Thursday, October 7, 2010

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie Endorses Bob Ehrlich

New Jersey Gov. and GOP superstar Chris Christie is joining former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich on the campaign trail this week, bringing what Ehrlich hopes will be a major boost to his effort to unseat Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Christie's brash, no-nonsense governing style has caught national attention since he won the governorship in 2009. His endorsement comes at a critical time in the Maryland governor's race, campaign analysts say. Recent polls show Ehrlich slipping slightly behind O'Malley in a state that is heavily Democratic.

"[Christie] is a huge star," said GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant. "His proposals to reform government in New Jersey is the type of leadership voters want to see everywhere. That's why he is in big demand across the country this fall."

Christie defeated Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine last year and inherited an $11 billion deficit, as well as one of the nation's most underfunded pension systems.

Since taking office, Christie has identified more than $2 billion in unspent funds, forced schoolteachers to pay for their health care benefits and slashed state spending by $3 billion without raising taxes.

"It's not unlike what the next governor of Maryland will face," said James Gimpel, a politics professor at the University of Maryland. He said Christie's governing style can "appear brash," but "there's a real truth to it" that will appeal to some Marylanders who feel fatigued by taxes and big government.
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Netanyahu, Abbas and the legitimacy deficit

Shlomo Ben-Ami

The Palestinian president is too weak and compromised to accept any final settlement with which Netanyahu can live

Palestinian president Yasser Arafat shakes hands with with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 2004. Photograph: Avi Ohayon/EPA

Since its inception in Oslo almost two decades ago, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been stymied by the dysfunctional political systems of both sides. Hostage of an impossible coalition and of a settlement movement of freelance fanatics, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's leadership is seriously compromised. His Palestinian counterparts are hardly in a better position.Today, the clique that surrounds Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas embodies the bitter deception that the peace process has meant for the Palestinians. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority has come neither to represent the majority of Palestinians nor to rule by democratic means.

Abbas's presidential term has expired, and elections are constantly being postponed. The PA's prime minister, Salam Fayyad, like his Hamas counterparts in Gaza, rules by decree, keeps parliament inactive, and silences the opposition. With no institutionalised democratic legitimacy, the PA is bound to rely on its security forces and on those of the occupier, Israel, to enforce its will.

Of course, throughout history, national liberation movements have had to marginalise their own radicals and fanatics in order to reach the Promised Land. This was true of Zionism, of the Italian Risorgimento, and most recently of the Catholics in Northern Ireland. But never did the outcast faction actually represent the democratically elected majority. A peace process conceived as a means to weaken and isolate the winners of an election – Hamas – is unlikely to gain much traction.

Like George W Bush, President Barack Obama confines his diplomatic engagement largely to friends rather than adversaries. This, more than anything else, explains the growing disconnection between Arab public opinion and the Obama administration.

The assumption – dear to the architects of the current process – that peace can be achieved by driving a wedge between "moderates" and "extremists" is a fatal misconception. The paradox here is double. Not only does one negotiate with the illegitimate "moderates", but it is precisely because of their legitimacy deficit that the moderates are forced to be unyielding on core issues, lest the radicals label them treasonous.

The Palestinian negotiators' dangerous lack of legitimacy – and, indeed, the disorientation of the entire Palestinian national movement – is reflected in the return of the PLO to its pre-Arafat days, when it was the tool of Arab regimes instead of an autonomous movement. The green light was given to the current negotiators by the Arab League, not by the elected representatives of the Palestinian people.

Obama's endorsement of Netanyahu's claim that if Israel is recognised as a Jewish state and its security needs accepted, "I will surprise, and the sky is the limit," has made the current process possible. But maximal security – for example, an insufferably long timetable for withdrawal, unreasonable territorial demands wrapped up as security needs, an Israeli presence in the Jordan valley, and full control of Palestinian airspace and the electromagnetic spectrum – would inevitably clash with Palestinians' view of what sovereignty entails.

For Netanyahu, the creation of a Palestinian state means the end of conflict and the finality of claims. By reopening Israel's demand to be recognised as the state of the Jewish people, he is forcing the Palestinians to insist even more on the constituent issues of the conflict, first and foremost on the so-called "right of return" of Palestinians who fled or were driven out after Israeli independence in 1948.

Abbas is too weak and compromised to accept any final settlement with which Netanyahu can live. Arafat set the standard as to what is acceptable and what is not, and Abbas cannot allow himself the luxury of deviating from it. As he admitted in a recent interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds, if pressured to concede on sacred Palestinian principles such as refugees, Jerusalem and borders, he would "pack his suitcase and go away".

It is not impossible that with Hamas in the picture, an agreement could end the occupation, if not the conflict. In other words, such a process would deal with the issues of 1967 – defining a border (including Jerusalem), withdrawing and dismantling settlements, putting in place security arrangements, and the Palestinians' assumption of full governance responsibility – while shelving for the future those of 1948.

Hamas is a far more convenient partner for such a settlement than the PLO. Oddly, Hamas and Israel might have more common ground than Israel and the PLO. Israel wants an end to the conflict but is incapable of paying the price, whereas Hamas can better reconcile its ideology with a peace agreement with Israel if it is not defined as final.

The end of the conflict, like the requirement that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state, is a concept that has unnecessarily acquired mythical meaning. Instead of insisting on what the Palestinians cannot give, Israel should focus on what is essential: the international legitimacy of its borders. United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947 has already recognised Israel as a Jewish state. And even if Palestinian negotiators agreed to end the conflict once and for all, the chances that all Palestinian factions would abide by such a settlement are nil.

Whatever route is taken, the great question today concerns the enigma that is Bibi Netanyahu, a would-be Churchill who believes that his mission is to thwart the designs of Iran's evil new Shia empire, something that requires the goodwill of the international community, and particularly of the Obama administration. It is not entirely far-fetched to assume that Netanyahu finally calculated that if he wants more room to manoeuvre to deal with Iran, he must participate in the peace process with the Palestinians.

But, in that case, Iranian quiescence, not peaceful relations with an independent Palestine, might be Bibi's true objective.

• Copyright Project Syndicate, 2010.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu ends public career at 79

A wonderful man; we were lucky to have known him.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is stepping down from public life, as he celebrates his 79th birthday.
The man described as the "conscience" of South Africa was a prominent voice during the country's struggle against white minority rule.
He has since been the voice of reconciliation in a number of regional conflicts.
But the Nobel Peace prize winner says he wants to spend more time with his family and watching cricket.
He also says he wants to make way for a new generation of leaders.
BBC Southern Africa correspondent Karen Allen says Archbishop Tutu is a man widely considered as a moral compass in South Africa, admired for his integrity and adored for his infectious laugh.
As a young cleric back in the 1970s, he was a vocal critic of the apartheid regime.
In the mid-1980s, when South Africa was still under white minority rule, he campaigned in the townships - on one occasion famously wading into the frontline to call for calm when a mob tried to lynch a suspected undercover policeman.

Number of Unemployment Claims Dropped Last Week

labor departmentThe number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell last week by 11,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 445,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It is the fourth time in five weeks that number has declined.

According to the Associated Press, the number of filings was the lowest since the week of July 10 and signals a decline in the number of layoffs nationwide.

The four-week average of new claims, which is considered a better measure because it helps smooth volatility, fell for the sixth straight week to 455,750.

The total number of people receiving unemployment benefits fell by 48,000 to 4.46 million. However, that doesn’t include millions of people that are receiving benefits under extended programs previously approved by Congress, the AP reports.

Roy Halladay Is Good At Baseball

roy halladay
The Philadelphia Phillies put together a strong opening to their postseason; they scored four runs in the first two innings against a young Cincinnati Reds team. Oh yeah, and their ace Roy Halladay threw the second no-hitter in playoff history. It was Halladay’s first start in any playoff series.
“It’s surreal, it really is,” Halladay said. “I just wanted to pitch here, to pitch in the postseason. To go out and have a game like that, it’s a dream come true.”
Don Larsen is the only other pitcher to throw a postseason no-hitter. He tossed a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The 54th anniversary of Larsen’s gem is this Friday. –Y! Sports.
More baseball: The Yankees came back to beat the Twins and somehow the Rangers got past the Rays for 1-0 leads in those respective series, the latter of which I find surprising. But one would be foolish to overlook a team whose manager says he only did cocaine once and somehow got everyone to believe him. The layers of magic involved in that are almost unquantifiable.

New York City Tries To Stop People From Using Food Stamps On Soda

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't want people getting fat off of government aid, so he's trying to make soda and other sugary drinks ineligible for Food Stamp purchases.

The New York Times reports Bloomberg asked the United States Department of Agriculture to let the city ban its 1.7 million food stamp users from getting their soft drink on with Coke and its dastardly cousins.
The mayor has gone after soda before, having attempted to coax the state to tax sugary beverages.

How far do you think the government should go to restrict food stamp use?
New York Asks to Bar Use of Food Stamps to Buy Sodas [The New York Times]

White House Covered Up Dramatic Gulf Spill Figures “From Day One”

We finally know exactly what it was that the White House was doing “from day one” on the Gulf Oil spill. They were covering their own asses:
White House officials may have blocked the release of a more accurate and dramatic estimate of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, perhaps hindering public confidence in the Obama administration’s cleanup efforts, according to an Oil Spill Commission staff report released Wednesday.
The report says that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wanted to make some of its worst-case scenarios for the BP spill available to the public shortly after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig but was overruled by the White House Office of Management and Budget…
“By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem,� the report states.
Politically, this isn’t much of a surprise. It has been clear for months that they administrations was trying to make this problem go away out of sight of the prying eyes of the media. Still, it’s worth noting how bald they were in deceiving the public about the seriousness of the disaster. Remember, this is the most transparent administration, ever!

By John

TODAY: Supreme Court Hears Westboro Baptist Church Free Speech Case

The Westboro Baptist Church picketed the White House yesterday in advance of their appearance before the Supreme Court today where the father of a slain U.S. Marine is asking that his $5M judgment against the Phelps family be reinstated.
Albert Snyder, of York, Pa., took legal action after church members picketed the funeral of his son. "My son and the hundreds of thousands of other men and women who have died for this country worked too hard to preserve our freedom of speech than to have it mocked and cowardly stood behind like this church does," Snyder said. The church members claim America's acceptance of homosexuality and abortion are some of the reasons for all of its problems. In 2006, church members demonstrated at Matthew Snyder's funeral. His father sued and in 2007, a jury ordered the church to pay $11 million US. That penalty was later reduced to $5 million. The verdict and penalty were later overturned on appeal.
Westboro is being represented by the ACLU. If you can bear it, Megan Phelps is live-tweeting the proceedings.

UPDATE: JMG reader Meredith sends us the below live-shot from outside the court.

Toni Braxton Files for Bankruptcy Again

Toni Braxton
It’s just another sad love song for Toni Braxton. The R&B diva has filed for bankruptcy for a second time.

According to TMZ, the Grammy-winning songstress has declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in California, claiming that she owes between $10 million and $50 million in unpaid debts. In the documents, Braxton states that she’s worth between $1 million and $10 million, but her debts may total up to $50 million.

Among the creditors she owes money to are AT&T, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, DirecTV, Neiman Marcus, William Morris Agency, Tiffany & Co., Orkin Pest Control, Internal Revenue Service, and BMW Financial Services.

Braxton also reportedly owes money to the City of L.A. Parking Violations Bureau and the DMV in California and Nevada, where she headlined a Las Vegas show for nearly two years.

This is not the mother of two’s first time filing for bankruptcy. Her financial problems were aired out in 1998, and earlier this year, the IRS filed a lien against her for $396,000.

Braxton pulled out of her Vegas show in April 2008 due to heart problems and later appeared on “Dancing with the Stars.” She released her sixth studio album Pulse on Atlantic Records earlier this year.