figure takes his place.” Douthat throws out some contenders: Tim Pawlenty, Jeb Bush, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, and Haley Barbour. Douthat advises Romney to “co-opt some of the populist zeal that a Palin or a Huckabee” exhibit without alienating the establishment.

What’s wrong with this analysis? It has no context, and Douthat treats the contenders as archetypes (“sober reformer,” “unpredictable populist,” etc.) rather than as actual contenders with personalities and histories. Romney’s biggest problem isn’t Palin or Huckabee or any other Republican; it is that he championed a health-care bill that looks very similar to ObamaCare, which is the object of the entire party’s ire. Oh, yes — that.

If we learned anything in 2008 it was that context matters. The “unbeatable” Hillary Clinton ran precisely the wrong campaign (“experience”) in a “change” election year. Obama never looked back after the financial meltdown, because the context had changed — wariness of George W. Bush had been transformed into fury over the economic collapse. So, yes, the GOP has a habit of giving the nod to the “runner-up” from the previous year; but we’ve had a political earthquake, and the past is not much of a guide to the new political landscape.

Moreover, if Romney or any candidate is banking on establishment Republicans, as Douthat explains, ”to rally around him once the primary voting starts — not out of love or admiration, but out of fear of the populist alternative,” he really has not been paying attention. The “establishment” isn’t really in charge of much of anything any more. The party elders, for better or worse, are being ignored. Ask Rubio, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, Sharon Angle, and the rest if endorsements by the establishment and big-name donors are the key to victory. The old rules for picking presidential nominees (No congressmen! Must be a household name!) and the creaky campaign customs (The former governor of Maryland endorses candidate X!) have been blown up — first by Obama and then by the Obama backlash.

Maybe Romney four years after his first run can close the sale and figure out a way to deal with RomneyCare. But he won’t do it by splitting the difference between the Tea Party and the Beltway or by ingratiating himself with insiders (the ones who took more than a year to figure out what the Tea Partiers were all about). That sort of thinking is so 2008. The context has changed. The rules — if there are any — are different.

It’s not clear whether outsiderness or executive acumen will carry the day. The only thing for certain is that the old rule book is of absolutely no help.

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Massachusetts Dems Still Trying to Reverse Bush v. Gore

It’s a little late to help Al Gore, but the loyal Democrats of Massachusetts are still trying to reverse the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. The Bay State’s legislature ratified a bill today mandating that, in the future, all of their votes in the electoral college will go to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote — no matter whom the citizens of Massachusetts preferred. The catch to this scheme is that it will not go into effect until the total of electoral votes from states that have passed similar laws reaches 270 — the number of votes needed to win the presidency.

While the Electoral College has always had its critics, grousing over the arcane system devised by the Founders was never loud enough to reach the point where an alternative might be seriously considered — at least not until the hanging chads of Florida in 2000. The razor-thin outcome of that state’s voting embittered Democrats, many of whom cling to the fiction that the 2000 election was “stolen.” It wasn’t — but the anomalous result, whereby the winner of the most electoral votes did not also win the popular vote, was seen, not unreasonably, as somehow unfair. Though resistance from small states would make a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College virtually impossible, a scenario whereby enough states embrace the plan that Massachusetts has just passed — which would abolish the College for all intents and purposes — is a realistic option. At this moment, five generally Democratic states — Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington — in addition to Massachusetts have ratified such laws. That gives advocates of the idea 73 electoral votes. That’s a long way from 270 but it is not a stretch to imagine that the addition of a few large Blue States to that total would put the Electoral College on the verge of extinction.

It is understandable that most contemporary Americans view with dismay the Founders’ desire to put the selection of the president in the hands of notables rather than those of the people. But the virtues of the College are not limited to the pull of tradition, though that should not be underestimated. Critics of the current system point out that the realities of Electoral College mathematics push presidential candidates to concentrate their energies on states whose votes are up for grabs while they ignore those that are safely in the pockets of either party. But its abolition will more or less render all small states and non-urban areas no-go zones for the candidates. An election in which only the national popular vote counts might limit the campaigns to the two coasts and a few big cities in between them, with most of the country being truly relegated to the status of “flyover” territory. Will that be an improvement?

Even more to the point, we should remember that the real reason this “reform” is being championed by some legislators is the fact that the Democrats were the losers in 2000. Had the outcome been the reverse — and prior to the last weekend before the voting that year, when revelations about Bush’s DUI came out, an outcome in which Bush won the popular vote and Gore the Electoral College was widely seen as the more likely result — would Democrats be so eager to junk the system? And will Boston Democrats really be happy if their electoral votes wind up going to a Republican that was swamped in Massachusetts but won elsewhere?

Imperfect though it is, the Electoral College is an embodiment of the Founders’ belief in both federalism and the idea that the country ought not to be dominated by the largest states. The partisan rancor that has divided this country in the 10 years since Bush v. Gore is a poor reason to scrap a venerable institution.

It’s a little late to help Al Gore, but the loyal Democrats of Massachusetts are still trying to reverse the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. The Bay State’s legislature ratified a bill today mandating that, in the future, all of their votes in the electoral college will go to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote — no matter whom the citizens of Massachusetts preferred. The catch to this scheme is that it will not go into effect until the total of electoral votes from states that have passed similar laws reaches 270 — the number of votes needed to win the presidency.

While the Electoral College has always had its critics, grousing over the arcane system devised by the Founders was never loud enough to reach the point where an alternative might be seriously considered — at least not until the hanging chads of Florida in 2000. The razor-thin outcome of that state’s voting embittered Democrats, many of whom cling to the fiction that the 2000 election was “stolen.” It wasn’t — but the anomalous result, whereby the winner of the most electoral votes did not also win the popular vote, was seen, not unreasonably, as somehow unfair. Though resistance from small states would make a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College virtually impossible, a scenario whereby enough states embrace the plan that Massachusetts has just passed — which would abolish the College for all intents and purposes — is a realistic option. At this moment, five generally Democratic states — Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington — in addition to Massachusetts have ratified such laws. That gives advocates of the idea 73 electoral votes. That’s a long way from 270 but it is not a stretch to imagine that the addition of a few large Blue States to that total would put the Electoral College on the verge of extinction.

It is understandable that most contemporary Americans view with dismay the Founders’ desire to put the selection of the president in the hands of notables rather than those of the people. But the virtues of the College are not limited to the pull of tradition, though that should not be underestimated. Critics of the current system point out that the realities of Electoral College mathematics push presidential candidates to concentrate their energies on states whose votes are up for grabs while they ignore those that are safely in the pockets of either party. But its abolition will more or less render all small states and non-urban areas no-go zones for the candidates. An election in which only the national popular vote counts might limit the campaigns to the two coasts and a few big cities in between them, with most of the country being truly relegated to the status of “flyover” territory. Will that be an improvement?

Even more to the point, we should remember that the real reason this “reform” is being championed by some legislators is the fact that the Democrats were the losers in 2000. Had the outcome been the reverse — and prior to the last weekend before the voting that year, when revelations about Bush’s DUI came out, an outcome in which Bush won the popular vote and Gore the Electoral College was widely seen as the more likely result — would Democrats be so eager to junk the system? And will Boston Democrats really be happy if their electoral votes wind up going to a Republican that was swamped in Massachusetts but won elsewhere?

Imperfect though it is, the Electoral College is an embodiment of the Founders’ belief in both federalism and the idea that the country ought not to be dominated by the largest states. The partisan rancor that has divided this country in the 10 years since Bush v. Gore is a poor reason to scrap a venerable institution.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The wave is about to hit the Democrats. The latest poll from Reuters-Ipsos: “Only 34 percent approved of Obama’s handling of the economy and jobs compared to 46 percent who deemed it unsatisfactory. This is a sharp decline from early 2009 shortly after he took office when over a half of those surveyed approved of Obama’s handling of the worst financial crisis in decades. … Republicans hold a 46-44 percent lead over Democrats when participants were asked which party they planned to support in November. And 72 percent of Republicans said they are certain to vote on November 2, compared to 49 percent of Democrats.”

It’s not been smooth sailing for Donald Berwick: “Dr. Berwick is still struggling to tamp down a furor over past statements in which he discussed the rationing of health care and expressed affection for the British health care system. And he is finding his ability to do his job clouded by the circumstances of his appointment, with many Republicans in open revolt over President Obama’s decision to place him in the post without a Senate confirmation vote. Dr. Berwick never had a confirmation hearing and has not responded publicly to critics. The White House declined to make him available for an interview.” (Has the Gray Lady discovered that this is the least-transparent administration in history?)

Obama is wrecking private-sector confidence, says Mort Zuckerman: “The growing tension between the Obama administration and business is a cause for national concern. The president has lost the confidence of employers, whose worries over taxes and the increased costs of new regulation are holding back investment and growth. The government must appreciate that confidence is an imperative if business is to invest, take risks and put the millions of unemployed back to productive work.”

Obama’s poll numbers continue to dive: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-five percent (45%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -20.” His RealClearPolitics disapproval rating average is at a new high.

Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sends a shot over the bow of a fellow commissioner and the mainstream media, which prefer to misrepresent or ignore the uncontroverted evidence in the New Black Panther Party scandal.

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship, House Democrats are distancing themselves from Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday noted that it was Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), not him, who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of corruption in Washington.”

The Charlie Rangel settlement talks run aground. It seems there was a sleazy backroom meeting to try to settle Rangel’s sleazy dealings: “Rep. Charlie Rangel’s chances of cutting an ethics deal are in jeopardy over allegations that he met privately with Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) Monday night without any Republican members of the bipartisan panel present. Sources close to Rangel deny that there was an attempt to cut a backroom deal with Lofgren, but Rangel’s attorneys met with Democratic ethics committee staff Monday, according to people close to the investigation.”

The Senate fails to submarine the First Amendment: “The Senate failed to advance a campaign finance bill Tuesday, dealing a blow to Democrats who were trying to pass a key piece of their agenda before the August recess. … The three Republican centrists considered most likely to support the bill, Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.), all voted against it … despite heavy lobbying from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org. … Democrats were also missing the vote of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who was absent from the Senate on Tuesday because he was attending a funeral.”

The wave is about to hit the Democrats. The latest poll from Reuters-Ipsos: “Only 34 percent approved of Obama’s handling of the economy and jobs compared to 46 percent who deemed it unsatisfactory. This is a sharp decline from early 2009 shortly after he took office when over a half of those surveyed approved of Obama’s handling of the worst financial crisis in decades. … Republicans hold a 46-44 percent lead over Democrats when participants were asked which party they planned to support in November. And 72 percent of Republicans said they are certain to vote on November 2, compared to 49 percent of Democrats.”

It’s not been smooth sailing for Donald Berwick: “Dr. Berwick is still struggling to tamp down a furor over past statements in which he discussed the rationing of health care and expressed affection for the British health care system. And he is finding his ability to do his job clouded by the circumstances of his appointment, with many Republicans in open revolt over President Obama’s decision to place him in the post without a Senate confirmation vote. Dr. Berwick never had a confirmation hearing and has not responded publicly to critics. The White House declined to make him available for an interview.” (Has the Gray Lady discovered that this is the least-transparent administration in history?)

Obama is wrecking private-sector confidence, says Mort Zuckerman: “The growing tension between the Obama administration and business is a cause for national concern. The president has lost the confidence of employers, whose worries over taxes and the increased costs of new regulation are holding back investment and growth. The government must appreciate that confidence is an imperative if business is to invest, take risks and put the millions of unemployed back to productive work.”

Obama’s poll numbers continue to dive: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-five percent (45%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -20.” His RealClearPolitics disapproval rating average is at a new high.

Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sends a shot over the bow of a fellow commissioner and the mainstream media, which prefer to misrepresent or ignore the uncontroverted evidence in the New Black Panther Party scandal.

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship, House Democrats are distancing themselves from Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday noted that it was Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), not him, who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of corruption in Washington.”

The Charlie Rangel settlement talks run aground. It seems there was a sleazy backroom meeting to try to settle Rangel’s sleazy dealings: “Rep. Charlie Rangel’s chances of cutting an ethics deal are in jeopardy over allegations that he met privately with Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) Monday night without any Republican members of the bipartisan panel present. Sources close to Rangel deny that there was an attempt to cut a backroom deal with Lofgren, but Rangel’s attorneys met with Democratic ethics committee staff Monday, according to people close to the investigation.”

The Senate fails to submarine the First Amendment: “The Senate failed to advance a campaign finance bill Tuesday, dealing a blow to Democrats who were trying to pass a key piece of their agenda before the August recess. … The three Republican centrists considered most likely to support the bill, Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.), all voted against it … despite heavy lobbying from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org. … Democrats were also missing the vote of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who was absent from the Senate on Tuesday because he was attending a funeral.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Did Obama mention this in Cairo? “A group of young Saudi men have launched a campaign to convince Saudi men of the unappreciated virtues of polygamy.  It is a response to young Saudi women uninterested in joining a polygamous marriage, older Saudi women divorcees and Saudi men unable or unwilling to support more than one woman. The campaign seeks to counter what Saudi traditionalists see as an increasingly negative stigma attached to polygamy.”

Did Democratic lawmakers actually buy the notion that the American people would learn to love ObamaCare? “Almost four months after the passage of major health care legislation, the law remains unpopular with the public. Nearly half of Americans (47%) disapprove of the health care law while just 35% approve of the measure. An overwhelming proportion of opponents of health care legislation — 37% of the public overall — favor repealing the legislation as soon as possible. Just 7% say they want to let the law stand and see how it works. Public opinion toward health care legislation remained very stable in the months leading up to the bill’s passage, and that has continued to be the case.” That miscalculation will likely end more than a few political careers.

Did you expect anything else? “South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is sending strong signals that he may again buck his party and become the lone GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee to vote for Elena Kagan to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.”

Did Gen. Stanley McChrystal do us all a big favor? Gallup reports: “[Gen. David Petraeus] takes his new job as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan with a remarkably positive image among Americans who know who he is. At the same time, Petraeus now faces the additional challenge of commanding a mission that the majority of Americans say is going badly. Americans’ views of the situation in Iraq improved during and after Petraeus’ tenure as commander in that country. The degree to which Petraeus will be able to shift Americans’ perceptions of the war in Afghanistan in similar fashion will have important consequences in many arenas, including the politics of the war in the U.S.”

Did you think in November 2008 that Barbara Boxer would now be in a toss-up race?

Did he check with Robert Gibbs? “House Majority Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) became the latest Democratic leader to voice confidence that the party will hold its majority in the House this fall.”

Did Robert Reich ever sound so smart? “Democrats have been almost as reluctant to attack inequality or even to recognize it as the central economic and social problem of our age. … As money has risen to the top, so has political power. Politicians are more dependent than ever on big money for their campaigns. … Today’s cash comes in the form of ever increasing campaign donations from corporate executives and Wall Street, their ever larger platoons of lobbyists and their hordes of PR flacks.” Hence, the “major fault line in American politics is no longer between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, but between the ‘establishment’ and an increasingly mad-as-hell populace determined to ‘take back America’ from it.”

Did Obama mention this in Cairo? “A group of young Saudi men have launched a campaign to convince Saudi men of the unappreciated virtues of polygamy.  It is a response to young Saudi women uninterested in joining a polygamous marriage, older Saudi women divorcees and Saudi men unable or unwilling to support more than one woman. The campaign seeks to counter what Saudi traditionalists see as an increasingly negative stigma attached to polygamy.”

Did Democratic lawmakers actually buy the notion that the American people would learn to love ObamaCare? “Almost four months after the passage of major health care legislation, the law remains unpopular with the public. Nearly half of Americans (47%) disapprove of the health care law while just 35% approve of the measure. An overwhelming proportion of opponents of health care legislation — 37% of the public overall — favor repealing the legislation as soon as possible. Just 7% say they want to let the law stand and see how it works. Public opinion toward health care legislation remained very stable in the months leading up to the bill’s passage, and that has continued to be the case.” That miscalculation will likely end more than a few political careers.

Did you expect anything else? “South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is sending strong signals that he may again buck his party and become the lone GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee to vote for Elena Kagan to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.”

Did Gen. Stanley McChrystal do us all a big favor? Gallup reports: “[Gen. David Petraeus] takes his new job as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan with a remarkably positive image among Americans who know who he is. At the same time, Petraeus now faces the additional challenge of commanding a mission that the majority of Americans say is going badly. Americans’ views of the situation in Iraq improved during and after Petraeus’ tenure as commander in that country. The degree to which Petraeus will be able to shift Americans’ perceptions of the war in Afghanistan in similar fashion will have important consequences in many arenas, including the politics of the war in the U.S.”

Did you think in November 2008 that Barbara Boxer would now be in a toss-up race?

Did he check with Robert Gibbs? “House Majority Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) became the latest Democratic leader to voice confidence that the party will hold its majority in the House this fall.”

Did Robert Reich ever sound so smart? “Democrats have been almost as reluctant to attack inequality or even to recognize it as the central economic and social problem of our age. … As money has risen to the top, so has political power. Politicians are more dependent than ever on big money for their campaigns. … Today’s cash comes in the form of ever increasing campaign donations from corporate executives and Wall Street, their ever larger platoons of lobbyists and their hordes of PR flacks.” Hence, the “major fault line in American politics is no longer between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, but between the ‘establishment’ and an increasingly mad-as-hell populace determined to ‘take back America’ from it.”

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Campaign Finance Reform? Just More Political Corruption

The effort by President Obama and congressional Democrats to sidestep the Supreme Court’s landmark free-speech ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case has sent these supposed advocates for clean elections down into the usual morass of special-interest legislation.

The Citizens United ruling overturned the McCain-Feingold federal restrictions, which prevented groups and corporations from exercising their right to comment on the behavior of our elected leaders. In this case, a so-called “reform” of campaign finance meant that incumbents had the right to silence their critics, such as in the instance that prompted the ruling, which concerned a film that was critical of Hillary Clinton and banned by the Federal Election Commission. The Court wisely saw this as a violation of the First Amendment.

Obama and the Democrats have engaged in nonstop demagoguery about this issue, which they pretend is about ensuring fairness but is actually about protecting politicians and the mainstream media from both scrutiny and competition. A measure proposed by Maryland’s Rep. Chris Van Hollen and New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer attempts to skirt the Court’s decision by adding new disclosure rulings, which will burden those attempting to speak out and is almost certainly unconstitutional. As the New York Times reports, they’ve now made it worse by granting specific exemptions to some groups but not to others. And in order to gain the votes of moderate Democrats, they’ve added the National Rifle Association to the ranks of those who will be excluded from the new regulations. That has now been changed to include all groups with 500,000 or more members. That may lead some Democrats to think they’ll escape being tarred as anti-gun in a year in which anti-incumbent fever is running high. But all this does is narrow down the government’s discrimination between speech that it likes — such as campaign expenditures by labor unions — and speech it doesn’t like — such as any group targeted by the bill — while infuriating some liberals who are appalled at having to exempt the NRA.

This law isn’t just a mess. It also illustrates everything that is wrong about so-called reform of election spending, which amounts to nothing more than deciding who can speak and who can’t. The Times treats this as just the usual congressional log-rolling, in which deals are made to avoid antagonizing some while harming others. But free speech cannot be allocated like earmark pork legislation, which doles out funds to some districts while others get nothing. But to unprincipled politicians whose main goal is to silence their critics, there is no limit as to how low they will sink in order to pass a bill that will hamstring independently financed political speech.

The effort by President Obama and congressional Democrats to sidestep the Supreme Court’s landmark free-speech ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case has sent these supposed advocates for clean elections down into the usual morass of special-interest legislation.

The Citizens United ruling overturned the McCain-Feingold federal restrictions, which prevented groups and corporations from exercising their right to comment on the behavior of our elected leaders. In this case, a so-called “reform” of campaign finance meant that incumbents had the right to silence their critics, such as in the instance that prompted the ruling, which concerned a film that was critical of Hillary Clinton and banned by the Federal Election Commission. The Court wisely saw this as a violation of the First Amendment.

Obama and the Democrats have engaged in nonstop demagoguery about this issue, which they pretend is about ensuring fairness but is actually about protecting politicians and the mainstream media from both scrutiny and competition. A measure proposed by Maryland’s Rep. Chris Van Hollen and New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer attempts to skirt the Court’s decision by adding new disclosure rulings, which will burden those attempting to speak out and is almost certainly unconstitutional. As the New York Times reports, they’ve now made it worse by granting specific exemptions to some groups but not to others. And in order to gain the votes of moderate Democrats, they’ve added the National Rifle Association to the ranks of those who will be excluded from the new regulations. That has now been changed to include all groups with 500,000 or more members. That may lead some Democrats to think they’ll escape being tarred as anti-gun in a year in which anti-incumbent fever is running high. But all this does is narrow down the government’s discrimination between speech that it likes — such as campaign expenditures by labor unions — and speech it doesn’t like — such as any group targeted by the bill — while infuriating some liberals who are appalled at having to exempt the NRA.

This law isn’t just a mess. It also illustrates everything that is wrong about so-called reform of election spending, which amounts to nothing more than deciding who can speak and who can’t. The Times treats this as just the usual congressional log-rolling, in which deals are made to avoid antagonizing some while harming others. But free speech cannot be allocated like earmark pork legislation, which doles out funds to some districts while others get nothing. But to unprincipled politicians whose main goal is to silence their critics, there is no limit as to how low they will sink in order to pass a bill that will hamstring independently financed political speech.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took too long, but the myth of Obama’s competence is crumbling: “The WH political shop leaves much to be desired. Take your pick as to which is worse: The fact that Pres. Obama’s team opened itself up to GOP ridicule over feelers it put out to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) and ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D); the fact that those feelers didn’t actually work, displaying an ineptness absent during George W. Bush’s tenure; or the fact that the WH has gone more than a week without being able to move past the story.”

It took too long, but the Obama spin on the economic “recovery” is no longer carrying the day: “Private employers did little hiring last month, undermining hopes that the economic recovery was gathering pace and helping send U.S. stocks down more than 3% on the day. The Labor Department said Friday that 431,000 jobs were added in May. But the vast majority were temporary workers hired by the government to conduct the 2010 Census. Private-sector employment rose by only 41,000, the smallest monthly increase since January. Without faster private-sector job growth, the U.S. faces a bumpy recovery restrained by households with little income to spend.”

It took too long, but even the New York Times has stopped shilling for Obama with respect to the economy: “President Obama tried to put a gloss on the jobs report, telling workers at a trucking company in Hyattsville, Md., that the numbers showed an economy that was ‘getting stronger by the day.’ Mr. Obama mentioned that Census Bureau hiring accounted for most of the new jobs, but he added that the nation had added jobs for each of the last five months. ‘These numbers do mean that we are moving in the right direction,’ he said. ‘There are going to be ups and downs.’ In fact, the May figures suggested a job market wheezing after months of more vigorous growth.”

It took too long, but the Washington Post is calling for transparency on the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers:”Is President Obama comfortable with the actions of White House officials in dangling federal jobs as political inducements? An episode involving former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) is more troubling than the previously disclosed incident involving Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.). . .  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Mr. Obama did not know about the Romanoff overtures in advance, and Mr. Gibbs blew off questions about his reaction by saying he hadn’t discussed the matter with the president. That’s not sufficient. The American people deserve to hear directly from the president about whether he is happy with this behavior.”

It took too long, but an advocate for Israel emerges in the administration: “Biden’s instinctive embrace of Israel at a moment it was under fire from the international community was the most vivid example yet of Biden’s emergence as the West Wing’s most prominent public supporter of the Jewish state. ” Too bad Obama isn’t and he ignores most of what Biden says.

It took too long, but foreign-policy gurus across the political spectrum are complaining that “when it comes to the question of democracy in the Muslim world, many see a U.S. administration more keen to reinforce status quo support for authoritarian regimes than to push for meaningful political reform.”

It took too long, but cranky Republicans are admitting that, “after this Obama nightmare, the Bush brand is looking pretty good.” (The occasion was a New York GOP convention at which Jeb Bush stole the show.)

It took too long, but there is a is a brilliant novel of teenage angst other than (and smarter than) Catcher in the Rye. (The most insightful review is, of course, in this month’s COMMENTARY.)

And with plenty of time to spare, Mitch Daniels emerges as a potential 2012 contender: “He is at once so visible and so self-effacing that he seems to have sunk into a black hole of personal magnetism and come out the other side, where the very lack of charisma becomes charismatic. He is the un-Obama. Republicans — notably some wealthy and powerful ones who have decided he should be president​ — seem to like that.”

It took too long, but the myth of Obama’s competence is crumbling: “The WH political shop leaves much to be desired. Take your pick as to which is worse: The fact that Pres. Obama’s team opened itself up to GOP ridicule over feelers it put out to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) and ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D); the fact that those feelers didn’t actually work, displaying an ineptness absent during George W. Bush’s tenure; or the fact that the WH has gone more than a week without being able to move past the story.”

It took too long, but the Obama spin on the economic “recovery” is no longer carrying the day: “Private employers did little hiring last month, undermining hopes that the economic recovery was gathering pace and helping send U.S. stocks down more than 3% on the day. The Labor Department said Friday that 431,000 jobs were added in May. But the vast majority were temporary workers hired by the government to conduct the 2010 Census. Private-sector employment rose by only 41,000, the smallest monthly increase since January. Without faster private-sector job growth, the U.S. faces a bumpy recovery restrained by households with little income to spend.”

It took too long, but even the New York Times has stopped shilling for Obama with respect to the economy: “President Obama tried to put a gloss on the jobs report, telling workers at a trucking company in Hyattsville, Md., that the numbers showed an economy that was ‘getting stronger by the day.’ Mr. Obama mentioned that Census Bureau hiring accounted for most of the new jobs, but he added that the nation had added jobs for each of the last five months. ‘These numbers do mean that we are moving in the right direction,’ he said. ‘There are going to be ups and downs.’ In fact, the May figures suggested a job market wheezing after months of more vigorous growth.”

It took too long, but the Washington Post is calling for transparency on the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers:”Is President Obama comfortable with the actions of White House officials in dangling federal jobs as political inducements? An episode involving former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) is more troubling than the previously disclosed incident involving Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.). . .  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Mr. Obama did not know about the Romanoff overtures in advance, and Mr. Gibbs blew off questions about his reaction by saying he hadn’t discussed the matter with the president. That’s not sufficient. The American people deserve to hear directly from the president about whether he is happy with this behavior.”

It took too long, but an advocate for Israel emerges in the administration: “Biden’s instinctive embrace of Israel at a moment it was under fire from the international community was the most vivid example yet of Biden’s emergence as the West Wing’s most prominent public supporter of the Jewish state. ” Too bad Obama isn’t and he ignores most of what Biden says.

It took too long, but foreign-policy gurus across the political spectrum are complaining that “when it comes to the question of democracy in the Muslim world, many see a U.S. administration more keen to reinforce status quo support for authoritarian regimes than to push for meaningful political reform.”

It took too long, but cranky Republicans are admitting that, “after this Obama nightmare, the Bush brand is looking pretty good.” (The occasion was a New York GOP convention at which Jeb Bush stole the show.)

It took too long, but there is a is a brilliant novel of teenage angst other than (and smarter than) Catcher in the Rye. (The most insightful review is, of course, in this month’s COMMENTARY.)

And with plenty of time to spare, Mitch Daniels emerges as a potential 2012 contender: “He is at once so visible and so self-effacing that he seems to have sunk into a black hole of personal magnetism and come out the other side, where the very lack of charisma becomes charismatic. He is the un-Obama. Republicans — notably some wealthy and powerful ones who have decided he should be president​ — seem to like that.”

Read Less