Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Middle East: The GOP race goes on with Romney again in the lead

Al Jazeera

Romney scores double US primary win
Republican frontrunner edges out Rick Santorum in Michigan and Arizona in contests for party's presidential nomination.

Mitt Romney has scored a double victory in the latest US presidential Republican primaries, but only after a tight race with main rival Rick Santorum in Michigan.

Romney's narrow win in his native Michigan, however, will do little to dispel doubts about his ability to rally the party's conservative base and take the US presidency from incumbent Barack Obama in November's election.

"Wow! What a night," an obviously relieved Romney told cheering supporters at his state campaign headquarters in Novi, Michigan late on Tuesday night. "We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough and that's all that counts."

Santorum, who is still riding high on momentum gained from primary wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado on February 7, also highlighted the closeness of the race.

"A month ago they didn't know who we are but they do now," Santorum told supporters after the results were announced. "We came into the backyard of one of my opponents in a race that everyone said, well, just ignore it, you have really no chance here," Santorum said.

With 87 per cent of Michigan's precincts reporting, Romney had 41 per cent to Santorum's 38 per cent. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, was in third place with 12 per cent, while Newt Gingrich, the former house speaker, had seven per cent.

Comfortable Arizona win

Romney, the long-time frontrunner in the race to challenge Obama, was a more comfortable winner in Arizona, where he was ahead of Santorum by a margin of 48 per cent to 26 per cent, with 62 per cent of precincts reporting. Gingrich was in third with 16 per cent and Paul came in last with eight per cent.

Victory for Romney gives him the votes of all 29 of Arizona's delegates in the race for the nomination. Michigan's 30 delegates will be distributed proportionally.

The vote in Michigan, had threatened to turn into an embarrassing defeat for Romney, who was born and raised there and is the son of a popular governor of the state, in the face of Santorum's re-energised campaign that has transformed him into the standard bearer for the Republicans' socially conservative religious right.

Al Jazeera's John Hendren, reporting live from Detroit, said Santorum's campaign had connected with many voters in Michigan and that even a second place finish could keep the former Pennsylvania senator in the contest.

In a state with over nine per cent unemployment Romney's wealth and referencing of luxury Cadillac automobiles had made him a hard sell to voters, Hendren said.

The candidates now look forward to "Super Tuesday" on March 6, when 10 states hold nominating contests.

Conservative rival

Santorum had made himself competitive in Michigan by pressing his conservative views on social issues and by spreading a blue-collar message about the need to rebuild the manufacturing base in the hard-hit Midwestern state.
In-depth coverage of the US presidential election

An unpredictable factor in Michigan was the ability of Democrats to vote in the Republican primary and try to thwart Romney by voting for Santorum, who many see as having little chance of defeating Obama in the November 6 election should he become the Republican nominee.

The Santorum campaign tried to encourage the crossover vote with a "robocall", urging Democrats to send a message to Romney because of his opposition to 2009 auto bailouts that kept thousands of Michigan workers employed.

The effort was quickly condemned by the Romney campaign as a sign that Santorum was "now willing to wear the other team's jersey if he thinks it will get him more votes".

Romney has been hammering home his view that his experience as a private equity executive and former state governor makes him the best candidate to defeat Obama and lead the US economy back to strong job growth.

All four remaining candidates in the race for the Republican nomination have vowed not to drop out until the Republican national convention in late August, where a result might have to be brokered behind the scenes if no one reaches the magic number of 1,144 delegates.

Video report:

Israel: US working to cut support for Iran


U.S. forced Dubai bank to cut off cash flow to Iran, sources say
UAE government and bank officials confirm Wall Street Journal report that Noor Islamic Bank, chaired by the son of Dubai's ruler, had become Iran's main conduit for collecting cash from oil sales, handling about 60% of them.
By Reuters

The United States has forced the Dubai-based Noor Islamic Bank to cut off its banking business with Iran as part of wider U.S. efforts to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program, officials in the United Arab Emirates said Wednesday.

A government official in the UAE. and a source at the bank said Noor Islamic Bank had halted dealings with Iran, confirming a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Noor Islamic Bank, partly-owned by the emirate of Dubai,
appears to be the first financial institution in Dubai to be singled out for doing business with Iran. The UAE central bank stepped up the monitoring of banks' dealings with Iran in the past three months, sources told Reuters earlier this month.

The United Nations and Western countries have imposed a series of economic sanctions on Iran during the past five years over what they say are efforts by Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges.

Last June, the U.S. Treasury adopted a law allowing the president to punish foreign banks that carry out financial transactions "for the purchase of petroleum or petroleum products from Iran" provided several conditions are met.
An official at the UAE Ministry for Economic Affairs said only Noor Islamic Bank had been targeted so far.

"Of course, as the UAE government, we will comply with the U.N. resolutions," Khalid al-Ghaith, the assistant minister for economic affairs, told Reuters at a conference in Abu Dhabi.
He said officials were in contact with the Americans to try to reduce any possible harm to the UAE banking system or companies.

The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people briefed on the operation, that Noor Islamic Bank, chaired by the son of Dubai's ruler, had become Iran's main conduit for collecting cash from oil sales, handling about 60 percent of them.

As the United Nations and Western countries have imposed increasingly tougher sanctions, the commercial hub of Dubai - 150 km (100 miles) across the Gulf - has seen more business through its financial institutions.

Dubai has long been a major trading partner with Iran, with a sizeable Iranian expatriate population and traditional wooden dhows transporting goods across Gulf waters every day.

"The UAE government took the concerns very seriously and was helpful in resolving" the Noor Islamic Bank case, an official told the Wall Street Journal.
Noor Islamic officials said they could not immediately comment, and were preparing a response.

UK: A big win in Arizona, not such a much in Michigan

The Guardian

Mitt Romney wins Arizona and Michigan primaries

Dual victories give Mitt Romney a boost over Rick Santorum in increasingly bitter race for Republican presidential nomination
By Ewen MacAskill

The Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has put his faltering campaign back on track, holding off a strong challenge from rival Rick Santorum in a tight primary race in Michigan and coasting to victory in Arizona.

Speaking at an election party in Novi, on the outskirts of Detroit, Romney described it as a "decisive moment". He admitted he had not won by a lot but said it was enough. "Great victory in Arizona. Thank you Michigan. What a win. This is a big night. A week ago the pundits and the pollsters were ready to count us out," he said.

He pointedly did not mention Santorum, who fought a tough campaign that on Monday led to Romney to accuse him of dirty tricks.

Defeat in Michigan would have been near-catastrophic for Romney. It is his native state and his father was a popular three-term governor here. The victories put a brake on Santorum, who had been building momentum after three unexpected wins earlier this month.

Santorum phoned Romney to concede before all the votes had been counted and then spoke in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to his own supporters. He did not congratulate Romney during his speech, suggesting bad blood between the two, and instead suggested he is in for the long run, boasting about the recent rise in his profile. "A month ago they did not know who we were. They know now," he said.

It was a rambling speech that ranged from a rallying cry for liberty from the British in revolutionary days to American debt.

The race now moves to Super Tuesday next week when 10 states will be in play. Paul Begala, a political adviser in the Clinton White House, told CNN: "Armageddon for Romney will be Super Tuesday."

With 91% of the votes in Michigan counted, Romney had 41%, Santorum 38%, Ron Paul 12% and Newt Gingrich 6.5%. In Arizona, with 73% of the votes counted, Romney had 47.5%, Santorum 26%, Gingrich 16% and Paul 8.5%.

Romney won all 30 delegates in Arizona to add to his tally: he needs 1,144 to win the Republican nomination. Michigan's 29 delegates are distributed on a proportional basis.

Although Romney won the popular vote in Michigan, Santorum could emerge with more of the delegates because much of Romney's support came from one county and Santorum's was more widespread.

If Santorum had won he would have thrown the Republican race into chaos. Instead, Romney consolidated his status as frontrunner to win the Republican nomination and face Barack Obama for the White House in November.

Santorum lost some ground last week with a poor debate performance and a series of contentious comments that may have alienated moderates, from criticising universities to saying Kennedy's speech calling for absolute separation of church and state made him want to throw up.

As a desperate last ploy, Santorum authorised the use of robo-calls to urge Democrats, who are entitled to vote under the state's quirky election laws, to vote against Romney. Exit polls did show that one in 10 Democrats voted.

Romney's two victories provide him with a cushion going into Super Tuesday. He will make a contest of it in Ohio, where he will begin campaigning on Wednesday, and polls put him ahead in Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia.

Santorum is ahead in the polls in the most important of the Super Tuesday states, Ohio, and in Tennessee and Oklahoma. Santorum is heading for Tennessee on Wednesday.

Exit polls in Michigan confirmed that Republicans, as in contests over the last two months, are largely unenthusiastic about the choice available to them.

The win in Michigan comes in spite of a series of gaffes by Romney over the last week that had appeared to hurt him. He reinforced his image of being ultra-wealthy last Friday when he spoke casually of his wife owning two Cadillacs and on Sunday when he said he was only interested a little in Nascar racing but knew many of the team owners.

In Arizona, Romney's victory was never seriously in doubt, but a crowd of about 300 supporters at the Hyatt hotel in Phoenix still voiced their relief at the result. The election was called for Romney the minute the polls closed at 7pm, a sign of the gap to Santorum, his nearest rival in Arizona.

"We always knew he would win but it's still good to have it confirmed," said Mike Hadley, aged 30, at the Phoenix victory party. "Romney is genuine – you know that he's running because he believes he can change America for the better."

Exit polls conducted by CBS News put the economy firmly at the top of the list of priorities of Arizona voters, with 48% saying they were concerned about economic wellbeing. By contrast, 12% said they were most worried about immigration, despite the prominence of the issue following Romney's promise to promote "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

International: The Possum Republicans

PJ: I have not always been a political junkie, that is to say, I took a long break from the insanity of US politics from the early Clinton years until 2008. What drove me away was the insane disregard for civility in the way that the GOP went after the Clinton White House, accusing them of just about anything including murder. To be honest, that was simply the nail in the coffin since I had become disillusioned with the way things were going, the demogoguery and the partisan slant. Surprisingly, I used to support a lot of what the GOP stood for, at least fiscally, rarely socially. But when the party gave their hard right signal by focusing much of their platform on social issues and allowing religious issues to weigh heavily on their decicions I became disenchanted. I always looked to the US as that bastion of democracy where the seperation of church and state was a benefit not a crime. (I had watched the failure of many countries who had tried to let religious belief be the doctrine for their political agenda.) It was disheartening to watch the once Grand Old Party actively court the evangelical right then pander to them. I knew that it was only a matter of time before the party would no longer be the party of Eisenhower and Lincoln, of Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt.

My hiatus ended when I watched the 20008 presidential election, at first just in passing. I liked both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama and didn't have anything against John McCain. A lot of people looking from the outside, just like me, felt the same, although many did have their favourite horse in the race. But things turned when Senator McCain pandered to the far right with his selection of Sarah Palin. While I should have turned my attention to other things I found that I could not. That cynical, gender specific and far right pandering decision to put a totally unqualified person on the ticket did more to change the tide in American politics than any other.

Mrs. Palin's star power was a media creation that would never have been given to a less attractive man or woman. She attained incredible star power even though she had little substance to offer her party. She was no match for the intellect of either Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher but her fans tried to claim that she was their second coming. The Murdoch empire made her a best selling author of a ghost-written book and Fox News hired her as a political analyst. For the time, she became the voice of conservative politics.

It was becoming a crazy time with the Fox network promoting Glen Beck and his proven crazed theories and his constant rewriting of history. Fox seemed to also promote birther claims, helped sponsor The Tea Party and even seemed to encourage their hosts to question the new President's religious convictions and patriotism (with a lot of help from Fox's Sarah Palin). They actively supported the far right's claims that Obama was likely a Muslim (as if that is somehow a crime) and propagandized that he was a socialist.

The Tea Party was formed immediately after President Obama was elected and demanded lower taxes even though Obama had already signed legislation reducing the taxes of 95% of American citizens. The evangelical base grew louder and began (along with Glen Beck, Sarah Palin and The Tea Party) to claim the founding fathers as their own, insisting that there really is no seperation of church and state in the Constitution. And last, but sadly not least, the country was given "I'm not a witch" candidates and the current crop of far right demogogues were encouraged step up and join this year's presidential circus.

International Herald Tribune

First they went after the Rockefeller Republicans, but I was not a Rockefeller Republican. Then they went after the compassionate conservatives, but I was not a compassionate conservative. Then they went after the mainstream conservatives, and there was no one left to speak for me.

The Possum Republicans

Politicians do what they must to get re-elected. So it’s not unexpected that Republican senators like Richard Lugar and Orrin Hatch would swing sharply to the right to fend off primary challengers.

As Jonathan Weisman reported in The Times on Sunday, Hatch has a lifetime rating of 78 percent from the ultra-free market Club for Growth, but, in the past two years, he has miraculously jumped to 100 percent and 99 percent, respectively. Lugar has earned widespread respect for his thoughtful manner and independent ways. Now he’s more of a reliable Republican foot soldier.

Still, it is worth pointing out that this behavior is not entirely honorable. It’s not honorable to adjust your true nature in order to win re-election. It’s not honorable to kowtow to the extremes so you can preserve your political career.

But, of course, this is exactly what has been happening in the Republican Party for the past half century. Over these decades, one pattern has been constant: Wingers fight to take over the party, mainstream Republicans bob and weave to keep their seats.

Republicans on the extreme ferociously attack their fellow party members. Those in the middle backpedal to avoid conflict. Republicans on the extreme are willing to lose elections in order to promote their principles. Those in the mainstream are quick to fudge their principles if it will help them get a short-term win.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the fight was between conservatives and moderates. Conservatives trounced the moderates and have driven them from the party. These days the fight is between the protesters and the professionals. The grass-roots protesters in the Tea Party and elsewhere have certain policy ideas, but they are not that different from the Republicans in the “establishment.”

The big difference is that the protesters don’t believe in governance. They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed. They don’t believe in trimming and coalition building. For them, politics is more about earning respect and making a statement than it is about enacting legislation. It’s grievance politics, identity politics.

Of course, the professional politicians don’t want to get in the way of this torrent of passion and resentment. In private, they bemoan where the party is headed; in public they do nothing.

All across the nation, there are mainstream Republicans lamenting how the party has grown more and more insular, more and more rigid. This year, they have an excellent chance to defeat President Obama, yet the wingers have trashed the party’s reputation by swinging from one embarrassing and unelectable option to the next: Bachmann, Trump, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum.

But where have these party leaders been over the past five years, when all the forces that distort the G.O.P. were metastasizing? Where were they during the rise of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck? Where were they when Arizona passed its beyond-the-fringe immigration law? Where were they in the summer of 2011 when the House Republicans rejected even the possibility of budget compromise? They were lying low, hoping the unpleasantness would pass.

The wingers call their Republican opponents RINOs, or Republican In Name Only. But that’s an insult to the rhino, which is a tough, noble beast. If RINOs were like rhinos, they’d stand up to those who seek to destroy them. Actually, what the country needs is some real Rhino Republicans. But the professional Republicans never do that. They’re not rhinos. They’re Opossum Republicans. They tremble for a few seconds then slip into an involuntary coma every time they’re challenged aggressively from the right.

Without real opposition, the wingers go from strength to strength. Under their influence, we’ve had a primary campaign that isn’t really an argument about issues. It’s a series of heresy trials in which each of the candidates accuse the others of tribal impurity. Two kinds of candidates emerge from this process: first, those who are forceful but outside the mainstream; second, those who started out mainstream but look weak and unprincipled because they have spent so much time genuflecting before those who despise them.

Neither is likely to win in the fall. Before the G.O.P. meshugana campaign, independents were leaning toward the G.O.P. But, in the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll, Obama leads Mitt Romney among independents by 49 percent to 27 percent.

Leaders of a party are supposed to educate the party, to police against its worst indulgences, to guard against insular information loops. They’re supposed to define a creed and establish boundaries. Republican leaders haven’t done that. Now the old pious cliché applies:

First they went after the Rockefeller Republicans, but I was not a Rockefeller Republican. Then they went after the compassionate conservatives, but I was not a compassionate conservative. Then they went after the mainstream conservatives, and there was no one left to speak for me.

Is the US economy better off than it was four years ago?

The Hill

Partisans ignoring stimulus’s success
By Juan Williams, Fox News contributer

President Obama’s poll numbers are getting better every day. But one clear weakness remains in the public mind — his performance in handling the U.S. economy.

The most unpopular element of his economic stewardship is the stimulus, officially titled The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It turned 3 last week.

A new Pew poll finds 41 percent of Americans disapprove of the 2009 stimulus while 37 percent approve. In 2010, a CNN poll found three quarters of the public felt most of the stimulus was wasted and did not help the economy. Later in 2010 a Rasmussen poll found 56 percent opposed to any suggestion of a second stimulus.

Click here to find out more!
The upcoming presidential election is likely to be a debate about the value of the stimulus. Before the rhetoric gets too hot, a simple question begs to be answered: Is there any evidence that the stimulus helped the economy?

As Sarah Palin might say, “You betcha!”

But in looking back on the news coverage and the angry rhetoric used by the GOP during the congressional debate of the stimulus, it is striking how little discussion there was of what the stimulus actually entailed.

First, the bulk of it was composed of tax cuts. In fact, the stimulus was one of the largest single tax cuts in U.S. history. To say the stimulus failed is to make the argument that tax cuts do not stimulate the economy.

Ninety-five percent of all Americans got a tax cut under the plan. Small businesses and working families received a tax cut. First-time homebuyers received a tax credit. Parents caring for their young children received a tax credit. Some 8 million people received tax credits and financial assistance to help pay for their college education.

The next time a Republican brags about his or her opposition to the failed stimulus, a cynic might respond by asking why they hate tax cuts so much.

In addition to the tax cuts, the stimulus also contained emergency stopgap funding to states so local governments did not have to lay off teachers, police, firefighters and other “public sector” employees.

It is important to keep in mind the dire condition of the economy when the stimulus passed. It was hemorrhaging jobs at the rate of hundreds of thousands per month. During President Bush’s last full month in office, December 2008, the economy lost 779,000 jobs. More jobs were lost that month than in any other single month in the previous 60 years. The GDP, the measure of all economic activity in the country, dropped by an unprecedented 9 percent in the final quarter of 2008.

The stock market took an enormous hit, along with the values of people’s homes and other financial assets.

Still, Republicans lambasted the stimulus plan as socialism, a bailout and the government picking winners and losers.

President Obama and the Democratic Congress passed the stimulus bill without a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and with only two Republican votes in the Senate.

Starting in April 2009, shortly after the stimulus was enacted, the outlook began to improve. The economy began losing fewer jobs per month and eventually started gaining jobs each month. In January 2012, the economy added 243,000 jobs. GDP in the final quarter of 2011 increased at a rate of 2.8 percent. Private-sector layoffs are now well below pre-2008 crisis levels. The stock market stabilized and there are now some signs of improvement in the national real estate market.

By all those factual economic measures, the stimulus was successful.

The president’s critics can, however, fairly argue that the stimulus was not as successful as the Obama White House claimed it would be when it was selling it. Some of their predictions about the scale of improvements the stimulus would bring turned out to be flat wrong.

The president’s economic team promised three years ago that the unemployment rate would not rise above 8 percent because of the stimulus. Last month, the Congressional Budget Office projected that unemployment will remain above 8 percent until 2014.

The administration also claimed the stimulus would not add to the deficit. In fact, it will likely end up doing just that.

Of course, the president will say the unemployment rate would look a lot better if congressional Republicans would just pass a jobs bill similar to the one he proposed at the end of last year.

And the president can argue that if the GOP would work with him to pass a deficit-reduction plan, similar to Simpson-Bowles, which raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans, the deficit could be brought under control.

When Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980, he asked the voters “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” They said no and elected Reagan in a landslide.

In 2012, a similar question can be asked: “Is the economy better off than it was four years ago?”

The factual answer is yes, and the stimulus is a large part of the reason why.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

China: Despite protests, US vows to continue in Afghanistan

Xinhua Net

U.S. vows commitment to Afghan strategy

U.S. officials on Monday vowed commitment to the Afghan strategy of President Barack Obama, despite recent protests and attacks in that country prompted by the burning of religious material by U.S. soldiers.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, told reporters during his regular press briefing that Obama's strategy to slowly withdraw troops while transferring security lead to Afghan forces "very much remains the right one and remains in place, and one that we will continue to implement."

Noting the defeat of al-Qaeda "remains absolutely a national security priority," Carney said recent upheavals related to the burning of religious material in Afghanistan will not affect the pace of the drawdown, which means pulling out the last combat troops by end of 2014, and transferring full security lead to the Afghans.

The statement was echoed by the Defense Department. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are fully committed to continuing operations aimed at turning over security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Panetta and Dempsey "believe we have achieved significant progress in reversing the Taliban's momentum and in developing the Afghan security forces, and they believe that the fundamentals of our strategy remain sound," Little said in a Pentagon news conference

Afghans rioted following the revelation that U.S. forces " inadvertently" burned Islamic religious materials. Four Americans have been killed, including two officers serving as advisors in the Afghan interior ministry in Kabul.

Israel: 'Buying time' with Iran


U.S. policy aimed at 'buying time' with Iran, says senior official
Top security adviser Antony Blinken says U.S. 'won’t tell Israel what to do'; lambasts political partisanship in U.S. on Israel and Iran; claims Assad regime is 'eroding'.
By Chemi Shalev

U.S. policy on Iran is aimed at “buying time and continuing to move this problem into the future, and if you can do that - strange things can happen in the interim,” Anthony Blinken, National Security Adviser to Vice President Biden and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, said on Monday.

“You never know,” Blinken added.

Speaking at a briefing organized by the Israeli Policy Forum (IPF) in New York, Blinken also said that the U.S. believes that Iran “has not made a decision to produce a nuclear weapon, they are not on the verge of getting a nuclear weapon, and there is still time and space for diplomacy to work.”

Carefully choosing his words, Blinken said that Israel views a nuclear Iran as “an existential threat” while the U.S. believes that it would pose “a direct and serious threat” to its own security. But, he added, “Israel has to make its own decisions. We are not in the business of telling our allies and partners what to do when it comes to their own national security.”

In a short interview with Haaretz following his briefing, Blinken said that the assessments of Israel and the U.S. on Iran are “very close” to each other, “but because we are in different places, even physically, there may be tactical differences between the two countries – but the fundamental strategic position is the same.”

On the eve of next week’s critical summit between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, Blinken added that as far as he knows, “Israel has not made any decision about what it might or might not do.” Regarding the controversial statement made last week by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, that Iran is a “rational country”, Blinken said “you can have big debates about their rationality or lack or rationality, just as there were about the Soviet Union and China. But in the past, Iran has responded to effective pressure.”

In his words to the IPF Forum, Blinken noted U.S. President Barack Obama’s determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and extolled his “unprecedented support” for Israel. “No president has done so much for Israel and for Israel’s security,” he said.

And he was unusually blunt about the partisan political attacks on the President’s Middle East record: he said what could really harm U.S.-Israeli relations and Israel’s national security is “subjecting either to the vagaries of partisan politics or election year talking points."

“There are individuals on all sides who unfortunately use the debate over policy toward Israel for political purposes, and unfortunately, because of the season that we’re in now, that only gets worse and worse and worse. For generations, Israel has been a bastion of bipartisan consensus – the stakes are too high for us and for Israel to let that change now,” he said. “We can question each other’s judgment – but not each other’s motives.”

He also noted, without explicitly directing his comments at anyone in particular, that “there is a decent chance that the Obama-Biden Administration will be around next November, so folks who are looking how to address these issues should probably factor that in as a reasonable possibility.”

He struck a similar note concerning the “rhetorical drumbeat of war” with Iran, without specifically pointing his finger at the Republican presidential candidates and perhaps other conservative commentators and politicians to whom he was obviously referring. He said that such declarations “play into the hands of the Iranians” by “ratcheting up tensions”, causing oil prices to rise and “money to go into the pockets of the Iranians and out of ours.”

Blinken said that the Administration’s policy of diplomacy backed by tough sanctions is taking its toll on the Iranian economy, which cannot access 70% of its foreign reserves, finds it increasingly difficult to acquire materials for its nuclear industry and is being boycotted by “a list that reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of leading companies of the world.

Intriguingly, Blinken said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems “more interested” in defusing tensions with the West than Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, whose “raison d’etre is confrontation with the U.S.” At the same time,
Blinken admitted that the U.S. has “extraordinarily imperfect information” about the situation inside Iran’s feuding ruling circles.

Regarding Syria, Blinken said that the U.S. currently opposes militarization of the civil war. But he said that the pillars of the Assad regime are disintegrating, with increasing defections from the military and government and business leaders moving their families and their money out of the country.

The well-attended briefing held at the Harvard Club in New York was the latest in a series of similar meeting organized by the Israel Policy Forum, an organization set up after the 1993 Oslo Accords aimed at promoting the peace process and a two-state solution. Its fortunes were so closely tied to the peace process that it almost ceased to function during the Second Intifada. In recent months, however, it is enjoying something of a renaissance, placing itself, as one of its leaders said, “In the middle, between AIPAC and J-Street.”

UK: The VP vetting begins early

The Guardian

"They went with rock star appeal in 2008 and it was a disaster. Now, maybe, we'll go with a dork who knows what he's doing."

Post Palin, what's the logic behind the GOP's VP pick?

As the Republican nomination race sharpens, so thoughts turn to who might share the ticket as vice-presidential candidate
By Ana Marie Cox

To the extent there is a difference between tabloid journalism and respectable reporting these days, it's probably that tabloid types would refuse to print articles as speculative and as thinly-sourced as those about possible vice-presidential picks. And while looking into the currents that push someone onto the bottom of the ticket is not as thrilling as investigating more literal political bedfellows, it is less likely to bring on lawsuits. And it is about as much fun as I'm going to have, while I wait for results from Michigan and Arizona to roll in.

I spoke to Republicans with no official affiliations to the current candidates or the people they discussed; they all responded to my inquiries under the assumption that Mitt Romney would be at the top of the ticket. As one observer put it: "I'm not sure I'm mentally prepared to consider a Santorum nomination." Another, media consultant JP Freire, said that if I was going to contemplate wild scenarios, why not a brokered convention where Sarah Palin plays a significant role? Or posit a Ron Paul-Chuck Norris ticket?

At this point, all of those playing this game are more likely to get it wrong than right, so maybe we should just cast the roles based on how much fun they'd be to watch and not bother with gaming out the possibilities based on the logic of past nominations. (That is to say, picks based on regional, ideological or stylistic balance as one school: Kennedy and LBJ, Dukakis and Bentsen; and picks based on an echo chamber of ideology and style, on the other: Clinton and Gore, Bush and Cheney.)

On that note, let's look at the pairing with the highest "talked about" to "likely" ratio right now: Romney selecting Rand Paul, Ron Paul's son and junior senator from Kentucky. Toby Harnden of the Daily Mail was the first journalist to put this idea forward, though others have previously speculated on the idea that Ron Paul's campaign has been stalking horse for a future run by Rand. Last week, Rush Limbaugh linked the idea of a Romney-Paul ticket with the observation that the elder Paul hasn't gone after Romney with any fervor (or really at all) – and that Rand said in a speech last Wednesday that he would be "honored" to be considered for Romney's running mate.

A Romney-Paul ticket makes sense as far as ideological and stylistic balance goes, with Rand's libertarianism ringing true for many conservatives where Mitt's moderate past – and more recent swings right – have struck false notes. On the other hand, picking up Kentucky isn't much of a GOP "get". There's also a disturbing air of dynastic politics to a ticket composed of the sons of two prominent politicians. But, then again, the GOP has shown a willingness to go that direction in the past.

Probably the biggest problem with the evidence for a Romney-Paul run is that a lack of attacks on a fellow candidate doesn't mean much. Plenty of VP picks have been vocal opponents of the eventual nominee and still made for a strong joint candidacy (Clinton and Gore, Reagan and GHW Bush, Obama and Biden). You start narrowing the choices to who hasn't attacked whom and you don't get very far, logically. Hey, Michele Bachmann hasn't attacked Romney, either!

But if there was ever a political moment for the GOP to select a vice-president who makes little-to-no sense, this is it. Philip Klein, a senior editorial writer for the Washington Examiner, has a "sacrificial lamb theory". He says that there's an argument – made by those pessimistic about the chances of beating Obama – for the eventual nominee to not "waste one of the good guys this time around". Plenty of politicos on both sides have noted that while the Republicans have a poor slate of actual presidential candidates, they have a deep bench of up-and-coming leaders. Would it be good for the party to burn one of them with the legacy of a failed campaign? Or, as Klein said, "Do you really want Marco Rubio to spend September and October defending Romneycare?"

In this scenario, the presidential nominee – and this logic makes the most sense if, say, Santorum got the nod instead of Romney – would select a politician for whom a loss wouldn't be career-ending or, at the very least, wouldn't be giving up a position in order to accept the nomination. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who faces a term limit anyway, fits that description – and doubling down on social conservatism might energize the base toward a not-humiliating finish.

Whoever winds up rounding out the Republican slate, the people I talked to believed that the logic that gave us Sarah Palin is no longer operating the decision system. Klein summed it up this way:

"They went with rock star appeal in 2008 and it was a disaster. Now, maybe, we'll go with a dork who knows what he's doing."

UK: Romney charges Santorum with 'underhanded' calls

The Guardian

Santorum admits using robocalls in Michigan primary campaign

Romney says tactic marks 'a new low' in the campaign
By Ewen MacAskill

Rick Santorum has admitted authorising robocalls to encourage Democrats to participate in the Michigan Republican primary and to vote against rival Mitt Romney.

Romney had accused Santorum of resorting to dirty tricks on the eve of Tuesday's primary. Speaking to Fox News, Romney said Santorum's tactic, which is legitimate but could be regarded as underhand, marked a new low in the campaign.

"Senator Santorum did something today which I think is deceptive and a dirty trick," Romney said.

An influx of Democratic votes could make the difference in a tight contest. Polls show Romney and Santorum neck-and-neck, with Santorum enjoying a late surge.

After the long slog of primaries and caucuses since Iowa on 3 January, Michigan could be make or break for both campaigns, with Romney either confirming his frontrunner status or handing it over to Santorum before next week's Super Tuesday contests, when 10 states hold elections to choose delegates who go on to nominate the presidential candidate.

Although the Michigan primary is a Republican one, America's quirky election system allows Democrats and independents to turn up at polling booths, declare themselves to be temporarily Republicans and to vote. In other states where there are similar open contests, Democrats tend not to abuse the system.

But Democratic activists in Michigan have been encouraging Democrats to vote in the Republican race against Romney, a piece of mischief aimed at throwing the Republican presidential process into disarray.

But in an unusual move, Santorum has backed the Democrats' campaign with a robocall (automated phone call) seeking to exploit Romney's opposition to the federal bailout of the car industry in 2008. The robocall, revealed by Talking

Points Memo, says: "Michigan Democrats can vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday. Why is it so important? Romney supported the bailout for his Wall Street billionaire buddies, but opposed the auto bailout. That was a slap in the face to every Michigan worker. And we're not going to let Romney get away with it." The narrator adds that the robocall is authorised by Santorum.

The Santorum campaign later confirmed that it was behind the robocalls, and Santorum defended the tactic, disingenuously arguing that attracting Democrats is a necessary part of winning a White House election.

If Romney loses, he can claim that Santorum won with the support of Democrats.

Santorum was in the lead in Michigan two weeks ago. That lead evaporated, leaving the two tied, but Santorum has been gaining the bigger crowds on the campaign trail and that is being reflected in a late surge in the polls.

At a rally in Kalamazoo on Monday night, he filled a hall to its capacity of 400. An overflow room took another 150 and the organisers claimed a further 400 were turned away.

Santorum told the crowd: "I think we are going to surprise a few people tomorrow night."

Romney's campaign has repeatedly misfired, with mistakes such as choosing as a campaign venue a near-empty football stadium in Detroit on Friday.

At the same event he reinforced his image as the mega-rich candidate out of touch with the average American by casually mentioning his wife had two luxury Cadillacs.

His campaign team were still addressing the issue on Monday, saying the Cadillacs quote would not resonate in Michigan as it was the centre of US car manufacturing.

Romney made a similar gaffe on Sunday. He briefly left the campaign trail in Michigan to put in an appearance at a Nascar racing event in Daytona, Florida, hoping he would get more television coverage than at his rallies. He admitted he did not follow Nascar as closely as the most ardent fans. "But I have some friends who are Nascar owners," he said.

Polling firm Public Policy Polling puts Romney on 39% in Michigan, Santorum on 37%, Ron Paul on 19% and Newt Gingrich on 9%. In Arizona, where about half the electorate have already voted, the results so far are estimated to be two to one in Romney's favour.

National polls suggest that the intense infighting in what is turning into a protracted Republican race is damaging the party, and that Barack Obama will be the main beneficiary. He will face the eventual winner of the Republican nomination race for the White House in November.

Santorum said that even to run Romney close in his home state was a victory of sorts. "This is not a place, frankly, that I thought we were going to be competing at the level we're competing," he said.

If Santorum were to win in Michigan it would give him momentum for the 10 Super Tuesday contests next week. The most important is in Ohio, where a Quinnipiac poll on Monday showed Santorum on 36%, Romney on 29%, Gingrich on 17% and Paul on 11%.

To win the nomination a candidate needs 1,114 delegates, a majority of those attending the party convention in Tampa, Florida, in August. So far Romney has only 123, Santorum 72, Gingrich 32 and Paul 19, according to an AP tally.

There are 29 delegates at stake in Arizona, a winner-takes-all contest, and 30 in Michigan, where the delegates will be distributed using roughly proportional representation. On Super Tuesday 419 delegates will be at stake.

Gingrich has not been campaigning in Michigan or Arizona, treating them as a lost cause, and is hoping to revive his campaign with wins on Super Tuesday in his home state, Georgia, and Tennessee, which he toured on Monday.

Romney is the favourite to take Massachusetts, Vermont and Idaho, as well as Virginia, where Gingrich and Santorum, in organisational mix-ups, failed to get on the ballot.

Reflecting Santorum's growing importance, he is to receive secret service protection from Tuesday. Romney has had secret service protection since 1 February.

Gingrich has also requested protection. It is provided on the basis of importance as reflected in polls and also if specific threats have been made, as was the case with former Republican candidate Herman Cain who has since quit the race.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Israel: Governors expect difficult race for GOP nomination


Governors red and blue expect difficult race for Republican nominee
Democratic enthusiasm and Republican apprehension on display at National Governor's Association winter meeting.
By The Associated Press

Democratic governors are bullish on President Barack Obama's re-election prospects, citing the improving economy and a Republican nominating contest that has exposed deep divisions in the party's base.

Republican governors insist Obama is vulnerable, but they say they are concerned the prolonged primary race has alienated independent voters and may have badly damaged the eventual nominee.

Democratic enthusiasm and Republican apprehension were both on display at the winter meeting of the National Governor's Association, an annual four-day conference where states' top executives gather to discuss policy and trade ideas on best practices but where politics is always close to the surface.

In interviews, many Democratic governors seemed almost giddy about Obama's chances of winning a second term.

They pointed to the improving employment figures, which have helped raise state revenues after years of painful budget cuts. The national unemployment rate stood at 8.3 percent in January, down from a high of 10 percent in October 2009.

"These Republicans that are running for president, they're so depressing.

Cheer up!" Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said after Democratic governors left a White House meeting with Obama. "We've got some good news: a great president creating jobs, and governors who are seeing revenues rebound."

Even Democratic governors of some typically toss-up, or "purple," states in presidential elections, said they like Obama's chances.

"In a purple state people want to see results and they also want to see a level of collaboration and teamwork. I think he is going to win Colorado," the state's governor, John Hickenlooper, said.

Meanwhile, virtually no Republican governors were willing to predict their party's nominee would prevail in November.

Many lamented the drawn-out nature of the nominating process, in which the early front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has been weakened by the intense scrutiny of his wealth, business practices and shifts on issues as well as the unwillingness of conservative voters to rally behind his candidacy.

Many conservatives have coalesced recently around former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney's latest strongest rival as the contest moves to primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday and 10 contests on March 6.

"I don't know anybody who thinks if you started out to design a good process to pick a president you'd choose exactly what we have now," said Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, a former White House budget director who explored a presidential candidacy but ultimately decided against a run.

Daniels said he would not consider jumping into the race even if Romney were to lose Michigan. Some Republican leaders have said privately that if Romney does not prevail in Michigan - a state where he was born and grew up and where his father served as governor - the defeat could serve as an opening for a party heavyweight like Daniels to join the field.

Daniels, who has not endorsed a candidate, said he didn't believe a potential Romney loss in Michigan indicated unremitting problems with his candidacy.
"The problem I would worry about, and have all along, is that our side might not offer a bold enough and specific enough and constructive enough and, I would say, inclusive enough alternative to America," Daniels said.

Some Republican governors voiced concern that social issues like contraception and gay marriage had at times eclipsed discussion of the economy in the presidential primary race.

"I do agree those social issues are not as significant as some of the economic and fiscal issues that really threaten our way of life," South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said, saying he was worried the debate over such issues might alienate uncommitted voters.

Contraception emerged as a hot button issue last month after the Obama administration announced it would require church-affiliated employers to include birth control as part of an employee's health insurance coverage. The decision drew outrage from Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, and Obama eventually retooled the requirement to say health insurers, not the religious groups themselves, must pay for the coverage.

Many Republicans, including the leading presidential candidates, slammed Obama for what they called government infringement on religious liberty. But their hard line risked making the candidates look as though they were anti-birth control … particularly Santorum, a Roman Catholic who has said he believes contraception is harmful to women.

The problem was further compounded when Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a rising Republican star widely considered a contender for the vice presidential nomination, backed a controversial bill that would have required women undergo a vaginal ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

McDonnell backed down this week, asking the bill's sponsors to require a less invasive ultrasound procedure instead. But the controversy drew national attention and scorn from women's groups.

Pennsylvania Republican Gov. John Corbett said he wasn't concerned that social issues had become part of the presidential campaign, saying such topics are top concerns for many Republican voters. But Corbett, who hasn't endorsed a primary candidate, said the discussion would shift once a nominee is chosen.

"It will be the economy, the economy, the economy and it will be jobs, jobs, jobs. And I think that's exactly where it should be," Corbett said.

UK: Wooing immigration tough sheriff could hurt GOP

The Guardian

Republicans could pay a heavy price for wooing the tough guy of immigration

Candidates rushing to embrace Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants should remember that the Latino vote is growing fast

By Ed Pilkington

For someone who holds the relatively modest position of county sheriff, Joe Arpaio has received an astonishing amount of attention from this year's Republican presidential candidates.

He has been wooed by Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, who all made pilgrimages to Arizona to see him in person, Santorum as recently as last week. Rick Perry invited him to tour Texas with him and Mitt Romney, for whom he acted as Arizona campaign chair in 2008, has also been in contact.

There is a simple reason for this otherwise peculiar courting of an ageing and famously grouchy middle-ranking official: the area that Arpaio polices around Phoenix, Arizona's capital, is the ground zero of the fight against illegal immigration in America and he is its most famous advocate.

For two decades, he has studiously cultivated his image as "America's toughest sheriff" – raiding private businesses suspected of employing undocumented workers, rounding up Latinos as they are smuggled across the border with Mexico, sending his "posse" to swamp entire neighbourhoods and arrest individuals, usually Hispanic, for often minor infringements, handing anyone found to be undocumented to the Feds.

"They say I racially profile," Arpaio said in his office in downtown Phoenix on the eve of Arizona's Republican primary on Tuesday. "But we arrest everybody – it's not my fault a high percentage happen to be here illegally."

In the past two years, Arpaio's once lonely stance as the tough guy of US immigration policy has suddenly become de rigueur on the American right, inspired by the rise of the Tea Party movement. His approach has been elevated into Arizona state law, in the form of SB 1070, a crackdown on undocumented Hispanics that requires police to check the papers of anyone they suspect of being unlawfully present.

SB 1070 has spread like wildfire to other states across America, from Alabama and Georgia to Oklahoma and Missouri and many more.

Hence the unseemly rush of presidential candidates seeking Arpaio's endorsement. Both frontrunners, Romney and Santorum, who are locked in a bitter battle for the Republican nomination, have embraced Arizona's example.

Last week, Romney went so far as to laud SB 1070 as a model for America. On Sunday Jan Brewer, the Arizona Governor, returned the favour by endorsing Romney.

"He has that pro-business background and he has that political history that I think ... would serve America the best," she told NBC's Meet the Press. "I think he is the man who can carry the day."

But there are storm clouds gathering over Arpaio that should give Romney and Santorum pause. The sheriff is under investigation from the US justice department for racial profiling of Hispanics. He also faces growing opposition from a nascent Hispanic electorate that is finally discovering its voice.

A coalition of Hispanic and labour organisations in Arizona has just launched a campaign to oust Arpaio, who comes up for re-election in November. Led by Citizens for a Better Arizona, it produced a TV advertisement accusing the sheriff of wasting $50m (£31m) of taxpayers' money which aired during last week's Republican debate.

Arpaio says he is utterly unflustered by the opposition. "They are going after me, hoping I retire or get defeated. But I've got news for them: I'm not going anywhere."

Russell Pearce did not think he was going anywhere either. As leader of the controlling Republican group in the Arizona state senate, he was the architect of SB 1070. His aim in framing the bill was to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona. As he puts it when we meet in a cafe in a Phoenix suburb: "Illegals are criminals, they come across the border because we incentivise them with jobs and free stuff. Lots of free stuff. We fertilise our weeds in society today."

Pearce is proud of the fact that more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants have already fled Arizona under the shadow of SB 1070 – and that is before the supreme court rules this summer on the new law. If the court allows key provisions to stand, another mass exodus could follow.

Pearce has one other statistic of which he is very proud: so many children have been taken out of schools in his district because of the fears of their undocumented, primarily Hispanic, parents that the authorities could close 13 elementary schools and save the taxpayer $400m.

Despite such success, as he sees it, Pearce has paid a heavy personal price for spearheading the crackdown. The same coalition that is turning its sights on Arpaio forced a recall election against him last November, which he lost. Since then he has been in the political wilderness.

Like Arpaio, Pearce is dismissive of the opposition that ousted him. "This recall was brought on by far-left folks, the open-border crowd, anarchists. I wouldn't disrespect the name communist by calling them that."

He has vowed to continue his mission to drive all undocumented families out of Arizona and is considering standing for office again this November, all of which delights Randy Parraz, the community organiser who led the recall campaign that drove Pearce from power.

"Pearce is still in denial and that's great because if he tries to make a comeback we will do the same to him again," Parraz said.

Parraz believes that Pearce and Arpaio – and, by extension, the Republican presidential candidates who are so eager to embrace them – are making a huge political mistake. "They don't realise that there are consequences to their extreme and arrogant behaviour: they are going to drive the Latino voters to the polls like nothing else."

Parraz goes so far as to venture that Arizona – a state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1952 other than Bill Clinton's victory in 1996 – could turn permanently Democratic as a result of the Republican party's perceived hostility towards Hispanics.

"It's not a matter of if Arizona will go blue [Democratic], but when," he says.

An army of volunteers is working quietly in Arizona to increase Hispanic voter registration and participation before the November presidential election. A fifth of the state's eligible voters are now Hispanic, yet just 43% of them cast their ballot in 2010 – 15% below the proportion of the general population that voted.

If that democratic deficit can be closed, it could have a huge political impact. Francisco Heredia of Mi Familia Vota, a group that encourages Hispanics to vote, aims to persuade 50,000 Latinos to register to cast their choice early by mail in the presidential election, as that will give more time for canvassers to ensure they participate and could, he believes, raise turnout to 65%.

The same push to get out the vote is under way in key battleground states with large Hispanic populations across America, raising the prospect that the Latino vote could determine the outcome of the presidential election itself.

Jeb Bush, brother of George and the former governor of Florida, has predicted that Hispanics will control the margin of victory in 15 states which will decide who takes the White House.

Yet the Republican grip on Hispanic voters is slipping. In 2004, George Bush gained 44% of the Hispanic vote and held on to the presidency; in 2008 John McCain gained only 31%. This year, that figure could fall further as a result of the Republicans' aggressive posture on immigration.

Demographically, Latinos are the voting group to watch. The number of eligible Hispanic voters has increased from 13m in 2000 to 21m in 2010 – a rise that is particularly evident in battleground states such as Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Nevada and Virginia, the Latino population has nearly doubled in the past decade.

Take a long view and the picture is even clearer: nearly a quarter of all children in America are Latino and, according to the Pew Hispanic Centre, every year about 600,000 US-born Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote – a demographic timebomb that should be focusing the minds of every American politician.

It is indeed focusing the mind of Barack Obama. He is regularly to be heard addressing Spanish-language media and his re-election campaign is openly courting Hispanic voters in all relevant battleground states.

Meanwhile, the Republican presidential nominees are paying homage to Arpaio.

In the view of the sheriff's arch-nemesis, that is political suicide. "The Republican anti-Latino platform is going to lock the Latino vote into the Democratic camp for a generation," Parraz says. "In order to placate the Tea Party, they are going to pay a terrible long-term price. To which I say: 'Hallelujah brother! Keep on doing that!'"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Canada: Send in the clowns

National Post

Conrad Black: The Republicans send in the clowns
By Conrad Black

The first words Fidel Castro has ever uttered that I have agreed with are those recently published on his blog, in which he opined that the current U.S. Republican nomination race is one of the most inane and stupid events in modern world history. On its record, the Obama administration should be sent packing, bag and baggage. It will have issued $5-trillion of new debt in one term, and publicly held federal debt as a percentage of GDP will have increased from under 50% to about 80%. It is a regime of narcissistic posturing and confidence tricks and bad policy options that richly deserves and badly needs a severe thrashing at the polls, as did its arrogant, bone-headed predecessor and the louche, rascality-tainted latter Clinton road-show that preceded that. Instead, there could well be only the second occurrence of three consecutive two-term administrations in the country’s history (after Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, the scarcely comparable principal authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Monroe Doctrine, 1801-1825).

The most disturbing aspect of this election is that despite the parlous condition of the country and the profound vulnerability of the incumbent, the best Republican candidates — Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Haley Barbour — have sat it out. As I keep lamenting, in the terrible year 1968, with assassinations, riots, 550,000 draftees in Vietnam and 200 to 400 of them returning in body bags every week, at one time or another, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan were all running for president, and all of them were more impressive than the present contestants.

Of the surviving Republican contenders, Ron Paul is a sound monetarist and a doughty libertarian, but he is a 76-year old kook who, like President Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, thinks 9/11 was the chickens coming home to roost. Newt Gingrich is a completely unfeasible flake. Rick Santorum is consistent, courageous, and believably argues for fiscal encouragement of families and the creation of jobs that add value to the economy and not just more lawyers and consultants and service-industry leeches. But he has his feet stuck in cement on abortion and same-sex marriage, and early in the campaign even criticized contraception. These shouldn’t be partisan issues at all, and any candidate who gets into them has self-detonating grenades strapped to his torso, front and back. Mitt Romney is more presentable and has a successful private-sector career behind him, but is afflicted by plasticity and has faced in all four directions on most issues.

It has been dismal, though at times amusing, to see the national media pick off every alternative to Romney who has raised his or her head: Michele Bachmann, with her opposition to inoculations in schools; Rick Perry with “Oops” as he forgot which cabinet department he wanted to abolish, and dilated on the fun of jogging with a handgun; Herman(ator) Cain and his peccadilloes (though at least he got them all talking about tax simplification); Newt with his $1.6-million for teaching “history” at Freddie Mac, and his plan to colonize the moon. As each has arisen, the giggly snipers of The New York Times and the “mainstream” (i.e. liberal) networks have plinked joyfully away until another bullet-riddled head plopped back behind the parapet. Newt is only sustained by casino owner Sheldon Adelman, who is just trying to stop Mitt, for whom the liberal media have been sharpening their knives for five years (with particular solicitude for the late Romney family dog, Seamus, an Irish Setter infamously conveyed from Boston to Montreal on the roof of the candidate’s station wagon in a dog crate in 1983).

There are two factors that could still make it an interesting election. First, the Republicans might just fail to anoint a candidate before the convention, so dispiriting is the choice, and the convention could then pick a more promising dark horse. (The last time this happened was the Democrats’ choice of John W. Davis after 102 ballots in 1924. The last time it worked was Warren Gamaliel Harding in 1920 (in the original “smoke-filled room,” impossible of course in these smoke-free times).

And, second, Barack Obama is emerging as not so much the incompetent he has appeared for most of his term, but as purposeful, radical in fact, and even possibly sinister.

Not more than about 10% of the population have any real problem with birth control (and most of the Catholic bishops are not among them). It would have been very easy for Mr. Obama and his allies to assure contraceptive costs to any category of working person. But trying to force the Roman Catholic Church’s many affiliated institutions to insure their employees’ use of contraceptive prescriptions and abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization treatments as well was unconstitutional (First Amendment religious rights), and a premeditated assault on a formidable, and not previously hostile, institution. It is astonishingly belligerent and politically risky to launch such an attack on the nation’s largest church at the publicly proclaimed behest of the most strident feticidal organizations in the country. There was no practical reason for it; it is naked aggression against the religious sector of American life, a big transformative gamble.

The president’s budget for fiscal year 2013 claims that there will be deficit reduction, based on drastic defense cuts that his own Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, says will not occur; on wild projections of economic growth of up to more than 4% per annum that are pure fantasy; and on a tax war against the 3% of Americans who pay more in personal income taxes than the other 97%. Thus are promised 100% increases in taxes on capital gains and dividends; almost 30% on estates; the end of the payroll tax reduction; and, as touted by Omaha’s noisiest export since the B-29, (politically) useful idiot Warren Buffett, an as yet unspecified “global minimum tax.”

It is all as ludicrous as Fidel Castro, the world authority on misrule, claims. If Obama loses, it will be because the Republicans jump the rails on this corrupt, farcical nominating process and draft a serious candidate on a serious platform. If he wins, it will be a disaster to delight America’s critics, and will be repealed by a nation chastened back to its senses in 2016.

Israel Healthcare

PJ: With so many Republicans declaring their undying support of Israel I wondered if the Israel government was similar at all to the GOP platform. Specifically, I was curious about healthcare in the country and if their position was similar to the abhorrance of the GOP to universal health care and more specifically to the Obama administration's health care plan. What I found is that Israelis are very proud of their healthcare system which is very similar to European models (and the very opposite to GOP plans):

"Health care in Israel is universal and participation in a medical insurance plan is compulsory. Health care coverage is administered by a small number of organizations, with funding from the government. All Israeli citizens are entitled to the same Uniform Benefits Package, regardless of which organization they are a member of, and treatment under this package is funded for all citizens regardless of their financial means. Generally, health care in Israel is of high-quality and is delivered in an efficient and effective manner. Partly as a result of this, at an overall 82 years, Israelis enjoy the fourth-longest life expectancy in the world as of 2010."*

Perhaps those who support Israel, as they say that they do, should look beyond their narrow talking points and get to know the country that has worked since inception for the betterment of their entire population. My bet is that if you asked Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney or Star of David wearing Sarah Palin they would not be able to identify that Israel has an Obama-style healthcare system. Even if they could correctly identfify that Israel has a successful health care system, I think that they would be torn between critcising the system (since they don't want to criticise Israel for anything) or praising its success (since they have done nothing but talk against such systems).

You can read more about the Israeli health services at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Services website: The Health Care System in Israel- An Historical Perspective:


Middle East: Republicans push for tough stance on Iran

Al Jazeera

Obama urged to stand strong on Iran
Republicans push president to reaffirm US commitment to blocking Tehran from nuclear arms.

A group of United States senators, mostly Republicans, has called for President Barack Obama to take a more firm public stance over the nuclear dispute with Iran.

More than one-third of US senators are sponsoring a non-binding resolution that lists reasons for why Iran is a threat.

The group wants Obama to reaffirm the US commitment to preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane reports from Washington, DC.


UK: Gingrich about education:

PJ: The Republican field has drifted so far from Ronald Reagan's (their hero's) stand on issues that it's mind boggling. Reagan supported education; Gingrich and Santorum are at war with education...Reagan support Scouting; the GOP is at war with (at least Girl) Scouts...Reagan believed in the seperation of Church and State; the GOP is trying to claim the US as a Christian nation...Reagan was known to have a sunny disposition and had friendships across the isle like his strong friendship with Teddy Kennedy*; today's Republicans are super-partisan and fill their speeches with so much venom for political thought on the other side that a cobra would be proud....

There are members of the GOP who still support the old ways, the Reagan ways, which were far more progressive than those of the current conservative/religious movement. Those people are now called RINOs and are angrily shouted down by people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Andrew Breitbart. Many more long time Republicans have left the party, such as Susan Eisenhower, becoming independent voters because of the GOP's sharp right turn. Reagan started out as a Democrat and given the state of the current GOP I question whether he would have changed his political affiliation to today's Republican party.

* In Nancy Reagan's own words:

The Economist

It's an act of war!
by M.S.

READING Amy Davidson's review of yesterday's Republican debate, I see that Newt Gingrich is showcasing his historical expertise again.

Gingrich said we were “looking at an abyss,” and suggested that teachers these days were evil (“if a foreign power did this to our children, we’d declare this an act of war”)

Now hold it right there. That phrase sounds weirdly familiar. Actually, I think I can remember my dad saying pretty much the same words, quoting them actually from an article he was reading while looking at me over the top of his Washington Post, sitting at our dinette table in Washington sometime in the early 1980s. What is Mr Gingrich sampling here?

Internet to the rescue! Here's PBS education correspondent John Merrow, in a post written last August about No Child Left Behind's effects on students' appetite for reading.

The apparent outcome of this national policy: citizens who do not know much about history and are unlikely to pick up a book (where they might learn some history).

To echo "A Nation at Risk" (1983), if a foreign power had done this to us, we'd consider it an act of war.

That's it! It's the Reagan Administration blue-ribbon commission report on education, "A Nation at Risk". There it is, right in the first two paragraphs.

We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.

So, is Mr Gingrich aware of the origins of the phrase he's using? Yes, he is; he likes this phrase. In fact, he also used it in May, 2009, when he, Michael Bloomberg, and Al Sharpton (!) paid a joint visit to Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, the education secretary, at the White House (!!) to "remind President Barack Obama that, nearly 55 years after the Supreme Court issued landmark desegregation rulings, the country still has a 'crisis of inequality' when it comes to education" (!!!).

Calling [education] the "first civil right of the 21st Century" [blogger's note: !!!!], Gingrich said the country has to move forward from the No Child Left Behind Act, former President George W. Bush's program to improve the performance of primary and secondary schools.

"We said, 26 years ago, that if a foreign power did to our children what we were doing to them we would consider it an act of war," Gingrich said, in reference to the "A Nation at Risk" report on public education issued in 1982.

"As Americans, we can reach beyond Democrat and Republicans, beyond liberals and conservatives," Gingrich said, and insist on finding practical solutions to fix education. "I am prepared to work side by side" with anyone committed "to getting the job done and not talking about it for the next 26 years."

As the New York Times style guide would doubtless put it: WT*?!?!?!

Newt Gingrich is not going to be the Republican nominee for president. So who cares what he has to say about education reform. But this is just amazing hucksterism. One minute, Mr Gingrich is marching into a meeting with Barack Obama, arm in arm with Al Sharpton, and proclaiming himself the champion of a new bipartisan willingness to move beyond ideological labels and implement solutions to the education crisis; why if a foreign power had done this to us, we'd consider it an act of war! The next, he is reviling the perfidiousness of the Obama administration, liberals, and the teachers' unions, and proclaiming them responsible for the education crisis; why if a foreign power had done this to us, we'd consider it an act of war! Yes, we've got trouble, right here in River City!

Enough of Mr Gingrich. We should be grateful to Mitt Romney for interring him under a mountain of super-PAC cash and pounding the Florida primary through his heart. But to pull one useful point out of this pile of dreck, we should also stop talking about education as war. The logic behind the rhetorical gambit of calling the deterioration in educational standards "unilateral disarmament" and speaking of an "act of war" in 1983 was that at that moment of Reagan-era cold-war militarism, the only way to get attention for what is fundamentally a problem of social underinvestment and inequality was to imagine it as a military confrontation against outside enemies. It seemed a neat trick at the time; it had worked after Sputnik, more or less. It was a bad way of phrasing things. Education is not a war. Education is raising our children. If we are decent people, we ought to be able to conjure up some enthusiasm for that task, for that enterprise, for that adventure, without having to close our eyes and imagine we're shooting bad guys.

UK: The GOP candidates in cartoon format

The Economist

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland speaks his mind about Obama and the US

China: Hilary Clinton insists the Syrian leader can still save his country

Xinhua Net

Syrian president "can still save his country": Hillary Clinton

TUNIS, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- In a statement delivered at a press conference following the Friends of Syria Conference in Tunis on Friday evening, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can still "choose to save his country and his people from falling into ruins."

Clinton admitted that the conference witnessed divergences, but a consensus also emerged among delegates to open up humanitarian corridors for civilians in Syria.

She did not openly broach on Saudi Arabia's decision to leave the conference in protest of the conference's "inaction."

The Gulf countries, including Qatar, favor a military solution to the conflict in Syria, calling for arming the Syrian rebels or sending in Arab forces to fight against Syrian government forces.

Clinton ruled out any military action against the Syrian regime, saying that the conference had agreed to step up pressure on the Syrian government, as well as imposing further sanctions on the country to put an end to the bloodshed.

The U.S. Secretary of State was confident that the Syrian regime would collapse from within as a result of a "military coup, " noting that over the past year military leaders have stepped in to remove unpopular leaders in the region, as happened in Tunisia and Egypt.

In the next days, various groups making up the Syrian opposition "will get together and make their voices heard," Clinton added.

Representatives from some 70 countries took part in the meeting which was organized by the Arab League.

China: US talks with N. Korea a good beginning

Xinhua Net

U.S. envoy says Beijing talks "good beginning" for resuming six-party talks

SEOUL, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- A U.S. envoy said Saturday the latest round of talks with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) marked a "good beginning" in efforts to resume stalled talks over ending its nuclear program.

Glyn Davies, U.S. special representative for DPRK affairs, arrived in Seoul earlier in the day to brief Lim Sung-nam, South Korea's top envoy to the six-party talks, on the two-day talks in Beijing between him and his DPRK counterpart Kim Kye-kwan.

Davies said Friday there was "a little progress" in the Beijing talks, the first since the death of top DPRK leader Kim Jong Il last December stalled discussions over possible U.S. food assistance to the DPRK.

Davies' predecessor Stephen Bosworth met with Pyongyang's first vice minister Kim twice last year to narrow their differences over reviving the disarmament-for-aid talks, but no breakthrough was achieved.

Before meeting Lim Saturday, Davies played down hopes for the immediate resumption of the six-party forum, saying, "We are so long away from anything like that."

"(The Beijing talks marked a) good beginning with the new government in the DPRK," the U.S. diplomat told reporters after sitting down with Lim. ""I think it is significant that in a relatively short period of time after change in leadership in the North, the DPRK decided to reengage."

"We hope and we expect that the DPRK will choose to go down the path of greater engagement and indeed ultimately cooperation," Davies, a former American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, added.

The two envoys vowed to continue close policy coordination between the allies on the DPRK's nuclear issues.

"We agreed that North Korea (DPRK)-U.S. talks provided a useful opportunity for discussions over resuming the six-party talks," Lim said.

South Korea hopes the third round of separate inter-Korean denuclearization talks could be held in the process of restarting the six-party process, the envoy added. The previous two rounds were held last year in Bali and Beijing, respectively.

The disarmament talks, which also involve China, Japan and Russia, were last held in December 2008. The DPRK unilaterally quit the forum in April 2009 but has expressed its wish to return to the negotiating table.

While Seoul and Washington insist Pyongyang show commitment to denuclearization before returning to the talks, Pyongyang rejects such preconditions.

Lingering tension on the divided peninsula following the two deadly border incidents in 2010 poses another challenge to the resumption of long-stalled nuclear negotiations, as Seoul and Washington call for an inter-Korean dialogue.

Pyongyang has said it will continue producing low-enriched uranium in defiance of international calls to halt all nuclear activities, which the DPRK authorities say are for peaceful purposes.

Editor: Lu Hui



China: U.S., Europe have hegemonistic goals in Syria
Statement comes day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Russia and China 'despicable' for vetoing UN Security Council resolution on Syria.

The United States and Europe are "harboring hegemonistic ambitions" in Syria, China's state news agency said Saturday, a day after Beijing was condemned at an international conference held to find a way to halt the Syrian regime's nearly year-old suppression of an anti-government uprising.

At the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton blasted Russia and China as "despicable" for vetoing UN Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning the crackdown by President Bashar Assad's government.

"They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people," Clinton said.

The official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary that China's position on Syria was balanced and that "most of the Arab countries have begun to realize that the United States and Europe are hiding a dagger behind a smile."

"In other words, while they appear to be acting out of humanitarian concern, they are actually harboring hegemonistic ambitions," it said.

Both China and Russia boycotted the Friends of Syria conference, which Xinhua said ended with a "broad consensus" on avoiding a militarization of the conflict in Syria.

The conference urged Assad to end the violence immediately and allow humanitarian aid into areas hit by his regime's crackdown. It also proposed tighter sanctions on the country and Assad's inner circle.

Calls and faxes to China's Foreign Ministry on Saturday asking for comment on Clinton's charges were not immediately answered.

Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at several news conferences this week that China wanted more information on the goals and mechanisms of the conference before it would attend.

Xinhua quoted him as saying China was a friend of the Syrian people, and that "any action taken by the international community should help to cease tensions, boost political dialogues, resolve differences and maintain peace and stability in the Middle East."

The UN estimated in January that 5,400 people have died in the conflict. Hundreds more have died since, with activists saying the death toll is more than 7,300.
Assad's regime blames the violence on terrorists and armed thugs, not people who want to reform the system.

China sent a vice foreign minister to Syria last week for talks. It says it vetoed the UN Security Council vote on Syria because it was called before differences over the proposal were bridged.

UK: Looking for the GOP's white knight

The Guardian

Jeb Bush eyed as latest 'white knight' candidate in GOP presidential race

Former Florida governor was critical of current field in a speech this week, prompting rumours he could be a surprise contender
By Paul Harris

Speculation that a late challenger might still emerge in the increasingly bitter race for the Republican presidential nomination is set to surge after former Florida governor Jeb Bush made remarks criticising the current field.

Bush, who is the brother of President George W Bush and son of President George Bush Sr, is a beloved figure among many conservatives who see him as a strong and charismatic leader who is popular in the must-win swing state of Florida.

That contrasts with a widespread unease among many Republican leaders and grassroots activists with the remaining crop of Republican candidates and the vitriolic nature of the fight between frontrunner Mitt Romney and his main challengers Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

In answers to questions from the audience after a speech in Dallas on Thursday, Bush cautioned the remaining Republican campaigns from drifting so far to the right that they put off the key independent voters needed to beat President Barack Obama in November.

"I think it's important for the candidates to recognise though they have to appeal to primary voters, and not turn off independent voters that will be part of a winning coalition," Bush told the audience according to CBS news.

Bush also directly took on the strident tone of recent Republican debates, accusing participants of scare-mongering. "I used to be a conservative and I watch these debates and I'm wondering, I don't think I've changed, but it's a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective and that's kind of where we are," he said according to Fox News.

With Mitt Romney failing so far to secure the nomination but with no convincing challenger emerging to unseat him, many Republican pundits have speculated about the possibility that none of the current field will be able to amass enough support to secure the nomination this August in Tampa.

Though that is still unlikely, and Romney remains favourite to win the contest, it has led to a slew of names being mentioned as possible "white knights" who could still enter the race or emerge at Tampa as a compromise candidate to unite a splintered party. They include Bush, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan.

Though none of these figures have expressed any intention to run, and several have repeatedly denied it, Bush's comments are likely to set the rumour mill spinning furiously.

They also come after Tea Party favourite Sarah Palin entered the fray, raising the idea that she might see herself as her party's saviour. In recent interviews the former Alaska governor has said she would "help" out the party if a contested convention happened and told CNN earlier this month that she believed such an event would be a good thing. "I don't think it would be a negative for the party … That's part of the competition, that's part of the process and it may happen," she said.

Ron Paul's campaign has also complicated matters. Though the libertarian-leaning Texan congressman has not yet won a single state's popular ballot, he is trying to build up a large number of delegates to take to Tampa. In caucus states, where complex rules mean the number of delegates assigned to a candidate can outweigh their score in the popular vote, Ron Paul's campaign is working hard to win as much support as possible. That could see him amass a body of delegates in Tampa that far exceeds his standings in the polls and makes a contested convention, with no one having enough support to secure victory, more likely.

UK: Republicans voice their discontent about presidential field

The Guardian

US politics live: Senior Republicans air discontent with GOP candidates

Live coverage of the GOP presidential races in Michigan and Arizona as Jeb Bush and Rudy Guiliani voice their concerns
By Richard Adams

5.35pm: Time to wrap up this blog for the weekend – but here are three takes on the state of the campaign, especially regarding Mitt Romney.

Molly Ball in the Atlantic hears Romney speaking in Detroit, including his multiple car ownership gaffe:

It was the latest in the ever-lengthening list of gaffes that have served to underscore the impression that Romney is perilously out of touch with regular folks, from "I like being able to fire people" to "I'm not concerned with the very poor."

In addition to his foot-in-mouth tendency, Romney also happens to have impeccably bad timing – a real knack for stepping in it right when the campaign momentum had started to turn in his direction.

The Guardian's own Ewen MacAskill was also there, and he labels the speech an over-hyped flop:

Highlighting the smallness of the crowd, his words echoed round the empty stadium seats. He was not helped by the near-silence, winning only an occasional round of applause. At one point, having made a joke about the reluctance of children to leave home, only a handful of people in the audience laughed, an embarrassing response that the empty stadium amplified.

For more, please go the link:

Friday, February 24, 2012

UK: Is the new movie "Game Change" too close to the truth? Update

PJ: Why blast a movie for its content before it is even seen? Why not just ignore "Game Change" if it is 'fiction'? Why are Palin and her fans going to such orchestrated lengths to dissuade people from watching this movie? The lady doth protest too much, methinks....

The plot thickens...In a related story, uncovered by in the US, Palin aide Jason Recher, (who has joined with the Palin camp in attempting to discredit the film) had offered 'confidential' help to screenwriter Danny Strong. In an email to the him, Mr. Richter wrote:

“Thanks for the call, I enjoyed speaking with you,” Recher wrote.

“Considering your past work with Recount, I believe you want to make GameChange [sic] as realistic as possible. Governor Palin is a unique and complex player in the book and even more so in reality.”

“Based on our discussion, I believe it key to your project to accurately reflect the nuances of her personality as it was in public and behind the curtain in addition to the at times dramatic scenes and settings we found ourselves in,” he said.

“I would be pleased to confidentially consult with you on this and suggest we discuss a formal agreement to do so. I would look forward to meeting with you and Jay and discussing my unique experiences directly from memory and not for spin to assist you on the project.”

“Thanks again and should you and the production team like to move forward I am open to discuss options,” he said, signing the email, “JR.”

In his research about the book which the movie is based on, Mr. Strong had this to say about his conversations with Mr. Recher:

“I asked him if ‘Game Change’ was based on a false narrative and he said, ‘No,’” Strong said.

You can read the story at

Update: Read this review from Z on TV about the film, its impact and why it is important in today's American political landscape:,0,1265581,full.story

The Independent

'Abusive, sick, unfair...' No, not Palin, but the new movie about her

A screen portrayal has hit a raw nerve with America's right. Is it too close to the truth?

After years of stonewalling what they regard as the liberal elite media, Sarah Palin's closest associates have decided to use America's mainstream press to mount a pre-emptive strike against a new film chronicling the former vice-presidential candidate's rise to political stardom.

Seven of the ex-Alaska governor's former staffers made headlines yesterday by holding a 50-minute conference call with journalists in which they angrily aired criticisms of the television movie Game Change, in which Ms Palin is portrayed by Julianne Moore.

The high-profile project, for the cable channel HBO, was described as a "sick," "abusive," and "fabricated" representation of the 2008 election campaign. It wrongly portrays Ms Palin as abrasive and emotionally combustible, they claimed, and distorts her grasp of foreign affairs.

Not one of the seven participants in the phone call has seen Game Change, which will not air until mid-March. But they have all read the book on which it was based, and watched, with some horror, the trailers on HBO's website.

"Frankly, it gives fiction a bad name," declared Ms Palin's former foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann. "It is based on intentionally misleading lies." Meg Stapleton, her former PR manager, added: "We all know Palin sells and the dramatisation of Palin sells even more. This is sick. The media has gone too far."

Doug McMarlin and Jason Recher, who were both aides to Ms Palin during her 2008 bid for the vice-presidency said respectively: "It's like me telling you what happened at your wedding by talking to your caterers," and "it's a false portrait cobbled together by a bunch of people who simply weren't there."

In certain segments from Game Change, Julianne Moore who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ms Palin, appears to believe that Saddam Hussein, and not Osama bin Laden, launched the 9/11 attacks, and that the Queen, and not the Prime Minister, runs the British government.