Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Canada: First S. Carolina and now in Florida Palin says vote for Newt but she's not endorsing anyone...yet

PJ: She calls on republicans to vote for Gingrich but won't step up to endorse him. Could she turn on him and back another? She's also said kind things about Ron Paul and Rick Santorum (which both have used in their campaigns) but has never instructed anyone to actually vote for them. She hasn't, to my knowledge said anything nice about Mitt Romney and has even slammed those who have (I hope that Governor Chris Christie finally unknotted his panties). She's pushing very hard for Gingrich through her infamous ghostwritten Facebook posts and her wall to wall Fox interviews but she refuses to endorse him. Makes you wonder what she's afraid of? Or what exactly she has up her sleeve that will no doubt be all about benefitting Sarah Palin.

The Globe and Mail

Sarah Palin says ‘vote Newt’ – just don’t call it an endorsement
By Affan Chowdhry

There is a curious dance Sarah Palin is doing lately with Newt Gingrich, and it goes something like this: do not formally endorse Mr. Gingrich, but on the eve of key state primaries make an appearance on Fox News TV and deliver what sounds an awful lot like an endorsement.

The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate did it ahead of the South Carolina primary, saying that if she were a South Carolinian she would ”vote for Newt.” Mr. Gingrich welcomed the lift and credited Ms. Palin’s comments with helping his South Carolina campaign. “She’s an enormous help. She’s a big help in the South Carolina victory,” he told Fox News.

On the eve of the Florida primary, Ms. Palin has once again came out in support of Mr. Gingrich in back-to-back appearances.

On Sunday night, she delivered a scathing critique of the U.S. political establishment, including the Republican party establishment, for trying to “crucify” Mr. Gingrich.

Ms. Palin defended Mr. Gingrich as the anti-establishment candidate who is fighting for the Tea Party grassroots: “Ya know you gotta rage against the machine, at this point in order to defend our Republic and save what is good and secure and prosperous about our nation, we need somebody who is engaged in sudden and relentless reform and isn’t afraid to shake it up. Shake up that establishment.

“So, if for no other reason THAN to rage against the machine, vote for Newt, annoy a liberal. Vote Newt. Keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going,” she told viewers.

The next night, Ms. Palin once again used the Fox News platform: this time to defend Mr. Gingrich from attacks that he has exaggerated his role in President Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution of the 1980s. The attacks, she said, were an attempt to re-write history.

But on issue of a formal endorsement of Mr. Gingrich, Governor Palin stepped back, saying she would “continue to say good things about every GOP candidate, because anybody’s gonna be better than Obama.”

And so the curious dance continues.

Mr. Gingrich can at least count on some Palin ‘stardust’ with the official endorsement of Governor Palin’s husband Todd Palin.

Florida Republicans will be receiving a get-out-the-vote robo-call from Mr. Palin today.

China: US shots at China trade may backfire


U.S. shots at China trade may backfire

"Being each other's second-largest trading partner, China and the United States should set sail on the same boat toward the shared boom."

BEIJING, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- U.S. politicians have aimed a barrage of critiques at China's trade policies recently but the shots from the crisis-plagued economy of the United States are likely to miss their target, or worse, backfire.

As the Chinese braced for their Lunar New Year, U.S. leaders and congressmen worked on a combination of action plans to deal with China's "unfair trade practices" and restore domestic jobs.

In the State of the Union address, President Obama said he would set up a new trade enforcement unit to probe unfair trade practices in countries such as China. At the Davos forum, Treasury Secretary Geithner singled out China as a "really unique and formidable challenge to the global trading system" for its systematic state subsidies and undervalued currency.

U.S. Republican lawmakers are mulling new legislation to facilitate levying countervailing duties on subsidized imports from China among other non-market economies.

It's the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, and the fire being breathed at the country's trade is more in line with the hostility that the animal represents in the eyes of the Westerners, instead of the fortune and power indicated by the Chinese zodiac.

The sharpening tone on China's trade for the sake of protecting domestic jobs is understandable and predictable -- this, after all, is a year of presidential campaign during which China is doomed to be a target for candidates' bullets in an effort to win votes.

As old a trick as this is, the U.S. government does face a freshly trickier picture: limping growth accompanied with stubbornly high unemployment, and debt woes which have spread from commercial mortgages to sovereign bills. For those anticipating growth would return in the wake of a massive state bailout and stimulus package, bad news stories have come one after another.

But that hardly suffices to prove that bashing and taxing Chinese goods will put growth and jobs into place. The high-profile tire dispute in 2009 shows how a get-tough policy on Chinese exports has failed to get the wheels of the United States' economy moving after three years of practice. A U.S. tire association official told The Wall Street Journal recently that the tariffs which are supposed to cut U.S. imports and increase jobs have done little of either, but raised prices for consumers.

Mobilizing a special task force is, on one hand, part of the political show in an election campaign year. On the other hand, it underscores that, to look to trade to boost growth, the U.S. government means business. It may move toward the right ends, but not necessarily with the right means.

Any arbitrary guesses of the new trade unit's de facto function is undesirable. Still, hopes are high that the U.S. government can rationally handle the sensitive trade issue and explore innovative ways to sort out disputes, rather than complicating and intensifying the conflicts and escalating trade rows into trade wars.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. The U.S. congressmen's tough talk of new countervailing duty bills signals that regrettable story could take place overnight.

Their intent to seek speedy taxation betrays their jitters about domestic incompetence and their jealousy of emerging economies' growing strength in a range of areas from traditional manufacturing to clean energy.

Furthermore, China has not run out of ammunition to cope with the chaos, although retaliation or the abuse of trade remedy measures have never been at the forefront of the country's arsenals.

Accusing China of subsidizing exports is based more on self-reinforcing ideas than on calmly conceived measuring. The land and loans that Chinese companies get owes to their merits in the appraisal system. Even with some state help, those promising industries deserve a due level of government nurture.

In fact, Western economists don't need to be too sensitive about the words "state" or "government." The debate between free market and state capitalism became a hot topic at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. Free-market economies have paid exorbitant prices for lack of essential supervision in key industries. And the battlefield is yet to be cleaned up.

To revive domestic manufacturing, the U.S. government needs to do something pragmatic to restructure its industrial pattern and labor force. It would be an utterly cock-and-bull story if it merely complained about another's advantages without addressing its own chronic problems in order to get its economic engine purring again.

Being each other's second-largest trading partner, China and the United States should set sail on the same boat toward the shared boom.

Ireland: Sarah Palin goes all out for Gingrich

PJ: The campaign slogan for the McCain presidential run was "Country First". After chosing the woefully unprepared Palin for his VP running mate, many questioned his desire to put party before country in his blind ambition to win the White House. Now Palin has come out with her non-endorsement but full-on support for Newt Gingrich in the GOP presidential contest by saying "vote for Newt; annoy a liberal". She has now gone beyond the party over country meme as her distaste for more than half the population of the United States is put on full display. The President of a country is meant to govern for the whole and not simply for the 'chosen' ones. In Palin's world, a President need only support and answer to those of the selected conservative ranks...all others be damned.

Irish Central

Sarah Palin says vote Newt Gingrich and annoy the liberals
Infighting tests the mettle and patience of the GOP

Poll after poll are showing that Mitt Romney has a commanding lock on the Florida vote count today. But don't count Newt Gingrich out just yet says the thiriller from Wasilla, Sarah Palin.

Gingrich was bolstered, if that's the right word, with an unexpected weekend endorsement from another former front-runner with documented marital issues of his own, Herman Cain, and the Florida Tea Party.

But pundits were astounded to see 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin appear on Fox News on Sunday to endorse the former Republican House Speaker: 'If for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt; annoy a liberal, vote Newt. Keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going,' she enthused.

And her unexpected challenge might yet have an impact. A recent poll shaved Romney's lead down to just five points and another suggested his front-runner's position was ebbing.

Gingrich is the unlikely favorite with with traditional values Evangelicals, Tea Partiers, and those voters who describe themselves as 'very conservative.' Unfortunately his margins with these conservative groups are not as large as they were in South Carolina.

By throwing her lot in with Gingrich we will learn a great deal about the political clout of Sarah Palin tonight.

New Zealand: Gingrich and Cain and Palin Oh My

New Zealand Herald

Gingrich: Romney carpet-bombing me
5:30 AM Tuesday Jan 31, 2012

Newt Gingrich, who secured Herman Cain's endorsement ahead of tomorrow's Florida primary, has lashed out at the "establishment" for trying to block his path to the Republican nomination and accused his main rival, Mitt Romney, of using his cash-rich campaign to "carpet-bomb" him into oblivion.

Gingrich, who is waning in the polls, played insurgent pitted against the old guard. It is a strategy that has glaring contradictions but taps into Romney's weaknesses: that he is seen by many as a dull, status quo elitist who has more money than empathy.

"Governor Romney has the ability to raise an amazing amount of money out of Wall St. And he has a basic policy of carpet-bombing the opponent," the former House Speaker said yesterday.

Romney is outspending him three-to-one in TV and radio advertising.

The fight is creating a class schism in the party that echoes the ascent of the anti-establishment Tea Party two years ago. While the leadership is not wild about Romney, the notion of a Gingrich nomination causes instant nausea. "If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices," the former Senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole wrote in the National Review.

But Gingrich has cavalry of his own. As well as Cain's backing, Sarah Palin, who built her career tilting at the Republican establishment in Alaska, stopped just short of an endorsement. "You've got to rage against the machine ... to defend our republic and save what is good and secure and prosperous about our nation," she said. "We need somebody who is not afraid to shake up the establishment. So, if for no other reason, annoy a liberal, vote Newt."

Nonetheless, the former House Speaker looks to be heading for a crash tomorrow. A Marist Poll gives Romney a 15-point lead. Romney is favoured to gain momentum beginning with a likely win next weekend in the Nevada caucuses.

But Gingrich vowed at the weekend to stick with it for the long haul whatever the Florida result. At a Florida rally Gingrich won standing ovations with a succession of conservative bromides including pledges to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to make English the official language of government. And he vowed to get started even before his inauguration. "By the time Barack Obama has landed in Chicago we will have deconstructed 40 per cent of his programme," he declared.

He wants to be the outsider YET he served in Congress from 1979 to 1999, four years as speaker.

So, who is the real Newt?

He wants to be Main Street guy versus rich-brat YET peddled his influence, earning about US$1.6 million ($1.95 million) from Freddie Mac.

He seeks the family values vote YET this description of him went viral: "Using children from your first wife to convince everyone that your second wife is lying about your third wife."

Canada: Romney slated to take Florida

PJ: Gingrich blames his projected loss on being outspent by Romney's campaign and Super Pac*. And he may just be right.

It must be noted that Gingrich actually supports the idea of Super Pacs. Super Pacs are the result of the 'Citizens United' Supreme Court decision which allows for Corporations and individuals to buy give generously to the politician of the choice (Romney has stated that corporations "are people too"). Both Romney and Gingrich have recieved millions into their Super Pacs but the end result is that Romeny's has received more. Gingrich's prime benefactor is Casino Multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson** but it has become obvious that he hasn't been able to attract more mega-doners for his campaign. Makes you wonder if Gingrich's critisim about the money being spent against him has changed his mind about supporting the Citizens United decision.

* For more about the Supreme Court decision that allows these Pacs


680 News (Toronto)

Upbeat Romney expects to win in Tuesday's Florida primary; Gingrich says he won't quit race

TAMPA, Fla. - Mitt Romney pushed for a big win over Newt Gingrich Tuesday in Florida's pivotal primary as he seeks to tighten his grip as the front-runner in the race to pick a Republican challenger to President Barack Obama.

Romney enters the day as the heavy favourite in the primary, the final contest in a month of high-stakes elections in which the former Massachusetts governor claimed one win and two second places so far.

Polls show Romney with a double-digit lead in Florida, the fourth and largest state so far to hold a nominating contest. The winner takes all 50 delegates at stake — the biggest prize to date in the state-by-state nominating contests leading to the Republican National Convention in late August in Tampa that will select the nominee.

Romney has been the front-runner for much of the race, but suffered a stunning loss to Gingrich in the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary. But in the span of a volatile week, the race has been turned upside-down.

Romney and his allies have pummeled Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, on TV and on the campaign trail. Romney turned in two strong debate performances, while Gingrich faltered. Now opinion polls show Romney with a comfortable lead here.

A Romney win Tuesday is unlikely to end Gingrich's candidacy in a Republican contest that has turned increasingly hostile. . But Romney would have the clear momentum as the race enters a relatively quiet period next month with lower-profile contests, some in states friendly to the more moderate Romney.

Romney has the advantage of more campaign money, a stronger national organization and the support of much of the Republican establishment. Gingrich's populist, sharp-tongued attacks on Obama and media "elites" have helped him emerge as Romney's chief rival, but Romney supports have tried to cast him as too erratic to be an effective nominee or president.

Romney is generally considered the Republicans' strongest candidate to face Obama, whose re-election prospects have been hurt by the slow U.S. economic recovery.

But Romney has had difficulty winning over many Republicans who question his conservative credentials given his shifting views on abortion, gay rights and gun control, as well as the similarities between a Massachusetts health insurance plan he backed as governor and Obama's national plan, which is widely despised by Republicans.

The polls open at 7 a.m. (1200 GMT) across Florida, where Romney offered an increasingly optimistic tone while campaigning in recent days.

"With a turnout like this, I'm beginning to feel we might win tomorrow," an upbeat Romney told a crowd of several hundred at a stop in Dunedin on Monday as he and Gingrich campaigned across the state making their final appeals.

Romney renewed attacks on his rival as an untrustworthy, Washington influence peddler at the outset of two separate appearances Monday. He claimed that Gingrich's ties to federally backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac, despised by conservatives, have hurt the former speaker in a state wracked by the foreclosure crisis.

Gingrich, in turn, acknowledged that his momentum had been checked but promised to remain in the race through the Republican convention. He characterized Romney as an imposter, and his team started to plot a strategy for upcoming contests.

"He can bury me for a very short amount of time with four or five or six times as much money," Gingrich said in a television interview. "In the long run, the Republican Party is not going to nominate ... a liberal Republican."

Romney's campaign cancelled a Tuesday morning rally, but scheduled a night celebration at the Tampa Convention Center. Gingrich planned a blitz of local television interviews and appearances at polling places in Orlando, Lakeland and Celebration — — before gathering with supporters for a primary night party in Orlando. The last polls close at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT).

The other two candidates in the race will not be in Florida on Tuesday. Both former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas congressman Ron Paul have ceded Florida's primary to Romney and Gingrich in favour of smaller, less-expensive contests. They will spend the day campaigning across Colorado and Nevada.

Romney and his allies have poured more than $14 million into Florida television advertising primarily to attack Gingrich, who has struggled to compete with Romney's fundraising ability, staffing and network of high-profile supporters. Gingrich and his allies spent roughly $3 million on Florida advertising.

"We are pitting people power versus money power," Gingrich said Monday as he tried to rally his shrinking base of support.

Republican officials in Florida were anticipating a big turnout, more than 2 million voters, up from a record 1.9 million in the Republican primary in 2008. More than 605,000 Floridians had already voted as of Monday, either by visiting early voting stations or by mailing in absentee ballots, ahead of the total combined early vote in the Republican primary four years ago.

Romney easily won the New Hampshire primary after nearly winning the leadoff Iowa caucuses which Santorum won by several dozen votes. The South Carolina setback behind him, Romney sought to aggressively stop Gingrich, aided by a well-funded political action committee that supports him and is run by former political aides.

UK: "Americans are not becoming more divided" They've been this way for the last 40 years

The Economist

Polarised data

TODAY'S headlines bring us an interesting little point-counterpoint about political polarisation. First of all, we have a report filed from the annual meeting of Society for Personality and Social Psychology. It's "downright wrong", writes Stephanie Pappas, to say that Americans are becoming more divided: "In fact, political polarization among the public has barely budged at all over the past 40 years." The Washington Post, on the other hand, notes that Barack Obama has a partisan approval gap of 68%—that is, 80% of Democrats approve of the job he's doing, compared to 12% of Republicans—the largest partisan gap for any president's third year of office ever recorded. "What do those numbers tell us?" ask Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake. "Put simply: that the country is hardening along more and more strict partisan lines."

In other words, we have two sets of researchers taking up a potentially serious question and coming up with totally contradictory conclusions. The fundamental difference is methodological. Mr Cillizza and Mr Blake are looking at Gallup tracking polls, which stretch back about 60 years. Ms Pappas focuses on the work of a psychologist, John Chambers of the University of Florida, who measured the difference between "actual" and "perceived" polarisation by examining thousands of answers to the American National Election Survey alongside the polling data. If you look at the polls, he found, you do see that people think things are more polarised, and that partisans on both sides perceive a higher degree of polarisation than independents. But if you get down to people's views on policy issues—defence spending, women's rights—the country is not much more polarised than it was in the 1970s.

Alongside these data sets, we have completely different premises about how to interpret them. The Cillizza/Blake view is that a president's partisan approval gap is an indicator of political polarisation more broadly. The Chambers view is that "perceived" polarisation is less significant than the "actual" polarisation that can be measured by the responses to policy questions.

Both of these approaches are open to criticism. With regard to the president's approval rating, the problem is that the president isn't the party, and so the president's job approval rating isn't a perfect proxy for polarisation more generally. I'm not even sure that job approval is a great proxy for how polarising the president himself is, unless we're defining polarisation by the partisan approval gap itself. "Do you approve of the job Barack Obama is doing?" is a yes-or-no question that doesn't allow for variations like "I hate him with a passion that surprises and alienates casual observers" or "I've been disappointed by his pragmatism, but he's better than Mitt Romney" and so on. It may be that any president's partisan approval gap is a leading indicator of polarisation, because the president is a highly visible avatar of one party's platform, but the president is also an individual figure, so we can't make too much of that.

I like Mr Chambers' distinction between actual and perceived polarisation, because it reinforces my casual impression that you hear much more partisan rhetoric on television than you do in real life. However, we should be cautious about the idea that we can measure "real" political polarisation simply by asking people about their substantive views. There's not a perfect overlap between policy preferences and partisan identification, much less the intensity of partisan preference. So the finding that Americans aren't getting more contentious about policy questions is interesting, but the connection to political polarisation is a little tenuous. Mr Chambers seems to implicitly acknowledge as much:

The people who see the world split into two opposing factions are also most likely to vote and become politically active, Chambers said in a talk at the meeting. This means that while real growing polarization is illusory, the perception of polarization could drive the political process.

Mr Chambers's conclusion about the independents—that they perceive less polarisation than partisans on either side—strikes me as the most compelling finding here. That might be surprising, if you think that independents are people who have been driven out of the major parties because they're turned off by the fighting, or it might strike you as common sense, if you see independents as people situated between the two parties. In either case, as independents are now the biggest "party" in the United States, their revival seems to corroborate his overarching argument that partisanship is not as intense as we perceive.

Middle East: US: Assad will fall

Al Jazeera

Middle East
US says Assad's fall 'inevitable'
White House says Syria's leadership has lost control of the country, as Western and Arab nations push for UN resolution.

The US has said the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is coming to an end, as Western and Arab nations push for a UN Security Council resolution.

Washington is seeking to convince Russia not to stand in the way of the Arab League's initiative, to be presented to the Security Council in New York on Tuesday, calling for Assad to transfer power to help resolve the crisis.

"Assad's fall is inevitable," Jim Carney, the White House spokesman, said on Monday.

"As governments make decisions about where they stand on this issue and what steps need to be taken with regards to brutality of Assad's regime, it's important to calculate into your consideration the fact that he will go. The regime has lost control of the country and he will eventually fall."

But a senior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday that the push for adoption of a the Western-Arab draft resolution was a "path to civil war".

"The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria will not lead to a search for compromise," Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying. "Pushing it is a path to civil war."

Damascus dismissed Western criticism and said it would defeat what it called foreign attempts to spread chaos.

"We are not surprised at the lack of wisdom or rationality of these statements and regret that they are still issued by
countries that are used to making the Middle East an arena for their follies and failures," the state news agency quoted a foreign ministry source as saying.

"Syria, which is defending itself today against terrorism and will continue to do so, will be the exception which ... will
foil the policies of chaos adopted by these countries," it said.

Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, following events in Syria from neighbouring Turkey, said the crucial question is when Russia will feel pressured enough by the international community to stop voicing support for its ally.

"Syria doesn't yet seem to feel that it's sufficiently isolated, that it needs to change the course of action," she said. "It certainly won't feel that as long as Russia is telling it that it still backs it."

Violence escalating

The comments came as fighting seemed to escalate on the ground in Syria.

Activists said battles resumed in Damascus suburbs on Tuesday, after members of the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army pulled back the previous night after deadly clashes.

About 100 people were reportedly killed across the country on Monday, as troops battled opposition fighters in the central city of Homs and in suburbs of the capital.

The Local Co-ordination Committees said the majority of the victims died in Homs province, many of them in the town of Rastan, where the army shelled residential buildings.

Rastan has long been the scene of battles between armed opposition and government forces.

State television said government forces had carried out operations to restore security upon a request from citizens.

Meanwhile, Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, and Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister, held talks with diplomats in New York ahead of Tuesday's Security Council meeting on Syria.

A new draft resolution calls for a "political transition" in Syria. While it does not seek military action or UN sanctions against Syria, it does say that the Security Council could "adopt further measures" if Damascus does not comply with the terms of the resolution.

Russia, which along with China vetoed a previous draft in October, has not explicitly threatened to veto the resolution, but has said the draft is unacceptable in its present form.

'Diplomatic muscles flexed'

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she would travel to the UN for the meeting to "send a clear message of support to the Syrian people: We stand with you".

France, the UK, and Portugal are sending their foreign ministers to take part in the meeting.

"The resignation of Assad is the condition for any negotiation on the transition to a democratic government in Syria "

A vote on the resolution, drafted by European and Arab members of the council, could come before the end of the week, diplomats say.

Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the United Nations in New York, said that French diplomats were claiming that the resolution now had a majority of votes in the Security Council.

"All diplomatic muscles are being flexed here in New York in an attempt to win support for a resolution that is put forward by Morocco in the Security Council... But it comes down to China and Russia who have both expressed concern over the resolution."

As permanent members, both Russia and China have veto powers at the Security Council, so any binding resolution would require Moscow and Beijing to at least abstain from voting.

Earlier, Russia suggested to the government and the opposition that they should meet in the Russian capital for "informal contacts" without any preconditions.

Russia said Assad's government had agreed to talks, but a major opposition body rejected the offer.

"The resignation of Assad is the condition for any negotiation on the transition to a democratic government in Syria," Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, told the AFP news agency.

Israel: Gingrich's flip-flops that endanger peace in the Middle East


Newt Gingrich's flip-flopping on the Middle East
The Zionist declarations intoned by the controversial southern politicians have little effect on elderly Jewish voters.
By Akiva Eldar

According to opinion polls, Republican hopeful Newt Gingrich will be receiving consolation calls from at least two of his friends tomorrow when the results of the Florida primaries are announced. He will hear from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and from billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the conservative U.S. politician's main backer and the publicist for Israel's conservative prime minister.

Political forecasters in America project that retired Jewish voters in the Sunshine State will be among those who prove that the Casino King's $10 million investment in Gingrich was a bad gamble. The Zionist declarations intoned by the controversial southern politicians have little effect on elderly Jewish voters.

For the benefit of readers with short memories, I have lifted from Haaretz's archive a series of quotes from an interview with Gingrich in 1995. This was a short time after he rose to the lofty post as speaker of the House. Note that this is the same Gingrich who currently swears that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people and that Israel should not withdraw from the territories.

"I can't see any apparatus more fitting for stabilizing the Palestinian Authority on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank than stable Palestinian authority," Gingrich declared in 1995. The former House speaker promised to support Israel's efforts to strengthen the Palestinian government, and praised Israel's policy on the Palestinian track, claiming that "recent accomplishments are a byproduct of Yitzhak Rabin's leadership."

Gingrich did not slight Israel's opposition leader at the time. "I hear what Benjamin Netanyahu is saying, and I have respect for his strong, intelligent views," he said.

In fact, only a few months later, it turned out that Gingrich had not only listened, but also had taken steps to promote Netanyahu's views. Among other efforts, Netanyahu lobbied with Gingrich to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu's Republican allies in the pro-Israel AIPAC organization proposed to Gingrich and to the Republican party's presidential candidate, Bob Dole, that a bill be sponsored requiring the Clinton administration to relocate the U.S. embassy.

"Israel has the right to define the location of its capital, and we ourselves, as its allies, must agree with this," Gingrich said at the time. "If this bill reaches Congress this year, I will support it." Gingrich called on the president to meet this challenge - though he immediately clarified, "I don't want to cause trouble for the Clinton administration."

Three months passed, and Gingrich joined forces with his fellow Republicans and Netanyahu, submitting a bill requiring the U.S. government to move its embassy to Jerusalem. This would have entailed an official change to U.S. policy on the most sensitive issue of the peace process.

This was also during one of the most sensitive moments of the Oslo process negotiations. Netanyahu and his confederates sold this initiative to the Republican presidential hopeful, Bob Dole, and they set an ambush for Rabin during the annual AIPAC meetings in Washington, where the prime minister delivered a speech.

The bill was passed by a resounding majority. The Arab world convulsed, the Palestinians threatened to ignite fires on the ground, and Clinton suspended the law's implementation on the basis of national security. His successor in the White House, Republican George Bush, followed his lead, and signed suspension bills for the law every six months. So, too, has President Barack Obama suspended the law.

In none of these instances did Gingrich protest against "the damage caused to Israel's right to determine its capital," as he put it in the 1995 interview. Today, he promises, of course, that should he be elected president, he would rectify this error immediately. And so, with the announcement of the Florida primary results, we will know tomorrow whether Israel's fire prevention services need to order extra supplies for the Jerusalem area, and whether bomb shelters in the city ought to be dusted off and prepared for use.

Farewell partners

Barring any major surprises, Netanyahu will soon be able to announce the ultimate victory: At long last, Oslo will recapture its status as the capital of Norway, and will no longer serve as a synonym for negotiations with the Palestinians.

Discussions in Jordan, which for some reason were called "peace talks," shoved PA President Mahmoud Abbas into a dead end. Should he freeze these "talks" and revive the United Nations initiative, he will lose President Obama's support once and for all, and also leave Fatah empty-handed in its race against Hamas in upcoming Palestinian elections. On the other hand, should he continue to stage these "talks" and freeze the UN initiative - without Israel enacting a settlement construction freeze - Hamas will make mincemeat out of him in the elections.

Israel's refusal to erect polling stations in East Jerusalem might spare Fatah another defeat in the vote for the PA's legislative assembly. However, Israel's veto on East Jerusalem voting won't stop Hamas leaders from joining Palestine Liberation Organization heads on the Palestinian national council after the elections. After this development, the 1988 PLO declaration - recognizing the state of Israel at the 1967 borders, and announcing the termination of the violent resistance - can be altered as the foundation of Palestinian negotiations with Israel.

Hamas draws considerable inspiration and political power from the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian elections. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan stated this week that, in view of the continuing violation of Arab rights, it's inconceivable that his party will maintain contacts with Israel. No contacts with Arabs - what a relief.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ireland: US right wing goes after...the Muppets?

PJ: Truly a head-slapping, Only-in-America story.

The Journal

Watch: Kermit responds to Fox News claim that Muppets push liberal agenda

STEP ASIDE MICHAEL Moore – there’s a new defender of liberal Hollywood values in town.

At a press conference in London for the premiere of their new film called, er, The Muppets, a reporter asked what the stars thought about recent inflammatory comments from Fox News.

A presenter on the station had argued on air that the film promotes a dangerous liberal agenda and questioned whether it was using class warfare to brainwash children.

Kermit delivered a fair and balanced response when questioned about the comments – leaving Miss Piggy to deliver the killer blow.


For More on this breaking story:

The Hollywood Reporter

Kermit and Miss Piggy, aided by their puppeteers, sound off to London reporters on recent accusations the film promotes a "dangerous liberal agenda."

Nearly two months after Fox Business Network personality Eric Bolling's choice words for The Muppets went viral, the Disney characters had an opportunity to respond at a press conference.

With their puppeteers below them, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy fielded questions from London reporters ahead of the film's Feb. 17 U.K. release. And one journalist was quick to bring up Bolling's assessment that the film promoted a "dangerous liberal agenda."

"It's so dangerous," said Kermit, throwing is his puppet head back. "It's a funny thing. They were concerned about us having some prejudice against oil companies, and I can tell you that's categorically not true."

“We’re teaching our kids class warfare," Bolling said of the film's villainous big oil executive at the time of its U.S. release. "Where are we, Communist China?"

Kermit was quick to find an example of the film's apolitical stance on oil: "If we had a problem with the oil companies, why would we have spent the entire film driving around a gas-guzzling Rolls-Royce?"

STORY: Fox Business Network Calls Muppets Communist
Miss Piggy chose a less diplomatic route when chiming in on the topic. "It's almost as laughable as accusing Fox News of being news," she said to laughs and applause from from the crowd. "If they take what I say seriously, they have a real big problem."

Kermit then accurately predicted the next chapter in the oddly enduring saga. "Boy, that's going to be all over the Internet," he said.

More from The Hollywood Reporter:

Fox Business Network Calls Muppets Communist; Debate Goes Viral

A segment on the network was highlighted by Media Matters, reigniting a conversation about whether or not there are political messages in children's movies.

If you Googled news about “Muppets” on Monday you were treated to hundreds of news stories and blog items debating whether Disney’s lovable creatures were Communists or not. You can thank Fox Business Network and Media Matters for that.

Eric Bolling of Follow the Money set the stage on Friday when he hosted a 7-minute segment that argued that The Muppets film – featuring bad-guy oilman Tex Richman -- promotes a left-wing agenda.

“We’re teaching our kids class warfare. Where are we, Communist China?” Bolling said.

That line – along with the rest of the conversation – irked Media Matters, the progressive watchdog group and No. 1 enemy of Fox News Channel and sister channel FBN. So that night it slapped its logo on a video of the segment and sent it around the Internet, and by Monday it had gone viral.

“Liberal Hollywood depicting a successful businessman as evil – that’s not new,” Bolling said while introducing his first guest, Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog organization.

“It’s amazing how far the left will go just to stop – to manipulate your kids,” Gainor said, “to convince them – to give them the anti-corporate message.”

“Is liberal Hollywood,” asks Bolling, “using class warfare to kind of brainwash our kids?”

Gainor answers in the affirmative and lists as examples Ted Turner’s Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Disney’s Cars 2 and Nickelodeon’s The Big Green Help.

“Ultimately, what they’re telling kids is what they told you in the movie The Matrix: that mankind is a virus on poor, old Mother Earth,” Gainor said.

Bolling’s next guest agreed. “It’s brainwashing in the most obvious form, right? I just wish liberals could leave little kids alone,” said Andrea Tantaros, co-host of The Five on Fox News.

The Washington Post picked apart the argument, as did the New York Daily News. The item got the most traction, though, at more partisan outlets on both ends of the political spectrum.

“Painting businessmen as evil isn’t anything new. And it would certainly fall in line with a liberal Hollywood message,” a writer at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze wrote.

“In Hollywood, daring to cast a Muslim character can be considered a hate crime, but repeatedly casting businessmen, Christians and Southerners as villains is enlightened,” says an item at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood.

The Blaze and Big Hollywood are both on the right. Examples on the left include: “Oh, Fox Business News, never change. In one of those ‘if it weren’t real we would think it were an Onion story’ moments, Fox Business show Follow the Money recenty had a segment in which they warn that the new Muppets movie is going to ‘brainwash’ our children into socialist plushies.”

The Huffington Post: “It ain’t easy being green, but according to Fox Business, Kermit the Frog and his Muppet friends are reds…. The Teletubbies were unavailable for comment. Mahna-Mahna.”

Others weighing in on the hot debate were MSNBC, Perez Hilton, Entertainment Weekly and Slate.

UK: The hilarity of Sarah Palin's call to "keep this vetting process going..."

The Spectator

Astonishing Scenes as Sarah Palin Says Something Useful...
By Alex Massie

Sarah Palin has provided us with a helpful distillation of what Newt Gingrich's campaign is all about:

At the weekend the ex-house speaker, Newt Gingrich had an endorsement from the former front-runner, Herman Cain, and the Florida Tea Party. But his biggest backing, and probably the most influential, has come from the 2008 V-P candidate, Sarah Palin who went on Fox TV yesterday to say, "if for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt; annoy a liberal, vote Newt. Keep this vetting process* going, keep the debate going".

Since annoying liberals is Mrs Palin's secondary** goal in life she knows well of what she speaks. It's not quite fair on Newt Gingrich to suggest he's cut from the same cloth as the former governor of Alaska but his campaign really does amount to little more than what Mrs Palin suggests is does: raging against the machine and annoying liberals. This is fine as entertainment but hopelessly inadequae for serious politics.

Mike Smithson gets close to the point but then misses it quite spectacularly:

If by any chance Newt does pull it off, it will tell us a great deal about the political influence of Sarah Palin***.

Since Newt will not be the Republican party's nominee one may also safely say that Sarah Palin's "political influence" is as hefty and consequential as it deserves to be.

*I know, the hilarity!

**The first is exalting Mrs Palin.

***But even if he did it would only tell us something about Mitt Romney's inadequacies and the foolishness of Florida's voters.

Canada: America's war with its Central Bank--the history and the controversy

The Globe and Mail

America’s still skeptical about central banking
By Neil Reynolds

The colonies would gladly have borne the little tax on tea … had it not been that England took away from the colonies their money, which created unemployment and dissatisfaction. – Benjamin Franklin

Before the revolution, each of the American colonies issued its own currency. When England moved to prohibit “colonial scrip” and impose English currency, it hastened the war of American independence. Americans have always taken skeptically the notion of a national bank. More than two centuries later, many of them still do. Indeed, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the country’s fourth crack at it, has become a central issue of the presidential election campaign of 2012. The fundamental question is this: Can American democracy survive the Fed?

What’s past, it is said, is prologue. When treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton established the first U.S. national bank in 1791, he financed the venture by selling $10-million in common stock – the first $2-million reserved for the government, the remaining $8-million set aside for the public. The government didn’t have $2-million, of course, a problem Hamilton solved in the usual central-bank way. He borrowed it from the bank (which had no funds) – and used the proceeds to buy the required stock.

By all accounts, Hamilton did a creditable job. He established the First Bank of the United States as a private, profit-making institution. He prohibited it from buying government bonds. He required private shareholders to pay one-quarter of their investment in gold or silver coin. He required a prudent reserve ratio of 40 per cent. He required that the bank make loans to the government only on the collateral of its gold and silver reserves. And he required a weekly audit of the bank’s books.

Chartered for 20 years of operation, Hamilton’s prototype national bank survived the two-term presidency (1801-1809) of Thomas Jefferson, who passionately opposed such institutions as “a back door to monarchy, a vast, secret intricate power beyond the people’s understanding and control, unconstitutional, centralizing and aristocratic.” Public resistance to it also remained intense. When the bank’s charter expired in 1811, the bank expired with it.

A second national bank, chartered for another 20 years, operated from 1816 through 1836; it proved criminally corrupt. A third national bank system supplied Abraham Lincoln with paper currency – greenbacks – to fund the Civil War. A fourth national bank, the Federal Reserve, arrived in 1913 with the dawning of the centralized state. It has survived for nearly a century – demonstrating, through boom and bust, why the American people have distrusted it so much for so long. It was, after all, a primary cause of the Great Depression in 1929 and a primary cause of the Great Market Meltdown in 2008.

When he used his presidential veto to abolish the second of the four U.S. central banks, president Andrew Jackson – “Old Hickory” – listed three reasons why central banks expose democracies to unacceptable risk: (1) they concentrate too much power in a single institution; (2) they make countries too dependent on foreign debt – hence too dependent on foreign countries; and (3) they make the rich richer and the poor poorer. In 1835, incidentally, Jackson paid off the entire federal debt, the only president in history to accomplish such a feat. He championed “a plain system [of government], void of pomp, protecting all and granting favours to none, dispensing its blessings like the dews of heaven.”

In some ways, the presidential election now under way evokes the presidential election of 1800. The nation was deeply divided, the rhetoric rude and libellous. The incumbent Federalists wanted more government; the opposition Republicans wanted less. The most heated issue of the campaign: whether or not to end the Fed – and whether to bail out private banks with public money.

Historians now call the 1800 election “the bank war.” As a rearguard action, though, it persists to this very day. End the Fed, says Republican candidate Ron Paul. Audit it, says Newt Gingrich, “and find out who got our money.” Forbid the bailouts, says Mitt Romney. Even Barack Obama, who bailed out Wall Street financial institutions with low-interest, trillion-dollar loans, now concurs. It’s populist politics for sure. But Jeffersonian democracy survives to fight another day – a democracy embodying, as Jefferson eloquently put it in his first inaugural address, “the soul of the nation.”

Canada: Primary to Romney; WH to Obama

The National Post

Sheldon Alberts: Hispanics could give Florida to Romney, White House to Obama

By Sheldon Alberts

“Mi papa no habla espanol.”

My father doesn’t speak Spanish, Craig Romney announced to the crowd gathered in the parking lot outside Casa Marin restaurant in Hialeah, Florida.

It was less apology than explanation, and it hardly mattered to the 200 mostly Cuban-American voters who had ventured out on a muggy South Florida afternoon to hear Mitt Romney make his pitch to be the 45th president of the United States.

Whatever his linguistic limitations, the former Massachusetts governor was telling his audience in English exactly what it wanted to hear — slamming a decision last year by President Barack Obama to liberalize U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“So with Cuba, he says, ‘OK we’re going to open up remittances and extend travel to Cuba as a show of kindness and a gift.’ And, of course, gifts to people who are fundamentally evil are never returned,” Romney said. “The right course for America is to stand with strength against despots.”

Fidel and Raul Castro make for easy targets here in Miami-Dade County, home to America’s largest expatriate Cuban population.

The historically conservative community has long played a central role in Florida’s Republican politics — and Romney’s support among Cuban-Americans has surged in the run up to Tuesday’s GOP primary in the Sunshine State.

According to a poll last week by ABC News and the Spanish-language Univision network, Romney had 49 per cent support among Latinos planning to vote in the GOP primary. Only 23 per cent said they would back Newt Gingrich.

Romney’s strength has come thanks to a series of high-profile endorsements from members of South Florida’s Republican congressional delegation, including Cuban-American lawmakers Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Their backing has fed the growing perception here that Romney is set to re-establish himself as the GOP front-runner with a victory over Gingrich in Tuesday’s primary.

An NBC/Marist poll released Sunday showed Romney with a double-digit lead over Gingrich in the state.

But even as polls show Romney on the cusp of victory in the primary, there are signs he’d face a tougher challenge carrying Florida in the November general election.

Notwithstanding his support in the traditionally Republican Cuban-American community, Romney is battling perceptions elsewhere among Latinos that he is anti-immigrant.

He sparked controversy last week with a call for undocumented workers to “self-deport.”

Gingrich called the self-deportation idea “fantasy,” and an aired an ad last week denouncing Romney as anti-immigrant.

Romney had also drawn criticism from immigration reform proponents for vowing to veto the so-called Dream Act, proposed legislation that would offer citizenship to children brought illegally to the U.S. if they join the military or attend college.

“The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive,” Romney says in response.

To court Latino voters and counter any negative image, Romney’s Spanish-speaking youngest son, Craig, has been featured in radio ads touting his father’s candidacy.

Whether Florida’s Latinos — now 22 per cent of the state’s population — buy into the idea of Romney as hostile to immigrant aspirations could be a huge factor if he wins the Republican nomination.

Obama carried Florida in 2008 with 50.9 per cent support. His decision in 2011 to ease some travel restrictions to Cuba and allow Americans to send money to relatives there was popular among younger Cuban-Americans.

“One of the keys to Obama’s 2008 victory in Florida was his winning over a substantial slice of Cuban-Americans plus a larger slice of non-Cuban Hispanics,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“I’m not sure Obama will be as successful with Cubans this time but other Hispanics consistently show support for Obama in the neighbourhood of two-thirds of the vote.”

Ana Martinez Escalona, a 26-year-old Cuban-American who was at Sunday’s rally, said she has no issues with Romney’s tough stand on illegal immigration.

“We need to legalize people. We need to give them the opportunity to work,” Escalona said. “But at the same time we cannot legalize hundreds of thousands of people, especially those that come and that enter the country by violating our laws.”

Recent polls have produced a mixed picture of how Florida would vote in the general election. According to the NBC/Marist poll, Obama has 49 per cent support in the state, compared to 41 per cent for Romney. Another poll, for the Miami Herald, showed Romney ahead.

But the troubling thing for Romney is the ABC News/Univision survey — which showed Obama with a 10-point advantage over the potential GOP nominee among Florida Latinos.

That kind of deficit among Latinos could be enough to cost Romney Florida, its 29 electoral college votes and – potentially – the election.

Without Florida, it becomes very hard for Romney — or any Republican nominee — to win back the White House.

Sabato says there are “theoretically plenty of ways the Republican nominee could win in November without Florida in the red state column. But practically speaking, it is “doubtful” because Obama is stronger in a number of other states that the GOP would need if it loses Florida, Sabato says.

Should Romney win Tuesday’s primary and begin to inch closer to the GOP nomination, expect plenty of talk about the possibility of him picking a Floridian as his running mate. The short list would include rookie U.S. senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, or even former governor Jeb Bush.

“That’s a live possibility in my mind,” says Sabato. “Yes, there’s the dynasty problem but it may well deliver Florida. And Bush’s wife is Hispanic, and the whole family is Spanish-speaking.”

Germany: The current crop of GOP contenders is "ruining the entire country's reputation"

PJ: This article was actually published some weeks ago.

Der Spiegel

They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge -- political, economic, geographic, historical -- that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.

The Republicans' Farcical Candidates
A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses

A Commentary by Marc Pitzke

The US Republican race is dominated by ignorance, lies and scandals. The current crop of candidates have shown such a basic lack of knowledge that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein. The Grand Old Party is ruining the entire country's reputation.

Africa is a country. In Libya, the Taliban reigns. Muslims are terrorists; most immigrants are criminal; all Occupy protesters are dirty. And women who feel sexually harassed -- well, they shouldn't make such a big deal about it.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the US Republicans. Or rather, to the twisted world of what they call their presidential campaigns. For months now, they've been traipsing around the country with their traveling circus, from one debate to the next, one scandal to another, putting themselves forward for what's still the most powerful job in the world.

As it turns out, there are no limits to how far they will stoop.

It's true that on the road to the White House all sorts of things can happen, and usually do. No campaign can avoid its share of slip-ups, blunders and embarrassments. Yet this time around, it's just not that funny anymore. In fact, it's utterly horrifying.

It's horrifying because these eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They're ruining the reputation of the United States.


They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge -- political, economic, geographic, historical -- that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.

"When did the GOP lose touch with reality?" wonders Bush's former speechwriter David Frum in New York Magazine. In the New York Times, Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan's former chief-of-staff, called this campaign season a "reality show," while Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan confidante Peggy Noonan even spoke of a "freakshow."

That may be the most appropriate description.

Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans -- no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood "political correctness" and "objectivity") and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).

Factually Challenged

And so the farce continues. The more mind-boggling its incarnations, the happier the US media are to cheer first one clown and then the next, elevating and then eliminating "frontrunners" in reliable news cycles of about 45 days.

Take Herman Cain, "businessman." He sat out the first wave of sexual harassment claims against him by offering a peculiar argument: Most ladies he had encountered in his life, he said, had not complained.

In the most recent twist, a woman accused Cain of having carried on a 13-year affair with her. That, too, he tried to casually wave off, but now, under pressure, he says he wants to "reassess" his campaign.

If Cain indeed drops out, the campaign would lose its biggest caricature: He has been the most factually challenged of all these jesters.

As CEO of the "Godfather's" pizza chain, Cain killed jobs -- but now poses as the job-creator-in-chief. Meanwhile, he seems to lack basic economic know-how, let alone a rudimentary grasp of politics or geography. Libya confounds him. He does not believe that China is a nuclear power. And all other, slightly more complicated questions get a stock answer: "Nine-nine-nine!" Remember? That's Cain's tax reduction plan that would actually raise taxes for 84 percent of Americans.

Has any of that disrupted Cain's popularity in the media or with his fan base? Far from it. Since Oct. 1, he has collected more than $9 million in campaign donations. Enough to plow through another onslaught of denouements.

No Shortage of Chutzpah

Then there's Newt Gingrich, the current favorite. He's a political dinosaur, dishonored and discredited. Or so we thought. Yet just because he studied history and speaks in more complex sentences than his rivals, the US media now reflexively hails him as a "Man of Ideas" (The Washington Post) -- even though most of these ideas are lousy if not downright offensive, such as firing unionized school janitors, so poor children could do their jobs.

Pompous and blustering, Gingrich gets away with this humdinger as well as with selling himself as a Washington outsider -- despite having made millions of dollars as a lobbyist in Washington. At least the man's got chutzpah.

The hypocrisy doesn't end here. Gingrich claims moral authority on issues such as the "sanctity of marriage," yet he's been divorced twice. He sprang the divorce on his first wife while she was sick with cancer. (His supporters' excuse: It's been 31 years, and she's still alive.) He cheated on his second wife just as he was pressing ahead with Bill Clinton's impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky affair, unaware of the irony. The woman he cheated with, by the way, was one of his House aides and 23 years his junior -- and is now his perpetually smiling third wife.

Americans have a short memory. They forget, too, that Gingrich was driven out of Congress in disgrace, the first speaker of the house to be disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. Or that he consistently flirts with racism when he speaks of Barack Obama. Or that he enjoyed a $500,000 credit line at Tiffany's just as his campaign was financially in the toilet and he ranted about the national debt. Chutzpah, indeed.

Yet the US media rewards him with a daily kowtow. And the Republicans reward him too, by having put him on top in the latest polls. Mr. Hypocrisy, the bearer of his party's hope.

"I think he's doing well just because he's thinking," former President Clinton told the conservative online magazine NewsMax. "People are hungry for ideas that make some sense." Sense? Apparently it's not just the Republicans who have lost their minds here.

The Eternal Runner-Up

And what about the other candidates? Rick Perry's blunders are legendary. His "oops" moment in suburban Detroit. His frequently slurred speech, as if he was drunk. His TV commercials putting words in Obama's mouth that he didn't say (such as, "Americans are 'lazy'"). His preposterous claim that as governor of Texas he created 1 million jobs, when the total was really just about 100,000. But what's one digit? Elsewhere, Perry would have long ago been disqualified. But not here in the US.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann has fallen off the wagon, although she's still tolerated as if she's a serious contender. Ron Paul's fan club gets the more excited, the more puzzling his comments get. Jon Huntsman, the only one who occasionally makes some sort of sense, has been relegated to the poll doldrums ever since he showed sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

Which leaves Mitt Romney, the eternal flip-flopper and runner-up, who by now is almost guaranteed to clinch the nomination, even though no one in his party seems to like or want him. He stiffly delivers his talking points, which may or may not contradict his previous positions. After all, he's been practicing this since 2008, when he failed to snag the nomination from John McCain. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

As an investor, Romney once raked in millions and, like Cain, killed jobs along the way. So now he says he's the economy's savior. To prove that, he has presented an economic plan that the usually quite conservative business magazine Forbes has labeled "dangerous," asking incredulously, "About Mitt Romney, the Republicans can't be serious." Apparently they're not, but he is, running TV spots against Obama already, teeming with falsehoods.

Good for Ratings

What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. "A starting point for a chronicle of American decline," was how David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, described the current Republican race.

The Tea Party would take issue with that assessment. They cheer the loudest for the worst, only to see them fail, as expected, one by one. Which goes to show that this "movement," sponsored by Fox News, has never been interested in the actual business of governing or in the intelligence and intellect that requires. They are only interested in marketing themselves, for ratings and dollars.

So the US elections are a reality show after all, a pseudo-political counterpart to the Paris Hiltons, Kim Kardashians and all the "American Idol" and "X Factor" contestants littering today's TV. The cruder, the dumber, the more bizarre and outlandish -- the more lucrative. Especially for Fox News, whose viewers were recently determined by Fairleigh Dickinson University to be far less informed than people who don't watch TV news at all.

Maybe that's the solution: Just ignore it all, until election day. Good luck with that -- this docudrama with its soap-opera twists is way too enthralling. The latest rumor du jour involves a certain candidate who long ago seemed to have disappeared from the radar. Now she may be back, or so it is said, to bring order into this chaos. Never mind that her name is synonymous with chaos: Sarah Palin.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rick Perry's "oops" moment took place in South Carolina. In fact, it happened in suburban Detroit.,1518,800850,00.html

Germany: GOP debates: lunar landings and lies

Der Spiegel

Lunar Landings and Lies
Republican Debate Veers Toward the Absurd

A Commentary by Marc Pitzke

The US Republican candidates' debate in Florida quickly devolved into a horror show of absurdities on Thursday night as candidates argued about immigration and moon colonies. Mitt Romney was branded the winner, but the real losers were the viewers, the truth and politics in general.

The latest television Republican debate in Florida began with an over-the-top intro that nearly inspired fear for the well-being of the candidates: "The state that wrote the book on election cliffhangers!" the CNN announcer bellowed, as dramatic music played and images flashed from the Florida recount debacle after the 2000 election. "Expect the unexpected!" the announcer continued. "This could be the most important debate yet!"

In fact, there was a lot at stake, much more than the 55 delegates that the sunny American state has to offer at the party convention in August. The debate was really about whether Mitt Romney can secure the nomination now, or if he'll have to endure a long, expensive and punishing primary odyssey.

It was also about his arch-rival, Newt Gingrich, and whether or not he is just a flash in the pan who managed to pull a victory from the swamps of South Carolina. At stake is nothing less than the soul of the party, and the ever widening divide between its Washington elites and the angry rebels at its base.

The Atlantic Monthly predicted that the debate between Romney and Gingrich would "make or break one of them."

But was there enough material to make it worth watching, even though it was number 18 of the campaign season? No, the anticipation proved too much, though there were some meaty skirmishes and well-planned attacks between the top two candidates and the other two on the stage, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. But there were also more lies, half-truths, and window dressings.

No Mention of the Economy

That may make for good TV, but it's the voters who pay. CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer tried to heighten the drama by asking absurd questions about US colonies on the moon, Swiss bank accounts, and Puerto Rican statehood, not to mention which of the four candidates' wives would make the best first lady.

For 120 minutes they "debated" the "hot topics," producing sound bites but offering no insight into how these men would cope with the enormous challenges facing the US. The most important topic for voters, the economy, wasn't addressed at all.

At the end, the commentators declared Romney the winner (because he bit the hardest) and Gingrich the loser (because he didn't bite back hard enough). Santorum was termed the "new" challenger (because he attacked everyone), and Paul became the funny uncle. But the real loser was the political system.

Losing Perspective

Those who follow this race daily may have long since lost perspective on how absurd it is. Even the ritual of having each candidate introduce himself at the beginning of the debate, as if they were unknowns, revealed how low the bar has been set.

"My name is Rick Santorum, and I'm thrilled to be here," said the candidate, who then introduced his 93-year-old mother in the audience, to a chorus of the obligatory "ooohs." Gingrich flattered Jacksonville as the home of the next nuclear aircraft carrier battle group, winning obligatory applause. Romney, as always, talked about his "five sons, five daughter-in-laws, and 16 grandchildren," as if this were some sort of fertility contest (thunderous applause). And Paul meandered off immediately back to his arguments for the gold standard (nervous clapping).

The first barbs came over the topic of immigration, which Wolf Blitzer clearly chose because it plays well in Florida. Gingrich had called Romney "anti-immigrant" in a TV ad. Romney, his fists clenched and face frozen in a frown, called this "inexcusable." His father was born in Mexico, after all!

Then Blitzer turned the tables. Romney, he said, put out a radio spot blaming Gingrich for calling Spanish "the language of the ghetto." "I doubt that's my ad," Romney lied. Meanwhile, the Twitter commentators found the spot within seconds on the Web. In it, Romney even says in Spanish that he approves the message.

Oh, the Latinos. No one can win Florida without them. And above all, not without the Cuban exile community. So the candidates were asked if they were for or against an easing of relations with changing Cuba? No one seemed to know what to say. Santorum wants to fully restore the embargo against Cuba and scolded US President Barack Obama for being someone who likes to work with "Marxist" Latin America. Paul spoke instead of friendship and trade with Cuba, and added "the Cold War is over!" Romney and Gingrich made excuses.

Lunar Landings

And space travel took up almost a half an hour of the debate, thanks to Gingrich who recently promised voters a colony on the Moon, including a lunar US state. "I'm not looking for a colony on the moon," Romney said. "I'd rather be rebuilding housing here in the US."

Maybe the best solution came from Paul, who said: "Well, I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there."

So what did viewers learn? Each candidate loves Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida and Tea Party darling, who has not yet endorsed a candidate and was hopefully listening very carefully.

Each candidate loves Israel. They all love Ronald Reagan. Each loves his wife, a born first lady, for a number of reasons: "She is the author of a very famous cookbook, 'The Ron Paul Cookbook'" (Paul); "She wrote a book about manners" (Santorum); "she plays the French horn" (Gingrich).

At the end, the candidates lingered awkwardly on stage. Romney told CNN reporter John King afterwards that he thought the debate would give him a needed boost. Indeed, the online prediction market platform Intrade found he had an 87 percent chance of winning the Tuesday primary after the CNN debate. He might have won, but many others lost.,1518,811786,00.html

UK: Romney pulls ahead in Florida

The Guardian

Newt Gingrich staring at Florida defeat in Republican nomination race

Mitt Romney ahead in polls despite Herman Cain, who dropped out of the contest, backing Gingrich at late stage

By Ewen MacAskill

The Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich appears to be heading for defeat in the Florida primary on Tuesday despite picking up the endorsement of former pizza mogul and Tea Party favourite Herman Cain.

Polls show Mitt Romney with a double-digit lead, though these were taken before Cain's surprise announcement of support for Gingrich on Saturday night. Pollsters predicted the intervention of Cain, who was the frontrunner in the race late last year until he was forced out by sexual harassment allegations, is unlikely to make much difference.

Gingrich, who arrived in Florida with momentum behind him from victory in the South Carolina primary, has been subjected to a battering by the Romney camp, which has hit him with a $14m (£8.9m) advertising blitz backed up by sustained criticism from a series of Republican luminaries. Republican strategists said they had seen nothing on this scale since the 1960s.

Media analysts put the ratio of Romney ads to Gingrich at 4-1 but the ratio is even higher for big, expensive events. During a widely watched basketball game in Florida at the weekend, Romney's camp aired seven ads compared to none by Gingrich.

Gingrich, interviewed on CBS on Sunday, accused Romney of dishonesty. "Lincoln once said if a man won't agree that two plus two equals four, then you'll never win the argument because facts don't matter. Romney's the first candidate I've seen who fits the Lincoln description."

Gingrich spent the weekend going from church to church across central Florida appealing for rightwingers to unite behind him rather than waste their votes on Rick Santorum, who is lying in third place in the polls. Santorum, who had only been campaigning half-heartedly in the state, left Florida on Friday to return home to Pennsylvania for the weekend. He cancelled plans to return to Florida after his three-year-old daughter was taken to hospital.

A Miami Herald poll on Sunday put Romney on 42%, Gingrich 31%, Santorum 14% and Texas Congressman Ron Paul on 6%. Other polls mirrored the findings.

Brad Coker, the head of Mason-Dixon polling which carried out the Miami Herald poll, when asked if Gingrich could mount a comeback in the state, said: "Not in Florida. Romney is pretty much in control." He saw Romney as having the advantage in the upcoming caucuses and primaries but anticipated the war of attrition between the two continuing through to at least Super Tuesday on 6 March, when 10 states vote.

He did not regard Cain's endorsement as significant. "Cain is pretty much useless here. Cain is not flavour of the month and reminds people of Gingrich's womanising," Coker said.

Cain, endorsing Gingrich at a campaign event on Saturday night, described the candidate as a patriot not afraid of bold ideas. He referred to the bombardment Gingrich is under. "Going through this sausage grinder, I know what this sausage grinder is all about. I know that he's going through this sausage grinder because he cares about the future of the United States of America," Cain said.

Gingrich's lack of organisation on the ground is being exposed by the sheer vastness of Florida. More than 200,000 people have already taken advantage of early voting, which closed on Sunday, and Romney's campaign team has been working hard in getting his supporters to take advantage of this. Surveys of early voting show Romney winning by roughly about 50% to Gingrich's 30%. Romney also seems to have won over one of few groups in Florida that is relatively disciplined in its voting, the Cuban-Americans.

The Romney camp released a new ad on Sunday, naming 196 House Republicans that voted to reprimand Gingrich for an ethics violation when he was Speaker. Romney's campaign team paid for this but others have been paid for by super-political action committees (PACs) which can spend without restraint following a supreme court ruling on campaign finance.

Gingrich supporters expressed outrage over the scale of the negative ads. At a church meeting after hearing Gingrich, Jeff Newmark, an account manager in Orlando who took advantage of early voting to cast his ballot for him, said people were sick of the negative ads, which he described as unfair. "Romney could tell his PACs to stop this. What they are doing is giving too much ammunition to the Democratic party and hurting themselves," Newmark said.

Paul, who opted against campaigning in Florida, has concentrated instead on Maine. He predicted on CNN that he stood a good chance of winning it. Like Coker, he did not see Cain's endorsement of Gingrich as having much impact on the race because the Tea Party "is all over the place" on who to back.

Australia: Republican claims that Obama is just like disgraced ship captain

PJ: The Republican party have said that Obama was "pallin' around with terrorists", is a "European socialist", is not a real American, was not born in the US, was born in Kenya, is a communist and a facist (although I don't know how he could be from the extreme left and the extreme right at the same time), is Hitler (as witnessed by Tea Party posters at their rallies), is 'not like us (real Americans), sees America different than the rest of us, and is now just like the disgraced and dispised captain of the luxury cruise liner that is sinking off the coast of Italy. Thank goodness that after the shooting of Congressman Gabriel Giffords in Arizona last year that they've agreed to tone down the inflammatory rhetoric.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Obama likened to disgraced ship captain

Top Republican official Reince Priebus has sparked a political uproar by comparing President Barack Obama to disgraced Italian ship captain Francesco Schettino.

Commenting on tough exchanges between Republicans vying to face Obama in November, the Republican National Committee chairman told CBS the focus would soon shift to Obama.

"In a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we're going to talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama, who is abandoning the ship here in the United States and is more interested in campaigning than doing his job as president."

Asked by the interviewer to clarify his remarks, Priebus went further.

"I called him Captain Schettino, you know, the captain that fled the ship in Italy. That's our own president, who is fleeing the American people and not doing his job and running around the country and campaigning."

Schettino became infamous around the world this month when his Costa Concordia ship liner run aground, killing at least 16 people.

Schettino is accused of being responsible and of fleeing the stricken ship before his passengers were safe.

The comparison to Obama prompted indignation among Democrats, with the Democratic National Committee describing it as "shameful".

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile described the comments as "misleading", and "shameful and disgraceful".

Israel: Gingrich doner under federal investigation for China corruption

PJ: If he is found guilty, will Sarah Palin parade around the country and insist that her man Gingrich was pallin' around with felons?


Report: Adelson under criminal investigation for alleged bribery of foreign officials American billionaire, close ally of Netanyahu, and main donor to Gingrich's campaign has been under federal investigation for his casino empire's alleged involvement in a corruption scandal in China, ABC reports.

The casino company owned by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been under federal investigation for the last year for alleged bribery of foreign officials, ABC News reported over the weekend.

Adelson, the main donor to U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the owner of the Israeli daily Israel Hayom, holds 49% of the Sands casino company, and according to reports, is directly involved in the company's operations. The casino that the company set up in the Chinese island of Macau turned it into the largest gambling company in the world.

Last year, the Department of Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission launched an investigation into Adelson's alleged bribery of Chinese officials.

According to ABC, Sands casinos was allegedly cooperating with Chinese organized crime groups, known as triads, who allegedly organized high stakes gambling and sex junkets.

Chinese press reported at the time that more than 100 prostitues were found in the casino, during a raid by local authorities. A former manager at the casino, Steven C. Jacobs, sued Sands, claiming that Adelson told him to remain silent regarding investigation taking place against the company.

Adelson reportedly instructed Jacobs to refrain from reporting to the corporate board of Sands about the company's ties to the local crime organizations. Jacobs also claimed that Adelson wanted to investigate high-ranking officials in Macau to provide him "leverage" over any attempts to hurt the company.

Last year, Adelson commented on Jacobs' lawsuit and said that it is merely an attempt at blackmail and that Jacobs is trying to take revenge upon the country using a lies after he was fired.

Several months ago, Adelson contributed $5 million to Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super PAC. More recently, Adelson's wife gave another $5 million to the same super PAC, providing a major lift to the former House Speaker's campaign.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gingrich's secret weapon?

PJ: Just a thought...Gingrich is known as a 'Big Idea' man and as yet has not announced any "Big Idea" that many in his party or independents and certainly not liberals could really get behind. Or has he?

On January 18, 2012, Gingrich made this promise about putting Sarah Palin in his administration:

"“Certainly, she’s one of the people I’d call on for advice,” Gingrich said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I would ask her to consider taking a major role in the next administration if I’m president, but nothing has been discussed of any kind. And it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss it at this time.”

Many conservatives recoiled at the prospect as did a majority of independents and an overwhelming majority of liberals.

On January 25th in a speech in Florida he promised:

"By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," he said. According to Talking Points Memo Gingrich went on to say that the base would be used for "science, tourism, and manufacturing" and to create a "robust industry" modelled on the airline business in the 20th century.

This proposal left almost everyone scratching their heads including the conservative columnist Charles Krauthmann

So the question remains? What is the "Big Idea" that Gingrich is promoting. Then it came to me and it was so obvious that I'm sure brighter minds have already put it together. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that about 80% of the American electorate would rejoice in his plan to deploy Mrs. Palin up to oversee his very important moon operation... provided, of course, that she were based there.

India: If elected, Romney will rank as the richest president

The Times of India

If elected, Romney will rank among richest US president ever

Just how rich is Mitt Romney? Add up the wealth of the last eight presidents , from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. Then double that number. Now you're in Romney territory. He would be among richest presidents in American history if elected - probably in the top four.

He couldn't top George Washington who, with nearly 60,000 acres and more than 300 slaves, is considered the big daddy of presidential wealth. After that, it gets complicated, depending how you rate Thomas Jefferson's plantation, Herbert Hoover's millions from mining or John F Kennedy's share of the vast family fortune, and the finer points of factors like inflation adjustment. But it's safe to say the Roosevelts had nothing on Romney, and the Bushes are nowhere close.

Romney has disclosed only the broad outlines of his wealth, putting it somewhere from $190 million to $250 million. That easily could make him 50 times richer than Obama , who falls in the still-impressive-to-most-of-us range of $2.2 million to $7.5 million.

An unbelievable boatload of bucks is just one way to think of Romney's net worth, and 44 US presidents make up a pretty small pond for him to swim in.

Canada: Gingrich conservative brand under attack

The Globe and Mail

The single reference to Mr. Gingrich in Mr. Reagan’s diaries – a telling indication of how prominently the then-future Speaker figured in the Gipper’s mind – is a charge that Mr. Gingrich’s ideas would “cripple our defence program.”

Gingrich’s brand of conservatism comes under attack
By Konrad Yakabuski

As Newt Gingrich harnesses the populist anger of the base to propel him past Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race, a growing chorus of powerful figures in the party is scrambling to break his stride before he runs away with the nomination.

Their fears about having Newt at the top of the ticket have less to do with the ex-Speaker’s legendary impulsiveness and indiscipline – as unsettling as they are – than his core political beliefs.

Newt, they charge, is simply no Conservative.

Indeed, someone who has spent more than three decades in Washington dreaming up ever more grandiose (his term) ideas about how to use the state to shape economic and social outcomes with taxpayer dollars hardly meets the American definition of a conservative.

How did someone so enamoured of government become the Tea Party favourite?

“He has found his key for the hustling conservative electorate. He is playing the liberal media card and saying he embodies conservative values,” R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor-in-chief of the right-wing American Spectator, writes in a scathing critique.

“Newt is hoping conservatives suffer amnesia. Possibly some do… He is a huckster, and I for one will not be rendered a contortionist trying to defend him. I did so in his earliest days and learned my lesson.”

Mr. Romney himself embraced the “Newt is not conservative” line of attack in Thursday’s debate in Jacksonville, Fla., going after Mr. Gingrich for promising hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending at every campaign stop in early primary states.

Mr. Gingrich has pledged federal aid for a new veterans’ hospital in New Hampshire, an interstate highway in South Carolina and port expansions in Charleston and Jacksonville.

Those projects are plebian by Mr. Gingrich’s standards. So, he came up with the idea of a building a U.S. lunar colony by 2020. The pledge is aimed at residents of Florida’s so-called Space Coast, who have been reeling from recent cuts to NASA.

“Look, this idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that’s what got us into the trouble we’re in now,” Mr. Romney said. “We’ve got to say no to this kind of spending.”

Mr. Gingrich defended his promises, even adding he would ante up federal money for a restoration project in Florida’s Everglades: “I thought we were a country where one of the purposes of candidates going around was to actually learn about the states they campaigned in, and actually be responsive to the needs of the states they campaigned in.”

How this squares with Mr. Gingrich’s depiction of himself as the “true Reagan conservative” in the race and Mr. Romney as the “timid Massachusetts moderate” baffles the right-wing intelligentsia.

Mr. Gingrich’s contention that he was Mr. Reagan’s comrade-in-arms in defeating communism has sparked ridicule. (Again on Thursday night, Mr. Gingrich said Nancy Reagan once told him that “Ronnie’s torch” was being passed to him.)

Of course, being a Reaganite and being a conservative are not the same thing. As a young congressman, Mr. Gingrich opposed Mr. Reagan’s expansion of the defence budget, which arguably made him more conservative than the icon of American conservatism.

The single reference to Mr. Gingrich in Mr. Reagan’s diaries – a telling indication of how prominently the then-future Speaker figured in the Gipper’s mind – is a charge that Mr. Gingrich’s ideas would “cripple our defence program.”

“Mr. Gingrich voted with the president regularly, but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides, and his policies to defeat Communism,” Elliott Abrams, an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, writes in the National Review.

“Gingrich was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan’s policies would fail, and in all of this he was dead wrong.”

Canada: Former candidate Cain endorses former rival Gingrich

The Globe and Mail

Herman Cain backs Newt Gingrich's presidential bid
By Sam Youngman and Ros Krasny

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Newt Gingrich received the endorsement of former rival Herman Cain on Saturday and vowed to fight until the end no matter what happens in Florida’s upcoming primary vote.

Mr. Cain, who ended his presidential campaign in December under the weight of sexual harassment allegations, made the endorsement at an event with Gingrich in West Palm Beach. It is unclear how much impact it will have for Mr. Gingrich in Florida, which has been trending toward rival Mitt Romney ahead of the state’s vote on Tuesday.

“I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States,” Mr. Cain said.

Mr. Romney, already confident after strong performances in two Florida debates, is gaining ground over Mr. Gingrich for the nomination to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election.

Mr. Cain said Mr. Gingrich has been going through a “sausage grinder” in his battle for the Republican nomination.

The former pizza magnate has been seeking to remain in the public eye after his presidential drive stalled out. Recently he had declared he would endorse “the people.” Both Mr. Cain and Mr. Gingrich are from Georgia.

Just three days ahead of a pivotal primary race that could determine who has the momentum to win the Republican state-by-state nominating battle, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney spent the day traveling around Florida in a search for undecided voters.

A Reuters/Ipsos online poll released on Saturday showed Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and off-and-on Republican front-runner, with an 11 percentage point lead over Mr. Gingrich, up from 8 points a day earlier.

Mr. Romney drew support of 43 per cent of likely voters in Florida’s Jan. 31 primary and Mr. Gingrich 32 percent. That compared with a 41 per cent to 33 per cent showing in the online tracking poll on Friday.

UK: Courting the Latino vote in Florida

PJ: The attacks keep coming in America's GOP contest. I especially enjoyed this passage from the article:

The heated exchanges on immigration in the debate here ended with Mr Gingrich complaining about a Romney ad saying he had described Spanish as the "language of the ghetto". "I doubt it's mine," Mr Romney said, displaying an ignorance about his own ads in the state. The ad was one of his.

I don't think, however, that Latin-American voters are buying too much at this point as evidenced by this tweet from Latina actor Eva Longora: "85% of Latino Voters support the #DREAM Act, 100% of @MittRomney, doesn’t!"

The Independent

Bellicose Romney rejects rival's 'repulsive' anti-immigrant claim

Eager to capture Florida primary, both candidates compete to court Latino Republicans
By David Usborne

Scrambling to capture next Tuesday's Florida primary and regain his momentum in the Republican nomination race, Mitt Romney fiercely courted the state's crucial Latino community yesterday while at the same time accusing Newt Gingrich, his main rival, of misrepresenting his position on immigration.

After calling a Gingrich ad that attacked him on immigration "repulsive" during a debate in Jacksonville on Thursday, Mr Romney departed on a Friday tour first to a Latin Leaders conference in Miami and then to Orlando, an area with a concentration of Hispanics.

Both rivals know that victory here rests on attracting Hispanics who make up 10 per cent of all likely Republican voters. Among them Cuban-Americans are the largest group followed by Puerto Ricans. Republicans have turned off Hispanics with their rhetoric on illegal immigration and the Mexican border.

In a speech to the Latin Builders Association also in Miami, Mr Gingrich eschewed all mention of his rival and focused on the housing mess in the state. "In the long run, the answer to the housing crisis is getting people to work," Mr Gingrich told the association, promising to cut regulations and slash taxes.

Mr Romney's 2008 nomination quest faltered after Florida where John McCain won with disproportionate support from Hispanics. This time, it might be Mr Romney's turn. A Latino Decisions poll taken last week showed him easily leading Mr Gingrich 49 per cent to 23 per cent among Latino Republicans. Meanwhile, he has already been endorsed by a slew of prominent Republicans in the state. The governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno, was set to appear at the Orlando rally with Mr Romney last night.

The apparent Romney edge may explain the aggressive stance taken by Mr Gingrich, who in a debate in December outlined a more moderate position to allow illegal immigrants who have been in America for 25 years to stay. His radio spot, which branded Mr Romney the most "anti-immigrant" of the Republican runners, was taken down after complaints from the US Senator here, Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American.

"That's inexcusable," Mr Romney said of the radio commercial in Thursday's debate, saying he is only opposed to illegal immigration. "I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico... The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don't use a term like that."

While Mr Gingrich pulled ahead in Florida polls after his stunning upset victory in South Carolina a week ago, surveys now show him slipping again.

Questioned about his newly bellicose stance, Mr Romney, who has a new debate coach, was clear: "When I'm shot at, I'll return fire," he said. "I'm no shrinking violet." Previously he has been criticised for appearing too wooden and patrician before the cameras.

The heated exchanges on immigration in the debate here ended with Mr Gingrich complaining about a Romney ad saying he had described Spanish as the "language of the ghetto". "I doubt it's mine," Mr Romney said, displaying an ignorance about his own ads in the state. The ad was one of his.

The Sunshine State: Voting in Florida

Voting record

Florida is one of the most important swing states for both the Republican primaries and the race for the White House (as seen in 2000). President Obama won the state with a critical 2.8 per cent margin in 2008.

Who is voting?

Florida's demographics are more representative of the US than the previous Republican primary states. Of its 19 million population, around 22.5 per cent are Hispanic or Latino and about 17 per cent are aged over 65. Miami is regarded as liberal but the north is conservative (more fiscally than socially – a boon for Romney). Four million are registered Republicans and around 450,000 absentee ballots have been sent.

What are the key issues?

The recession has hit Florida hard. House prices have plunged around 45 per cent since 2006 and half of current home sales are the result of a default. Floridians want a candidate who will stem the foreclosures and get the market moving, but both Romney and Gingrich believe the housing market should be left to recover on its own.