Saturday, April 28, 2012

This is probably the most important column that Americans should read

PJ: For those who would rather roll their eyes at the title of this piece, I suggest you open them instead because when you have a political party that has drifted further and further from the center...

...when you have a political party who proposes then passes legislation making it a crime of murder for a woman to have had a miscarriage (

...when you have a political party whose leaders have made it clear that they want the newly elected President of the United States to fail instead of reaching across the aisle for the benefit of the American people...

...and when you have a political party who will vote against their own initiatives to prevent the President from enjoying political success you have a real and serious problem.

Washington Post

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, Published: April 27
Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available Tuesday.

Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.

It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.

Please go to this link for the rest of the article:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Middle East: US Secret Service scandal widens

PJ: As with many scandals, this type of behaviour has been around for a long time. Sadly, it has ballooned into a sex scandal and drifted away from the outrage of a national security issue. The focus should always be on the compromised situations that these agents willingly put themselves in and the lost integrity to the most important security detail in the country and not the lascivious behaviour of the agents.

Al Jazeera

New sexual-misconduct charges hit US agents
Report claims Secret Service officers hired strippers and prostitutes in El Salvador before Obama's visit last year.

The US Secret Service has confirmed an investigation into allegations that agents hired strippers and prostitutes in El Salvador, before a visit last year by US president Barack Obama.

A new report says Secret Service members had sex with strippers at a club in the Salvadoran capital, San Salvador, and took prostitutes into their hotel rooms last spring, senior politicians said on Thursday.

Mark Sullivan, senior director of the Secret Service, is looking into the report but has so far not found anything "credible" to back it up, Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said outside the US House of Representatives.

The allegations arise from a television interview, in which an anonymous US contractor described visiting a San Salvador strip club that offers sexual favours with some Secret Service agents and US military specialists in advance of Obama's March, 2011, visit.

The report said high-ranking US embassy employees also "routinely" visited the strip club.

"Obviously, we will inquire of our embassy in San Salvador with regard to the conduct of our own employees. But the article alleges that they attended the establishment, not that they engaged in any illegal or unsanctioned conduct," Victoria Nuland, US state department spokeswoman, said.

New prostitute claim

US officials are also facing charges from a Brazilian prostitute who is set to sue the US embassy and five staff members, including three members of the United States Marine Corps.

Romilda Aparecida Ferreira, described as a "sex professional and dancer" by her lawyer, plans to sue for injuries, medical expenses, and lost income sustained after she was allegedly pushed out of a moving van in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia.

Ferreira's lawyer, Cezar Britto, says she and three other women left with the men in three vehicles after a night out at a nightclub on December 29, 2011.

Britto says a soldier tossed his client from the vehicle following an argument, leading Ferreira to break her collarbone, two ribs, and puncture a lung.

The US state department says the woman was outside, trying to open the moving vehicle's door.

The four Americans were sent home.

The allegations come a week after revelations that agents were involved with prostitutes before a presidential visit to Cartagena, Colombia, for the Summit of the Americas.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Austrailia: Mexicans move out of US

The Sydney Morning Herald

US could be high and dry as Mexican wave starts to ebb
By Tara Bahrampour

A tidal wave of Mexican immigration to the US in the past four decades has receded, causing a historic shift in migration patterns as more Mexicans now leave the US for Mexico than the other way around, a report from the Pew Hispanic Centre shows.

It is the first reversal in the trend since the Depression, and experts say a declining Mexican birthrate and other factors may make it permanent. ''I think the massive boom in Mexican immigration is over and I don't think it will ever return to the numbers we saw in the 1990s and 2000s,'' said Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University and co-director of the Mexican Migration Project, which has been gathering data on the subject for 30 years.

Nearly 1.4 million Mexicans moved from the US to Mexico between 2005 and 2010, double the number that came a decade earlier. The number of Mexicans who moved to the US during that period fell to less than half of the 3 million who came between 1995 and 2000.
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This could have political consequences, underscoring the delicate dance by the major parties as they struggle with immigration policies and court the increasingly important Latino vote.

Illegal immigration has emerged as one of the most emotional political issues, one that dominated much of the Republican presidential contest and has proven complicated for the President, Barack Obama.

The reversal appears to be the result of tightened border controls, a weak US job and housing construction market, a rise in deportations and a decline in Mexican birthrates, said the study, which used US and Mexican census figures and Mexican government surveys. Arrests of immigrants entering illegally have also dropped precipitously.

The reversal could have significant implications for the US. It has 12 million Mexican immigrants, many of whom work in agriculture and construction. One in 10 people born in Mexico lives in the US, and more than half entered illegally. Most live in California and Texas.

Half of those returning to Mexico took their families, including more than 100,000 US-born children. Those children are citizens of both countries.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To further a point: "Competence over flair" from the conservative National Review

PJ: Not only have most writers for the National Review defended Sarah Palin but, on occassion, they still run op-eds with her byline.

National Review online

Picking a Veep in a Post-Palin World
Romney may seek competence over flair.

By Robert Costa

Former vice president Dick Cheney, speaking in Washington on Monday, summed up the emerging consensus among the GOP’s political class. “The single most important criteria has to be the capacity to be president,” Cheney said. “That’s why you pick them. Lots of times in the past that has not been the foremost criteria.”

Cheney did not cite Palin by name, but to many Republican operatives who read or heard the remarks, the message was clear: Romney should pick an anti-Palin.

For the rest of the piece:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oman: How did yesterday's superstar become today's political pariah?

PJ: Amusing and confusing. It wasn't long ago that the right-wing of America defended Sarah Palin. It wasn't long ago that cameras were wherever she was. It seems only yesterday that staunch conservatives saluted their Tea Party queen, promoted her for the highest office in the land and begged for her endorsement. It was only a few months ago that people like Ann Coulter held her up as the best that the GOP could offer. But times and opinions seem to have changed. Recent remarks by Ann Coulter show that she is no longer enamoured by the "Thilla from Wasilla". Even Senator John McCain (who after the release of the movie "Game Change" stated that Sarah Palin was the "best" qualified candidate to be his VP pick) laughed when he joked that Romney should pick her as his running mate.

Now, with the exception of Fox New's continued promotion of Mrs. Palin, who is supposed to offer some kind of sage word about politics, most people have opened their eyes to reality. Or perhaps they always saw reality and simply, and blindly, protected one of their own.

How times have changed. Stories about Sarah Palin have largely disappeared with one notible exception. Now, whether printed in the US or in the international press, people are again paying a lot attention to Mrs. Palin. I sincerely doubt however that it is in a way would make her proud. Mrs. Palin is now used an example of what type of person not to pick to be Romney's running mate. There are literally thousands of stories that focus on the debacle of McCain's pick that focus on her lack of knowledge, her lack of intellect, her lack of honesty and integrity and her ultimate drag on the ticket. From liberals to conservatives to independents, story after story is printed or broadcast identifying that Sarah Palin was not prepared to be president and was the worst VP pick in history.

It is simply amazing that those who defended and propelled this woman to the forefront of national political discourse are now actively trying to disuade their presidential candidate from chosing anyone who might be similar or even comparable to the former governor. It is indeed amusing.

Oman Tribune

Romney keen to avoid Palin syndrome

Sunday, April 22, 2012

UK: Romney's pandering politics

The Economist Mitt Romney’s economics Flip back please The probable Republican nominee should stop pandering to the left on China and to the right on taxes TO UNDERSTAND why Mitt Romney has triumphed over his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, look no further than March’s disappointing job numbers. With growth fragile and petrol prices soaring, the economy is Barack Obama’s gaping weak spot, and Republican primary voters have backed the candidate best equipped to exploit it. Yet it is very far from clear what they are getting. Blame that, in part, on a nominating contest that repeatedly veered into irrelevancies. But blame the candidate, too. In the past year Mr Romney’s views have metamorphosed worryingly as he has tried to protect his flank against a succession of conservative challengers. It is no exaggeration to say that there are now two Romneys when it comes to economics. The first Romney is the relatively pragmatic, businesslike figure who emerges from his 2010 book (“No Apology: The Case for American Greatness”, a tome which is mercifully cleverer than the title), his formal speeches and his campaign documents. This Romney offers several welcome alternatives to Mr Obama’s policies. He would compel regulators to pay closer attention to the costs they impose. He would take a modest step towards tackling America’s unsustainable entitlement programmes by raising the age at which the elderly can collect public-pension and health-care benefits. He would convert the federal contribution to Medicaid, the federal-state health programme for the poor, to a system of block grants. First to the left, then to the right But there is also a second Romney—the desperate crowd-pleaser who will say anything to win over his audience of the day. This Romney lurches both to the left and the right. On trade, he has promised that on his first day in office he will have China branded a currency manipulator. This is doubly daft. Economically, it is unjustified: as China has allowed the yuan to appreciate, it has become far less undervalued, as evidenced by China’s shrunken current-account surplus (see article). Politically, it would needlessly inflame the prickly Chinese during their own leadership transition. For the chief executive of the world’s biggest economy to start by picking a fight with the second-biggest would be plain stupid. As troubling as his pandering to the left on trade is his swing to the right on taxes. Until February, Mr Romney had promised to cut taxes only on corporate profits and investment. Then, in a crude attempt to catch up with his tax-slashing rivals, he pledged to cut all personal income-tax rates by 20%. That would take the top rate of tax down to levels last seen under Ronald Reagan. Mr Romney claims he could pay for this by closing loopholes for the affluent—an excellent reformist idea, but meaningless unless you say which loopholes are going to go. Apart from sketching out a few small ideas to a group of donors, ideas that his aides rapidly downplayed, Mr Romney has said almost nothing about which tax breaks should go. The most likely reason is that any realistic cull of loopholes to pay for his lower income-tax rates (and the lower capital-gains and dividends rates he wants) will hit the middle class. The younger Mr Romney would never have invested in an entrepreneur with such a large hole in his numbers. But in this case it is worse, because Candidate Romney has not even evaluated the problem correctly. The businesslike solution to America’s finances is not revenue-neutral tax reform. The gap between what Americans expect from their government and what they pay is simply too big. Even if spending cuts close most of that gap, some money must come from higher revenues. Mr Romney surely knows this, but when asked during a debate if he would reject a deficit deal that cut $10 of spending for every dollar of higher taxes, he raised his hand, alongside the nuttier candidates. Mr Romney’s nomination is now virtually secure; he can start to walk back from some of his more recent positions. He should offer China a truce if it sticks to structural reforms that reduce its external imbalance. On the budget, he should promise to cut tax rates only as part of a credible, medium-term plan to stabilise the debt, and refuse to rule out raising net revenue in the process. At least he would then be flip-flopping towards common sense, instead of away from it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

South Korea: Un-equal pay in America

Korea Times Equal Pay Day shows women still shortchanged By Bonnie Erbe This week marked Equal Pay Day. It was so named by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996 to mark the date on which women would have had to work (including the entire prior year) to make as much as men made in that last year alone. The Labor Department reports women still make just 77 cents for each dollar earned by men, a figure that hasn't budged since the event began. As is the case with liberals and conservatives and all things female these days, there's a bitter debate over whether the wage gap is real and, if so, what causes it. Funny that Equal Pay Day should arrive while the War Against, Over or For Women continues to roil. The latest skirmish involved CNN commentator Hilary Rosen, who berated GOP hopeful Mitt Romney's constant references to his wife, Ann, as a source of economic advice. Rosen said Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life." The chattering classes and the Twittersphere erupted and the lava hasn't receded yet. No one can blame Mitt Romney for taking advantage of the situation. He's desperately warring for more votes from women, since he's losing the gender gap (when compared with President Barack Obama) by some 20 points. Ann Romney handled the Rosen comment with class and bolstered her likeability and credibility. But that by itself does not mean more women should vote for her husband. Ann Romney is right about one thing: Most women, especially in a stagnant economy, care more about economics and jobs than they do about contraceptives (the issue over which the so-called "war on women" first conflagrated). One of those economic issues women hold so dear is equal pay ― earning as much as the guy in the next cubicle (or truck or factory line) doing the same job. But Mitt Romney isn't exactly the world's foremost supporter of women's economic parity, as displayed by his campaign earlier this month. When Romney was asked by reporters on a conference call whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, or if he'd veto it as president, campaign staffers said they'd need to check and get back. Only after Obama criticized this misstep did Romney speak out and announce that he supports equal pay full force. The Ledbetter Act ― the first bill Obama signed into law ― makes it easier for women deprived of equal pay to sue employers. Romney's stance on equal pay is and should be of much greater concern to women voters than Romney's response to Rosen's remark. But the former passed with nary a whisper and the latter drove headlines for a week. Rosen's words were poorly chosen, but her sentiment was right on. Why should women voters, most of whom are in middle- or low-income households, rely on economic advice from a woman who's never had to work outside the home? The vast majority of mothers don't even have a choice as to whether they should work. Parenting advice from Ann Romney? Maybe. Advice on how to battle MS or breast cancer? A resounding yes. But economic advice is another matter. And I sure wouldn't ask her advice on how to make sure I earn the same amount of money as the guy working the same job. Bonnie Erbe is host of PBS' "To the Contrary With Bonnie Erbe" and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. Email

Friday, April 20, 2012

Israel: President Obama: 'Never again' must not be an empty slogan

PJ: It would be nice to think that hatred and bigotry that allowed the Holocaust would never happen again. It would have been nice if nearly fifty years after WWII it hadn't happened again by the government sanctioned ethnic cleansing in the Balkens. But it did happen again...and it can happen again.

It would be nice if Sarah Palin had never insisted that then Senator Barrack Obama had been "pallin' around with terrorist", inflaming her audience to yell "kill him!" at her rallies. Equally, if would have been nice if she hadn't claimed that newly elected President Obama was "hellbent on destroying America". It would be nice if there had been no "crosshairs", no claims of "death panels", and no calls to "reload" vs "retreat". But sadly, there was lots of incendiary and inflammatory remarks made and there still are.

It would have been nice if there had never been a gunman by the name of Anders Behring Breivik who killed more than 70 people in Norway in 2011. Inflammed by extreme right-wing ideology and his hatred of ethnic diversity he has no remorse for those killings and claims that he would do it all again because of his political beliefs.

It would be nice if hate-filled rhetoric against Muslims like that uttered by Pamela Geller in the US did not exist or, at least, that she didn't have more than 150,000 new visitors to her blog each month.

It would have been nice if Florida Congressman Allen West hadn't claimed that about 80 of his congressional collegues were 'members of the communist party'; it would have been nice if his political party had chastised him for his incendiary remarks. It would even be nice if he backed away from his remarks instead of doubling-down.

It would be nice if US rocker Ted Nugent wasn't given a national platform to tell his fans to "chop off..." the heads of those with whom he politically disagrees. It would have been nice if those of his political affiliation would demand that he apologize for his remarks which they have not done.

It would be nice if people decided that disagreement was part of life. It would be nice if civilizations, especially one as "God fearing" as the US claims to be, would never again let hate rule a country.


Obama: We must prove that 'never again' is not an empty slogan
In statement released for Holocaust Remembrance Day, U.S. President says: We stand in awe of those who fought back against overwhelming odds; Panetta: No horror like the Holocaust can ever happens again.

The United States must resolve that "never again" is not just an empty slogan, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday, in a statement marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Obama's comments came after, on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the crowd gathered at Yad Vashem that Israel's "enemies tried to bury the Jewish future but our future was born again in the land of our forefathers, here we built a base, and a new beginning of freedom, and hope and action.”

Netanyahu went on to say that today’s generation “faces calls to exterminate the Jewish State,” and that lessons of the past must not be forgotten. He focused on Iran, calling it an existential threat to Israel, and to world peace, said "It is the world’s responsibility to stop Iran securing nuclear weapons."

Obama, in his statement released on Thursday, said that on this "day, and all days, we must do more than remember. We must resolve that 'never again' is more than an empty slogan."

"As individuals, we must guard against indifference in our hearts and recognize ourselves in our fellow human beings," the American president said, adding that, as "societies, we must stand against ignorance and anti-Semitism, including those who try to deny the Holocaust. As nations, we must do everything we can to prevent and end atrocities in our time."

Obama began his statement by saying: "We honor the memory of six million innocent men, women and children who were sent to their deaths simply because of their Jewish faith. We stand in awe of those who fought back, in the ghettos and in the camps, against overwhelming odds."

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, also speaking to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, said during a ceremony at the Department of Defense, attended by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, that: “Today we pause to remember and honor 6 million souls who were murdered not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were."

Referring to guest speaker Charlotte Schiff, the sole member of her family who survived the Holocaust, Panetta said that it was "our honor to affirm to you that we will never stop fighting in the memory of those who perished – fighting for a better future, [and] fighting for a world safe from aggression, from tyranny and from injustice."

Holocaust Remembrance Day, Panetta added, was also a day to mark the Jewish people, “who overcame this tragedy and built a strong and vibrant Jewish state in Israel."

Addressing Barak, the U.S. defense secretary said: “Ehud, I am proud to be your partner, I’m proud to be your friend, and I’m proud to work with you in continuing to strengthen the U.S.-Israel defense relationship."

“To defeat Hitler,” he said, “we mobilized all of the strength that we could muster, and in that effort we witnessed many of our finest hours as a military and, indeed, as a country,” Panetta said, adding that, in spite of allied efforts during in World War II, “we must always remember that we were unable to save the 6 million Jews who perished under Hitler’s cruel reign.”

That burden, he added, according to a Department of Defense statement, must be carried forward as a determination that no horror like the Holocaust ever happens again.

“Today we renew that commitment, and we do so by coming together to bear witness, just as our service members did more than 65 years ago,” Panetta said.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

UK: The unfortunate legacy brought by Sarah Palin

The Telegraph

The choice seemed a brilliant one, until Palin started to answer hard questions. Then it turned out that her knowledge of foreign policy was limited to Alaska’s proximity to Russia, that her grasp of the constitution was shaky and that her five children included an unmarried pregnant daughter, a fact she hadn’t bothered to tell McCain.

Now she lives on as a celebrity television personality – and as a spectre haunting Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Palin is just what Romney needs - and the very last person he wants
By Anne Applebaum

Maybe you’ve read the book (Going Rogue), or perhaps you’ve seen the film (Game Change). In any case, you must know the story of how John McCain thought he’d picked a winner – a talented, unknown female running mate who would bring a touch of youth and charisma to his stodgy campaign – when he chose Sarah Palin to be his vice-presidential candidate in 2008.

Annoyed by the array of undistinguished (and indistinguishable) white, male Republican governors whom his aides were pushing on him, McCain went for a wild card: the moose-hunting, snowmobiling, evangelical governor of Alaska, a mother of five with a part-Eskimo husband and a personable wink.

The choice seemed a brilliant one, until Palin started to answer hard questions. Then it turned out that her knowledge of foreign policy was limited to Alaska’s proximity to Russia, that her grasp of the constitution was shaky and that her five children included an unmarried pregnant daughter, a fact she hadn’t bothered to tell McCain.

Now she lives on as a celebrity television personality – and as a spectre haunting Mitt Romney’s campaign. Earlier this week, Romney, who has now clinched the Republican nomination, declared that his search for a running mate had begun. As a general rule, presidential candidates try hardest to avoid the mistakes of their immediate predecessors, and the Palin disaster looms large in his campaign’s collective memory. Because of Sarah Palin, in fact, most now expect Romney’s shortlist to include politicians who are familiar, experienced and male.

This matters, though not because the vice-presidency matters. Although the job itself is hardly worth having (“not worth a pitcher of warm piss”, in one famously dismissive description), the selection process is very important indeed. It’s the first major decision a presidential candidate makes under full media scrutiny, the same kind of scrutiny all of his decisions will receive if he wins.

The vice-presidential choice is also the candidate’s only chance to make up for what he lacks, whether it is youth, experience or a wider geographical appeal. George W Bush chose Dick Cheney in 2000 because he seemed older and wiser, and because he knew about foreign policy. Barack Obama chose Joe Biden in 2008 for precisely the same reasons. John Kerry, a northerner, chose John Edwards, a southerner, in 2004 in order to shake off some of the New England stereotypes that haunted him, just as John F Kennedy of Massachusetts chose Lyndon B Johnson of Texas in 1960.

Republican candidates in particular make their vice-presidential choices with an eye to ideological balance as well. Moderate Republicans often choose vice-presidents to their Right, in order to keep that wing of their party happy. Thus the moderate Bob Dole named fiscal conservative Jack Kemp in 1996, and the moderate George Bush chose the more conservative Dan Quayle in 1988. By contrast, the conservative Ronald Reagan picked the moderate George Bush in 1980, in the hope of attracting more centrist votes. John McCain’s gamble in 2008 was partly an attempt to do both: he hoped Palin would attract the Christian conservatives to his Right, while also appealing to moderate women to his Left.

Some refuse to play by these rules. Bill Clinton picked Al Gore in 1992, despite the fact that they were the same age, had the same politics, and came from more or less the same part of the country. But that decision sent a message about Clinton, too: he was so self-confident and so sure of victory that he didn’t feel the need to make up for any deficits.

Romney’s campaign knows all of these precedents, and his advisers will be debating them in the coming weeks. But what is it, exactly, that his candidacy needs? Certainly it isn’t a wider geographical appeal. As a former governor of Massachusetts, he has strong ties to the East Coast; as a Mormon, he has strong ties to Utah and the West, which is where most Mormons live; as the son of a former Michigan governor who grew up in Detroit, he has equally strong ties to the Midwest, too.

Nor does Romney need executive experience. As an ex-governor and multi-millionaire ex-CEO of Bain and Co, he’s got it, at least on paper. For that matter, the Republican ticket doesn’t even need ideological balance, because Romney has taken every conceivable position on every issue – for and against abortion, for and against universal health care – so much so that it’s impossible to know whether to characterise him as a conservative or a liberal.

What Romney really lacks is charisma, and what he really needs is someone to help him win back the votes of women who were scared away by a Republican primary campaign that debated, among other things, the merits of contraception. What Romney really needs, in other words, is a talented, unknown female running mate who will bring a touch of youth and charisma to his stodgy campaign. Thanks to Sarah Palin, that is exactly the kind of politician he will go out of his way to avoid.

UK: Women in the US economy

PJ: Using women to make political points is all the rage in US least for now. First it was the kerfuffle on contraception then it was the cutely titled "Mommy Wars". It is a strange time for sure. When Rush Limbaugh, that bastion of conservative thought, calls women with whom he disaggrees "sluts", "babe" and "feminazis" his fans stay silent (or cheer). When Republican governors turn over laws designed to protect "equal pay" (as in the case of Wisconsin's Governor Walker: the base applauds. And when conservative lawmakers and their likely Presidential candidate Mitt Romney vows to take away funding for women's healthcare through defunding Planned Parenthood, whose major mission is providing healthcare to underprivilaged women (with less than 3% of their funding going toward abortion), the GOP chattering classes nod in agreement. And yet these same politicians and pundits use women as their political prop as if defending their rights all the while whittling them away.

The Economist

Job losses
Women out of work

NOW that the latest round of America's ongoing "Mommy Wars" appears to be simmering down, it might be a fitting time for cooler heads to consider the substance of the issue that generated all the faux-rage. At issue are Mitt Romney's recent claims that Barack Obama's policies have actually been bad for women—specifically, that as a result of the incumbent's policies, 92.3% of the net jobs lost in America since January 2009 have been lost by women. "The real war on women is being waged by the president's failed economic policies," is how Mr Romney put it. For Mr Romney's critics, the claim is a cynical gambit: an effort to convince the voters that despite what Mr Obama might say about women's rights, and despite the fact that some Republicans are inveighing against them, it is the president, armed with his economic policies, who is waging war. Even among Republicans, the claim has been received sceptically. "It just doesn't sound right," notes Byron York; most of this year's voters have been around for a while, that is, and they've noticed men losing a lot of jobs too.

This raises two questions. First of all, is it true? And secondly, if it were true, what should policymakers do about it, if anything?

The first question is relatively easy. We can refer to Politifact, which rated the statement "Mostly False". (This elicited an e-mail from Mr Romney's policy director asking for a recount; Politifact did review its research in response to the questions raised, and confirmed its initial rating.) Politifact's reasoning, which I would agree with, is that the statistic itself is misleading, and the causal analysis is incorrect. It's easy to see where the Romney campaign came up with the figure—between January 2009 (when Mr Obama was sworn in) and March 2012, America had a net loss of 740,000 non-farm payroll jobs, and of those, 683,000 jobs were lost by women. By January 2009, however, America had already been losing jobs for months; between December 2007 and June 2009, men lost about 5.4m jobs, net, and women lost 2.1m.

Per the labour economists consulted by Politifact, then, the numbers show a predictable pattern of job losses during a recession. Men lost jobs first, as the private sector shuddered. The losses for women (who are overrepresented in, for example, schools and civil service) became more noticeable over time, as states and cities started slashing their budgets in response to the recession. In addition, as one wonk notes, Mr Obama had actually asked Congress to authorise more aid to the states, which would have forestalled some of those government layoffs, but Congress declined; so whatever you think of Mr Obama's economic policies, if we are talking about specifically about job losses among women, Mr Obama, if he had his druthers, would have forestalled more of those losses than Congressional Republicans.

The second question is a bit trickier. If women have been hit harder by economic stresses outside of their control than men, I would argue that that would be a problem for policymakers. I would argue that it would be a worthwhile concern. Unemployment is difficult for those affected, and it has negative externalities for their families and communities. Intractable inequality also has negative externalities: while it's worse for the have-nots, obviously, no normal person benefits from other people's struggles. So if some subset of a population is disproportionately affected by a particular problem, addressing it is a worthwhile goal for others, whether the subset is people in a certain region, people who have been working in a particular industry, or people of a certain race or gender.

Interestingly, however, women aren't the ones struggling with jobs right now. Their unemployment rate has lagged that of men for most of the recession, and is now equal—not because women are losing jobs so much as because men have been going back to work. And significantly, women may be more insulated from job losses in the future than men. Many of the men's losses were in goods-producing sectors that will recover slowly, if at all. Women are more likely to work in service-providing jobs, such as schools or health care—functions where outsourcing is less likely, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects healthy job growth in the future. Women are also less likely to drop out of high school than men, and more likely to complete a bachelor's degree, both of which are outcomes that suggest that they should be more insulated than men from future job losses.

This isn't to say that women aren't concerned about economic issues, or that they don't face a harder road than men, in some respects. They continue to earn less money than men, for example, and remain responsible for a greater share of dependent care than men. As I said last week on Democracy in America, Mr Romney was right to say that women are concerned about economic issues, and that they have good reason to be. But if the issue at hand is strictly job losses, then the Romney campaign's claim doesn't make much sense. You might even say it's like when a shifty boyfriend turns up with flowers: one's appreciation of the gesture is tempered by suspicion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kuwait: Romney campaign likely to avoid a Palin mistake

Kuwait Times

As Romney seeks running mate, Palin lessons echo – ‘It won’t be like the McCain campaign’

"Over the coming months, the only thing that’s certain in an otherwise uncertain process is that Palin’s shadow – and the troubles of 2008 – will loom large. “There’s one thing the people in the Republican establishment agree on: There was clearly not a thorough thought process or vetting that went into the vetting of Sarah Palin. They didn’t ask the fundamental questions or spend enough time with her,” said Sara Fagen, a former political director for President George W. Bush. “I don’t think they’re going to make the same mistake.”

For the full article:

Canada: Trying to avoid the Palin pitfall

Winnipeg Free Press

Romney's search for running mate guided by Republicans' lessons from Sarah Palin

By: Associated Press

BOSTON - Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has begun his search for a running mate in the race for president, and he will be guided in part by the lessons his party learned from Sarah Palin's selection four years ago.

As he prepares for the chance to challenge President Barack Obama in November, Romney wants to avoid the blowback Republican John McCain faced in 2008 with his surprise choice of the little-known Alaska governor as the vice-presidential candidate. Questions about Palin's readiness to serve and McCain's decision-making came to define his flawed campaign.

Romney will put experience at the top of his list of qualities as he chooses a No. 2, according to senior advisers and Republican operatives familiar with his thinking. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak candidly about a process Romney is trying to keep as private as possible.

"The hallmark for Governor Romney's candidacy, and how he would be as president, is that he approaches these decisions in a well-thought-out, methodical way," said Steve Duprey, a former McCain adviser and member of the Republican National Committee. "It won't be like the McCain campaign, where there was a big surprise."

The former Massachusetts governor did give a few hints about his plans Monday, disclosing that he had chosen his former chief of staff and 2008 presidential campaign manager, Beth Myers, to lead the vetting and analysis of prospective running mates.

Romney said the selection would certainly happen before the Republican National Convention in late August, where he is all but certain to become the party's nominee. But when asked about potential choices — and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, specifically — Romney hedged.

"Well I think he's one of the terrific leaders in our party, but I think it's way too early to begin narrowing down who the potential vice-presidential nominees might be," Romney said in an interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News. "But we're beginning that process, we'll talk about a lot of folks, and then go through the kind of vetting and review process that you have to go through to make sure whoever you select will pass the evaluation that's required by the American people."

In addition to his running mate being prepared to assume the presidency, Romney has laid out only one other public criterion: that he or she oppose abortion rights. That condition could help reassure social conservatives that Romney is serious about his opposition to abortion — a sensitive issue because he supported abortion rights when he ran for the Senate from Democratic-leaning Massachusetts in 1994.

Several Republicans familiar with Romney's thinking downplay the importance of choosing a running mate from a particular battleground state or an important voting demographic.

Romney also is expected to avoid a candidate with the kind of star power that might distract too much attention from the party's main campaign themes — Republicans are working to make the election a referendum on Obama — or overshadow Romney himself.

Rubio, 40, is one such celebrity candidate. The Cuban-American Florida senator is in the midst of only his second year on Capitol Hill, but he is both a conservative favourite and potential bridge to the growing Hispanic voting bloc. Polls show Romney trailing Obama by a large margin among Hispanic voters.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is also near the top of many speculative lists of potential running mates. Portman endorsed Romney early and campaigned hard for him in Ohio, a key battleground state that Republican candidates usually must win to be successful in Novembe.

Romney also is likely to consider conservative favourites such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Still, if he's looking for experience, that group has just five years of gubernatorial experience among them.

More experienced Republicans could help Romney mitigate some political liabilities, such as his $250 million fortune and his struggle to connect with working-class voters.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty comes from a working-class background that could help. He's been aggressively campaigning on Romney's behalf since suspending his presidential campaign last year.

Republican House budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan also came from humble beginnings. Ryan campaigned at Romney's side for several days ahead of Wisconsin's recent Republican primary, a victory that helped push conservative favourite Rick Santorum out of the race.

Over the coming months, the only thing that's certain in an otherwise uncertain process is that Palin's shadow — and the troubles of 2008 — will loom large.

"There's one thing the people in the Republican establishment agree on: There was clearly not a thorough thought process or vetting that went into the vetting of Sarah Palin. They didn't ask the fundamental questions or spend enough time with her," said Sara Fagen, a former political director for President George W. Bush. "I don't think they're going to make the same mistake."


Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt and Steve Peoples in Boston contributed to this report.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Israel: The ticking time bomb of Iran nuclear talks


Obama-Netanyahu mistrust is the ticking time bomb of Iran nuclear talks
The U.S. election campaign is a major cause of mutual suspicions between the two leaders.
By Chemi Shalev

It took only one round of preliminary nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries for a trans-Atlantic ruckus to break out between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and US President Obama over whether Tehran had or hadn’t been given a “freebie." One can only imagine the open hostilities that might break out between the two leaders if, contrary to expectations, the talks begin to yield real results.

“My initial impression is that Iran has been given a ‘freebie,’” Netanyahu said on Sunday in regard to the five-week hiatus before the next round of talks with Tehran, scheduled to be held on May 23 in Baghdad. With U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman as a character witness by his side, Netanyahu was pointedly showing off his ease and familiarity not only with American vernacular but with American politics as well, and the point was not lost on Obama’s White House advisers. The Israeli shot across the bow travelled all the way to Cartagena, Colombia, where the visiting Obama took the trouble to reject Netanyahu’s charge verbatim, saying that Iran had gained nothing from the first round of talks, certainly not a “freebie."

The early timing of this undiplomatic exchange surprised even some seasoned observers of the troublesome relationship between the two leaders. During his relatively amicable visit to Washington last month, Netanyahu and Obama had reached broad understandings, if not total agreement, on the ways to move forward over the coming weeks. And the dynamics of the negotiating process are such that the decision to convene a second round of talks is insignificant in and of itself, Netanyahu knows full well, and the crunch time will come, if at all, only if a third and decisive round of talks is convened. Thus, the logic behind Netanyahu’s early broadside against the talks remains unclear, though it clearly angered Obama.

Israelis, of course, are axiomatically skeptical of the talks with Tehran and view them as an Iranian diversionary tactic aimed at gaining time, weakening international sanctions and enhancing Iran’s legitimacy in the Arab and Muslim world. Israeli officials are under no illusions that Tehran would ever accept Jerusalem’s two main demands of a total ban on uranium enrichment or the dismantling of the Fordow underground facility near Qom. Under normal circumstances, however, Israel would be expected to understand the need to go through the motions of exhausting the diplomatic options and to trust the U.S. to call the Iranian bluff in order to show the world that Tehran’s intentions are far from benign.

But the circumstances are far from normal. Rumors of White House attempts to broker backdoor deals that are completely unacceptable to Israel – including those that would allow the Iranians to continue low-grade enrichment - have been swirling in Washington and reaching the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem for several weeks now, gnawing away at the tentative sense of understanding created during Netanyahu’s recent visit. These reports, together with the deep skepticism about Obama’s attitude to Israel, rife among many of Netanyahu’s confidantes and advisers, and the widely held suspicion that the president’s overriding goal is to achieve an arrangement that would avert a crisis and keep oil prices low in advance of the November elections all make for a toxic mix that could very well induce increasingly scathing outbursts from Jerusalem.

The same is conversely true, perhaps even doubly so, from the point of view of the White House. Netanyahu’s critiques of Administration positions towards Iran provide valuable ammunition for the presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney to attack Obama for “throwing Israel under the bus." Given his well-known ties with Romney and other Republicans, only recently highlighted in a front-page New York Times report, the White House will be hard pressed not to suspect Netanyahu that his vocal objections to any hint of progress is aimed at giving crucial aid and succor to his conservative ideological allies in their bid to unseat Obama.

At the same time, both leaders realize full well that they are inexorably bound to each other in what might be termed “a balance of terror.” Obama, after all, will most likely fail to convince the American public that he hasn’t sold out Israel if the Israeli prime minister claims otherwise. Netanyahu, for his part, will need Obama’s stamp of approval for any attack on Iran not only to prevent international isolation but also to convince the Israeli public that there was no other choice.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. If the current talks collapse, the stage will be set, theoretically at least, for an Israeli attack that could ignite the Middle East, rattle the world’s economy and possibly derail Obama’s chances of victory. If, contrary to current expectations, progress is achieved in the talks – or at least if the U.S. decides to call it progress – the threat of war might be averted but the danger of a rupture between Israel and the US would become clear and present indeed.

And if Israel decides to go it alone despite international agreement with Tehran, it would be jeopardizing the very foundations of its diplomatic standing around the world and much of its political support in the U.S. as well.

Israel and America are not one and the same, of course, and may have found themselves at cross purposes over the Iranian nuclear challenge under different leaders as well, but the troubled history, the divergent ideology and the bad chemistry between Obama and Netanyahu dramatically complicate and exacerbate a situation which is of existential importance to Israel, and of strategic significance, at the very least, to the U.S. as well.

The willingness of the two leaders to believe the worst of each other places the Iranians in a unique position, if they play their cards right, to drive a serious wedge between “the Great Satan” and the “Small Satan,” and whether they do so for rational or for irrational reasons is largely irrelevant.

It is a unique set of circumstances worthy of close examination in the specialized academic field of foreign policy analysis, which, among other things, analyzes the effect of personalities and the interaction between them on international relations and crises. The troubled interactions between Netanyahu and Obama and their potential ramifications would be fascinating in theory, of course, if they weren’t so frightening in reality.

Follow the author on Twitter @ChemiShalev

UK: Just the facts please, not the politics

PJ: The author's point should be taken to heart: stop the insane rhetoric and stick to the facts because details matter. For some that will mean removing the blinders that prevent them from seeing reality versus the worn out talking points of the politician who represents their chosen political party. It's a tough battle but an individual owes it to themselves and their country to do so. For instance, during this non-controversy about stay-at-home moms (Rosen v Romney), Mrs. Romney has said that her husband tells her that she, as a stay-at-home mom, has a tougher job than his. Point taken. She has also said that she made a "career choice" to be a stay-at-home mom. Point taken. So the importance of her work (her job) as a stay-at-home mom and her right to make that choice should not be debated. Oh come those details. But a little over one year ago, in January of 2011, Mitt Romney said that low income women (who are in need of assistance) should be working (that is to say, have a job outside the home): "that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work" (article plus video: So if I'm understanding this...his wife has an important and vital 'job' as a stay-at-home mom and it was her choice to do so. But for a low income woman, taking care of children is not a job and they should not have a choice but to go outside the home to work (while the government assists with child care). Pesky things details.

The Economist

Women, the Romneys and Hilary Rosen
Divide and conquer

WHATEVER you think of Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate, he seems to have a nice family. I watched their campaign ad on the topic earlier this week, with the occasional heart shooting out of my eyes. I've publicly admired Ann Romney's Pinterest board. I can't tell the sons apart, but I'm aware that one of them has inspired a Tumblr. Still, this week's drummed-up controversy about the comments of Hilary Rosen, a Democratic pundit, on Mrs Romney is wearying.

Yes, Ms Rosen was snide in saying that Mrs Romney "has actually never worked a day in her life." And Ms Rosen's larger point wasn't compelling: in the next sentence, she said that Mrs Romney isn't in a typical socioeconomic situation and therefore doesn't count as evidence that Mr Romney understands the economic issues women face. But Mr Romney hasn't actually been saying that his wife's situation is typical. He's been saying that his wife reports to him "regularly", and based on her conversations with women, that economic issues are uppermost on their minds. That's what I've been hearing from women (and men) too, and it might be a useful clarification on Mrs Romney's part; there's been so much argument over social issues lately that you could get the impression that women in 2012 are more concerned about access to contraception than access to stable employment. Further, it's not really fair to say that Mr Romney is suddenly talking about his wife as a bid to convince women that he gets them, in the "some of my best friends are women" way. He talks about his wife all the time and has done for years.

With all of that said, it's a little condescending the way some critics are clutching their pearls over this. A sensible take on this episode comes from Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post. "In some ways, the most interesting aspect of Rosen’s comments was the swiftness with which the Obama campaign moved to criticize them," she writes. "...this after Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom quickly posted video of Rosen’s remarks and incorrectly describing her as an 'Obama adviser.'"

Just so. Nothing distracts people from the issue at hand better than a polarising comment on a sensitive topic that calls up people's deeply-seated views about identity, equality and family. And that's the opportunity cost of this whole fracas. I doubt that the economic issues facing women would have become a major campaign issue in any case, particularly as men faced higher unemployment than women during the recession. There are, however, some economic issues that disproportionately affect women, and now we're definitely not going to talk about them. Women still earn less money than men, for example—a phenomenon that Mr Romney fumbled in addressing this week, before Ms Rosen's tone-deaf comment trumped his. They pay more for health care than men do, a situation that would not be improved if, for example, America's leading provider of family-planning services was in fact shuttered. They face higher poverty rates than men, and in old age, women are among the groups more likely to be wholly dependent on Social Security than men—a fact that gives entitlement reform a feminist dimension, as it means that the looming shortfall will disproportionately affect women. Mr Romney doesn't need to invoke his wife to discuss any of those issues. He could just invoke data, logic and analysis.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Israel: The battle for jewish votes begins


If it’s Obama vs. Romney, the battle for the Jews is on
Jews might sympathize more than others with the Mormon candidate’s need to put on a mask in the company of Christian conservatives.
By Chemi Shalev

Rick Santorum’s departure from the Republican presidential race means that America probably won’t witness the kind of now or never, black-or-white, life or death campaign that is par for the course in Israeli elections. And in a race that now seems to be bound for the heart of the American center, Barack Obama and the presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney will be waging fierce battle for the support of American Jews as well.

During those few fleeting moments in the past few months when it appeared that a Santorum candidacy was a realistic scenario – before the Michigan or Ohio primaries, for example – the prospects for an all out “kulturkampf” between Christian conservatives and largely secular liberals loomed large indeed. American commentators described the potential match up between Santorum as Obama as the fiercest ideological confrontation since Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate in 1964.

This is exactly the kind of polarizing battle of extremes between left and right, secular and religious, Arab and Jew that Israelis experience every time they go to the polls to vote on what the parties always describe as the very “future of the country." In some cases, such as Menachem Begin’s victory in 1977, Yitzhak Rabin’s in 1992 and Binyamin Netanyahu’s, arguably, in 2009, the sharp lurch in the country’s direction more than fulfills the electioneering hype.

In such an all or nothing showdown against Santorum, Obama’s overwhelming victory in the American Jewish community was a foregone conclusion. The no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners Christian-family-values culture war that Santorum insisted on fomenting would have driven all but the most religious of Jews straight into outstretched Democratic arms. Even those Jewish voters who detest Obama’s policies towards the Jewish state would have “held their noses inside the ballot box”, as the Israeli saying goes, and cast their votes for Obama.

Romney, on the other hand, stands a fighting chance of making inroads among the 78% or so of the Jews who voted for Obama in 2008. If he can allay Jewish concerns about the influence of Christian conservatives on his social agenda, Romney might convert enough Jewish votes in places where it could theoretically make a very big difference. If he keeps Obama at or around the 62% of the Jewish vote that a recent survey of the Public Religion Research Institute gave him, Romney will have come close to or even equaled the best results ever achieved by Republican presidential candidates.

Romney’s chances of doing so will increase as he succeeds in distancing himself from the rancorous Republican race that compelled him to constantly outflank his rivals from the right. As one astute American commentator noted today, Romney’s perceived disingenuousness, labeled a liability in the Republican race, could now be turned to his advantage as centrist independents wait to be convinced that at heart he remains the moderate Massachusetts governor he always was. Jews, perhaps, might even be more sympathetic than others to a Mormon candidate’s need to put on a mask and to pretend to be something that he isn’t in order to find favor with fundamentalist, conservative Christians. Until recently, at least, this was considered acceptable, sometimes even necessary, Jewish behavior.

All of this assumes, of course, that the Republican race is truly over: that Romney won’t trip over himself as he tends to do when he’s ahead, that Republicans in the southern and Midwest states slated to vote in May primaries won’t be swayed by Newt Gingrich’s new play as “the last conservative left standing” and that Sheldon Adelson, of course, won’t decide to give Newt another fighting chance after all.

Follow the author on Twitter @ChemiShalev

Middle East: Santorum leaves race for the presidency

Al Jazeera

Rick Santorum ends US presidency bid
Former senator clears way for Mitt Romney to wrap up Republican nomination to challenge Barack Obama in November's vote.

Rick Santorum has ended his 2012 US presidential campaign, clearing the way for Mitt Romney to claim the Republican nomination and face incumbent Barack Obama in November's election.

Santorum, appearing with his wife and family in his home state of Pennsylvania, told supporters on Wednesday that the race was over, but that the fight to defeat Obama would go on.

But Santorum, who had been considered the standard bearer for the Republican Party's religious-right support base, made no mention of Romney, stressing instead that his challenge had gone further than anyone expected "against all odds".
In-depth coverage of the US presidential election

Santorum spoke with Romney ahead of his announcement, a source close to the campaign told The Associated Press news agency.

Romney congratulated Santorum on his campaign, calling him an "able and worthy competitor".

A father of seven children, Santorum's decision to quit was partly influenced by a serious illness suffered by his three-year-old daughter, Bella. She was hospitalised over the long holiday weekend with Trisomy 18, a rare genetic condition that hinders a child's development.

Santorum, 53, had been running a distant second to former Massachusetts governor Romney in the nominations race, but had nevertheless vowed to stay in the hunt, hoping a big win in his home state later this month would reignite his candidacy.

But with polls showing Romney leading Santorum in Pennsylvania, a loss in the state would mean a second crucial defeat for Santorum on home turf, after a huge loss to a Democratic challenger in his 2006 Senate re-election bid.

Experts and observers say Santorum has been pressing ahead with his 2012 campaign, despite Romney's virtually unassailable lead in delegate numbers, as a way to boost his profile as a strong alternative conservative and
lay the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential run.

But a failure to win in his home state, after his 2006 loss, would have proved disastrous for the prospects of another Santorum presidential bid in four years time.

Romney has more than twice as many delegates as Santorum and is on pace to reach the number needed to clinch the nomination, 1,144, by early June.

But the longevity of Santorum's campaign, outlasting early pacesetters including Herman Cain and Rick Perry, drew attention to Romney's failure to connect with grassroots Republicans, many of whom consider the former Massachusetts governor to be too liberal on traditional conservative issues such as abortion and healthcare.

Still in the race, but not considered to be factors, are former House of Representatives leader Newt Gingrich and Texas legislator Ron Paul.

For video and link to indepth US election coverage:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

UK: The importance of Brazil

The Economist

Dilma Rousseff's visit to America
Our friends in the South

BRAZIL has probably never mattered more to America than it does now. America has probably never mattered less to Brazil. Not that relations are bad between the two countries—far from it; they are increasingly cordial and productive. But America has finally, belatedly, woken up to the fact there is a vast, stable country to its south as well as its north; a country, moreover, with a fast-growing and voraciously consuming middle class that seems to offer salvation to American businesses struggling in a moribund domestic market. Brazil, meanwhile, neither needs loans from American-dominated global financial institutions, nor is it otherwise beholden to the country. The United States is no longer even its biggest trading partner. China took that spot in 2009.

A more balanced relationship may be a more fruitful one too. Since Barack Obama’s visit to Rio de Janeiro and Brasília last year, America has delighted Brazil by removing import tariffs on its ethanol and piloting a scheme to make it easier for Brazilians to get visas—two long-standing bugbears. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, makes a return visit to Washington in the coming week, and there is much to talk about still. What Brazil wants from America above all is endorsement for a seat on the UN Security Council. Britain has already backed its bid, and during his visit to Brazil Mr Obama made baby steps in the same direction, acknowledging Brazil’s “aspiration”, though stopping short of full support.

That support is unlikely to be forthcoming, at least in the near future. Though Brazil is hardly geopolitically troublesome, its worldview—a hard-to-pin-down blend of pragmatism, relativism and a seemingly indiscriminate willingness to be friends with everyone—is unappealing to the United States. The previous president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was flexible enough to be “my man” to Barack Obama and “our brother” to Fidel Castro. In 2010 Lula stuck his neck out trying to co-broker, with Turkey, an anti-proliferation agreement with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That infuriated countries far more important to Brazil’s strategic interests, and left Lula looking silly when Mr Ahmedinejad made no concessions in return. Ms Rousseff has rowed back from that friendship, but it reinforced an impression that Brazil is unpredictable and naive.

Mr Obama will surely want to know, too, what exactly Brazil means by its big new foreign-policy idea. That is to complement the UN’s justification for intervention in another country’s affairs under the rubric “Responsibility to Protect” with “Responsibility while Protecting” after it has gone in. Since Brazil tends not to support going in in the first place, when would it want to see this new responsibility kick in? Even some experienced and sympathetic diplomatic observers in Brasília say they have no idea what concrete difference this would make on the ground.

For America, trade, not diplomacy, will surely be top of the agenda. Judging from the number of American investors turning up in São Paulo every week, Mr Obama must hear about the glowing opportunities Brazil presents in just about every time he meets businessfolk. But with the most overvalued currency of any big economy, Brazil’s own industrialists are prodding the government to keep imports out. It has hiked already-high tariffs on many imports even further, and is taxing foreign-currency inflows increasingly heavily to keep out speculative inflows. Brazil has made it clear it only wants long-term investment, and is only interested in foreign businesses that are willing to make whatever it is they want to sell in Brazil.

If Mr Obama tries to argue for freer trade, he will get short shrift. Both Ms Rousseff and her finance minister, Guido Mantega, regard the floods of cheap money being pumped out by the Fed and the European Central Bank as a far worse trade distortion than Brazilian barriers, which they term “safeguards” rather than “protectionism”. Brazil’s drift towards protectionism is in fact becoming a problem for its own economy. But that is an argument for another day. Mr Obama will surely be aware there is still a lot of mileage to be got out of helping American companies to set up shop in Brazil.

UK: The GOP and women

The Economist

The scarcer sex
Republican callousness is not helped by women’s reluctance to enter politics

ALL of a sudden, or so it seems, the gripping yarn that was the Republican presidential primary is running out of plot twists. After victories in Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and Maryland this week, the once inevitable nomination of Mitt Romney looks inevitable once again, freeing him to swivel his big guns back in the direction of Barack Obama. The Republicans say that the vicious primary has turned Mr Romney into a better and battle-hardened prospect for the White House. Maybe it has. But in one vital respect, the challenge mounted by Rick Santorum has weakened Mr Romney. By dwelling so much on social and especially sexual issues, Mr Santorum may have helped to make the whole Republican Party look hostile to women.

Since women vote in larger numbers than men, this is a big problem (bigger even than the alienation of Hispanics, another group mightily displeased by the Republican primaries). Nor is it an entirely new one. Democratic presidential candidates have outpolled Republicans among women for two decades. But in recent months the gap has widened. In March a Pew survey found Mr Romney level-pegging with Mr Obama among men, but trailing the president among women by fully 20 points (38% to 58%). The same poll reported that women preferred Mr Obama over Mr Santorum by an even bigger margin (61% to 35%). And a USA Today/Gallup poll this week said that in 12 swing states more than 60% of women under 50 preferred Mr Obama. Mr Romney was down to 30%, 14 points lower than the month before.

Please go to the link for the rest of the article:

Israel: Report says that Israel will postpone strike against Iran


Small window of opportunity for a strike on Iran
If recent reports of a Netanyahu promise to postpone an attack on Iran until the fall are true, a possible strike would correspond with the pivotal weeks just before the American presidential election.
By Anshel Pfeffer

The headline of today's Maariv is extremely important, if true. It quotes American officials who say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised not to carry out an attack on Iran before the fall.

Since most military analysts believe that Israel would almost certainly prefer to carry out a complex and difficult long-range attack on Iran in a period when the skies above the target are cloudless, that either means Israel has agreed to postpone the potential strike for at least another eleven months or that the window of opportunity is open now for September or October. In other words, during the crucial final stages of the American presidential elections campaign.

This seems to be the fear of Maariv's un-named administration sources, complaining that "Netanyahu refused to commit that Israel would not attack Iran before the elections in November 2012 and agreed to wait with a military operation only until the fall."

According to the paper, Netanyahu's reasoning is that "after fall, the Iranian nuclear installations will be in 'the immunity zone' from an Israeli strike and Israel will lose its independence to decide on military action."

We have no way of verifying this report but it does tally with what Barack Obama said two months ago - "I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do." And of course, it fits in with Netanyahu's tendency to play the internal American political arena.

Announcing that Israel may decide to attack Iran at the worst possible political timing puts pressure on Obama, and could potentially lead to some valuable American concessions to Israel, in exchange for an eventual commitment not to strike.

On the other hand, it could be a double-edged sword should Obama go on to win the elections in November, as the latest polls suggest.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive report in Sunday's Washington Post on America's intelligence operations within and regarding Iran seems to be intended, at least partly, to allay Israeli fears that a lack of accurate intelligence could allow Iran to quietly slip into the nuclear realm, as North Korea did in October 2006 when it shocked the world with its first nuclear test. It would seem that the report is directed at Iran to warn them that "we know what you are up to."

The unusually frank and open discussion by intelligence and administration officials on the apparently successful U.S. efforts and to penetrate the secret Persian kingdom was aimed at pressing this message:
"White House officials contend that Iran’s leaders have not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and they say it would take Iran at least a year to do so if it were to launch a crash program now. 'Even in the absolute worst case — six months — there is time for the president to have options,' said the senior U.S. official, one of seven current or former advisers on security policy who agreed to discuss U.S. options on Iran on the condition of anonymity."

On the tail of the long report, there was a very interesting detail – that despite the capture of one of the U.S.'s ultra-secret RQ-170 surveillance drones that fell in Iran four months ago and was displayed on Iranian television, the "Beast of Kandahar" is still silently overflying Iran, escaping radar detection.

At the time, the Iranians claimed that they had managed to penetrate the drone's control system, take it over and land it. I recently asked one of Israel Air Force's veteran drone experts if this was at all possible and he said that "it is virtually impossible. As humiliating as that was for the Americans, losing control of an unmanned plane, especially when it is on a long-range mission, far away from any of your bases, is not a rare occurrence."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Australia: GOP candidates refusal to deal with gun laws

PJ: Turning a blind eye to recent shootings across the US will not solve the problem. President Obama's mere presence on the political scene created a spike in firearm sales in a country by people fearful (due to the rhetoric from the rightwing) that he would take their guns away. And even though the US is no stranger to gun violence from gang violence to school massacres to murders in shopping malls and houses of worship, politicians in both parties are reluctant to tackle the issue of gun crime. Random acts and calculated killings are all too common in the US with politicians more likely to defend 'the right to bear arms' than to provide any meaningful dialogue about curbing access to deadly weaponry.

Sydney Morning Herald

Republican candidates refuse to take aim at US gun laws

AS REPUBLICAN presidential candidates campaigned around Wisconsin yesterday morning, a Korean man shot dead seven fellow university classmates at a religious Californian college.

But Rick Santorum, the conservative alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney in the Republican primaries, said it was not cause to reconsider US gun laws.

''This is not a firearms issue, it is a human issue,'' he told CNN's Piers Morgan.
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He said the right to bear arms was a crucial right for Americans, and one that could allow people to protect themselves should they find themselves caught in a mass shooting.

Last night, neither the candidates nor the President, Barack Obama, had made an official statement on the shooting.

Earlier in the day Mr Santorum boasted to supporters at a bowling alley in the town of Menasha that he enjoyed an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. (The powerful gun lobby group ranks all politicians.)

He criticised Mr Romney for once supporting some gun control regulation in Massachusetts, where he was governor.

Mr Santorum has made his support of the liberal gun laws a key part of his campaign. Last week, at a gun club in Louisiana, Mr Santorum took time to fire a few rounds from a 1911 colt when a supporter yelled out ''pretend it's Obama'', prompting a brief Secret Service investigation.

For his part, yesterday Mr Romney maintained his tactic of attacking Mr Obama rather than Mr Santorum, casting himself as the presumptive candidate.

The availability of handguns did not attract political attention even as the controversy over the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by a self-proclaimed neighbourhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, threatened to overwhelm the campaign last month. Instead, most pundits focused on the so-called ''stand your ground'' law Mr Zimmerman is expected to rely on should he be charged over the shooting.

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UK: Racial tensions in the US from Tulsa shootings to the rantings of a conservative National Review writer

The Guardian

Tulsa shootings: Facebook posts suggest racial revenge motive

Suspect in shootings of five people appears to have left angry messages online about his father's killing by a black man

National Review writer ignites firestorm over 'disgusting rant' on race

Conservative columnist writes piece urging parents of 'nonblack' children to shield kids from contact with black Americans

The conservative columnist and author John Derbyshire has prompted outrage after penning an article in which he urges white and Asian parents to tell their children to avoid contact with black Americans they do not know.

In the piece, which Derbyshire wrote for Taki's Magazine, a self-styled "libertarian fanzine" run by controversial right-wing Greek socialite Taki Theodoracopulos, he suggests the outline of a "talk" that all such parents should give their children.

He suggests that they do not attend events where black Americans may be present in large numbers, avoid black neighbourhoods and do not be a "good Samaritan" to black people who appear in distress.

Derbyshire added: "If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving." He also suggested not living in an area run by black politicians. "If you are white or Asian and have kids, you owe it to them to give them some version of the talk. It will save them a lot of time and trouble spent figuring things out for themselves. It may save their lives," he concluded.

The piece, a response to a number of articles written in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case about "the talk" that black parents give to their children on how to survive racism in America, unsurprisingly prompted fury.

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