Thursday, June 9, 2011

Promises, Promises - All Empty!

Comment from fellow memo reader." Something in your latest memo(Re: Poll Results Message To Obama: It' You Stupid1) triggered something in me, and hence this response regarding Sarah Palin.

The thing we are cursed with is smart people, ironically. Smart people like Obama, Bernanke, Krugman, et al, are so smart that they have convinced themselves they can successfully manage our economy -- indeed the whole world economy. We know of course that this is utterly impossible. The unintended consequence are impossible to quantify or qualify. As Adam Smith, Hayek, von Mises and many others have pointed out, economies are dynamic, fluid systems driven by billions of small and large decisions each minute of each day. Yes there are trends, but there are so many of them, and they clash so much, that there is no way to be assured of success with any market manipulation. Because of this risk, it is especially risky to engage in manipulations that influence a vast number of decisions, such as changing the minimum wage or increasing a tax rate or adjusting the fed funds rate.

So we are better off with relatively dumb, but more humble governors who don't presume to understand what makes the economy tick, and thus are reluctant to tinker, such as Ms. Palin.

But I'm a Ron Paul fan. He is both smart and humble."

My response: The problem with all those 'best and brightest' is they do not understand water must be allowed to seek its own level. Politicians cannot allow purging because purging produces pain. Pain turns voters off and does not garner votes. Thus, allowing matters to sort themselves out cannot be tolerated.

Rushing in to prevent pain and redirect water mostly adds to future suffering.

Consequently, Obama's aspirin bail out will is causing more severe migraines.

As for Palin the progressives and liberals hate her because she threatens them. So called feminists really hate her because she shows them up by her capabilities in a man's world - she can hunt, she can run with the best, she is a mom, she was an executive and has an attractive natural beauty so they have to mock and destroy her. However, Sarah rises above it all and comes out looking better all the time.

That does not mean she should be or is ready to be president. She is just deserving of more respect than she gets from the liberal media and press but then they are not seeking objectivity only destruction. They have to protect the messiah they have anointed king (See 1, 1a and 1b below.)
This was sent to me by a dear friend, fellow memo reader by his brother who is connected.

What it shows is how politicians think about their self-interests and not the public's good so let's see what Pelosi finally decides to do to protect the dismal reputation of her party regardless of what New York politicians want. Stay tuned. (See 2 below.)

Meanwhile Newt has now fallen on his sword because he too thought he could drink his own bath water. A fertile but overworked mind, lack of personal discipline and arrogance can be a bad combination and so it has proven.
More evidence Obama is a captive and the DOW reflects it as it sinks lower and lower. As Obama goes down with the ship of state he seems prepared to take us with him? (See 3 below.)

Remember these Obama promises:

I will restore America's image in the world.

I will protect Israel.

I will reduce unemployment,

I will return our troops and close Gitmo.

I will demand Qaddafi must go.

I will prevent Iran from going nuclear.

I will restore openness and integrity in government.

I will blah, blah, blah, and the list of unkept, empty promises is endless.

Meanwhile, we are sinking into the muck and mire of Obama's ineptness, mismanagement, poor policy initiatives and lousy executive appointments.

Obama is proving to be worse than Carter and the last chapter is yet to be written. (For starters see 4, 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d, 4e and 4f below.)
Meanwhile, have a great weekend,
1)A bird house analogy!!

I bought a bird feeder. I hung
It on my back porch and filled
It with seed. What a beauty of
A bird feeder it was, as I filled it
Lovingly with seed. Within a
Week we had hundreds of birds
Taking advantage of the
Continuous flow of free and
Easily accessible food.

But then the birds started
Building nests in the boards
Of the patio, above the table,
And next to the barbecue.

Then came the poop. It was
Everywhere: on the patio tile,
The chairs, the table ...

Then some of the birds
Turned mean. They would
Dive bomb me and try to
Peck me even though I had
Fed them out of my own

And others birds were
Boisterous and loud. They
Sat on the feeder and
Squawked and screamed at
All hours of the day and night
And demanded that I fill it
When it got low on food.

After a while, I couldn't even
Sit on my own back porch
Anymore. So I took down the
Bird feeder and in three days
The birds were gone. I cleaned
Up their mess and took down
The many nests they had built
All over the patio.

Soon, the back yard was like
It used to be .... Quiet, serene....
And no one demanding their
Rights to a free meal.

Now let's see.
Our government gives out
Free food, subsidized housing,
Free medical care and free
Education, and allows anyone
Born here to be an automatic

Then the illegal's came by the
Tens of thousands. Suddenly
Our taxes went up to pay for
Free services; small apartments
Are housing 5 families; you
Have to wait 6 hours to be seen
By an emergency room doctor;
Your child's second grade class is
Behind other schools because
Over half the class doesn't speak

Corn Flakes now come in a
Bilingual box; I have to
'press one ' to hear my bank
Talk to me in English, and
People waving flags other
Than 'Old Glory' are
Squawking and screaming
In the streets, demanding
More rights and free liberties.

Just my opinion, but maybe
it's time for the government
To take down the bird feeder.

If you agree, pass it on; if not,
Just continue cleaning up the poop

1a)After two years of Obama ... Here's your change!

January 2009 TODAY %chg Source
Avg.. Retail price/gallon gas in U.S. $1.83 $3.95 115.8% 1
Crude oil, European Brent (barrel) $43.48 $99.02 127.7% 2
Crude oil, West TX Inter. (barrel) $38.74 $91.38 135.9% 2
Gold: London (per troy oz.) $853.25$1,504.50 90.5% 2
Corn, No.2 yellow, Central IL $3.56 $6.33 78.1% 2
Soybeans, No. 1 yellow, IL $9.66 $13.75 42.3% 2
Sugar, cane, raw, world, lb. Fob $13.37 $35.39 164.7% 2
Unemployment rate, non-farm, overall 7.6% 9.4% 23.7% 3
Unemployment rate, blacks 12.6% 15.8% 25.4% 3
Number of unemployed (000) 11,616 14,485 7% 3
Number of fed. Employees(000) 2,779 2,840 2.2% 3
Real median household income $50,112 $49,777 -0.7% 4
Number of food stamp recipients 31,983,716 43,200,878 35.1% 5
Number of unemployment benefit
recipients 7,526,598 9,193,838 22.2% 6
Number of long-term unemployed(000) 2,600 6,400 146.2% 3
Poverty rate, individuals 13.2% 1 4.3% 8.3% 4
People in poverty in U.S.(000) 39,800 43,600 9.5% 4
U.S.. Rank in Economic Freedom World
Rankings 5 9 n/a 10
Present Situation Index 29.9 23.5 -21.4% 11
Failed banks 140 164 17.1% 12
U.S.. Dollar versus Japanese yen exchange
rate 89.76 82.03 -8.6% 2
U.S.. Money supply, M1, in billions 1,575.1 1,865.7 18.4% 13
U.S.. Money supply, M2, in billions 8,310.9 8,852.3 6. 5% 13
National debt, in trillions $10..627 $14..052 32.2% 14

Just take this last item: In the last two years we have accumulated national debt at a rate more than 27 times as fast as during the rest of our entire nation's history.
Over 27 times as fast. Metaphorically speaking, if you are driving in the right lane doing 65 MPH and a car rockets past you in the left lane. 27 times faster, it would be doing 7,555 MPH!

Sources:(1) U.S. Energy Information Administration; (2) Wall Street Journal; (3) Bureau of Labor Statistics; (4) Census Bureau; (5) USDA; (6) U.S. Dept. Of Labor; (7) FHFA; (8) Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller; (9) RealtyTrac; (10) Heritage Foundation and WSJ; (11) The Conference Board; (12) FDIC; (13) Federal Reserve; (14) U.S. Treasury

1b)The Sarah Palin Email Saga
By David Corn

Mother Jones requested Palin's gubernatorial emails during the 2008 election. Almost three years later, the wait is over.

Today, at 9 a.m. local time in Juneau, the state of Alaska is scheduled to release 24,199 pages of emails Sarah Palin sent and received during her half-term as governor of the Last Frontier. State workers will distribute six-box sets and hand trucks (which must be returned) to representatives of a dozen or so media outfits, including Mother Jones. Immediately, a mad dash will be on, with journalists reviewing (and scanning) these thousands of emails, searching for illuminating or entertaining information regarding the GOP’s number-one political celebrity, who remains a possible 2012 presidential contender. (Shortly after the release, Mother Jones,, and ProPublica will post online a searchable archive of the emails.) This saga began with a request I made almost three years ago.

When John McCain chose Palin as his sidekick, reporters rushed to dig up what they could about the little-known chief executive of the faraway state. As part of that frenzy, I came across a local story about a citizen activist in Alaska named AndrĂ©e McLeod, who had used the state's open-records law to request emails sent to and from two of Palin's top aides over a period of several months in 2008. McLeod suspected that the pair had engaged in prohibited political activity during official business hours. The governor's office handed over four large boxes of emails, portions of which McLeod used as the basis for filing an ethics complaint. But more intriguing than the documents released was the material withheld: 1,100 emails the state deemed exempt from release because they were covered by the "executive" or "deliberative process" privileges that protected communications between Palin and her aides about policy matters. The subject lines of several of the withheld emails—which were catalogued in a list given to McLeod—suggested that they were not policy-related. Several referred to one of Palin's political foes, others to a well-known Alaskan journalist.

Though it appeared that Palin's administration might have abused the exemptions to hide politically inconvenient emails, I thought it was worthwhile to shoot for the moon. On September 8, 2008—ten days after McCain tapped Palin as his running mate—I filed a request with the state for "all emails sent and received by" Palin during her entire tenure as governor.

This was the first comprehensive request for the Palin emails received by the state. In subsequent days, other media outlets submitted more-limited requests. The Associated Press and NBC News requested copies of emails sent to and from Todd Palin. asked for emails between Sarah Palin and certain state employees. CNN requested emails to and from the McCain presidential campaign.

Palin's use of a private account was arguably improper and perhaps a violation of state guidelines. Why should news organizations and citizens have to pay extra because the governor had decided to engage in state business on a private email account?I wasn't sure whether the state could process my request before the November election, when Americans would have to render judgment on the McCain-Palin ticket. That would would entail collecting and reviewing a lot of information. But the state's initial response, outlined in a September 22 letter, was almost encouraging. The state noted that it would take eight hours of computer staff time to gather the emails and perform "security operational management," whatever that meant. For all this, Mother Jones would have to pay a fee of $2,249.46. But there would be an additional cost for copying. The normal duplication fee, the state said, was 10 cents a page. But for this request the state had opted to use an outside vendor that charged 29 cents a page. And there was no way to tell at the start how many pages would be produced; certainly there would be thousands.

Without knowing what the final fee would be, Mother Jones decided to proceed, and the state revised the initial fee covering the search to $590.96. That seemed a like bargain. I sent in a check. We were on our way.

But soon, a big problem materialized. News reports revealed that Palin had used a private Yahoo email account to conduct state business. (This account was soon hacked.) I asked Palin's office whether it would be collecting emails related to state business sent to and from this account. Linda Perez, the administrative director of the Alaska governor's office, replied, "We are unable to access records from the nonstate email accounts as we are not the account owner or customer of the providers."

Regarding this Yahoo account, the state, Perez reported, could only gather emails that Palin had sent to or received from the official email accounts of other state employees, including her aides. But doing so would require searching the accounts of dozens of other state employees at a cost of $960.31 per account. Perez noted that searching through the email of all state employees would result in an exorbitant fee. But, she added, there were 68 employees within the executive offices of the governor. This meant a limited search would cost about $65,000.

I protested. Palin's use of a private account was arguably improper and perhaps a violation of state guidelines. Why should news organizations and citizens have to pay extra because the governor had decided to engage in state business on a private account? I requested that the fees associated with searching these 68 accounts be waived. Days later, the news emerged that Palin had used a second private account to communicate with a small circle of staff members—further complicating the effort to gather her emails.

Palin had in effect created a challenge for the state (especially its IT workers), and the state agreed to drop all search fees. Officials returned my check for $590.96, while noting that the request still would probably end up costing between $7,000 and $13,000 in copying fees. (Mother Jones,, and ProPublica agreed to cover these costs, share the documents, and jointly develop the online archive.) But now the major issue was time. Recovering the emails from Palin's various official and nonofficial accounts and then reviewing those messages would take a while. "I can't even begin to estimate," Perez told me, with a sigh, in October 2008.

At this point, it was obvious there would be no Palin emails released before the election. Though the state could have gone ahead and collected and reviewed emails from her state account—which presumably would have taken less time—it insisted on making those official emails a part of the more comprehensive and time-consuming project.
2)"It is highly likely Weiner's district will be eliminated as part of next year's redistricting process, multiple New York Democratic sources told CNN. New York will lose two of its 29 U.S. House seats by 2012 in line with recent U.S. Census results."

And the scandal has focused the redistricting process. Previously, most New York state government observers believed one Republican seat upstate would be lost along with one Democratic seat downstate. The fact that Weiner is now tarnished makes it extremely likely his seat will be the one that Democrats sacrifice, the multiple New York Democratic sources said.

Two of the sources -- both Democratic strategists in New York -- said the impending redistricting is one reason New York Democrats aren't rushing to call on Weiner to resign. Many believe it is better for them if he stays because it makes it more likely that his district will be eliminated instead of theirs, the sources noted.
3)Recovery Slumber
By Jeffrey Folks

Back in June 2010, President Obama proclaimed the beginning of what he called "recovery summer." As HUD deputy secretary Ron Sims boasted on the White House blog, that was the summer we would see "the most active season yet" of economic activity.

As evidence of this recovery, Sims pointed to the construction of Baltimore's Wayland Village, a development providing 89 affordable "green and sustainable" apartments for needy seniors at taxpayer expense. Funded by the $878 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Wayland Village is apparently the kind of recovery and reinvestment that the President has in mind for the economy as a whole -- a costly welfare project made possible by massive increases in stimulus spending. Even with a second stimulus bill, however, there was no recovery summer.

As it turned out, there was not much recovery in winter, spring, or fall, either. For 2010 as a whole, the economy grew at just 2.8%, the slowest rate of growth ever recorded following a major recession.

Now the World Bank is forecasting 2.6% growth for 2011 and continued sluggishness through 2012 if not beyond. Whatever happened to the "green shoots," "recovery summer," and "temporary bump in the road" (after he gets us "out of the ditch") that Obama has promised? If the economic slumber continues much longer, the administration is going to run out of metaphors.

According to the Federal Reserve's Beige Book released on June 8, only one region of the country -- Texas and surrounding states -- is experiencing significant economic growth. The free-market reforms carried out by Texas's Gov. Rick Perry, including tort reforms that protect businesses and physicians against frivolous litigation and excessive claims, have resulted in strong growth. Among major corporations that have relocated to Texas is Comerica, which moved its headquarters from Detroit to Dallas in 2007. As for the rest of the country, jobs are scarce, home prices continue to fall, retail sales are down, and industrial plants sit idle.

This is especially the case in the Northeast and Midwest, regions that for decades have burdened their businesses with increased taxes and regulations, including the imposition of prevailing wage laws and collective bargaining rights for public employees. Obama's home town of Chicago is routinely ranked among the least business-friendly cities in America. It's no surprise that businesses are leaving Chicago and taking their jobs with them.

What the Beige Book is telling us is that Obama's economic policies have failed, and that Obama's promises of "millions of green jobs" are nothing but a lie. Perhaps at one time the President actually believed his own promise of creating "five million green jobs" during his first year in office. If so, this only reveals his lack of foresight. The fact is that only a handful of green jobs, or jobs of any kind, have been created during the past two and a half years. As of September 2010, according the Energy Department's own figures, only 82,000 green jobs had been created, and many of these have since disappeared as alternative energy firms funded by subsidies have gone belly up.

There is now a consensus among economists that the way out of the Obama malaise is lower taxes, reduced regulation, and the promotion of free and open markets. This view was outlined by Edward P. Lazear, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed of May 16, "Why the Job Market Feels So Dismal." It has been echoed by dozens of other leading economists. Lazear's plan is a simple and straightforward prescription for growth that would encourage business spending, lower costs, increase exports, and create far more than five million jobs.

So why has the President done nothing but call for higher taxes, increased regulation, and continued trade restrictions?

To be honest, I don't know. I suspect, however, that it is because the President has made a political calculation that has nothing to do with economic reality. Obama cannot win reelection without strong support from unions, environmentalists, and the welfare class, none of which have an interest in economic growth. Having hitched his wagon to the star of a slow-growth, regulated economy, the President cannot get off. He will have to accept continued high levels of unemployment and keep lecturing the public to "be patient" while he hauls the economy out of the ditch. But with this President, it's going to be a long, bumpy ride. More like driving in the Grand Canyon than in a ditch.

If the Obama administration wished to spur growth and promote job creation, there are many concrete steps he could take to do so. He could speed up drilling in the Gulf. He could ratify stalled free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Columbia. He could repeal ObamaCare and rescind the thousands of new regulations enacted under the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform legislation. He could enact comprehensive tort reform. He could declare a moratorium on further job-killing regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. He could direct the National Labor Relations Board to back off efforts to block Boeing's 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina. He could support national Right to Work legislation.

Each of these actions would help grow the economy and create tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of new jobs. But none of these pro-growth policies will come about as long as Obama is President. The economy will continue to slumber from one season to the next and with nothing to show for the trillions wasted on stimulus.

Obama is too cowardly to stand up to his political base even if that base is dragging the country down. In the end the American people will repudiate Obama and his fantasies of total regulation, union supremacy, and unlimited government spending. In time, under the leader of a conservative president, the nation will awaken from its economic slumber. The only question is how much damage Obama will do before he is sent back to Chicago.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture.
4) Is the US deliberately harming Israeli covert ops in Iran?
By Caroline Glick

One of the dirty secrets about Western trade with enemy states like Iran is
that the Western companies trading wtih them may also wittingly or unwittingly serve as espionage assets for their home country or for other
Western countries.

Consider the Stuxnet computer virus which reportedly caused great harm to at
least one and perhaps multiple nuclear installations in Iran. The virus
penetrated the Iranian systems through Siemens industrial control systems.
In recent years, Siemens was subject to widespread criticism from US policy
makers for its massive trade with Iran. And this criticism was justified.
But it is important to admit that if Siemens hadn't been trading with Iran,
whomever developed the Stuxnet virus would have had to find another,
probably less accessible platform to penetrate Iran's computer systems.

The Stuxnet story shows the problematic flipside of trade embargos against
rogue states like Iran. The less access you have to enemy markets, the less
ability you have to gather information about enemy targets and the less
capacity you have to sabotage enemy targets. The more access you have, the
more capacity you can build to infiltrate, gather information and sabotage
enemy targets.

The boycott drive against states like Iran uses a legalistic framework to
deal with complex military challenges. And since the nail doesn't exactly
fit the hole, it stands to reason that the damage sanctions can do to
military or intelligence operations may in certain circumstances outweigh
the benefit they bring to diplomatic operations.

Since last week's announcement by the State Department that it was
sanctioning the Israeli firm Ofer Brothers' Shipping for reportedly
violating US law by trading with Iran, there has been a deluge of news
reports alleging that the Ofer Brother's ships were used by the Mossad and
perhaps the IDF to infiltrate and exfiltrate agents into and out of Iran.

There are number of troubling aspects to the story. First, it strikes me as
odd that the announcement about the sanctions was made by the State
Department. If I am not mistaken, these decisions and announcements are
usually made by the Treasury Department. Why would the State Department have
taken the unusual step of announcing the sanctions and take the step against
an Israeli shipping company?

Second, it strikes me as odd that former Mossad chief Meir Dagan felt
compelled to issue an impassioned defense of the Ofer Brothers Shipping
company. Dagan is in the midst of an unprecedented, arguably illegal and
certainly unseemly campaign to delegitimize Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu. It seems strange that in the midst of this offensive Dagan would
divert his attention to the Ofer Brothers Shipping woes. He must have been
deeply shocked by the US move to do so.

(And yes, eventually I will probably address Dagan's unacceptable abuse of
his position to weaken Israel's political leadership and limit its policy
options against Iran.)

The third reason this is so shocking is that the timing of the announcement
cannot be viewed as coincidental. The rare State Department announcement
came just after Netanyahu wiped the floor with Obama in the Congress and as
the Republicans are wisely using Obama's hatred of Israel and his love for
anti-American political forces in the region as a campaign issue for 2012.
It is hard not to reach the conclusion that the announcement was
deliberately released at this juncture to weaken US public support for

If my hunch is right, and the Obama administration decided to use the
sanctions as a means to humilitate Israel, then this represents a stunning
blow to the US's credibility as an ally. It is impossible to believe that if
the Ofer Brothers subsidiary ships were used for intelligence operations in
Iran that the US did not know about it. So if the ships were used by Israeli
security agencies then the US knew that exposing the Israeli identity of the
ships would make it impossible for Israel to continue using them. And if
this is the case, then the US also knew that by exposing the information, it
was liable to leave Israeli agents currently in Iran stranded there.

Since Obama came into office, both he and his advisors and Israeli
politicians and security service commanders have repeatedly mentioned that
intelligence and military cooperation between the two countries has grown
steadily. If my sense of what happened with the Ofer Brothers Shipping firm
is even partially correct, then Israel should immediately reconsider its
willingness to maintain that cooperation. If Obama may use information
shared in joint intelligence meetings to harm Israel for political purposes
or, for that matter for any purpose, then Israel can no longer share
information with the US.

4a)An Unemployment Catastrophe
By Rich Lowry

Pres. Barack Obama is given to cute vehicular metaphors about the state of the economy. We were "in a ditch," then got out and hit a "bump in the road." This is studiously folksy. It also vastly understates the nature of our situation.

President Obama is presiding over an unspooling social catastrophe in the form of unemployment, and especially long-term unemployment. For all those people who are chronically unemployed, it's as if they have been hit by the proverbial car and then backed over by it again and again.

According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly a third of the unemployed - 4 million people - have been out of work for more than a year. Almost half of the unemployed have been out of a job for more than six months, a figure higher than during the Great Depression. They may wonder when it was exactly that we got out of "the ditch."

The statistics tell a dire, but incomplete, story. We were built to work. When we want to and can't, it is an assault on our very personhood. A Rutgers University study of the unemployed a few years ago found, unsurprisingly, "that they experienced anxiety, helplessness, depression, stress and sleeping problems after losing their jobs."

The insidious thing about long-term unemployment is that it builds on itself - the longer you are without a job, the harder it is to get one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the chance of someone unemployed for less than five weeks finding a job in the next month is about 30 percent. For someone unemployed 27 weeks or more, it's just 10 percent.

For an economy so famously on the mend that it experienced "recovery summer" last year, the trend has been in the wrong direction. A Pew study notes that the number of people unemployed for a year or more increased by 25 percent from December 2009 to December 2010.

The job market is now segregated by levels of educational attainment, but long-term joblessness disregards schooling. Once they are unemployed, about 30 percent of college graduates, high-school graduates, and high-school dropouts are out of a job for more than a year. It doesn't matter what sector of the economy they come from. "More than 20 percent of unemployed workers in every non-agricultural industry," Pew writes, "have been out of work for a year or more."

So here is a wide-ranging blight that affects not just people's incomes right now, but their sense of self-respect and their futures. Yet it's often been an afterthought for the president. He has repeatedly said he was going to "pivot to jobs." How could he ever have pivoted off of them? To paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, a crisis is a terrible thing not to address.

Given the history of recessions driven by financial meltdowns, it was inevitable we'd have a lingering unemployment problem. All the more reason to gear every possible policy toward augmenting job growth. Once he passed his ramshackle social-spending bill called the "stimulus," though, Obama devoted most of his attention to re-engineering key sectors of the American economy - health care, finance, energy - regardless of the economic consequences.

His economic measures were supposed to be timely and temporary, but they either didn't work or were temporary indeed. We've been left with a fragile economy in the near term, while in the longer term a growing debt, unsustainable entitlements, and a senseless tax code - all of which Obama either hasn't addressed or has made worse - threaten the vitality of the country.

Democrats may want next year's election to be about Medicare; Republicans may have thought it would be about debt. But if current conditions hold, it will instead be about unemployment and the associated economic travails of stagnant wages, falling home values, and rising prices. There is no more natural theme in our politics than "putting America back to work." Next year, Obama could be vulnerable to it. It's the flashing red light of his reelection.

4b).A Pivot to Jobs? Or Not?
By Jonathan Cohn

How Not to Create Jobs

Are President Obama and his advisers alarmed about the tepid recovery? Are they working feverishly to think up new interventions, the kind that involve increasing short-term deficits, to strengthen it? I would like to think the answer to both questions is "yes." But public signals from the president and his advisers remain ambiguous, while even some of the administration's more well-connected friends are getting nervous about how White House rhetoric is shaping the debate.

By now, you've probably heard about the comments that Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, made on Sunday’s edition of "This Week." He downplayed the significance of last week's dreary employment report and suggested "government is not the central driver of recovery." In addition, you've probably heard about the Washington Post profile of Tim Geithner. That profile suggested Geithner was now the president's most influential economic adviser and that his emphasis on deficit reduction, over further stimulus, had become the prevailing White House view.

But there's more. At a White House forum on Monday, Goolsbee apparently said the same things he had said on Sunday. Ryan Avent, who wrote about the forum for the Economist, came away convinced that ongoing talks over raising the debt ceiling will lead to immediate spending cuts--a move that, according to every respectable economist I know, would actually slow economic growth even more.

On Tuesday night, the Administration released an official policy statement declaring that a new Senate jobs bill was too expensive. The bill, which Majority Leader Harry Reid had endorsed, would have boosted spending on infrastructure, albeit very modestly. The administration lauded the bill’s goal but made clear that it opposed the specifics, because they would mean slightly more deficit spending. "The need for smart investments that help America win the future must be balanced with the need to control spending and reduce the deficit," the administration announced.

Also on Tuesday night, Bloomberg News reported that administration officials were discussing the possibility of a new payroll tax cut, in order to boost consumer demand. Obama hinted at similar interest during a press conference earlier in the day. Many of us, including my colleague Jonathan Chait, thought this meant the White House was finally "pivoting" towards a focus on jobs. But, during the daily White House briefing on Wednesday, press secretary Jay Carney declined to endorse or even talk up the idea, noting that "there are a lot of ideas that get bandied about, both within the administration and outside."

As I've noted previously, my White House decoder ring isn't the most reliable. For example, a senior administration official told me the statement about the Senate jobs bill was primarily making a technical point: That the proposal didn’t have offsetting revenue or spending cuts, a principle the president set forth in his budget. In other words, I could be reading way too much into these episodes.

And there are any number of sensible reasons, political and substantive, why the administration might be deliberately understating its concern about the economy or its interest in stimulus. Talking up the economy could itself boost confidence. Endorsing an idea like the payroll tax holiday explicitly might scare off Republicans, who instinctively oppose anything with the word "Obama" attached to it. Administration official have noted, correctly, that Obama secured a payroll tax holiday in the final 2011 spending agreement without making it a high-profile cause beforehand.

But there's also reason to think the administration really hasn't invested much energy in developing new ideas for stimulus--at least until last week, when the unsettling jobs report refocused Washington’s attention on employment. Here’s what one senior Democrat, familiar with ongoing talks over the debt ceiling, told me on Wednesday:

Until the recent jobs numbers hit they -- like nearly every other mainstream economist -- believed that the jobs numbers were moving in the right direction. Additionally, they've reasonably assumed that their limited bandwidth was better spent negotiating a solid extension of trade adjustment assistance -- to go along with job producing trade agreements -- and a reasonable deficit reduction package rather than bang their head against a wall trying to get more stimulus from the nutty house Republicans.

Nobody disputes that the political constraints facing the president are real. The Republicans won't pass anything that involves spending, the public largely rejects Keynesian thinking, and bipartisan talks on the debt ceiling could easily break down. More than one political strategist has suggested Obama's best shot at securing a payroll tax cut may be to move slowly and, perhaps, to let somebody else take the lead on it. By contrast, provoking a fight that scuttled debt ceiling talks could spook the markets (for real) or lead to default, either of which could cause a whole new economic crisis.

But some administration allies fear the administration is doing more than keeping a low profile or biding its time -- that it is actively reinforcing conservative dogma, at a moment when the jobs report may have created an opportunity to shift the economic debate away from budget imbalances and towards employment. "I understand the constraints of the moment," says another senior Democrat, "but I'm not sure what's gained by giving any oxygen to the incorrect idea that fiscal austerity right now would be expansionary."

It's the exact same point Paul Krugman made on his blog Wednesday afternoon:

Obama has operated under severe political constraints, and those of us who criticize the inadequacy of the stimulus and other policies have to be mindful of that. But the White House did not have to concede the economic argument the way it has.
Update: I originally cited comments by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, in Monday's White House forum. But those comments aren't as clear as I first thought, so I removed the reference. Also, I changed "short-term deficit spending" to "increasing short-term deficits" in the first paragraph, since a payroll tax holiday -- the most likely form of stimulus to pass -- would raise deficits but not deficit spending.

4) It's Obama's economy

The Republicans swept November's midterm election by making it highly ideological, a referendum on two years of hyper-liberalism – of arrogant, overreaching, intrusive government drowning in debt and running deficits of $1.5 trillion annually. It's not complicated. To govern left in a center-right country where four out of five citizens are non-liberal is a prescription for electoral defeat.

Which suggested an obvious Republican strategy for 2012: Recapitulate 2010. Keep it ideological. Choose a presidential nominee who can best make the case.

But in the last few weeks, the landscape has changed. For two reasons: NY-26 and the May economic numbers.

Last month, Democrats turned the race for the 26th Congressional District of New York into a referendum on Medicare, and more specifically on the Paul Ryan plan for reforming it. The Republicans lost the seat – after having held it for more than four decades.


100 Obama cartoons: From the beginning, it's been about the economy

Problem was, their candidate was weak, defensive, unschooled and unskilled in dealing with the issue. Republicans have a year to cure that. If they can train their candidates to be just half as fluent as Ryan in defending their Medicare plan, they would be able to neutralize the issue.

But that in and of itself is a tactical victory for Democrats. Republicans are on the defensive. Democratic cynicism has worked. By deciding to do nothing about debt and entitlements, and instead to simply accuse Republicans of tossing granny off a cliff, they have given themselves an issue.

And more than just an issue. It gives President Obama the perfect opportunity to reposition himself to the center. After his midterm shellacking, he began the (ostensible) move: appointing moderates such as William Daley to high White House positions; making pro-business, anti-regulatory noises; even offering last month a token relaxation of his hard line against oil drilling.

Ostentatious but not very convincing. Now, however, the Obama pitch is stronger: Leftist? On the contrary, I bestride the center like a colossus, protecting Medicare from Republican right-wing social engineering.

It's not that the ideological case against Obama cannot be made. Obamacare with its individual mandate remains unpopular. The near-trillion-dollar stimulus remains an albatross. Even the failed attempt at cap-and-trade – government control of energy pricing – shows Obama's determination to fundamentally transform America. And he is sure to try again to complete his coveted European-style social-democratic project if you give him four more years.

Medicare has nonetheless partially blunted that line of ideological attack. Yet, just as the Democrats were rejoicing in the fruits of their cynicism, in came the latest economic numbers. They were awful. Housing price declines were the worst since the 1930s. Unemployment rising again. Underemployment disastrously high. And as for chronic unemployment, the average time for finding a new job is now 40 weeks, the highest ever recorded. These numbers gravely undermine Obama's story line that we're in a recovery, just a bit slow and bumpy.
Suddenly, the election theme has changed. The Republican line in 2010 was: He's a leftist. Now it is: He's a failure. The issue is shifting from ideology to stewardship.

As in 1992, it's the economy, with everything else a distant second. The economic numbers explain why Obama's job approval has fallen, why the bin Laden bump disappeared so quickly, and why Mitt Romney is running even with the president. Romney is the candidate least able to carry the ideological attack against Obama – exhibit A of Obama's hyper-liberalism is Obamacare, and Romney cannot rid himself of the similar plan he gave Massachusetts. But when it comes to being solid on economics, competent in business and highly experienced in governance, Romney is the prohibitive front-runner.

The changing nature of the campaign is also a boost for Tim Pawlenty, the successful two-term governor of a very liberal state, and possibly for another ex-governor, Jon Huntsman, depending on who he decides to run as.

Nonetheless, despite the changed conditions, I would still prefer to see the Republican challenger make 2012 a decisive choice between two distinct visions of government. We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation debate about the nature of the welfare state (entitlement versus safety net) and, indeed, of the social contract between citizen and state (e.g., whether Congress can mandate – compel – you to purchase whatever it wills). Let's finish that debate. Start with Obama's abysmal stewardship, root it in his out-of-touch social-democratic ideology, and win. That would create the strongest mandate for conservative governance since the Reagan era.

4c)More bad news for ObamaCare

As if President Barack Obama didn’t have enough re-election headaches with the nearly daily reports of dreary economic news, now comes a new harsh assessment of his signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare.

A survey of 1,300 employers by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that 30 percent say they likely will drop worker health-care coverage after the major provisions of the “Affordable Care Act” come into force in 2014. A central promise in Obama’s campaign to win passage of the act was that if you like your insurance, you wouldn’t lose it under ObamaCare. Republicans, think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and other critics challenged that claim but were dismissed as Democrats rammed the measure through Congress on a partisan vote.

Now the McKinsey survey confirms the warnings. What’s more, it found that among employers most knowledgeable about the details of the health-care overhaul, more than 50 percent said they were likely to drop coverage for their workers.

Remember the famous words of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? She said we had to pass ObamaCare to learn what’s in it. If the McKinsey survey is any guide, the more Americans learn about ObamaCare, the less they like it.

This wasn’t the first indication of trouble with the health-care overhaul. Its backers claimed 400,000 people with pre-existing conditions — usually uninsurable under the current system — would flock to ObamaCare’s high-risk pools. Only 18,000 had signed up by March.

Worse was the revelation that the act’s expensive requirements threatened current coverage for millions of Americans. The administration had to respond by granting waivers to 1,372 employers, unions and insurance companies.

No waivers will be permitted in 2014, when the law’s heavy-hitting provisions kick in requiring all but the smallest businesses to have medical coverage for employers or face a fine. The McKinsey findings indicate employers see economic benefits in paying the fine, increasing pay for their workers and letting them go to ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges to find coverage.

Despite Pelosi’s optimistic predictions, polls have rarely found an improvement in ObamaCare’s standing as voters learn more about it. And the passions of its opponents remain intense. That’s why it will be an important campaign issue in 2012, though how crucial may hinge on who Obama’s Republican opponent is.

The issue is a tough one for Mitt Romney, now leading in GOP polling (though not by a lot). As governor of Massachusetts, he championed a health-care reform measure much like the national act. Romney defends the program as a solution specific to the needs of Massachusetts and says other states should be free to pursue their own answers to their health-care insurance issues. He condemns ObamaCare as a failed one-size-fits-all solution that should be scrapped.

The central issue of the campaign will be the economy and jobs. There Romney has impressive credentials as a successful businessman, governor and problem solver who saved the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics from financial ruin.

One attractive alternative to Romney is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, free of a Romneycare-type handicap. Pawlenty on Tuesday laid out an ambitious economic recovery program based on tried-and-true Ronald Reagan principles of lower tax rates, less federal spending and regulatory reform. His program won praise from conservative and business circles. The White House’s reflexive attack on it only underscored how the administration’s policies have failed.

While jobs will be issue one in 2012, ObamaCare, its big-government philosophy, its unpopular individual mandate and the partisan way it was forced through Congress highlight what’s wrong with the Obama presidency. It may give Pawlenty an edge over Romney as GOP primary voters get down to the serious business of picking a serious challenger to Obama.

© 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission.

4d)David Mamet Turns Right
By Suzanne Fields

Conservatives have a new celebrity spokesman-writer-thinker-philosopher. David Mamet, Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, screenwriter, movie director and sometime essayist, has come out of the closet.

No longer, he declares, is he a "brain-dead liberal." Now he's a wide-awake conservative. Some time after arriving in Hollywood, of all places, and at age 60, he engaged in a conversation with his Republican rabbi (where did he find one?), who gave him the books of conservative writers, such as Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Milton Friedman and Paul Johnson.

He had a dramatic political conversion.

Mamet re-evaluated his own heroes, starting with the playwright Bertolt Brecht, whom he now describes as "a show dog of communism," who theatrically criticized capitalism even as his royalties allowed him to live comfortably on capital deposited in a Swiss bank account. Karl Marx, he discovered, never earned his money, but mooched on Friedrich Engels' family, which may account for his ideas about how wealth should be distributed.

Mamet writes of his conversion to free market economics, his discovery of the errors of multiculturalism, in a new book titled, "The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture." He sounds like a latter-day Candide marooned in postmodern America, where liberals think they have all the answers for creating the "best of all possible worlds." He renders them as absurd as Dr. Pangloss, who saw even the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 as among "the best of all possible worlds."

"The great wickedness of Liberalism," Mamet discovered, "was that those who devise the ever-new state Utopias ... set out to bankrupt and restrict not themselves, but others."

Mamet first observes his own hypocrisy, recognizing the disconnect between how he acted and how he talked, "talking Left and living Right," which leads him to a collective indictment of himself and others in his generation of baby boomers, whose ideology has never quite been in sync with the real world they inhabit.

"As my generation did not live through the Depression, World War II and the agony of the immigrants who are our grandparents or great-grandparents; as we were raised in the greatest plenty the world has ever known and in the most just of societies," he writes, "we have grown lazy and entitled (not unlike Marx, who lived as a parasite upon Engels, and never worked a day in his life)."

In this scenario, liberals replace the Judeo-Christian roots of democracy with wishful Utopian thinking, belief in man in the abstract rather than the flawed human being he is: "We are told we need not produce, but may merely hope, we need not defend, but may hope, we must not consume, but are allowed, somehow, to hope for sustenance, magically, deriving from some unspecified actions of a government, which, all observe, is at best competent, and, more usually, self-serving and corrupt, whoever is in power."

His book comes out just as President Obama's poll numbers have collapsed into his lowest numbers yet, according to the latest measurement by The Washington Post-ABC News. By a margin of two to one, Americans say the economy is on the wrong track.

Mamet doesn't examine this finding, but his critique of the president's 2008 campaign slogans of "hope" and "change" are exposed for what they were, a triumph of advertising. "Hope is a very different exhortation than ... save, work, cooperate, sacrifice."

He compares vacuous appeals of liberal thinking to that of Mark Rudd, the leader of the radicals who seized an administration building at Columbia University during riots in the '60s. "We got a good thing going here," Rudd cried. "Now we've got to find out what it is."

The title of Mamet's book is meant as ironic -- there is no secret knowledge, except the recognition that the federal government in its expanding power is "the zoning board writ large." Mamet's new-found hero is Friedrich Hayek, who observed that man is limited and government should be, too.

Good intentions lead to unintended consequences, whether in urban renewal, affirmative action, welfare or busing. His most scathing criticism lands on liberal education, which he regards as indoctrination in identity politics, with students drugged with self-indulgence. He passionately defends patriotism, tradition, the family (rather than the diluted "family values") and the Bible.

This is a big mess of a book, spontaneous and contemplative, wild and earnest, ferociously eloquent and pugnaciously persuasive, filled with free association, dashes of hyperbole and overwrought arguments posed in angry and edgy Mametspeak. He closes with a remark by his son, offered as something calmer with the clarity of simplicity, on the difference between liberal and conservative: "Then basically, it's the difference between the heavenly dream and the God-awful reality." How true.

4e)USA RSS Feed US Costs for Libya Soaring, Report Finds
A memo obtained by the Financial Times says the U.S. military effort in Libya is costing hundreds of millions of dollars more than first estimated.

The Pentagon memo, which the newspaper says was given to some U.S. lawmakers, says the military is spending $2 million a day on air strikes, refueling operations and intelligence gathering missions. That adds up to a cost of $60 million a month.

Earlier estimates from the Defense Department said the U.S. was spending about $40 million a month on its Libyan operations.

The Financial Times says U.S. military operations in Libya could cost Washington almost $300 million more than the Pentagon anticipated.

The increased costs are a concern for the U.S. military because the money comes from its normal budget. Funding for the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq come from separate, supplemental budgets.

NATO has been leading the air campaign against the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Ghadhafi. Earlier this week, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged five key military allies to assume a greater role in the effort.

Last month, Gates said the total cost for U.S. operations in Libya had reached $750 million.

4f)Hillary Clinton Confident that Gadhafi's Days Are 'Numbered' Secretary of State Hillary

Clinton says Col. Moammar Gadhafi's days as Libya's leader "are numbered" and his aides are working behind the scenes with other countries to facilitate his departure from power.

America's top envoy made the declaration at a donors meeting in Abu Dhabi as nations sympathetic to the cause of anti-Gadhafi rebels pledged $1.3 billion in assistance.

The U.S. contribution to date has been $81 million. That includes the $26.5 million in humanitarian assistance pledged Thursday.

While appreciative of the donations, opposition leaders contend there's a big difference about what's been pledged and the actual money received by rebels in their desperate fight to drive Gadhafi from power.

NATO first established a no-fly zone over Libya in late March and has lately stepped up attacks on Gadhafi's compound in Libya and other strategic targets.

Clinton praised NATO's commitment to extend the mission 90 days past the end of June, saying, "We're pleased to receive British and French troops to our arsenal, all bravely standing against Libyan forces, which are unfortunately renewing their assaults."

Still, she said that, "We have good reasons to believe that time is on our side so long as we can sustain pressure."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

4g)Syria forces kill at least 21 in protests after Friday prayers, activists say
Anti-Assad protests hit more cities despite army crackdown; some 2,800 Syrians flee Jisr al-Shughour area into Turkey.
By Reuters

Syrian activists say at least 21 people have been killed in protests and army operations across Syria, half of them in the north, in a widening military crackdown on popular unrest that has sent thousands of civilians fleeing into Turkey this week.

The Local Coordination Committees, a group that documents anti-government protests in Syria, says 10 of the deaths occurred Friday in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The group says many of the casualties occurred when Syrian tanks shelled Maaret al-Numan, a town in Idlib. Syria's state-run television says gunmen opened fire on police stations in Maaret al-Numan, causing casualties among security officials.

The Syrian army also swept in on the northwest border town of Jisr al-Shughour to seize "armed" opponents, state television said, as tens of thousands of people marched anew around Syria despite Bashar al-Assad's increasing resort to armed repression.

"Long live Syria, down with Bashar Assad!" protesters shouted in many of the rallies staged after Friday prayers across the country of 20 million.

Security forces shot dead at least two demonstrators taking part in a rally in the Qaboun district of the capital Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Some troops fired from rooftops at marchers, activists said.

Residents said government forces also killed two protesters in the village of Busra al-Harir in the southern Hauran plain and also fired on thousands defying a heavy security presence in
the southern city of Daraa, fount of the three-month-old revolt that seeks the removal of authoritarian President Assad.

"There was a demonstration of 1,000 people when security police fired from their cars," a Busra al-Harir resident said, giving the names of the dead as Abdelmuttaleb al-Hariri and Adnan al-Hariri. The latter was an amputee, residents said.

However, state television said unidentified gunmen killed a member of the security forces and a civilian in Busra al-Harir.

Syria has barred most independent media from the country, making it difficult to verify accounts of the bloodshed.

Witnesses told Reuters by telephone that some of the protesters shot by security forces in Daraa -- including two who were hit in the head and chest -- were hurriedly carried by youths to a nearby makeshift clinic.

Almost 3,000 Syrian civilians have fled cross the northwest border into Turkey, Turkish officials said Jisr al-Shughour largely emptied of people in the face of a looming military
operation following clashes earlier this week.

A Turkish newspaper said Ankara was looking into creating a buffer zone along the border as a contingency if hundreds of thousands of Syrians wound up fleeing the military campaign to stamp out protests against 41 years of Assad family domination.

Syrian authorities said that "armed gangs" killed more than 120 security personnel in Jisr al-Shughour, a town of 50,000.

Mutiny within security forces?

But rights campaigners said scores of civilians were killed after some soldiers refused to shoot at protesters and fighting broke out between loyalist and mutinous forces.

Human rights activists aired a YouTube video purporting to be from Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Armoush saying he had defected with several soldiers to "join the ranks of the masses demanding freedom and democracy.

"We had sworn in the armed forces to direct our fire at the enemy and not on our own defenseless people. Our duty is to protect citizens and not to kill them," he said in the video, whose authenticity could not be immediately verified.

Fifty-seven Syrians from Jisr al-Shughour were in hospital in Turkey, its state-run Anatolian news agency said on Friday.

The border area, like other protest hotspots, is prone to tension between majority Sunni Muslims and Assad's Alawite sect, which dominates the Syrian power elite. The Jisr al-Shughour violence may hint at divisions within security forces, where commanders are mainly Alawite and conscripts Sunni, that would increase the risk of Syria descending into civil war.

Demonstrators demanding the "downfall of the regime" and chanting slogans in support of compatriots in Jisr al-Shughour took to the streets in the oil-producing eastern province of
Deir al-Zor, the central cities of Hama and Homs, the main Mediterranean port of Latakia and the Tabaqa region on the Euphrates River in Raqqa province, activists and residents said.

Tens of thousands of people marched unchallenged in Hama, they said, well above the turnout of the previous Friday when security forces killed at least 70 protesters.

Protests were also reported in five Damascus suburbs, Syria's second largest city Aleppo and Maarat al-Numan near Jisr al-Shughour, but their size was not immediately clear.

In a report on developments in Jisr al-Shughour, a state television announcer said that "in response to people's calls, units from the Syrian Arabic Army started its duties ... to
arrest armed members".

Inhabitants said at least 15,000 troops along with some 40 tanks and troop carriers had deployed near Jisr al-Shughour, and that the area had largely emptied of civilians.

"Jisr al-Shughour is practically empty. People were not going to sit and be slaughtered like lambs," said one refugee who crossed on Wednesday and who gave his name as Mohammad.

Residents said troops and armoured vehicles heading for the town had stormed Sarmaniya village, 10 km (six miles) south of Jisr al-Shughour, and cut off the region's communications.

"They began as usual by firing heavy machineguns into the village. But the people of Sarmaniya had mostly left. Hundreds of troops and security forces have defected in the last several days. They (pro-Assad forces) might be thinking that they will find some in Sarmaniya," said the witness, who was speaking by phone from the outskirts of Jisr al-Shughour.

Red Cross call for access

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged Syria to allow its aid workers wider access to the civilian population without further delay, including people who have been wounded or detained in the military clampdown on public dissent.

Rights groups say over 1,100 civilians have been killed since March in the revolt to press demands for more political freedoms and an end to corruption and poverty.

The latest reports of Assad's military campaign against protesters intensified international concerns over his handling of popular pressure for democratization inspired by uprisings against entrenched autocrats elsewhere in the Arab world.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday the legitimacy of Assad's rule was open to question. "I would say the slaughter of innocent lives in Syria should be a problem and a concern for everybody," Gates told a seminar in Brussels.

"Whether Assad still has the legitimacy to govern his own country, I think is a question everyone needs to consider."

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal have asked the UN Security Council to condemn Assad, although veto-wielding Russia has said it would oppose such a move.

World powers have shown no appetite for any Libya-style military intervention in Syria because it sits on a major fault line of Middle East conflict, allied with Iran against nearby
Israel. The Syrian leadership has shrugged off mild punitive sanctions imposed so far, and verbal reprimands from abroad.

Wounded Syrians on Turkish side of border

On the Turkish side of the frontier on Friday, a Reuters news team saw three Syrians lying wounded on the ground as ambulances arrived to collect them. Turkish minibuses were collecting other Syrians and taking them to a nearby camp.

Anatolian news agency said the number of Syrians seeking refuge across the border had reached 2,792, with more crossing the hilly, wooded frontier on Friday.

At the Yayladagi refugee camp, nestled in a scenic valley close to the Syrian frontier, children played football while families sat talking under trees sheltering them from the baking Middle East summer sun. Police kept journalists away.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan reiterated on Thursday that Turkey would keep its gates open to people from Syria. But he complained that Damascus was taking the issue "very lightly" and Ankara could not defend its "inhumane" reply to the unrest.

Assad, 45, has promised reforms, even while cracking down on unrest posing the gravest threat to his 11 years of iron rule

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