Wednesday, March 31, 2010

W.H Seder or Deck Scene From Ship of Fools?

Shelby Steele got it all wrong in his book about why Obama could not win but he is a brilliant writer, nevertheless. In the article posted below, Steele explains why Obama must attempt to be bigger than life in order to be the trans-formative president. Because Obama is the first black leader of the Western World, Steele does not believe Obama can be mediocre and conservative in his approach towards governance.

By basing his philosophy and policies on doing something 'good' Obama, in Steele's view, has more latitude to transgress democratic principles.

Obama began his presidency at the top in terms of his being the first black president to be elected, and Steele now sees Obama, unlike other presidents who work forward towards their legacy, working backwards into his.

I had lunch today with one of my very bright friends and we discussed Obama and the current political scene. My friend believes where the economy is at election time this year will be the overriding factor. He is of the mind the economy is progressing towards a steady, but maybe not robust, recovery. For him the critical questions is whether the economy will be sufficiently improved to sway voters at election time. He agrees with me, voters have short memories.

From a longer term view my friend also agrees with me that job prospects will remain bleak. Lack of education and the breakup of the family are permanent catastrophes which account for much of the growth in crime and anti-social behaviour. The uneducated have become increasingly unemployable in today's competitive world. Particularly is this so in our country where higher paying technology and manufacturing jobs are declining in number as we become more and more service oriented.

To his credit, my friend became positive on the market within weeks of it bottoming, he remains optimistic near term, sees little in the way of inflation this year and whatever rise occurs in interest rates believes it will be gradual and furthermore, begins from an historically low level, ie. virtually zero.

Longer term he fears an inevitable rise in inflation, is concerned about deficits, unabridged spending and their ravaging consequences.

In terms of politics he accepts the fact that independents hold the key to winning and the candidate that sticks to a consistent and believable message is most likely to capture their support. He agrees Romney though qualified on paper blew it when he went out of his way to signal how proud he was for birthing Massachusettes'health care legislation, when he was Governor.

In looking back at the last presidential election and considering the various other candidates my friend concluded Obama was meatier. I have said it differently but I do agree when compared to McCain, Obama became acceptable. Particularly since the press and media anointed Obama as their chosen and voters were caught up in that 'change' thing.

Karl Rove's last chapter of "Courage and Consequence" is entitled "Rove: The Myth" and in pp 512 - 516, Rove relates a specific encounter he had with Obama at the White House after being made aware Obama had accused Rove of saying something he never said - see page 33: "Audacity of Hope."

Rove asked Obama why he had written what he had and Obama denied it. Rove then showed Obama the actual quote in Obama's book but Obama continued to deny it meant what it clearly said. Rove ends his observation of Obama by writing while in public, Obama portrays himself as judicious, disciplined and fair minded whereas, in reality and in private Obama plays fast and loose with both facts and accusations.

I believe Rove is a pretty good judge of character.(See 1 and 1a below.)
Baehr can't bear to see the press and media constantly closing their eyes in the case of Obama nor I. Is the Obama Seder more blatant hypocrisy?

Castigate Netanyahu, attack Israel as if it were a pariah nation, then hold a huggy huggy Seder while Jewish attendees go with their yarmulkes in their hand. Instead of a table setting the scene reminds me more of the the deck scene on the ship of fools.

I have a basic distrust of what Obama says and does because he has proven untrustworthy. He campaigned one way to get elected yet, governs another. He flips and flops, lies when it suits his purpose. Rove's assessment touches a responsive chord with me.

I would much prefer to see substance than style, an implemented policy preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear device as he committed to and a realistic approach towards Israel and the problems it faces rather than some photo op.(See 2 below.)
I believe Obama can sell and will try to sell half loaf as being better than living up to his word because we live in a world full of feckless, flip flopping leaders and he leads the pack. (See 3 below.)

Would that what Henninger writes be so. Taking back our nation is critical if America is to return to being what it once was - economically sound, progressive in terms of its industrial and social policies, patriotic, free spirited, willing to protect its borders and possessive of a strong currency. (See 4 below.)

Bret Stephens responds to those who take him to task for his Lady Gaga article. (See 5 below)
Longer term, America's growth is in decline according to this writer and I concur. Excessive and growing debt is an albatross.

Shorter term the more positive view also has some credibility. (See 6 and 6a below.)


1)Barack The Good : The big government liberalism that Mr. Obama uses to make himself history-making also alienates him in the center-right America of today.

It has to be acknowledged that, in his battle for health-care reform, President Obama has shown real presidential mettle. He did what it took to win his way. He put every ounce of his political capital on the line, and he never blinked. For all the wrongheadedness of this reform—and the ugly backroom dealing that finally carried the day—the president himself will now enjoy a new respect at home and abroad. He will be less dismissible.

But if the old bowing and boyish president is receding, a new and more ominous president is emerging. And it is now apparent that Mr. Obama wants to be—above all else—a profoundly transformative president. He has spoken admiringly of the way Ronald Reagan changed the "trajectory" of history, and clearly he would like to launch a trajectory of his own.

But Reagan came into office as a very well-defined man with an unequivocal sense of direction. Agree with him or not, you knew what kind of society he wanted. Mr. Obama, despite his new resolve, remains rather undefined—a president happy to have others write his "transformative" legislation. As the health-care bill and the stimulus package illustrate, scale is functioning as vision. From where does it come?

Well, suppose you were the first black president of the United States and, therefore, also the first black head-of-state in the entire history of Western Civilization. You represent a human first, something entirely new under the sun. There aren't even any myths that speak directly to your circumstance, no allegorical tales of ancient black kings who ruled over white kingdoms.

If anything, you may literally experience yourself as a myth in the making. After all, you embody a heretofore unimaginable transcendence over the old human plagues of tribalism, hatred and ignorance. Standing on ground that no man has stood on before, wouldn't it be understandable if you felt pressured by the grandiosity of your circumstance? Isn't there a special—and impossible—burden on "the first" to do something that lives up to his historical originality?

Does this special burden explain Barack Obama's embrace of scale as vision (if I don't know what to do, I'll do big things)? I think it does to a degree. It means, for example, that a caretaker presidency is not an option for him. His historical significance almost demands a kind of political narcissism. For him the great appeal of massive health-care reform—when jobs are a far more pressing problem—may have been its history-making potential.

Here was a chance for Mr. Obama not just to be a part of history but to make history. Here he could have an achievement commensurate with his own historical significance. To have left off health care and taken up jobs would have left him a caretaker rather than a history-maker. So he hung in with health care and today it can be said: Barack Obama has signed the most significant piece of social legislation in 45 years—achieving something that has eluded every president since FDR.

A historic figure making history, this is emerging as an over-arching theme—if not obsession—in the Obama presidency. In Iowa, a day after signing health care into law, he put himself into competition with history. If history shapes men, "We still have the power to shape history." But this adds up to one thing: He is likely to be the most liberal president in American history. And, oddly, he may be a more effective liberal precisely because his liberalism is something he uses more than he believes in. As the far left constantly reminds us, he is not really a true believer. Rather liberalism is his ticket to grandiosity and to historical significance.

Of the two great societal goals—freedom and "the good"—freedom requires a conservatism, a discipline of principles over the good, limited government, and so on. No way to grandiosity here. But today's liberalism is focused on "the good" more than on freedom. And ideas of "the good" are often a license to transgress democratic principles in order to reach social justice or to achieve more equality or to lessen suffering. The great political advantage of modern liberalism is its offer of license on the one hand and moral innocence—if not superiority—on the other. Liberalism lets you force people to buy health insurance and feel morally superior as you do it. Power and innocence at the same time.

This is an old formula for power, last used effectively on the presidential level by Lyndon Johnson. But Johnson's Great Society was grasping for moral authority after the civil rights movement. I doubt any white president could use it effectively today, and even ObamaCare passed by only a three vote margin in the House and with no Republican support at all. Worse, in the end, it passed not to bring the nation better health care but to pull a flailing Democratic presidency back from the brink.

There has always been a narcissistic charge around Mr. Obama, the sense that in embracing him one was embracing something special in oneself—and possibly even a larger idea of human perfectibility. Every politician wants this capacity to attract identification. But it is also a trap. What happens when people are embarrassed for having seen themselves in you?

The old fashioned, big government liberalism that Mr. Obama uses to make himself history-making also alienates him in the center-right America of today. It makes him the most divisive president in memory—a president who elicits narcissistic identification on the one hand and an enraged tea party movement on the other. His health-care victory has renewed his narcissistic charge for the moment, but if he continues to be a 1965 liberal it will become more and more impossible for Americans to see themselves in him.

Mr. Obama's success has always been ephemeral because it was based on an illusion: that if we Americans could transcend race enough to elect a black president, we could transcend all manner of human banalities and be on our way to human perfectibility. A black president would put us in a higher human territory. And yet the poor man we elected to play out this fantasy is now torturing us with his need to reflect our grandiosity back to us.

Many presidents have been historically significant in retrospect, but Mr. Obama had historic significance on his inauguration day. His inauguration told a transcendent American story. Other presidents work forward into their legacy. Mr. Obama is working backwards into his.

Mr. Steele, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is the author most recently of "A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win" (Free Press, 2007).

1a)Romney, Outsmarted by History: The passage of ObamaCare has dashed Mr. Romney's 2012 presidential hopes before he's even announced a bid.

Mitt Romney may end up being the biggest GOP casualty of ObamaCare -- his 2012 presidential hopes dashed before he's even announced a bid.

Mr. Romney has continued vociferously campaigning against ObamaCare even while defending a very similar universal health-care plan he signed into law as Massachusetts's governor in 2006. Last week, he inveighed on the National Review blog that "President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation . . . . he has succumbed to the lowest denominator of incumbent power: justifying the means by extolling the ends."

Critically, Republicans need to win the presidency in order to have any shot at repealing ObamaCare, as many GOPers insist should be the goal. Imagine Mr. Romney trying to carry this banner in 2012 in a debate with fellow GOP primary opponents. His Republican rivals would get plenty of mileage from a quote by MIT's Jonathan Gruber, a former Romney adviser who bragged that ObamaCare would never have happened if Mr. Romney hadn't made "the decision in 2005 to go for it. He is in many ways the intellectual father of national health reform."

Mr. Romney has been frantically trying to distinguish the bills to conservatives. At Iowa State on Monday he claimed: "We solved our problem at the state level. Like it or not, it was a state solution." In Chicago last week, he said: "Our bill was carried out in a bipartisan basis." Judging by the questions he gets from audiences, voters aren't buying it. The Club for Growth has gone so far as to say that Mr. Romney's "in the wrong party."

On Tuesday, President Obama was already testing what would likely be his favorite soundbite if Mr. Romney becomes his 2012 rival. He told NBC's Matt Lauer: "A lot of commentators have said, you know, this is sort of similar to the bill that Mitt Romney, the Republican governor and now presidential candidate, passed in Massachusetts." Probably nothing would make Democrats happier than a Romney candidacy since it would effectively put health-care repeal off the table as an issue in the 2012 presidential race.
2)When Media Become Obama PR Agents
By Richard Baehr

The media's tongue bath for President Obama knows no bounds.

We all know that President Obama likes to play basketball. We also know his picks in the NCAA brackets and his percentile ranking among four million-plus entries after each round of the tournament on CBS's website. Harry Smith of the CBS morning program interviewed the president on the court this week while he shot baskets with CBS broadcaster and former college star Clark Kellogg.

The video will be shown during the NCAA semifinals Saturday night and again Monday night during the championship game. So 30 to 40 million folks will get this puffery delivered to them. Of course, we have already had Obama in the booth for a Georgetown basketball game this year, on Monday Night Football, and at the major league baseball All Star Game.

Sad to say for Obama, he had a good first round, but he has now slipped to the 55th percentile with his NCAA picks. Since none of his final four teams are left, he may slip to the bottom half by tournament's end. Some percentiles we will never know about the president: his SAT scores, his LSAT scores, his class rank at Columbia, his grades at Occidental (which somehow got him into Columbia as a transfer), or his class rank at Harvard Law School.

Could it be that he was outperformed in these areas by George Bush?

It has been a wonderful tournament, so don't let the political foreplay ruin it for you this weekend.

Do you recall ever hearing a story, no less multiple stories with updates, about President Bush's picks in the NCAA college basketball tournament?

President Bush was an unusually fit man for his age, by all measures in the top 1%. He jogged at a very rapid pace, and he worked out every day. He encouraged other White House staff to exercise and lose weight. Funny -- we heard almost nothing about this.

I don't recall any journalists writing about their jogs with the president (they would have been left looking like President Carter on his infamous run when he collapsed in the Maryland hills). President Bush was also a big sports fan and a former owner of a major league baseball franchise. My guess is that he filled out a bracket each year but did not choose to make it a news story.

In December 2004, my wife and I were invited to and attended the White House Hannukah Party. Try as you might, you will not easily find anything in the mainstream media to reveal that President Bush was the first president to hold such an event. His guest list included both Democrats and Republicans.

Now we have the spectacle of the White House seder, glowingly detailed on the front page of the New York Times. We also learn from the president that the meaning of Passover is that each generation must fight suffering and oppression (and presumably redistribute the wealth of the country). And I guess that if Jerusalem came up in the president's seder, as Professor Charles Lipson suggests, the line might have been: Next year in part of Jerusalem.

It is possible that a few of the herd of Jews who claim to be supporters of Israel -- and who were willing to ignore the president's history with Reverend Wright, Ali Abunimah, Rashid Khalidi, Bill Ayers, and Samantha Power; and not only vote for the great leader, but empty their wallets for him; and testify to his pro-Israel bona fides -- may be reconsidering. I emphasize "possible."

Jewish liberalism is a long-term and terminal disease. Very few can think of switching horses -- after all, liberal Jews grew up believing that liberals and Democrats care for the poor and are generous, and conservatives and Republicans are greedy. Hence, liberals and Democrats are better people. And of course, Franklin Roosevelt, the greatest hero prior to Obama, saved the Jews. Or a few of them, anyway.

With the backlash against Obama's recent outbursts and bile directed at Israel, it was time for the Times, the Torah of Jewish liberalism, to make clear that even if Obama does not love right-wing Israeli settlers, he still loves the Jews. Look -- he has a seder!

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

The President is wearing a yarmulke. Blacks and Jews are sitting together, like in the glory days of the Civil Rights Movement. Let us kvell.

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.

3)U.S. Softens Sanction Plan Against Iran

VIENNA—The U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran in order to win support from Russia and China for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among provisions removed from the original draft resolution the U.S. sent to key allies last month were sanctions aimed at choking off Tehran's access to international banking services and capital markets, and closing international airspace and waters to Iran's national air cargo and shipping lines, according to the people.

The U.S. and allies are trying to force Iran to rein in a nuclear program that they worry is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Tehran says its nuclear activities are peaceful. The U.K. and Germany, concerned that Russia and China would reject the resolution outright and preferring to turn up pressure on Iran gradually, persuaded U.S. officials to drop or soften several elements, including some of the document's harshest provisions, the people said.

U.S. officials said they wouldn't comment on the day-by-day negotiations taking place among the Security Council members. But they stressed that the Obama administration is seeking the toughest measures possible against Tehran while maintaining unity among the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, which are drafting the sanctions.

"We are seeking an appropriate resolution that puts significant pressure on the government," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday. "We continue to consult with various countries, and it's our desire to maintain unanimity. It will be a strong united statement that Iran will have to pay attention to."

The disclosure of weakened proposals came as U.S. officials sought to persuade Russia and China to back measures against Iran in a conference call on Wednesday among the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the first such meeting including China since mid-January.

Russia and China didn't endorse a draft resolution circulated by the U.S., but signaled that they were open to further discussions, people familiar with the matter said. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news service, "We are continuing the process of comparing the approaches of the parties and considering further options."

Russia and China also have been working in tandem to press Iran to accept a United Nations-brokered proposal to send uranium abroad for enrichment, Russian officials said Wednesday. The effort is unusual, coming from the two powers usually least inclined to lean hard on Tehran. "The clouds are gathering, and the position of Iran leaves less and less space for diplomatic maneuver," a senior Russian diplomat told reporters Wednesday.

The current resolution still would target major power centers in Iran, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's elite military force, according to a person familiar with the draft. It would also stiffen a broad range of existing sanctions, including the search and seizure of suspicious cargo bound for Iran through international waters and a ban on states offering financial assistance or credits for trade with Iran. If approved, they would be the most stringent measures Iran has faced.

Yet the original U.S. draft would have gone much further. The cargo sanctions initially named Iran Air and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and demand a blanket ban of their airplanes and ships from other countries' airspace or territorial waters. The revised version calls for interdiction only of shipments that would evade already-existing sanctions.

The earlier resolution would have made it difficult for Iran to insure imports and exports of oil and other essential commodities, by barring foreign insurers from serving international transport contracts from Iran.

The new draft calls only for unspecified "additional steps" to enforce current sanctions on insurance.

The previous draft would also have barred Iran's access to international capital markets by prohibiting foreign investment in Iranian bonds. The country hasn't traditionally relied on debt markets, but earlier this month a state-owned Iranian bank, Bank Mellat, announced an offer to sell bonds valued at €1 billion ($1.35 billion) to fund development of natural-gas field in South Pars. The new draft makes no mention of banning purchases of Iranian bonds.

The current draft notes "with serious concern the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard" in "Iran's proliferation sensitive nuclear activities and the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems," according to a person familiar with its contents.

The U.S. Treasury Department has identified billions of dollars in assets controlled by the Revolutionary Guard in financial and commercial sectors, including at least $7 billion in the energy sector and a controlling stake in Iran's largest telecommunications and fixed-telephone-line provider, Telecommunication Company of Iran.

The draft would force an international freeze on the assets of the entire Revolutionary Guard and "any individuals or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction," and on "entities owned or controlled by them, including through illicit means," according to the person familiar with the draft.

If enforced, the proposed sanctions could force the Revolutionary Guard to divest itself of some of its holdings to prevent major disruptions in the economy.

The Revolutionary Guard's affiliation with the country's telecom operator, for example, could prompt foreign partners to stop connecting international calls.

Under previous U.N. Security Council resolutions, several named Revolutionary Guard entities with direct links to military programs and a handful of named senior commanders would be placed under sanction. The Revolutionary Guards as a whole and the companies in which they hold controlling economic interests, however, aren't currently sanctioned.

Though the sanctions under discussion would target the government, they would inevitably hit many Iranians as well, a senior European official with knowledge of the sanction preparations said. "We don't want to hurt the Iranian people," he said, but "people will be affected by the new sanctions."

U.S. officials acknowledge that there's been a tension between seeking the strongest possible sanctions at the U.N. and still maintaining consensus among such skeptical Security Council members as China, Russia and Turkey.

This balance is also playing into the timing of when the U.S. will push for a new round of penalties. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior U.S. officials have said time is essential in confronting Tehran, and have cited April as a target date. But American officials have acknowledged that it may not be possible to meet this deadline due to the continued opposition from Beijing and Ankara. Negotiations, subsequently, could drag on into the summer.

U.S. officials said they're going to follow up any new sanctions that are enacted by the U.N. with a range of new measures that will be implemented either unilaterally by Washington, or with allied countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The Obama administration has been holding meetings with so-called like-minded nations from outside the Security Council, such as Japan, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates, which have extensive financial ties to Tehran.

"International pressure will be backed by steps that are taken nationally," Mr. Crowley said. "We are looking for sanctions that have bite."

China, which relies on Iran as a major supplier of oil, said last week that the standoff with Iran should be resolved through negotiations. U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that China remains the linchpin for successful sanctions being passed by the Security Council and have enlisted key Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to use their energy dealings with China as leverage to push Beijing for cooperation. "I believe in the end the Chinese will be on board," said a senior U.S. official working on drafting the sanctions.

Russia has sent mixed signals in recent weeks over its willingness to impose tougher restrictions on Tehran. Just last week Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Moscow would assist Iran in starting a civilian nuclear reactor by July, against U.S. objections.

In a nod to Moscow, the resolution wouldn't sanction work on many existing energy projects, including the nuclear power plant Mr. Putin vowed to complete.

Russian analysts say Moscow is torn over the sanctions issue. It was blindsided last year by the disclosure of Iran's secretive nuclear work and embarrassed by Iran's subsequent rejection of the fuel-exchange proposal, which Russia had promoted. On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Iran's leaders were allowing an opportunity for mutually beneficial dialogue with the West to "slip away."

Russia doesn't want to push Iran to the point of quitting the international Non-Proliferation Treaty and barring nuclear inspectors, analysts say. In addition, industrial lobbies close to the Kremlin oppose sanctions that would jeopardize their sales of weapons and nuclear energy equipment to Iran.

One of the toughest proposed sanctions in the current draft is a comprehensive international arms embargo against Iran, a longtime goal of the U.S. Despite U.S. pressure to end weapons shipments, a number of countries continue supply Iran with arms, however.

4)Would the Founders Love ObamaCare? The resistance to ObamaCare is about a lot more than the 10th Amendment.

The left-wing critics are right: The rage is not about health care. They are also right that similar complaints about big government were heard during the New Deal and the Great Society, and the sky didn't fall.

But what if this time the sky is falling—on them.

What if after more than a century of growth in the national government, starting with the Progressive Era, the American people are starting to push back. Not just the tea partiers or the 13 state attorneys general seeking protection under the 10th Amendment and the Commerce Clause. But something bigger than that.

That's not true. The American people can and do change the nation's collective mind on the ordering of our political system. The civil rights years of the 1960s is the most well-known modern example. (The idea that resistance to Mr. Obama's health plan is rooted in racist resentment of equal rights is beyond the pale, even by current standards of political punditry.)

Powerful political forces suddenly seem to be in motion across the U.S. What they have in common is anxiety over what government has become in the first decade of the 21st century.

The tea party movement is getting the most attention because it is the most vulnerable to the standard tool kit of mockery and ridicule. It is more difficult to mock the legitimacy of Scott Brown's overthrow of the Kennedy legacy, the election results in Virginia and New Jersey, an economic discomfort that is both generalized and specific to the disintegration of state and federal fiscs, and indeed the array of state attorneys general who filed a constitutional complaint against the new health-care law. What's going on may be getting past the reach of mere mockery.

Constitutional professors quoted in the press and across the Web explain that much about the federal government's modern authority is "settled" law. Even so, many of these legal commentators are quite close to arguing that the national government's economic and political powers are now limitless and unfettered. I wonder if Justice Kennedy believes that.

Or as David Kopel asked on the Volokh Conspiracy blog: "Is the tax power infinite?"

In a country that holds elections, that question is both legal and political. The political issue rumbling toward both the Supreme Court and the electorate is whether Washington's size and power has finally grown beyond the comfort zone of the American people. That is what lies beneath the chatter about federalism and the 10th Amendment.

Liberals will argue that government today is doing good. But government now is also unprecedentedly large and unprecedentedly expensive. Even if every challenge to ObamaCare loses in court, these anxieties will last and keep coming back to the same question: Does the Democratic left think the national government's powers are infinite?

No one in the Obama White House, asked that in public on Sunday morning, would simply say yes, no matter that the evidence of this government's actions the past year indicate they do. In his "Today Show" interview this week, Mr. Obama with his characteristic empathy acknowledged there are "folks who have legitimate concerns . . . that the federal government may be taking on too much."

My reading of the American public is that they have moved past "concerns." Somewhere inside the programmatic details of ObamaCare and the methods that the president, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid used to pass it, something went terribly wrong. Just as something has gone terribly wrong inside the governments of states like California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Massachusetts.

The 10th Amendment tumult does not mean anyone is going to secede. It doesn't mean "nullification" is coming back. We are not going to refight the Civil War or the Voting Rights Act. Richard Russell isn't rising from his Georgia grave.

It means that the current edition of the Democratic Party has disconnected itself from the average American's sense of political modesty. The party's members and theorists now defend expanding government authority with the same arrogance that brought Progressive Era reforms down upon untethered industrial interests.

In such times, this country has an honored tradition of changing direction. That time may be arriving.

Faced with corporate writedowns in response to the reality of Congress's new health plan, an apoplectic Congressman Henry Waxman commanded his economic vassals to appear before him in Washington.

Faced with a challenge to his vision last week, President Obama laughingly replied to these people: "Go for it."

They will.

As to the condescension and sniffing left-wing elitism this opposition seems to bring forth from Manhattan media castles, one must say it does recall another, earlier ancien regime

5)About That Playboy in My Drawer . . . If America wants to tilt the balance of Muslim sentiment in its favor, it needs to stand up for its principles, its liberties and its friends—Israel, Playboy and Lady Gaga included.

It's time to make a personal and professional admission: I keep a copy of the Feb. 2007 issue of Playboy in a desk drawer in my Wall Street Journal office.

This is not the sort of thing I ever thought I'd publicly confess. But I'm prompted to do so now in response to a string of online rebuttals to my Tuesday column, "Lady Gaga Versus Mideast Peace," in which I argue that Western liberalism (in its old-fashioned sense) has done far more than Israel's settlements to provoke violent Muslim anti-Americanism.

In particular, I was taken to task by Andrew Exum—the "Abu Muqawama" blogger at the Center for a New American Security—for allegedly failing to watch my share of racy Arabic-language music videos, such as those by Lebanese beauty queen and pop star Haifa Wehbe. "With music videos like this one," writes Mr. Exum, "Stephens can hardly argue that Lady Gaga is the one importing sexual provocation into the Arabic-speaking world and stirring things up, can he?"

So let me tell you about that Playboy, and how I came to purchase it.

In the spring of 2007 I wrote a series of columns from Indonesia about the battle lines then emerging between religious radicals and moderates in the world's largest Muslim-majority country. I profiled Abdurrahman Wahid, then the former (now late) president of Indonesia and a champion of his country's tolerant religious traditions. I visited a remote Sumatran village that had expelled an itinerant Islamic preacher for his militant Wahhabi teachings. I interviewed Habib Rizieq, head of the Front for the Defense of Islam, a vigilante group known for violently suppressing "un-Islamic" behavior.

I also spent a delightful evening in the company of Inul Daratista, the Indonesian equivalent of Shakira, who had been accused by a council of Muslim clerics of committing pornoaksi—or "porno action"—for gyrating a little excessively in one of her music videos. A million Indonesians had taken to the streets to denounce the video, and legislation was introduced in Indonesia's parliament to ban pornoaksi, which could be defined as any female behavior that could arouse a sexual response in a man, such as the sight of a couple kissing in public or a woman wearing a backless dress.

One person I didn't manage to interview was Erwin Arnada, the editor of the Indonesian edition of Playboy. I did, however, get hold of a copy of the magazine (the one now in my office): It contains not a single picture of a naked woman. The Playmate in the centerfold is clad in the kind of lingerie that would seem a bit old-fashioned in a Victoria's Secret catalogue; a second photo essay in my magazine looks as if it belongs in a J. Crew ad.

Nevertheless, upon beginning publication in 2006 Mr. Arnada was almost immediately charged with violating Indonesia's indecency laws. (He was ultimately acquitted.) His Jakarta offices were violently attacked by Mr. Rizieq's goons, forcing the magazine to move to the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. "For Arnada," wrote New York Times reporter Jane Perlez, "all the fuss represents fears about the intrusion of Western culture. 'Why else do they keep shouting about Playboy?' he asked."

Mr. Arnada's comment gets at the crux of the argument I made in my column, which is that it is liberalism itself—liberalism as democracy, as human rights, as freedom of conscience and expression, as artistic license, as social tolerance, as a philosophy with universal application—to which the radical Muslim mind chiefly objects, and to which it so often violently reacts. Are Israeli settlements also a provocation? Of course they are, as is Israel itself. Should Israel dismantle most or even all of its settlements? Sure, if in exchange it gets a genuine peace.

But the West will win no reprieve from the furies of the Muslim world by seeking to appease it in the coin of this or that Israeli withdrawal or concession. To do so would be as fruitless and wrong-headed as cancelling a performance of Mozart's Idomeneo because it might offend radical Islamic sensibilities—though that's precisely what a Berlin opera house did in September 2006 for fear of sparking a violent outburst of Muslim rage.

Fortunately, the West has better options for dealing with that rage than pressuring Israel. Though he doesn't seem to realize it, Mr. Exum makes my point very nicely by noting the inroads that artists like Ms. Wehbe have made in much of her region. Liberalism, not least of the sexual kind, sells in the Muslim world: The first issue of Playboy Indonesia, tame as it was, sold out its entire print run of 100,000 copies. In Bahrain, efforts by Islamists in parliament to ban a performance by Wehbe failed on account of popular demand: As one Bahraini fan told the Lebanese Web site YaLibnan, "If certain people find it offensive, they shouldn't go to the concert." It's hard to imagine a more liberal outlook than that.

There was a time when liberals believed that rock'n'roll would change the world. They were right, though not in the way most of them imagined. Instead, in places like communist Czechoslovakia—where Vaclav Havel took inspiration from the likes of Lou Reed—and today in the repressive lands of Islam, the sensual currents of Western life exert a constant and ineradicable attraction, even as they also provoke censorious and violent reactions.

If America wants to tilt the balance of Muslim sentiment in its favor, it needs to stand up for its principles, its liberties and its friends—Israel, Playboy and Lady Gaga included.
6)Obama and America’s 20-year bust
By James Pethokoukis

It is an alarming, jaw-dropping conclusion. The U.S. standard of living, says superstar Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon in a new paper, is about to experience its slowest growth “over any two-decade interval recorded since the inauguration of George Washington.” That’s right, get ready for twenty years of major-league economic suckage. It is an event that would change America’s material expectations, self-identity and political landscape. Change in the worst way.

Now it’s not so much that the Great Recession will morph into the Long Recession. More like ease into the Great Stagnation. As Gordon calculates it, the economy will average only 2.4 percent annual real GDP growth over that span vs. 3 percent or so during the previous 20 years. On a per capita basis, the economy will grow at just a 1.5 percent average annual rate vs. 2.17 percent between 1929 and 2007.

That might not seem like much of a difference, but it really is. Over time, the power of compounding would create a huge growth gap measured in the trillions of dollars. To look at it another way, assume you had an annual salary of $100,000. If you received a 1.5 percent raise each year, you would be making $134,000 after 20 years, $153,000 after 40 years. But a 2.17 annual raise would boost your income to $153,000 after 20 years and $236,000 after 40 years.

For Gordon, the culprit is weaker productivity. Productivity, economists like to say, isn’t everything — but in the long run it is almost everything. A nation’s GDP growth is little more than a derivative of how many workers the nation has and how much they produce. And if Gordon is correct, U.S. productivity is about to weaken. He forecasts that over the next two decades, the metric will grow at just a 1.7 percent annual rate. From 1996-2007, economy-wide productivity averaged just over 2 percent with GDP growing at 3.1 percent.

Gordon’s argument is simple: The productivity surge starting in the 1990s was driven primarily by the Internet, though drastic corporate cost-cutting in the early 2000s helped, too. Going forward, though, Gordon thinks the IT revolution will be marked by diminishing returns. He concludes, for instance, that most of the product innovations since 2000, like flat screen TVs and iPods, have been directed at consumer enjoyment rather than business productivity. (Also not helping are a more protectionist trade policy and a tax code where the penalties on savings and investment are about to skyrocket with rates soaring 60 percent on capital gains and 200 percent on dividends.)

All this dovetails nicely with research showing financial crises are followed by negative, long-term side-effects such as slow economic growth and higher interest rates. Lots of debt, too. Indeed, researchers Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff find advanced economies with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent grow more slowly than less-indebted ones. (Japan is the classic example.) America is on track to hit that level in 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

But maybe Gordon is wrong. Productivity has been surprisingly robust during the downturn, helping the overall economy (though not the labor market) weather the storm better than most expected. Maybe nanotechnology or genetic engineering will be the next Internet and ignite further creative destruction. Yet even if Gordon is correct, Americans still control their own economic destiny.

Since the 2008 election, American economic policy has been about wealth preservation (keeping the economy from sliding into a depression) and wealth redistribution (healthcare reform.) Wealth creation? Not so much. That needs to change. Washington needs to focus on growing the economy and competing with the rest of the G20 nations, including the other member of the G2, China. Every policy — from education to trade to the tax code — needs to be seen through that lens.

America faced a similar turning point a generation ago. During the Jimmy Carter years, the Malthusian, Limits to Growth crowd argued that natural-resource constraints meant Americans would have to lower their economic expectations and accept economic stagnation — or worse. Carter more or less accepted an end to American Exceptionalism, but the 1980 presidential election showed few of his countrymen did. They chose growth economics and the economy grew.

Now they face another choice. Preserve wealth, redistribute wealth or create wealth. Hopefully, President Barack Obama will choose door #3. Investing more in basic research (not just healthcare) would be a start, as would slashing the corporate tax rate. A new consumption tax would be better for growth, but only if it replaced the current wage and investment income taxes. Real entitlement reform would help avoid the Reinhart-Rogoff scenario. The choices made during the next few years could the difference between America in Decline or the American (21st) Century.

6a) America's economy: Hope at last
The world’s biggest economy has begun a much-needed transition. Barack Obama could do more to help
he Economist print edition

GREAT storms and floods have a way of altering landscapes. Once the waters recede, some of the changes are obvious: uprooted trees, damaged property, wrecked roads. Later come further changes, as people seek to avoid a repeat, erecting new flood walls or rebuilding elsewhere.

As in the physical world, so in the economic one. The financial deluge that broke over America has passed and the recession it caused, the worst since the 1930s, is ebbing. This year the American economy is expected to grow by around 3%, after shrinking by 2.4% in 2009. Rainbow-spotters hope that employment is at last beginning to grow again. And the economy emerging from recession is not the same as the one that went in. There is obvious damage: high unemployment, millions of foreclosed homes and a huge hole in the public finances. Less obviously, a “rebalancing” is under way: from consumption, housing and debt to exports, investment and saving. As our special report this week argues, this is enormously promising for America and the world; but it is far from assured. A lot depends on politicians—and not just the ones in Washington.

America has relied for decades on its consumers’ willingness to spend, borne up by borrowing and the false comfort of bubbles in asset prices. Now Americans are saving more and borrowing less because the collapse in home prices has eviscerated their wealth. Bankers and regulators who once celebrated the democratisation of credit now ration it. Businesses from General Electric to Citigroup that prospered from the consumption culture are rethinking—and often shrinking—their loan books. Property developers are building smaller, simpler houses. The country’s geography is changing. Recession has slowed the rush to sun and sprawl. People are moving out of Florida and into North Dakota. Foreclosures and costlier commutes have laid low the distant suburbs, or exurbs.

Dearer, scarcer credit is not the only reason. Energy, though not as frighteningly expensive as in 2008, is also no longer cheap. Americans are choosing cars over light trucks, utilities are being told to use more renewable fuel, and domestic deposits of oil and gas locked deep beneath the sea or in dense rock are suddenly profitable to extract. If these trends continue (admittedly, a big if), America could import barely half as much oil in 2025 as seemed likely just five years ago.

United States of exports
With consumers forced to live within their means, American firms will have to sell more to the rest of the world. That may seem a tall order, but with a competitive dollar and favourable growth in other countries, exports in which America already excels, such as high-value manufacturing and services, should do well. The result will be a more balanced American economy and, by extension, a healthier global economy.

Or so it should be. But the smoothness of this transition cannot be taken for granted. Policy decisions both inside and outside America will determine whether this rebalancing is painful or easy. Put crudely, if Americans save more and spend less while other big countries do the opposite, the world economy will prosper. If Americans become thriftier while foreigners fail to spend more, it will stagnate.

The world’s surplus economies have been propelled by American consumers’ appetite for everything from cars and electronics to furniture and clothing. If the United States is going to save and export more, countries in emerging Asia will have to rely more on their own shoppers and on each other. That means changing a mindset that equates economic health with bulging trade surpluses, and also ushering in a plethora of microeconomic reforms to boost Asian workers’ incomes and encourage consumption. It is now in everybody’s interest to push China to overhaul its health care, pensions and corporate governance.

And, yes, a stronger yuan would also speed up global rebalancing. Yet it is also dangerous for America to make a fetish of China’s currency (see article). Slapping bilateral tariffs on China, which some Democrats want to do to punish it for the low yuan, would hardly help rebalance anything: America would merely import stuff from elsewhere. And the cost in terms of beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism and diplomatic poison would be dire. Far better for Mr Obama to seek a multilateral solution while focusing on rebalancing at home.

How to become thriftier without anybody minding
From that perspective the macroeconomic imperative in Washington is clear: a credible medium-term plan to reduce the deficit. That would avoid premature and dangerous tightening while calming bond markets enough to hold down long-term interest rates. The combination of tight fiscal policy and low interest rates is usually a recipe for a weaker currency.

Plenty of microeconomic reforms could also help with rebalancing. America taxes income and investment too much and consumption too little. So far Mr Obama’s policies have mostly worsened the tilt. Health-care reform applies for the first time a payroll tax (for Medicare) to investment income. His administration has rejected a tax linked to the carbon content of fuel. It has also increased the subsidies, guarantees and preferences for mortgages that helped inflate the housing bubble. The federal government now stands behind 60% of residential mortgages and seems open to the idea of creating a permanently expanded backstop.

Rather than reinforce these biases, Mr Obama should remove them. Getting rid of the tax concessions for housing would help both control the deficit and speed up rebalancing. Housing assistance should be aimed at homeowners who cannot easily move to jobs in brighter parts of the country because their homes are worth less than their mortgages. By helping people reduce their mortgage debts, Mr Obama has taken a step in the right direction.

The world’s biggest economy has begun a long overdue rebalancing. American consumption and borrowing can no longer be the engine of either America’s economy or the world’s. That is the hope. The fear is that politicians everywhere are incapable of dealing with the consequences

Monday, March 29, 2010

Race To The Top - Another Limp Towards Mediocrity!

Bret Stephens discusses the illogical use of settlements as the basis of Arab displeasure when there are bigger root causes which Obama either is ignorant of or chooses to ignore.

Obama is all agog over settlements. He seems to have a viewpoint, whether rational or not, and then proceeds to build upon it. Because he is intelligent and the press and media are in his corner he can exploit without challenge.

This type of leadership is dangerous and likely to lead to serious problems but then he is the anointed one , our messiah and thus, he can do no wrong even when he is being destructive. (See 1 below.)

Whether out of fear of appearing less than mainstream or what have you, even Conservatives get caught in the trap of the bias and hypocrisy practiced by Liberals and their press and media protectors.

Norman Podhoretz defends Palin against Conservative intellectuals and alludes to the fact that their pique is not because of elevated consideration but is simply the same species of class bias practiced by Palin's enemies on The Left.

Podhoretz concludes, after much thought and comparative analysis, he would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by The Democrat Party and have Palin sitting where Obama sits, ie. in The Oval Office.(See 2 below.)

It is the same old story - Liberals play the race card knowing the press and media will always be there to back them. Focus on some kooks and then paint the entire crowd. Winning is critical and the methods employed are irrelevant. (See 2a and
2b below.)

McGurn poses the question of whether there is an IRS agent in your health care future? (See 3 below.)

The Obama Administration seeds the education clouds believing failure to spend more billions is the root cause of why kids cannot be educated. It is the standard Liberal approach but they never are asked to define the actual amount that must be expended to accomplish their goal. The reason? They cannot. But it sure pays off education labor unions..

So "A Race To The Top" will prove another limp towards education mediocrity. (See 4 below.)

Meanwhile is Obama preparing to joust with a new Pinata to draw attention from his actions - The Tea Party crowd? Obama builds public sympathy by branding his adversaries but his claim are generally specious. Tea Party discontent is based on a broader footing than Obama alleges but playing the race card is one of his favorite moves. (See 4a below.)

Is the Obama Administration seeking to negotiate with Iran's Revolutionary Guards and cause them to sell out their politicians? If so, the Saudis remain skeptical and do not believe it will be effective? (See 5 below.)

Has Obama awakened a sleeping nation. (See 6 below.)

BBC Report of U.S. Security Council intentions is not credible. (See 7 below.)

Daniel Pipes believes our 'investment' in Iraq will go down the drain as we pull out and Iran moves in to control Iraq. (See 8 below.)

The market moves on its merry way disregarding prospective news that could be unfavorable to growth. (See 9 below.)

1)Lady Gaga Versus Mideast Peace Are settlements more offensive than pop stars?

Pop quiz—What does more to galvanize radical anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: (a) Israeli settlements on the West Bank; or (b) a Lady Gaga music video?

If your answer is (b) it means you probably have a grasp of the historical roots of modern jihadism. If, however, you answered (a), then congratulations: You are perfectly in synch with the new Beltway conventional wisdom, now jointly defined by Pat Buchanan and his strange bedfellows within the Obama administration.

What is that wisdom? In a March 26 column in Human Events, Mr. Buchanan put the case with his usual subtlety:

"Each new report of settlement expansion," he wrote, "each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Mr. Buchanan was playing off a story in the Israeli press that Vice President Joe Biden had warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "what you're doing here [in the West Bank] undermines the security of our troops." Also in the mix was a story that Centcom commander David Petraeus had cited Arab-Israeli tensions as the key impediment to wider progress in the region. Both reports were later denied—in Mr. Biden's case, via Rahm Emanuel; in Gen. Petraeus's case, personally and forcefully—but the important point is how eagerly they were believed. If you're of the view that Israel is the root cause of everything that ails the Middle East—think of it as global warming in Hebrew form—then nothing so powerfully makes the case against the Jewish state as a flag-draped American coffin.

Now consider Lady Gaga—or, if you prefer, Madonna, Farrah Fawcett, Marilyn Monroe, Josephine Baker or any other American woman who has, at one time or another, personified what the Egyptian Islamist writer Sayyid Qutb once called "the American Temptress."

Qutb, for those unfamiliar with the name, is widely considered the intellectual godfather of al Qaeda; his 30-volume exegesis "In the Shade of the Quran" is canonical in jihadist circles. But Qutb, who spent time as a student in Colorado in the late 1940s, also decisively shaped jihadist views about the U.S.

In his 1951 essay "The America I Have Seen," Qutb gave his account of the U.S. "in the scale of human values." "I fear," he wrote, "that a balance may not exist between America's material greatness and the quality of her people." Qutb was particularly exercised by what he saw as the "primitiveness" of American values, not least in matters of sex.

"The American girl," he noted, "knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs and she shows all this and does not hide it." Nor did he approve of Jazz—"this music the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires"—or of American films, or clothes, or haircuts, or food. It was all, in his eyes, equally wretched.

Qutb's disdain for America's supposedly libertine culture would not matter much were it not wedded to a kind of theological Leninism that emphasized the necessity of violently overthrowing any political arrangement not based on Shariah law. No less violent was Qutb's attitude toward Jews: "The war the Jews began to wage against Islam and Muslims in those early days [of Islamic history]," he wrote in the 1950s, "has raged to the present. The form and appearance may have changed, but the nature and the means remain the same."

Needless to say, that passage was written long before Israel had "occupied" a single inch of Arab territory, unless one takes the view—held to this day by Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah and every other jihadist group that owes an intellectual debt to Qutb, including significant elements of the "moderate" Palestinian Fatah—that Tel Aviv itself is occupied territory.

Bear in mind, too, that the America Qutb found so offensive had yet to discover Elvis, Playboy, the pill, women's lib, acid tabs, gay rights, Studio 54, Jersey Shore and, of course, Lady Gaga. In other words, even in some dystopic hypothetical world in which hyper-conservatives were to seize power in the U.S. and turn the cultural clock back to 1948, America would still remain a swamp of degeneracy in the eyes of Qutb's latter-day disciples.

This, then, is the core complaint that the Islamists from Waziristan to Tehran to Gaza have lodged against the West. It explains why jihadists remain aggrieved even after the U.S. addressed their previous casus belli by removing troops from Saudi Arabia, and why they will continue to remain aggrieved long after we've decamped from Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Persian Gulf. As for Israel, its offenses are literally inextricable: as a democracy, as a Jewish homeland, as a country in which liberalism in all its forms, including cultural, prevails.

Which brings me back to the settlements. There may well be good reasons for Israel to dismantle many of them, assuming that such an act is met with reciprocal and credible Palestinian commitments to suppress terrorism and religious incitement, and accept Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. But to imagine that the settlements account for even a fraction of the rage that has inhabited the radical Muslim mind since the days of Qutb is fantasy: The settlements are merely the latest politically convenient cover behind which lies a universe of hatred. If the administration's aim is to appease our enemies, it will get more mileage out of banning Lady Gaga than by applying the screws on Israel. It should go without saying that it ought to do neither.

2)MARCH 29, 2010.In Defense of Sarah Palin: She understands that the U.S. has been a force for good in the world—which is more than can be said of our president.

Nothing annoys certain of my fellow conservative intellectuals more than when I remind them, as on occasion I mischievously do, that the derogatory things they say about Sarah Palin are uncannily similar to what many of their forebears once said about Ronald Reagan.

It's hard to imagine now, but 31 years ago, when I first announced that I was supporting Reagan in his bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, I was routinely asked by friends on the right how I could possibly associate myself with this "airhead," this B movie star, who was not only stupid but incompetent. They readily acknowledged that his political views were on the whole close to ours, but the embarrassing primitivism with which he expressed them only served, they said, to undermine their credibility. In any case, his base was so narrow that he had no chance of rescuing us from the disastrous administration of Jimmy Carter.

Now I knew Ronald Reagan, and Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. Then again, the first time I met Reagan all he talked about was the money he had saved the taxpayers as governor of California by changing the size of the folders used for storing the state's files. So nonplussed was I by the delight he showed at this great achievement that I came close to thinking that my friends were right and that I had made a mistake in supporting him. Ultimately, of course, we all wound up regarding him as a great man, but in 1979 none of us would have dreamed that this would be how we would feel only a few years later.

What I am trying to say is not that Sarah Palin would necessarily make a great president but that the criteria by which she is being judged by her conservative critics—never mind the deranged hatred she inspires on the left—tell us next to nothing about the kind of president she would make.

Take, for example, foreign policy. True, she seems to know very little about international affairs, but expertise in this area is no guarantee of wise leadership. After all, her rival for the vice presidency, who in some sense knows a great deal, was wrong on almost every major issue that arose in the 30 years he spent in the Senate.

What she does know—and in this respect, she does resemble Reagan—is that the United States has been a force for good in the world, which is more than Barack Obama, whose IQ is no doubt higher than hers, has yet to learn. Jimmy Carter also has a high IQ, which did not prevent him from becoming one of the worst presidents in American history, and so does Bill Clinton, which did not prevent him from befouling the presidential nest.

Unlike her enemies on the left, the conservative opponents of Mrs. Palin are a little puzzling. After all, except for its greater intensity, the response to her on the left is of a piece with the liberal hatred of Richard Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush. It was a hatred that had less to do with differences over policy than with the conviction that these men were usurpers who, by mobilizing all the most retrograde elements of American society, had stolen the country from its rightful (liberal) rulers. But to a much greater extent than Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush, Sarah Palin is in her very being the embodiment of those retrograde forces and therefore potentially even more dangerous.

I think that this is what, conversely, also accounts for the tremendous enthusiasm she has aroused among ordinary conservatives. They rightly see her as one of them, only better able and better positioned to stand up against the contempt and condescension of the liberal elites that were so perfectly exemplified by Mr. Obama's notorious remark in 2008 about people like them: "And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."


But how do we explain the hostility to Mrs. Palin felt by so many conservative intellectuals? It cannot be differences over policy. For as has been pointed out by Bill Kristol—one of the few conservative intellectuals who has been willing to say a good word about Mrs. Palin—her views are much closer to those of her conservative opponents than they are to the isolationists and protectionists on the "paleoconservative" right or to the unrealistic "realism" of the "moderate" Republicans who inhabit the establishment center.

Much as I would like to believe that the answer lies in some elevated consideration, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the same species of class bias that Mrs. Palin provokes in her enemies and her admirers is at work among the conservative intellectuals who are so embarrassed by her. When William F. Buckley Jr., then the editor of National Review, famously quipped that he would rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the combined faculties of Harvard and MIT, most conservative intellectuals responded with a gleeful amen. But put to the test by the advent of Sarah Palin, along with the populist upsurge represented by the Tea Party movement, they have demonstrated that they never really meant it.

Whether Buckley himself really meant it may be open to question, but it is certain that his son Christopher (who endorsed Mr. Obama) does not now and probably never did. Listen to the great satirist who blogs under the name of Iowahawk, writing in the fictional persona of T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII, son of the founder of The National Topsider, which he describe as a "once respected conservative magazine" now controlled by a bunch of "state college neanderthals."

"For more than a year," Van Voorhees tells us, "I have warned that . . . the conservative movement risked abandonment by its few remaining serious intellectuals"—"luminaries" like "the vivacious [Washington Post columnist] Kathleen Parker, Dame Peggy Noonan, and those two mighty Davids of conservative letters, Frum and Brooks"—and "being overrun by the unsightly hordes of Wal-Mart untermenschen typified by the loathesome 'Tea Party' rabble" with their "base enthusiasms and simian grunts. As is now obvious, events have proven me right."

I fear that the attitude satirically exaggerated here by Iowahawk is what underlies the rejection of Sarah Palin by so many conservative intellectuals. When push came to shove, they could not resist what Van Voorhees calls Mr. Obama's "prodigious oratorical and intellectuals gifts" and they could not resist attributing Sarah Palin's emergence as a formidable political force to "the base enthusiasms and simian grunts" of "the loathesome Tea Party rabble."

As for me, after more than a year of seeing how those "prodigious oratorical and intellectual gifts" have worked themselves out in action, I remain more convinced than ever of the soundness of Buckley's quip, in the spirit of which I hereby declare that I would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party, and I would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama.

Mr. Podhoretz was the editor of Commentary from 1960 to 1995. His most recent book is "Why Are Jews Liberals?" (Doubleday, 2009).

2a)A Closer Look at the Capitol Steps Conspiracy
By Jack Cashill

William Douglas, an African-American reporter for the liberal McClatchy Newspapers, seems to have broken the story at 4:51 PM on Saturday, March 20, just hours after the alleged incident took place. Douglas did so with the seriously inflammatory headline, "Tea party protesters scream 'nigger' at black congressman."

At 7:21 PM that same evening, Douglas upped the ante with a headline that moved from inflammatory to incendiary: "Tea party protesters call Georgia's John Lewis 'nigger.'"

As Douglas reminds his audience in the lead of the second posting, "civil rights icon" Lewis, now a Georgia congressman, "was nearly beaten to death during an Alabama march in the 1960s." The focus on Lewis encouraged the Washington Post's Colby King to opine a few days later that "[t]he angry faces at Tea Party rallies are eerily familiar. They resemble faces of protesters lining the street at the University of Alabama in 1956."

King's take perfectly mirrored the Democratic talking points. If the immediate strategy was to discredit the Tea party movement as racist and split the movement's base from the Republican Party, then it was working splendidly.

By Sunday morning, March 21, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was publicly denouncing the actions on the Capitol steps as "reprehensible." What Boehner did not know at the time is that he had been himself victimized in one of the most appallingly successful media scams in recent years.

If it were not for those damn ubiquitous video cameras, House Democrats and their media allies would have gotten away with it entirely. Instead, they must content themselves with a victory only among those who rely for the news on an increasingly myopic major media.

To discover what did happen, I have reviewed video from at least four different sources, talked to several eyewitnesses, and analyzed the early media reports from the scene.

Bottom line: the Douglas story would seem to meet the standards for libel. It is provably false, preposterously reckless, quite possibly malicious, and has caused real damage to publicly identified Tea Party leaders.

Here is what happened. Rather than use the tunnel from the Cannon Office Building to the Capitol, a contingent from the Black Caucus chose to walk through a crowd of protesters. In none of the videos shot that day, including those by the members of the Caucus themselves, has anyone identified a single audible racial slur.

What the videos show are protesters booing the black congressmen as lustily as they did their white counterparts. The one thing they do scream is the racially neutral "Kill the bill." The caucus members pass without incident until they reach the Capitol steps. There, an inattentive Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), flanked by a police officer, walks right in front of a man who has been screaming "kill the bill" through cupped hands for at least the last ten seconds.

Cleaver appears to get caught in the vocal spray. Once the videos emerged, Cleaver would tell the Washington Post that the man "allowed saliva to hit my face." In the immediate aftermath of the incident, however, a visibly angry Cleaver -- he poked his finger in the man's face after being sprayed -- spread a much darker story.

As Douglas reported in his 4:21 posting, Cleaver's office claimed in a statement "that [Cleaver] had also been spat upon and that Capitol Police had arrested his assailant." The Cleaver statement continued, "The man who spat on the congressman was arrested, but the congressman has chosen not to press charges."

Yael T. Abouhalkah, the editorial page columnist in Cleaver's hometown Kansas City Star, a McClatchy paper, captured the party line nicely with the claim that "some Tea Party supporter spat on Cleaver Saturday on Capitol Hill because the U.S. congressman is black." The video evidence belies all this nonsense.

About a minute after the incident, Cleaver returns to the scene of the crime with a Capitol Police officer. The "assailant" is still standing there shouting, unaware that he has committed anything like a crime. Heck, until a year or so ago, he had been led to believe that dissent was patriotic, not racist. More embarrassingly, Cleaver fails to recognize the man even though he is standing right in front of him, and the man is making no effort to hide. There is no arrest, no detention as Cleaver's office would later claim, no noble decision to not press charges.

"There were no elements of a crime, and the individual wasn't able to be positively identified," a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police would tell "[Cleaver] was unable to positively identify." More troubling, in Douglas's report, it was only Cleaver who was said to hear the word "nigger." Even in the later posting, "Tea party protesters call Georgia's John Lewis 'nigger,'" Lewis himself does not make this claim.

"They were shouting, sort of harassing," Lewis told Douglas. What they shouted, Douglas reports, is "kill the bill, kill the bill." House majority whip James CIyburn, who walked with the contingent, heard no racist remarks, either. "I experienced some of [the anger]," Clyburn told Keith Olbermann on March 22. "I didn`t hear the slurs."

Douglas cites only Cleaver as the person who "distinctly heard 'nigger.'" It is Douglas himself who inflates that one one word into multiple "protestors" who "scream" it at Lewis. There is no story without that word, and given the lack of video evidence and Cleaver's willingness to dissemble on the alleged arrest, there is no reason to believe him.

Nor is there any reason to believe Congressional Black Caucus member Andre Carson (D-IN), one of only two Muslims in Congress and a member of the progressive caucus. If Cleaver actually thought that he heard the slur in question, and he may have, then Carson told a story too outsized to be anything but willful propaganda.

According to Brian Beutler in the Talking Points Memo posted at 5:41 PM on that Saturday, March 20, Carson had "a particularly jarring encounter with a large crowd of protesters screaming 'kill the bill' ... and punctuating their chants with the word 'nigger.'"

Although Carson claims to have been standing next to Lewis, Lewis again provides no confirmation. He is quoted only as saying, "People have been just downright mean." Regardless, it is Lewis who is the subject of Beutler's headline, "Tea Partiers Call Lewis ‘N****r.'" (For the record, Beutler, a recent Berkeley grad, has written for the American Prospect, The Nation, Mother Jones, and The Guardian.)

Carson claims that the incident occurred when the group was walking from the Capitol. The Cleaver incident allegedly occurred while the group was walking to the Capitol. The lack of any audio or video evidence of at least two incidents of a "large crowd" of protesters shouting racial slurs should have killed this story before it left the gate. Even without the contrary video evidence, Carson's charge is so at odds with the reality of America circa 2010 that it undermines the credibility of any media person who reported it with a straight face.

One of my correspondents, who was on the Capitol steps when the caucus members entered and exited, makes a sage observation: "And if what these congressmen said was true, wouldn't it be logical to think that there would have been many more Capitol Police officers escorting these gentlemen back into the Cannon building when they returned?" Videos show that there were only two police officers, and they were walking behind the congressmen when they left the Capitol.

Still, this was more than enough for the factually indifferent Olbermann to conclude, "If racism is not the whole of the Tea Party, it is in its heart." To drive this point home, do not be surprised if some provocateurs on the left contrive an even more dramatic smear before November 2010

2b)Obama Steps Up Confrontation; White House Seeks to Rally Supporters With Aggressive Tone Against Opponents.

President Barack Obama, after a year of fitfully searching for compromise, is taking a more aggressive tack with his Republican adversaries, hoping to energize Democratic voters and possibly muscle in some Republican support in Congress.

On Thursday, the president challenged Republicans who planned to campaign on repealing his health-care bill with, "Go for it." Two days later, he made 15 senior appointments without Senate consent, including a union lawyer whose nomination had been blocked by a filibuster.

At a bill-signing event Tuesday, he is set to laud passage of higher-education legislation that was approved despite Republican objections through a parliamentary maneuver that neutralized the party's filibuster threat.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama will be in Maine, home state of two moderate Republican senators who opposed his health-care plan, to promote the health law.

Even his surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday mobilized the perks of the presidency to marshal public opinion, as pictures were beamed home of Mr. Obama mobbed by U.S. troops.

A senior Democratic official said the push was a textbook case of taking advantage of political momentum as the campaign season begins. Republicans are "on the defensive," the official said, "and as long as they're not cooperating, we ought to keep them there."

Republicans say Mr. Obama's overtures to them have been for show, whether it was his January meeting with House Republicans in Baltimore or last month's televised, bipartisan health-care summit.

The partisanship "may be more visible, and he may be more resolute about it, but as far as most of us are concerned, this is business as usual," said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a member of the Republican leadership.

But Mr. Alexander said the recent moves are broader, more public swipes that will hurt the president in the end.

He conceded that Republican leaders have tried to maintain unity in opposition. "When you have 40 Republicans, with your back against the wall and the gallows are right in your face, you're going to do your best to be unified," Mr. Alexander said.

The onus, however, is on the president to build relationships with minority leaders, Mr. Alexander said.

"If you're the president or a governor and you don't have a good relationship with the other party, that's your problem to solve," he said.

Mr. Obama campaigned on calling for an end to partisan bickering in Washington, but once in office he launched an ambitious agenda that pursued several long-held Democratic goals.

Meanwhile, Republicans decided at an early stage to aggressively oppose most of Mr. Obama's agenda. Partisan tensions have run high for most of his term.

Recently, Mr. Obama has been swinging particularly hard. He followed up his "go for it" taunt Thursday with the recess appointment of union lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, adopting a tactic that presidents of both parties have used in recent decades to skirt the normal confirmation process. Mr. Becker's confirmation had been blocked in the Senate by a filibuster in February.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will sign what has been billed as a package of fixes to the health-care bill, approved under rules that required only a simple majority vote to pass in the Senate. That nullified Republicans' power to block it through a filibuster.

Democrats attached to the bill a major overhaul of student-lending laws, which eliminated a federal subsidy for private tuition lenders, federalized most student loans and plowed the savings into expanded federal higher education aid. Republicans say the bill will destroy the private student-lending market.

Mr. Alexander, the Tennessee Republican, called the student-loan move "really brazen" and "the most underreported, biggest Washington takeover in history."

In classic game theory, confrontation is sometimes necessary when cooperation breaks down to present a credible potential threat and get the two sides to re-engage, said Robert Axelrod, a University of Michigan political scientist and author of the game-theory book, "The Evolution of Cooperation." He isn't related to White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

The Senate doesn't work the way game theorists think, said Antonia Ferrier, an aide to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. A body built on personal relationships is likely to spiral into endless tit-for-tat retaliations in the face of Mr. Obama's new turn, she said.

The new tone may be having an impact, though, among some Obama voters who had soured on what they saw as an electric campaigner gone soft.

Republicans are getting "better treatment than they deserve," said Don Miller, 68, a California independent and pipe line consultant who said his support for Mr. Obama was rising.

"He's not a politician yet, but he's learning fast. As he learns to work the Washington establishment he has become more and more effective," said James Shubert, 83, a transportation-services manager in Tennessee.

Robin Moyer, 48, a retired South Carolina school teacher, lamented that the president had been trying to "reach as many people as possible, but sometimes it is overkill."

—Jean Spencer contributed to this article.
3)The Tax Police and the Health-Care Mandate: Americans of modest means may soon get a lesson in the power of the IRS.

Is there an IRS agent in your future?

Shortly before Barack Obama signed the health-care bill, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee created a stir with a report suggesting our new law will lead the Internal Revenue Service to hire as many as 16,500 new agents. The Republicans came up with the figure by extrapolating from the IRS budget, the amount spent on employees, and the $10 billion in new funding that the Congressional Budget Office says the IRS will need to meet its new responsibilities under this legislation.

It's made for some heated debate. In an entertaining segment on the Fox News Channel last week, host Bill O'Reilly tried to get Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) to admit that the IRS would have to enforce the penalty tax for people who refused both to get the mandated coverage and to pay the penalty. Mr. Weiner accused Mr. O'Reilly of "making stuff up." The next day, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman seemed to settle the question in Mr. Weiner's favor when he testified to Congress that IRS agents are not going to be auditing taxpayers to verify that they've obtained acceptable health insurance.

Or did he?

The individual mandate remains one of the murkiest bits of this legislation. During the 2008 primaries, Mr. Obama criticized rival Hillary Clinton for favoring such a mandate. He later changed his mind, for one big reason: There's no way to afford expensive provisions such as forcing insurance companies to cover people with, say, pre-existing conditions unless millions of healthy people who won't need insurance are forced to pay into the system. With the mandate, the government gets more healthy people into the risk pool—and with the penalty it gets their money whether they buy coverage or not.

In testimony before a House Ways and Means subcommittee last Thursday, the IRS commissioner deflected questions about the agency's precise role vis-à-vis health care. Mr. Shulman reassured citizens that this bill does not "fundamentally alter" their relationship with the IRS, and said the IRS would not be snooping into their health records. About the penalties associated with the mandate, he was less clear.

Partly that's because the law is unclear. The original House bill opened the door for criminal sanctions against Americans who didn't buy health insurance and pay the penalty. The Senate bill did the same until Sen. John Ensign (R., Nev.) successfully pushed to amend the bill. Even so, the final language begs the question that Mr. Shulman and Mr. Weiner avoided: Who's going to enforce the mandate, and how?

It's more than a theoretical proposition. Approximately one in six drivers goes without auto insurance, according to the Insurance Research Council, even though most states require it. As for health coverage, the U.S. Census says that Massachusetts' has the nation's lowest rate of uninsured at 5.4%, thanks in part to its own individual mandate. Even so, costs have exploded and fines for not carrying coverage are increasing.

Almost by definition, those hit by the mandate will be either young people starting out, or those working for smaller businesses that do not provide employees with health coverage. Back in November, a report by the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that nearly half (46%) of the mandate penalties will be paid by Americans under 300% of the poverty line.

In today's dollars, that works out to $32,500 for an individual. For a family of four, it's $66,150. Generally speaking, these are not the folks who have to worry about paying taxes on, say, a villa in the Dominican Republic or income from the International Monetary Fund.

So we are left with one of two possibilities. The first is that the penalty for not having "minimal essential coverage" is fully enforced, in which case Americans of relatively modest means will get a lesson in how the government deals with people who don't pay up.

Or the penalty for violating the individual mandate will become like the fines for not filling out your Census form. In other words, unenforced. In that case, the costs of this legislation will be even higher and more hidden than we have been led to believe.

In his appearance before Congress, Mr. Shulman stated he was still working on "the proper resources" the IRS would need to handle the tax provisions of the health-care act. Maybe that won't mean 16,500 new agents. If the Republicans do manage to take back Congress come November, however, it should mean hearings in which Mr. Shulman provides the American people with specific answers about how much bigger the IRS is going to get because of this bill—and how exactly the IRS will deal with Americans who don't pay the penalty tax.

Then again, that's something Congress might have done before passing the bill.

4a)Obama: Tea Party features 'core group' against him (AP)

President Barack Obama says he believes the Tea Party is built around a "core group" of people who question whether he is a U.S. citizen and believe he is a socialist.

5) G8 skips Iran sanctions to boost secret US opening to Revolutionary Guards

Washington and Iran sources disclose the G8 ministers meeting in Gatineau, Quebec, agreed to leave the door open to dialogue with Iran after they were discreetly informed the Obama administration had launched a secret bid to engage Iran's radical Revolutionary Guards in nuclear talks.

The initiative is aimed at bypassing Iran's hardline political leaders and ayatollahs

At their meeting in Canada on March 29, the G8 ministers drafted a statement "to remain open to dialogue and also reaffirm the need for the international community to take appropriate and strong steps to demonstrate… resolve to uphold the international nuclear non-proliferation regime."

But they pointedly sidestepped mention of sanctions or any other practical action for curbing Iran's dash for a nuclear bomb, after learning that the US president was no longer behind active steps that would antagonize Tehran. Instead, Washington had sent out messengers to meet high-ranking Guards representatives in Tehran and a number of European capitals in pursuit of a new diplomatic initiative for engaging the IRGC in dialogue, after failing to get anywhere with Tehran's regime leaders.

Those messengers went out on their mission three weeks before US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel blew up into a major crisis over Israeli construction in East Jerusalem.

The US messengers offered IRGC emissaries the following arguments and inducements:

1. Washington was not seeking regime change in Tehran and had proved as much by not backing Iran's opposition in eight months of their protests against a probably rigged presidential election.

2. The US appreciated the IRGC was undergoing two fundamental transformations - one, shifting its radical-militant orientation over to greater emphasis on its vast business and financial interests, and, two, the disappearance of public affirmations of support for president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the vocabulary of its leaders.

3. Washington believes that the IRGC had hoped the president would adopt a new pragmatic line on Iran's nuclear program and relations with the United States and were disappointed by his growing intransigence. It was therefore in both their interests to sideline the hardline Ahmadinejad in national decision-making.

4. UN sanctions against Iran - or unilateral US penalties - would harm the Guards' broad business interests and inhibit their growth pattern, whereas the absence of sanctions would let them expand uninterrupted.

5. As for the core issue, Iran's nuclear weapons program, here, too, the Obama administration was ready to be flexible, said the messengers, and accept Iran's acquisition of a nuclear bomb capability, so long as it does not cross the threshold and tip over into building bombs or stocking a nuclear arsenal.

This US concession would render academic the controversy over whether Iran was indeed pursuing a nuke - and the length of time it needed for its attainment.
The White House's rationale for talking to the Revolutionary Guards rested on the fact that its high command controls every facet of Iran's military nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Washington hopes the two sides can come to terms in advance on where to draw the line on their development. However, according to Iranian sources, the Obama administration is still waiting for the Guards chiefs to reply to its proposal.

But already, there is diplomatic fallout in the Gulf region. When US defense secretary Robert Gates visited Riyadh on March 10, he was told Saudi rulers no longer trusted the Obama administration to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat in the light of its backdoor contacts with the IRGC. Gates departed the kingdom after an angry exchange.
6) Barack Obama has awakened a sleeping nation
By Gary Hubbell

Barack Obama is the best thing that has happened to America in the last 100 years. Truly, he is the savior of America 's future. He is the best thing ever.

Despite the fact that he has some of the lowest approval ratings among recent presidents, history will see Barack Obama as the source of America 's resurrection. Barack Obama has plunged the country into levels of debt that we could not have previously imagined; his efforts to nationalize health care have been met with fierce resistance nationwide; TARP bailouts and stimulus spending have shown little positive effect on the national economy; unemployment is unacceptably high and looks to remain that way for most of a decade; legacy entitlement programs have ballooned to unsustainable levels, and there is a seething anger in the populace.

That's why Barack Obama is such a good thing for America .

Obama is the symbol of a creeping liberalism that has infected our society like a cancer for the last 100 years. Just as Hitler is the face of fascism, Obama will go down in history as the face of unchecked liberalism. The cancer metastasized to the point where it could no longer be ignored.

Average Americans who have quietly gone about their lives, earning a paycheck, contributing to their favorite charities, going to high school football games on Friday night, spending their weekends at the beach or on hunting trips — they've gotten off the fence. They've woken up. There is a level of political activism in this country that we haven't seen since the American Revolution, and Barack Obama has been the catalyst that has sparked a restructuring of the American political and social consciousness.

Think of the crap we've slowly learned to tolerate over the past 50 years as liberalism sought to re-structure the America that was the symbol of freedom and liberty to all the people of the world. Immigration laws were ignored on the basis of compassion. Welfare policies encouraged irresponsibility, the fracturing of families, and a cycle of generations of dependency. Debt was regarded as a tonic to lubricate the economy. Our children left school having been taught that they are exceptional and special, while great numbers of them cannot perform basic functions of mathematics and literacy. Legislators decided that people could not be trusted to defend their own homes, and stripped citizens of their rights to own firearms. Productive members of society have been penalized with a heavy burden of taxes in order to support legions of do-nothings who loll around, reveling in their addictions, obesity, indolence, ignorance and “disabilities.” Criminals have been arrested and re-arrested, coddled and set free to pillage the citizenry yet again. Lawyers routinely extort fortunes from doctors, contractors and business people with dubious torts.

We slowly learned to tolerate these outrages, shaking our heads in disbelief, and we went on with our lives.

But Barack Obama has ripped the lid off a seething cauldron of dissatisfaction and unrest.

In the time of Barack Obama, Black Panther members stand outside polling places in black commando uniforms, slapping truncheons into their palms. ACORN — a taxpayer-supported organization — is given a role in taking the census, even after its members were caught on tape offering advice to set up child prostitution rings. A former Communist is given a paid government position in the White House as an advisor to the president. Auto companies are taken over by the government, and the auto workers' union — whose contracts are completely insupportable in any economic sense — is rewarded with a stake in the company. Government bails out Wall Street investment bankers and insurance companies, who pay their executives outrageous bonuses as thanks for the public support. Terrorists are read their Miranda rights and given free lawyers. And, despite overwhelming public disapproval, Barack Obama has pushed forward with a health care plan that would re-structure one-sixth of the American economy.

I don't know about you, but the other day I was at the courthouse doing some business, and I stepped into the court clerk's office and changed my voter affiliation from “Independent” to “Republican.” I am under no illusion that the Republican party is perfect, but at least they're starting to awaken to the fact that we cannot sustain massive levels of debt; we cannot afford to hand out billions of dollars in corporate subsidies; we have to somehow trim our massive entitlement programs; we can no longer be the world's policeman and dole out billions in aid to countries whose citizens seek to harm us.

Literally millions of Americans have had enough. They're organizing, they're studying the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, they're reading history and case law, they're showing up at rallies and meetings, and a slew of conservative candidates are throwing their hats into the ring. Is there a revolution brewing? Yes, in the sense that there is a keen awareness that our priorities and sensibilities must be radically re-structured. Will it be a violent revolution? No. It will be done through the interpretation of the original document that has guided us for 220 years — the Constitution. Just as the pendulum swung to embrace political correctness and liberalism, there will be a backlash, a complete repudiation of a hundred years of nonsense. A hundred years from now, history will perceive the year 2010 as the time when America got back on the right track. And for that, we can thank Barack Hussein Obama.

Gary Hubbell is a hunter, rancher, and former hunting and fly-fishing guide. Gary works as a Colorado ranch real estate broker
7)US official to Ynet: No Security Council initiative on Jerusalem
By Yitzhak Benhorin

In contrast to BBC report, Obama Administration official says UN resolution against construction in east Jerusalem not in works; adds White House will continue to press Israel, PA to prevent any unilateral measures

An Obama Administration official denied a recent BBC report according to which the US is considering abstaining from a possible UN Security Council resolution against Israeli construction in east Jerusalem.

The official told Ynet on Tuesday, "There is no such initiative before the (Security) Council, and we are not pursuing or encouraging any such action."

Washington has yet to officially respond to the BBC report, which came during a period of heightened tensions between close allies Israel and the US over the construction in east Jerusalem.

The US State Department is expected to officially deny the BBC report soon.

The US, one of five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power, usually blocks Security Council resolutions that condemn Israel, but relations have been severely damaged since Israel announced the construction of 1,600 apartments in east Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.

The announcement, which made was during US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the Jewish state, drew harsh criticism from the Obama Administration.

The Palestinians responded by pulling out of the US-brokered indirect "proximity talks" with Israel.

The US views Israeli building in east Jerusalem, the part of the city claimed by Palestinians as their future capital, as disruptive to Mideast peacemaking. Israel insists the city cannot be divided and says it has the right to build anywhere.

According to the American official, the US "believes that the best way forward lies in direct negotiations between the parties leading to a comprehensive peace agreement including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security."

He said that referring the issue to international bodies would only highlight the disagreements between the sides and lead to one-sided pressure on Israel.

However, the official added that the Obama Administration was determined to continue pressuring Israel and the Palestinians in order to prevent any unilateral measures that may delay the resumption of peace talks.

The White House is still awaiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response to its demand that Israel freeze construction in east Jerusalem. Washington has called on the Palestinian Authority to stop inciting against Israel
8)White Elephant in Baghdad
by Daniel Pipes

Iraq's recently-concluded, inconclusive elections will be followed in August by the pullout of American troops, making this a good time to ask what American taxpayers have achieved with the US$45 billion spent on reconstructing Iraq since 2003 and what steps to take next.

That $45 billion includes no expenditures on the U.S. military itself but $21 billion for Iraqi security forces, $11 billion for Iraqi infrastructure, and $6 billion for various Iraqi government-related services.

Sadly, this vast sum has largely been wasted. Firstly, because once coalition forces leave Iraq in August, the mullahs in Tehran will begin their takeover; second, because hubris and incompetence have riddled U.S. spending in Iraq. To get some sense of those errors, let's review the highest priority American project, namely the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.

Everything about this embassy, planned at the height of the U.S. occupation in 2004, is gargantuan. As the largest diplomatic facility on Earth, it extends 104 acres (42 hectares), making it ten times larger than the next largest embassy complex (the U.S. mission in Beijing) and only slightly smaller than Vatican City. A mini-city unto itself, its 21 buildings include stores, restaurants, schools, a movie theater, fire station, and facilities for athletics, electricity, telecommunications, water, and wastewater. Fifteen-foot thick walls protect the complex. Some 5,500 staff live there. The annual embassy budget comes to about $1.5 billion.

The complex has suffered from cost overruns, delays, and shoddy construction. Projected to cost $592 million and open in 2007, it actually cost $700 million and opened in 2009. A Washington Post article recounts the travails of a brand-new guard house:

The first signs of trouble … emerged when the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15[, 2007]. Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt. … the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers.

The trailer manufacturer, a Saudi company, helpfully suggested that guards keep the windows open and use charcoal to absorb the odor, but to no avail. All ten power stations developed leaks because builders used Teflon tape designed for water, which fuel dissolved on contact.

Poor construction can be remedied, but not the compound's taunting size and aggressive location, which imply permanent American rule over Iraq. The embassy sits on appropriated (i.e., not purchased) land in the "Green Zone," a governmental area once belonging to Saddam Hussein that borders the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad.

The International Crisis Group notes that the massive embassy complex "is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country." Jane C. Loeffler, author of The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America's Embassies, adds that Washington "has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future." Anne Gearan of the Associated Press rightly predicts that the complex "quickly could become a white elephant." William Langewiesche derides the complex as a self-built "prison."

Not surprisingly, America's kept politicians in Iraq welcome this assertion of American muscle: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says the complex serves "a symbol of the deep friendship between the two peoples of Iraq and America," while Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari endorses its colossal dimensions, seeing in it "a sign of the American government's commitment to democracy in Iraq."

Six years ago, I declared myself uneasy due to "the monumental size of this embassy, … Far better would be to turn decisionmaking over to a strong Iraqi leader and maintain a small U.S. presence. If not done earlier, I fear, this will be done later, and under less auspicious circumstances." Those inauspicious circumstances are now five months away; the oversized complex on appropriated land in central Baghdad will likely become a symbol of U.S. arrogance, irritating Iraqis and making the country more vulnerable to Iranian influence.

The damn thing's been built, so it's too late to stop that act of diplomatic over-reach. But the sooner the complex is turned over to Iraqis, with Americans moved to a normal-sized embassy on duly purchased land, the better for future U.S.-Iraq relations.

Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
9)Stocks: A Rally That Defies Gravity: Investors are on the lookout for danger signs that could derail the stock market's yearlong advance
By Ben Steverman

Defying the doubters, stocks keep climbing higher, extending a rally that has lasted more than a year. On Mar. 29, the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index both traded at their highest points since Sept. 26, 2008.

All good things must come to an end, though, so investing pros naturally wonder how long the market can keep up its winning streak. The market hit its 18-month high in the face of widespread skepticism among both investors and the American public.

Most individual retail investors have not been participating in the rally. According to Morningstar (MORN), investors pulled $3.7 billion out of U.S. stock funds in February, the fifth month of outflows in the last six months. A Mar. 25 survey by the American Association of Individual Investors showed 34.7% of respondents are bearish, which is more than the 32.4% who are bullish and up from a 23% bearish reading at the end of 2009.

Many Americans seem unaware of the stock market's success and gloomy about the economy, according to a Bloomberg National Poll released Mar. 24. The broad S&P 500 rose 72.4% from Mar. 9, 2009, to Mar. 26, 2010. Yet the Bloomberg poll found only 31% of American investors said the value of their investments had improved in the past year. By contrast, 22% believe their investments' value has held steady and 46% believe their value has fallen.

Pessimism May Be Positive

Such pessimism is not necessarily a bad sign for the market's rally. Richard Sparks, who monitors the market mood as an equities analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research, notes gloomy investors are often a positive sign for the market, indicating many stock sellers could be turned into buyers as the rally continues. Stock rallies often end when investors get "euphoric," Sparks says. "We're nowhere near that."

"We're beginning to see individual [investors] begin to put their foot back in the water," says John Wilson, chief technical strategist for Morgan Keegan. "I don't think we've seen a shift yet in the public's appetite for risk."

Investing experts point to solid foundations for the stock rebound. S&P 500 earnings were up 98% last quarter, 5.4% more than analysts predicted, according to Bloomberg. The latest corporate news to bolster market confidence was Oracle's (ORCL) forecast on Mar. 26 that growth of software license sales could return to 2008's pace.

"The characteristic phrase of this entire advance has been 'better than expected,' " says John Merrill, chief investment officer at Tanglewood Wealth Management. "Corporations and the U.S. economy continue to do better than expected."

The U.S. gross domestic product surged 5.6% last quarter.

Yet there are reasons to be cautious.

David Bianco, chief equity strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC), warned a sharp rise in long-term interest rates is "the major risk to this rally." Higher rates slow economic growth and make bonds a more attractive alternative to stocks. The 10-year Treasury currently yields 3.87%, but a "quick surge to 4.25% would stall the rally, and 4.5% or higher in the very near-term could cause a 10% correction," he wrote Mar. 26.

Stock strategists who rely on technical analysis argue the market has natural limits: After big advances, stocks naturally must take a break.

Quincy Krosby, Prudential Financial (PRU) market strategist, sees several reasons equities could continue to do well. The market for initial public offerings is "coming back to life." Financial stocks are leading the market higher, a good gauge of how investors view the overall economy. Despite high unemployment, consumers continue to spend at a modest rate. And, she says, relatively few companies have warned about weak profits this quarter, "suggesting that earnings will be more solid than current estimates."

However, Krosby warns, technical factors could limit the stock market's upside in the near term. After a strong run, "we're going to reach a resistance [level] that is going to be hard for the market to cross over," she says, pegging the level at about 1,180 for the S&P 500.

Economic data will continue to improve this year, says BTIG Chief Market Strategist Mike O'Rourke, but much of that expected improvement is already reflected in stock prices. "The equity market will do O.K.," he says, "but the gains may seem muted relative to [the growth in] the economy."

The market rally seems to have been powered by better-than-expected improvements in economic and business conditions. Whenever this fuel runs out, the rally could end as abruptly as it began.

Steverman is a reporter for Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Finance channel.