.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Cracker Squire


My Photo
Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Schumer offers flawed solution to gridlock - Of California's two reforms, it was the nonpartisan redistricting, not the jungle primary, that returned the state to governability.

n The Washington Post:

Would the dysfunction of U.S. politics be dispelled if we got rid of partisan primaries? That’s the contention of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). In an op-ed for the New York Times, Schumer argued that the primary system in most states, in which voters choose nominees for their respective parties who then run head to head in November, gives too much weight to the party faithful, who are inclined to select candidates who veer either far right or far left. The cure Schumer proposes for this ill is the “jungle primary,” in which all primary candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot, with the top two finishers, again regardless of party, advancing to the general election.

The senator cites the example of California — once the most gridlocked of states, now a place where legislation actually gets enacted — as proof that such primaries work. But Schumer misunderstands what got California working again. In so doing, he also misses the fatal flaws of the jungle primary.

Before 2010, California government was inarguably paralyzed. State law required a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature to pass a budget and raise taxes. Divided after the 2008 financial crash between Democrats who wanted to avoid draconian cutbacks and Republicans opposed to tax increases, budgets went unpassed. Support for colleges, health care and infrastructure plummeted, and the state was briefly compelled to pay its employees and contractors with IOUs.

In 2010, however, voters enacted a series of ballot initiatives that brought an end to Sacramento’s stagnation. They repealed the requirement that budgets needed a two-thirds vote for passage; no budget deliberations have exceeded the legal deadline since. They took redistricting for both congressional and legislative seats out of the hands of the legislature and handed it to a nonpartisan commission. And they enacted the jungle primary.

Of the two latter reforms, it was the nonpartisan redistricting, not the jungle primary, that returned the state to governability. The new districts, which were put in place in time for the 2012 election, no longer were carved to protect incumbents of either party. The effect of these changes, beyond eliminating some incumbents of both parties, was to create districts in which the rising number of Latino and Asian voters across the state gave the Democrats an edge — so much so that the party won a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses, enabling state government to raise revenue again.

And what has the jungle primary accomplished? Its adherents had hoped that, in heavily conservative districts where the top two primary finishers were both Republicans, the more centrist of the two would win the November runoff by corralling more Democratic and independent votes. So far, however, that hasn’t happened. Democrats representing more centrist districts, generally in inland California, do tend to be less liberal, but that was the case long before the jungle primary came into effect.

The jungle primary has had one stunningly perverse effect, however. In a new congressional district east of Los Angeles, Democratic voters had a clear majority — so clear that four Democratic candidates and two Republicans sought the seat in the 2012 primary. Democratic votes split four ways, enabling the two Republicans to advance to November’s ballot. The eventual winner, Gary Miller, chose not to run for reelection this year — understandably, since his record in no way reflected the desires of most district voters.

A weird one-off result? This June, three Democrats and two Republicans sought the statewide office of controller. More Democrats than Republicans tend to file for statewide office in California, and for good reason: The GOP is in free-fall in the state; its share of registered voters has dropped beneath 30 percent; just one Republican (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been elected to any of California’s 10 statewide offices in the past 20 years. But since Democrats split their votes three ways for the controller’s slot and Republicans just two, a shift of less than 2 percent of the vote would have saddled voters with a Republican-vs.-Republican runoff.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Democrat Jerry Brown, almost certain to be reelected this November, will be term-limited out of the governor’s office. More Democrats than Republicans will surely line up to succeed him. But under the jungle rules, even though it’s all but certain that the Democratic candidates will collectively aggregate more support, it’s a distinct possibility that two Republicans will face off in November.

This is your solution, senator? Think again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hamas Gambled on War as Its Woes Grew in Gaza

From The New York Times:

GAZA CITY — When war between Israel and Hamas broke out two weeks ago, the Palestinian militant group was so hamstrung, politically, economically and diplomatically, that its leaders appeared to feel they had nothing to lose.

Hamas took what some here call “option zero,” gambling that it could shift the balance with its trump cards: its arms and militants.

Now, this conflict has demonstrated that while Hamas governed over 1.7 million people mired in poverty, its leaders were pouring resources into its military and expanding its ability to fight Israel. If it can turn that improved military prowess into concessions, like opening the border with Egypt, that may boost its standing among the people of Gaza — although at an extraordinarily high cost in deaths and destruction.
“There were low expectations in terms of its performance against the recent round of Israeli incursions. It’s been exceeding all expectations,” said Abdullah Al-Arian, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar who is currently in Washington. “And it’s likely to come out in a far better position than in the last three years, and maybe the last decade.”
Hamas had been struggling. The turmoil in the region meant it lost one of its main sponsors, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom it broke with over his brutal fight against a Sunni Muslim-led insurgency, and weakened its alliance with Iran. It lost support in Egypt when the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted and replaced with a military-backed government hostile to Hamas.
Unemployment in Gaza is around 50 percent, having risen steeply since Israel pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005 and severely tightened border restrictions.
Hamas appeared powerless to end the near-blockade of its border by Israel and more recently Egypt. It could not even pay its 40,000 government workers their salaries.
The group was so handicapped that it agreed to enter into a pact with its rival party, Fatah, to form a new government. But that seemed only to make matters worse, sowing division within its own ranks, with some in the military wing angry at the concession, while providing none of the economic relief Hamas had hoped for.
When Hamas sent a barrage of rockets into Israel, simmering hostilities, and back and forth strikes, erupted into war.
At first, when Hamas rockets were being intercepted mainly by Israel’s Iron Dome system as Israel hit Gaza with devastating force, the group strove to persuade its supporters that it was having enough impact on Israel to wrest concessions: Its radio stations blared fictional reports about Israeli casualties.
But as it wore on, the conflict revealed that Hamas’s secret tunnel network leading into Israel was far more extensive, and sophisticated, than previously known. It also was able to inflict some pain on Israel, allowing Hamas to declare success even as it drew a devastating and crushing response. Its fighters were able to infiltrate Israel multiple times during an intensive Israeli ground invasion. Its militants have killed at least 27 Israeli soldiers and claim to have captured an Israeli soldier who was reported missing in battle, a potentially key bargaining chip.
And on Tuesday its rockets struck a blow to Israel — psychological and economic — by forcing a halt in international flights. Hamas once again looks strong in the eyes of its supporters, and has shown an increasingly hostile region that it remains a force to be reckoned with.
Hamas, Mr. Arian said, has demonstrated that “as a movement, it is simply not going anywhere.”
But Hamas’s gains could be short-lived if it does not deliver Gazans a better life. Israel says its severe restrictions on what can be brought into Gaza, such as construction materials, are needed because Hamas poses a serious security threat, and the discovery of the tunnels has served only to validate that concern.
So far, at least 620 Palestinians have died, around 75 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations, including more than 100 children. Gazans did not get a vote when Hamas chose to escalate conflict, nor did they when Hamas selected areas near their homes, schools and mosques to fire rockets from the densely populated strip. At the family house of four boys killed last week by an Israeli strike while playing on a beach, some wailing women cursed Hamas along with Israel.
“It comes at an exceptionally high price,” said Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. “When the bombs stop and the dust settles, people might have different calculations about cost-benefit.”
It is also unclear whether, when the fighting ends, Hamas will have the same kind of foreign support it has had in the past to rebuild its arsenal or its infrastructure; Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has destroyed hundreds of the tunnels that were used to bring in arms, money and supplies, and has kept the proper border crossing mostly closed. There are also some diplomatic efforts underway seeking to force Hamas to surrender its weapons in exchange for a cease-fire, a demand it is not likely to accept.

Omar Shaban, an economist and political independent, sat in his walled garden in the southern Gaza town of Deir al-Balah as shells crackled nearby and said he fervently hoped, but also doubted, that both Hamas and Israel’s government would reach for a substantive deal.

“This war will end tomorrow or after tomorrow, we will have another cease-fire, we will have another siege and Hamas will continue to run the scene,” he said.
“Gaza is a big problem for everybody, for Hamas, for Fatah, for Israel,” he added, ticking off the list: shortages of water, housing and medicine, a population explosion, growing extremism.
In exchange for a cease-fire, Hamas is demanding Israel and Egypt open their borders to end the restrictions on the movement of people and goods — the most immediate issue for ordinary Gazans. It is also asking for the release of prisoners — but avoiding the deeper political issues of the conflict.
Mr. Shaban said that Hamas, confronted in recent years with the often conflicting requirements of its roles as an armed resistance group and a governing party, for once was “being clever enough to demand conditions that are in touch with the people. The people are realistic.”
Bassem Naim, a member of Hamas’s political wing and a former health minister in Gaza, acknowledged that relations have soured with Iran and the Arab world, but said that it could survive.
“I can’t deny the difficulty,” he said in a recent interview. “But Hamas was active and operating here inside the country before the Muslim Brotherhood was in the presidential palace” in Egypt.
Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, but an international boycott prevented it from governing. It returned to power in Gaza in 2007 after ousting the Fatah-led government by force.
Hamas overreached, Mr. Shaban said, more than doubling Gaza’s administrative budget to more than $800 million — not including the financing of the militant Izzedine al-Qassam brigades.
But as the recent fight with Israel has revealed, Hamas was importing tons of cement — desperately needed for Gazan schools and houses and construction jobs — to reinforce the tunnels it built to infiltrate Israel and hide its weapons.
“They have different priorities,” Mr. Shaban said of the military wing. “Don’t send rockets while we don’t have milk for our children.”

But, he added, “do we stop struggling with Israel? I believe in peace, a two-state solution, I never liked conflict. But Israel did not leave us anything. What Hamas is doing is partially supported by the people.”

Recount looks likely in Republican superintendent race

From the AJC:

Either Woods or Buck would take on Valarie Wilson in the general election this fall. Wilson, the former chairwoman of the City Schools of Decatur school board, defeated state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, in the Democratic runoff Tuesday.

Morgan, who has served in the House for a dozen years, was a favorite on the Democratic side from the moment she entered the race. But her support for a 2012 constitutional amendment that clarified the state’s authority to create charter schools angered many in her party.

While that amendment was approved by voters, Democratic officials who had opposed it didn’t forget that Morgan had allied herself with conservative Republicans in that fight. Much of the party apparatus backed Wilson in the primary and the runoff.

A Woods win over Buck could expose fissures in the GOP this fall. Woods opposes the controversial set of national academic standards known as Common Core. That stance holds him in good standing with tea party activists, who share his view of the standards as a federal intrusion into state control of public education.

But business and military groups – not to mention top Republicans like Gov. Nathan Deal – support the standards. An effort in the General Assembly to essentially pull Georgia out of the Common Core was defeated this year – but not before a bitter fight that left many tea party activists angry with the GOP.

Buck said the passionate opponents of Common Core contributed to Woods’ strong showing on Tuesday.

“I thought it would be close,” he said. “Obviously, his position on Common Core appeals to a certain group. That group is very likely to show up en masse. To their credit, they showed up at the polls. I fully anticipated it would be close.”

Some good reporting: 5 reasons David Perdue shocked Georgia’s political world to win GOP Senate nod

Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy write in the AJC's Political Insider:

David Perdue’s stunning victory over Rep. Jack Kingston was both a rebuke to Georgia’s political establishment and a reminder that November will be a very unconventional race. Here are five factors that played into Perdue’s upset victory:

Metro Atlanta’s Perdue support offset south Georgia’s Kingston backing. While Kingston held onto his big margins in south Georgia, Perdue more than wiped him out with big showings in populous metro Atlanta and other urban areas across the state. Perdue’s camp was ecstatic that Kingston’s net margin over Perdue in Savannah’s Chatham County was 12,000 – close to what they expected. If Kingston landed the same vote totals in coastal Georgia he tallied during the May primary, he’d be waking up to a different headline today.

A slow windup and powerful close. Perdue’s camp went up with its infamous “Babies” TV ads early in the primary to define the race. But in the nine-week runoff – the longest in state history – they largely held their fire until the final weeks before the contest. Perdue’s aides said that helped them refuel and better target Kingston. As we’ve noted, Perdue and his allies were vastly outspent by Kingston in metro Atlanta, but spent far more than him elsewhere in the state.

An effective grassroots network. Perdue advisers said it never got much media attention, but they built a formidable network of activists across the state who tapped an anti-incumbent streak to boost their candidate. That foundation is still intact, they say, and will come in handy against Nunn.

The Chamber was both boon and burden. The closing days back-and-forth involved the U.S. Chamber’s heavy investment in the race on Kingston’s behalf, with a flood of positive ads (and a last-minute negative that few voters likely saw). Perdue used it as evidence that Kingston secretly supported “amnesty.” Talk radio host Erick Erickson tweeted that he had trouble convincing many friends to vote Kingston because of the Chamber’s backing.

Very few people like Congress. Kingston had to own 22 years in Congress. As he put it Tuesday: “You know, people are very frustrated with Washington, D.C. and I think that was a big hurdle. And my opponent capitalized on that – as he should.”

And from The Wall Street Journal:

David Perdue Edges Out Jack Kingston in GOP Senate Runoff in Georgia - Businessman to Take On Democrat Michelle Nunn in November

ATLANTA—Multimillionaire businessman David Perdue seized the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Georgia on Tuesday night, and must now pivot toward the November general election that could help decide whether Democrats maintain control of the chamber.

Mr. Perdue won the runoff with about 51% of the vote, with nearly all precincts reporting, with his biggest support in Atlanta's affluent northern suburbs. He edged out U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who ran strongest in his Savannah district and southeastern Georgia.

Mr. Perdue, the 64-year-old former chief executive of Dollar General Corp., faces Michelle Nunn, 47, a daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn who is running as a centrist Democrat.

The GOP primary runoff lasted an unusually long and testy nine weeks, the result of a shift in federal election timetables in Georgia.

Both Republicans had scored endorsements from well-known Georgians. Mr. Kingston had the backing of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Erick Erickson, who produces the influential Red State blog. Mr. Perdue had help from his cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, and former presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

Mr. Perdue's supporters said they liked his experience in business and his relative inexperience in politics. "He can't solve [our problems] but he can be the beginning of the solution," said Brannon Lesesne, a 75-year-old investment counselor from suburban Atlanta.

The victory of Mr. Perdue was a blow to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent at least $2.3 million on campaign ads backing his opponent. The business lobby liked that Mr. Kingston, an 11-term congressman, has pushed hard for federal funding to deepen the Savannah, Ga., harbor to expand capacity for trade.

The prolonged fight has given Ms. Nunn the chance to raise money and use her advertising budget to talk about her experience running the Points of Light Foundation Inc., a charity promoting volunteerism that was founded by former Republican President George H.W. Bush. Ms. Nunn has raised about $9.3 million, according to her campaign. Outside groups also will spend millions on both sides.

As of July 2, Mr. Perdue's campaign raised $5.8 million—$3.2 million from the candidate himself—and spent $5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks election contributions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why Putin Is Willing to Take Big Risks in Ukraine - A Look at Differing Fates of Poland, Ukraine Gives Clues

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

To understand what Vladimir Putin is really up to in Ukraine—why he is willing to take the kinds of risks that produced the destruction of a civilian airliner, and why the U.S. and its allies should see his power play as an effort to alter not just the arc of Ukraine but all of Europe—it's necessary to look at the tale of two countries.

The first is Poland, a country of 38 million. After the end of the Cold War, this former Warsaw Pact nation turned westward. It almost immediately sought membership in the European Union and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999. After modernizing its economy, it officially became part of the EU in 2004.

Next door to Poland lies Ukraine, a country of 44 million. After the end of the Cold War, this former Soviet satellite didn't turn west but rather stayed focused on its traditional relationship with Russia to the east.
What has happened to these two neighbors in the quarter-century since the Berlin Wall fell? In a nutshell, they have moved in opposite directions.
Poland, the country that integrated itself into the Western economy, has grown almost twice as fast as Ukraine. Last year, its growth rate was three times larger. Though it's the slightly smaller of the two neighbors, Poland now has a gross domestic product more than twice the size of Ukraine's. It has only half the share of its population living under the poverty line as does Ukraine.
This is the contrast that must scare Mr. Putin. It also is the one that set off alarm bells when Ukraine, emulating neighboring Poland, began to pivot westward earlier this year. To allow that turn to happen, in the most important of Russian satellites, would have been the end of any near-term dreams of rebuilding a Russian empire.
In short, the goal of re-creating a Russian sphere of influence was colliding head-on with the spread of a Westernized, EU model for Europe, which was seeping toward Russia's doorstep. Mr. Putin faced a historic choice: swim with the tide or try to turn it. He chose the latter.
"I think [Russia's] goal is a weak and divided Ukraine, and a bigger goal is a weak and divided Europe—a weak and divided EU," says Robert Hormats, under secretary of state in the first Obama term. Moreover, to the extent a country such as Poland prospers, he adds, "it creates a very, very stark contrast to the troubled economic prospects in Russia" itself.
Mr. Putin had to move quickly to reverse those trends, for he is at a moment of relative but passing strength. Today, Western Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas gives him some economic leverage. As Europe has gobbled up more of Mr. Putin's gas, EU trade with Russia has tripled in value over the last decade.
This Russian economic advantage doesn't figure to last; eventually, Europe will wean itself away from its dependence on Russian carbon fuels. But for now, Mr. Putin must have calculated, he could make his play in Ukraine and face a muted Western response.
And if that was his calculation, he was mostly correct. Business interests, not just in Europe but in the U.S., have resisted toughening economic sanctions. Perhaps the downing of an airliner has changed that; we'll learn more at a meeting of EU leaders Tuesday.
This also explains why Poland looks with alarm at Russian bullying of Ukraine, and at the Western response so far. Poland knows from history that it is vulnerable to being yanked back toward the east, so it seeks more help from the Western club to which it now belongs.
"The crisis in Ukraine could have been prevented," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in an interview with German journalists published over the weekend. "Europe has done too little to influence Russia's behavior in the different stages of the conflict. When a Russian trade boycott against Ukraine was imposed last year to punish it for its European course, I pleaded with my colleagues to take action." If the West had moved then, he added, today's "escalation" probably would have been avoided.
If Poland is indeed the success story, it's a particularly troubling note for President Barack Obama that a Polish magazine last month quoted Mr. Sikorski as saying, in a leaked tape of a private conversation, that Poland's defense ties to the U.S. were "worthless."
In his weekend interview he was more diplomatic but still argued for more Western defense help to avoid Ukraine's fate. "The reality [is] that there are large [Western] military bases in countries that are safe. And there is a hesitation to build these bases in states that feel threatened."

End Partisan Primaries, Save America

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, was elected to the House in 1980 and to the Senate in 1998.

Sen. Schumer writes in The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — POLARIZATION and partisanship are a plague on American politics.

Political scientists have found that the two parties have each grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1970s. The Senate hasn’t been so polarized since Reconstruction; the House has not been so divided since around 1900. As measured by laws passed, the current Congress is on track to be among the least productive in our republic’s history.

How did this happen? One of the main causes has not gotten enough attention: the party primary system.

The reasons behind the shocking primary defeat last month of Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who was then leader of the Republican majority in the House, are still being debated, but there is no doubt that his defeat highlighted the pernicious effects of the predominant “winner-take-all” party primary system. Even in one of the country’s most Republican districts, Mr. Cantor was not conservative enough for the fairly small proportion of highly energized, ideologically driven voters who turned out for the primary. The partisan primary system, which favors more ideologically pure candidates, has contributed to the election of more extreme officeholders and increased political polarization. It has become a menace to governing.

From 10,000 feet, the structure of our electorate looks to be healthy, with perhaps a third of the potential voters who are left-leaning Democrats, a third who are right-leaning Republicans and a third who are independents in the middle.

But primaries poison the health of that system and warp its natural balance, because the vast majority of Americans don’t typically vote in primaries. Instead, it is the “third of the third” most to the right or most to the left who come out to vote — the 10 percent at each of the two extremes of the political spectrum. Making things worse, in most states, laws prohibit independents — who are not registered with either party and who make up a growing proportion of the electorate — from voting in primaries at all.

The phenomenon of primaries’ pulling people to the extremes seems more prevalent in the Republican Party, where centrists and moderates are increasingly rare, as a result of a combination of factors since the 1970s — the shift of Southern states toward Republican control, the mobilization of evangelical voters around social issues, anti-tax movements in California and elsewhere, and the rise of conservative talk radio and other news media. But the dynamic could easily expand to include the Democrats, who have at times been pulled too far to the left, for example on issues like crime and welfare’s excesses in the 1980s.

Two additional factors exacerbate the problem of party primaries. The first are the deep-pocketed interests that often lie at the extremes. The loosening of campaign finance restrictions by the Supreme Court has unleashed a flood of “independent” political spending by these special interests.

The second is the redistricting process. Technology has allowed parties that dominate their state legislatures to draw districts that will almost never elect a candidate of the opposing party. Each party maneuvers, once a decade, to manipulate the boundaries to its advantage. One of the reasons the Senate is, for all its flaws, still more moderate than the House is that there is no redistricting, since senators are elected statewide.

Primary election rules are not immutably ingrained in our politics. Before the McGovern-Fraser Commission — formed after the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, which was marred by conflict over the Vietnam War — primaries were not even a major component of electoral politics in most states. Both parties adopted many of the commission’s recommendations, which were intended to weaken the power of party bosses. But today, with the decline of party-machine power, the polarization that divides the parties seems a far greater threat than establishment “bosses.”
We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.
California, which probably mirrors the diversity of America more than any other state, was racked by polarization until voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that adopted a “top-two” primary system. The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern. Louisiana has used a similar system since the 1970s, and Washington State since 2008. Voters in Colorado and Oregon will consider proposals later this year.
If it works in these states, it can work in others. In late June, Senator Thad Cochran, a conservative Mississippi Republican, won a runoff primary over an even more conservative challenger, Chris McDaniel, with the support of Democrats, many of them African-American, who crossed over to vote for him.
While there are no guarantees, it seems likely that a top-two primary system would encourage more participation in primaries and undo tendencies toward default extremism. It would remove the incentive that pushes our politicians to kowtow to the factions of their party that are most driven by fear and anger. For those of us who are in despair over partisanship and polarization in Congress, reform of the primary system is a start.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leadership war stymies Senate mission

From The Washington Post:

The Senate went three months this spring without voting on a single legislative amendment, the nitty-gritty kind of work usually at the heart of congressional lawmaking. So few bills have been approved this year, and so little else has gotten done, that many senators say they are spending most of their time on insignificant and unrewarding work.

The big issues have been sidelined by political and procedural battles and an intensely personal war between the leadership offices.

Senators say that they increasingly feel like pawns caught between Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose deep personal and political antagonisms have almost immobilized the Senate.

The two men so distrust each other, and each is so determined to deny the other even the smallest political success, that their approach to running the Senate has been reduced to a campaign of mutually assured dysfunction.

If Reid allowed the free-flowing give-and-take that defined the Senate of the past, his endangered Democratic incumbents would be forced to vote on carefully crafted GOP amendments designed to hurt them in November. He refuses to do that.

If McConnell were to work with Reid to allow the Senate to function more smoothly and effectively, he would undermine a key component of the Republican campaign argument this fall: that Democrats have mismanaged the Senate and the GOP must take over.

Almost every week has the same rhythm: confirm appointees Monday night, consider a Democratic bill that will fail without any real debate, then confirm a few more nominees. By 2 p.m. each Thursday, most senators are en route to the airports. In June, senators cast 53 votes, but only seven were related to legislation; the rest were on nominations.

This past week brought mild progress. A program to protect insurance companies from a mass terrorism event won overwhelming approval, 93 to 4, and Republicans offered two amendments, but the legislation was crafted at the highest levels and was given about one hour of debate Thursday afternoon. The average senator had no input into the bill.

Yet Reid has unwavering support from all corners of his caucus, as does McConnell. Many Democrats believe the Senate discord has less to do with the status of the Reid-McConnell relationship and more to do with the growing fractures inside the national Republican Party. A half-dozen Republicans, including McConnell, faced tea-party-backed opponents in primaries, leading several to stake out staunch conservative positions.

Crossings Trigger Anti-Immigration Rallies - Activists Stage Protests Across Southern California and Throughout the Nation, Drawing New Support in Call for Crackdown

From The Wall Street Journal:

The influx of thousands of Central Americans into the U.S. has energized anti-illegal immigration activists who organized rallies across the country in recent days.

"How can we afford to take care of other countries' poor? Americans are going hungry without jobs and no one is attending to them," said Herbert Baker, a chiropractor standing atop a highway overpass in Los Angeles hoisting an American flag and a sign that read "Stop Illegal Immigration."
The Los Angeles protest was among 40 in southern California and hundreds held in the U.S., part of a national call for a crackdown on illegal immigration coordinated by a coalition of anti-illegal immigrant groups. Some rallies, including those in Little Rock, Ark., Dallas and Philadelphia, drew counter protesters.
Since October, about 57,000 unaccompanied minors have entered the country illegally, many fleeing poverty and violence or hoping to reunite with family in the U.S. The flow slowed this week, but reports of migrants swarming the border and being transported to towns in the country's interior have attracted new supporters of grass-roots organizations that fight illegal immigration.
"This is reaction to a border that seems out of control, of people showing up uninvited and of federal officials scrambling to respond, " said Roberto Suro, director of the University of Southern California's Tomás Rivera Policy Institute.
"What remains to be seen is whether the [Obama] administration can get a handle on it before the negative reactions escalate," Mr. Suro said.
President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to respond to the crisis and lawmakers are weighing whether to amend a 2008 law to expedite deportations. The House and Senate are moving forward on separate bills with no clear deal in sight. On Friday, Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet at the White House with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to discuss ways to stanch the flow.
In Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the main entry point, federal officials and aid workers have reported that fewer than 100 minors a day were apprehended by border agents last week, compared with as many as 300 a day recently.
Most children willingly turn themselves in.
Experts predict that the number of illegal entries this year will be small compared with levels reached during the heyday of illegal immigration more than a decade ago, when about 900,000 people were caught trying to sneak in. "Fifty thousand is a lot of people, especially unaccompanied kids, but the numbers a decade ago were much bigger in terms of total number of people coming," said Jeff Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center.
That doesn't ease the concerns of people like Tressy Capps of Fontana, Calif., who recently raised her voice. "These people are being dumped in our communities. They might have diseases, be criminals; it's all very shady," said Ms. Capps, a 49-year-old mother of three, who joined an anti-illegal immigration organization called We the People Rising.
The southern California group reports a surge in interest since the border crisis erupted.
Some communities have passed resolutions or written letters to officials in an effort to stop migrants from being temporarily housed in their jurisdiction while awaiting deportation or asylum proceedings.
Arzella Melnyk, coordinator of a group called Ohio Grassroots Rally Team, wrote to Gov. John Kasich saying, "Ohio should not be allowed to be used as a dumping ground, nor should the residents of Ohio be forced to bear any part of the burden of the ongoing border crisis."
Public support for offering undocumented immigrants who have been living in the U.S. a path to legal status slipped to 68% in July from 73% in February, according to a Pew survey released last week.
"People have just had it," said Jo Wideman, executive director of Californians for Population Stabilization that calls for tougher immigration policies.
Ms. Wideman, of Santa Barbara, Calif., said that traffic on her organization's Facebook page has soared and that its donor base has jumped 88% since early June. "People who normally would have strong opinions but didn't participate are coming forward."
Reminiscent of a decade ago, self-styled militiamen are preparing to position themselves along the U.S.-Mexico border to combat the "invasion," said Barbie Rogers, who runs the Patriots Information Hotline, which helps those interested in volunteering. She said most participants were licensed gun owners. "Our goal is to get enough guys down there to get the border closed permanently," she added. "It doesn't matter if it takes days, weeks or years."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mexico doing what we want: Protecting its southern border - On Southern Border, Mexico Faces Crisis of Its Own

From The New York Times:

TENOSIQUE, Mexico — For years, Mexico’s most closely watched border was its northern one, which generations of Mexican migrants have crossed seeking employment and refuge in the United States.
But the sudden surge of child migrants from Central America, many of them traveling alone, has cast scrutiny south, to the 600-mile border separating Mexico and Guatemala.
Now Mexico finds itself whipsawing between compassion and crackdown as it struggles with a migration crisis of its own. While the public is largely sympathetic to migrants and deeply critical of the United States’ hard-line immigration policies, officials are under pressure from their neighbors to the north and south as they try to cope with the influx. As a result, they are taking measures that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Mexico has quietly stepped up the pace of deportation of migrants, some of them unaccompanied children. It announced plans to stop people from boarding freight trains north and will open five new border control stations along routes favored by migrants.
“Never before has Mexico announced a state policy on the border, and now it has,” the interior secretary, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, said in an interview. “It is absolute control of the southern border.”
But now Mexico plans to bolster its border security, including a plan to stop waves of people, some of them with babies and toddlers, from stowing away on a northbound freight train known as “The Beast,” because of rampant accidents and violent crime. Images of the train and the little done to stop it had appalled American members of Congress and human rights advocates.

Administration keeps proving itself to be incompetent; no one there with ability to advise, sense public reaction, and mind the store - Obama aides were warned of brewing border crisis

From The Washington Post:

Nearly a year before President Obama declared a humanitarian crisis on the border, a team of experts arrived at the Fort Brown patrol station in Brownsville, Tex., and discovered a makeshift transportation depot for a deluge of foreign children.

Thirty Border Patrol agents were assigned in August 2013 to drive the children to off-site showers, wash their clothes and make them sandwiches. As soon as those children were placed in temporary shelters, more arrived. An average of 66 were apprehended each day on the border and more than 24,000 cycled through Texas patrol stations in 2013. In a 41-page report to the Department of Homeland Security, the team from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) raised alarms about the federal government’s capacity to manage a situation that was expected to grow worse.

The researchers’ observations were among the warning signs conveyed to the Obama administration over the past two years as a surge of Central American minors has crossed into south Texas illegally. More than 57,000 have entered the United States this year, swamping federal resources and catching the government unprepared.

The administration did too little to heed those warnings, according to interviews with former government officials, outside experts and immigrant advocates, leading to an inadequate response that contributed to this summer’s escalating crisis.

Federal officials viewed the situation as a “local problem,” said Victor Manjarrez Jr., a former Border Patrol station chief who led the UTEP study. The research, conducted last year, was funded by the Department of Homeland Security and published in March. A broader crisis was “not on anyone’s radar,” Manjarrez added, even though “it was pretty clear this number of kids was going to be the new baseline.”

Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s domestic policy adviser, said the administration and key agencies had made adjustments over time to deal with the influx of children but then responded with urgency once federal officials realized in May that the numbers would far exceed internal projections of 60,000 minors crossing the border in 2014.

Revised Border Patrol estimates now suggest the number could reach 90,000 by the end of September.

Last month, Obama ordered an emergency response overseen by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he asked Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funds.

“What happened this year was . . . off-the-charts different,” Muñoz said. “It was not the same pattern. We assumed a significant increase, but this was not the same kind of trend line.

“This trend was more like a hockey stick, going up and up and up,” Muñoz added. “Nobody could have predicted the scale of the increase we saw this year. The minute we saw it, we responded in an aggressive way.”

But top officials at the White House and the State Department had been warned repeatedly of the potential for a further explosion in the number of migrant children since the crisis began escalating two years ago, according to former federal officials and others familiar with internal discussions. The White House was directly involved in efforts in early 2012 to care for the children when it helped negotiate a temporary shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

“There were warning signs, operational folks raising red flags to high levels in terms of this being a potential issue,” said one former senior federal law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about internal operations.

The former official said the agencies primarily in charge of border security, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were “ringing alarm bells” within the administration.

Meanwhile, top officials focused much of their attention on political battles, such as Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and the push to win congressional support for a broad immigration overhaul, that would have been made more difficult with the addition of a high-profile border crisis.

“I don’t think they ignored this on purpose, but they didn’t know what to do,” said Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, which published a 2012 report highlighting the influx of minors. “For whatever reason, there was hesi­ta­tion to address the root causes. I think the administration was dealing with it at a minimal scale, putting a Band-Aid on something they should have been thinking about holistically.”

Until recently, the number of Central American children crossing into the United States illegally was below 5,000 a year and was not considered a major problem among the many issues federal agents were dealing with at the Mexican border.

In 2009-2010, law enforcement agencies cracked down on criminal cartels in the traditional border hot spots near Tucson. By 2012, the Border Patrol and U.S. intelligence agencies began noticing a shift of activity to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, one they had anticipated.

They also found that even as overall illegal immigration to the United States slowed, the number of adults and families entering illegally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras began to grow rapidly. Many were fleeing increasing violence and impoverished conditions in their home countries, according to U.S. officials and human rights groups.

The number of Central American minors — who are afforded greater protections under a 2008 U.S. anti-trafficking law — making the trip without their parents was a subset of the larger phenomenon, officials said. “It was more than it had been, but it wasn’t something that would cause you to sort of drop everything and say we’re in a crisis,’’ said a person familiar with internal deliberations.

Expressions of alarm
In Texas and in Central America, officials viewed the situation with greater alarm. In April 2012, the first ladies of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala voiced their concerns at a conference in Washington on unaccompanied minors. “The statistics are worrisome,” said Guatemala’s Rosa María Leal de Pérez.

A week later, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) wrote a blistering letter to Obama, citing a 90 percent increase over the previous year in the number unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America. If the president failed “to take immediate action to return these minors to their countries of origin and prevent and discourage others from coming here, the federal government is perpetuating the problem,” Perry wrote. “Every day of delay risks more lives. Every child allowed to remain encourages hundreds more to attempt the journey.”

Inside the Obama administration, officials at the Department of Homeland Security were focusing most of their efforts on adults. Janet Napolitano, then secretary of homeland security, implored her counterparts in Mexico to increase border security to reduce the flow. U.S. immigration and border patrol officials created new processing centers, according to current officials and others familiar with the issue.

The agency responsible for the children’s well-being was the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Before the Homeland Security Department was created in 2002, the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service had overseen the handling of minors caught at the border.

But under an agreement brokered after immigration rights groups pushed to transfer the responsibility to a non-law-enforcement agency, the 2002 law gave the job to HHS, starting the following year.

Furthermore, the 2008 anti-trafficking law required Homeland Security to turn over unaccompanied minors from Central America to HHS within 72 hours. That agency would attempt to place the children with family members in the United States — or in temporary shelters — until they were summoned to appear before an immigration judge.

Numerous people familiar with the operations said HHS struggled to fulfill its role as the number of children began to rise in 2012. The agency rushed to set up temporary shelters at YMCAs, churches and other community centers.

In April 2012, a plan to house 200 children at unused dormitories at Lackland Air Force Base drew denunciations from immigrant rights groups.

HHS officials defended their performance in 2012 and as the crisis has escalated in recent months. Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, said the agency has responded by expanding shelter capacity and reducing the amount of time children spend in HHS-funded shelters before being matched with families or sponsors while their cases are pending. “We have made progress in both areas, though significant work remains,” Wolfe said.

By the time the team from UTEP arrived at Fort Brown to examine the problem in the summer of 2013, the churn of the young immigrants had far outpaced the government’s capacity.

In its report, the UTEP team wrote that border agents were interested in setting up a “welcome center” overseen by HHS that would serve as a clearinghouse for the minors, freeing patrol agents to monitor the border.

The number of minors arriving illegally from Central America shot from 3,933 in 2011 to 20,805 in 2013. HHS had secured 5,000 beds across the country — twice as many as the previous year — but that wasn’t enough. Immigration courts were backlogged. Border Patrol stations were overrun. Federal officials estimated that the total number of minors would soar to 60,000 in 2014.

And no one knew what to do with them all.

Political considerations
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers began hearing reports of the chaos from nongovernmental organizations and churches with operations in Central America. And they began efforts, in consultation with the administration, to increase federal funding to combat the crisis.

In 2011, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement had a budget of $149 million to shelter and care for the foreign children. By 2013, it had grown to $376 million, and the Obama administration requested $495 million in its fiscal 2014 budget proposal.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) said Democrats recognized the urgency but feared that if they raised too much of a public outcry, it would create political blowback for the Obama administration’s push to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

House Republicans had refused to move forward on a broader overhaul bill, which would include giving millions of illegal immigrants a chance to gain legal status, arguing that Obama had failed to secure the border. They pointed to the administration’s decision in 2011 to order federal agents to employ “prosecutorial discretion” while enforcing deportation laws, focusing on the most violent criminals.

That was followed in 2012 by Obama’s announcement during his reelection campaign that the administration would defer the deportations of certain immigrants brought to the country illegally as children before June 2007.

Democrats worried that the escalating border crisis would help Republicans make a case that the administration’s policies had failed, Roybal-Allard said.

“That was always a concern of mine: How to address the issue in a way that did not detract from the need for comprehensive immigration reform,” she said.

A person involved in the planning said that inside the White House, national security staffers were concerned about the growing influx of children but that the influential team of domestic policy advisers was far more focused on the legislative push.

“Was the White House told there were huge flows of Central Americans coming? Of course they were told. A lot of times,’’ said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “Was there a general lack of interest and a focus on the legislation? Yes, that’s where the focus was.’’

Muñoz said the administration’s proposal to overhaul the immigration system would have gone a long way toward alleviating the border crisis and preventing future problems.

Among advocacy groups, the strain on the federal system became an increasing focus. In November 2013, a contingent of officials from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took a week-long trip to Mexico and Central America to discuss the crisis with local officials and U.S. diplomats in the region.

“The embassies did pay attention to us, and I think they also expressed interest in the issue,” said Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, who led the Catholic delegation. But, he added, “there are so many issues in these failing states, it’s hard to pick one. So it’s hard to assess, except with the light of hindsight, whether they should have known at that time this had become such a large exodus.”

Upon their return, the bishops briefed State Department officials and produced a 16-page report of their findings and recommendations, which was sent to Muñoz via e-mail in January.

By the time Congress approved an omnibus budget in January, the line-item for the refu­gee office had increased significantly from Obama’s initial request of $495 million to $868 million — based on the larger projections of minors. In February, then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius approved an additional $44 million transfer, bringing the office’s budget to $912 million for the year.

On Jan. 28, Obama delivered his State of the Union address, highlighting his push for a comprehensive immigration bill and pressing Republicans to join the effort. Three days later, Chris Crane, president of the union that represents Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, was asked about the president’s plan during an appearance on Fox News.

“At this moment, we have a humanitarian crisis on our southern border,” Crane told host Mike Huckabee. “Most problematic, most troubling and alarming, is the number of children coming across our border all by themselves. . . . It’s so out of control that just one office is averaging over 2,000 of these unaccompanied children each and every month.”

Muñoz said the government was prepared to handle up to 60,000 children in 2014 given the increases to the budget. The crisis point, she said, came only during another massive spike in the spring.

The number of unaccompanied minors had been averaging just under 4,500 a month at the beginning of the year, then jumped to more than 7,000 a month in March and April before exploding to more than 10,000 a month in May and June, administration officials said.

Consequences nationwide
On a Mother’s Day trip to the McAllen, Tex., Border Patrol station, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who took office in December, saw the desperation for himself. A young girl tearfully told him she had come to the United States in an attempt to be reunited with her father.

Interviews by Border Patrol agents with the young immigrants and their families revealed a perception among them that the United States had relaxed its policies and would grant them “permisos” to remain in the country. U.S. officials said the permisos are actually formal notices to appear at immigration hearings that are issued to the minors when they are placed with relatives to await court dates.

Many of the minors also told border agents that they believed the cutoff date for permisos was June 2014, which federal officials said could explain the dramatic surge in the spring, which they said has since tapered off.
In McAllen, Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, received an urgent telephone call June 10 from operators of the local bus station. An avalanche of migrants was arriving, she was told, and many were exhausted and ill. The sister set up a shelter that same day at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

The consequences were spreading beyond Texas, as the refu­gee office began shipping the youths to shelters across the country. Government buses full of families and children began arriving in Tucson in May, said Dan Wilson, a volunteer with Casa Mariposa, a migrant aid organization.

Wilson said migrants told aid workers that human smuggling cartels had cut their rates to spur business, driving demand for the trips north atop buses and on trains.

In Washington, Johnson briefed Obama, who authorized an integrated government response. By then, the inadequacy of the government’s previous efforts was becoming apparent.

Mark Greenberg, HHS’s acting assistant secretary in charge of the unaccompanied minors program, told senators this month that the growing influx had “greatly exceeded the number of available places for children in HHS’s shelters, negatively impacting our ability to timely accept custody of these children” from Homeland Security.

Wolfe, the HHS spokesman, said that as of Thursday, the backlog of children waiting to be placed in the agency’s care had been cleared.

The president’s emergency proposal would devote $1.8 billion for HHS to house the children and families and $1.6 billion for the departments of Homeland Security and Justice to speed immigration hearings and deportations. An additional $300 million would be slotted for the State Department to help repatriate the minors and warn Central American families not to send them north.

Republicans have balked at the proposal, saying they are not willing to give Obama more money without changes to the 2008 anti-trafficking law to make it easier to deport the minors.

Obama, meanwhile, has ended his push for comprehensive immigration legislation in Congress, announcing that he intends to use his executive authority to amend the nation’s border laws.

But the crisis in Texas has complicated that political calculation, with Republicans contending that Obama’s weak enforcement helped create the crisis in the first place.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Democrats keep digging their holes deeper and deeper for mid-term elections. It is hard to figure in this case. - More Democrats oppose weakening legal protections of kids crossing the border

From The Washington Post:

[A] growing number of congressional Democrats are opposed to weakening legal protections for young children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America, making it less likely that Congress can agree on a deal to address the crisis before lawmakers leave Washington for a five-week summer recess.

A Push Into Gaza, but the Ground Has Shifted

From The New York Times:
JERUSALEM — As Israeli troops once again operated inside the Gaza Strip on Friday, the risks of a deep entanglement, a failure to curb the rocket fire, and the condemnation of civilian casualties were all too apparent.
Twice before, Israel has battled Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that dominates Gaza, and twice before, Israel has halted under international pressure without eliminating the threat of rocket fire.
But this time, officials and analysts say, the landscape is different. Israel has publicly framed a clear agenda targeting tunnels it says militants built to store weapons or stage attacks on its territory. This time, a weakened Hamas cannot turn to Egypt for respite. This time, Western leaders appear more patient: President Obama expressed concern Friday about “the loss of more innocent life” but also said no nation should be subjected to a hail of rockets or underground incursions.
The start of the ground campaign was a stark contrast to Israel’s 2009 invasion, when forces quickly bisected the tiny coastal enclave and blockaded Gaza City, where they engaged in gun battles with Hamas fighters. On Friday, the troops operated mainly in farmland within about a mile of Gaza’s northern, southern and eastern edges, and quickly announced they had uncovered more than 20 tunnel exit points.
Setting the bar relatively low helps hold back public expectations, provide the military with achievable goals, and build international legitimacy. It also reflects Israel’s reluctance to re-engage long-term in Gaza or rout Hamas only to find it replaced by even more radical groups. Though on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to “prepare for the possibility of widening, significantly,” its offensive.
But if the action on the ground has changed from past conflicts, so has the diplomatic horizon. Analysts said that political shifts among Palestinians and across the region had made the familiar paths to cease-fire agreements harder to find this time.
“There’s a certain contradiction here,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli diplomat and university president. “That’s what you need mediators for — you find that magic formula, constructive ambiguity, that enables both parties to claim achievement.
“Right now, those actors are not there.”
Washington, which has helped broker previous cease-fires, is consumed with other crises, and has diminished credibility in the Middle East. Egypt, which during the brief presidency of Mohamed Morsi strongly supported Hamas, now treats the group as an enemy, and is loath to let its rivals Qatar and Turkey play a significant diplomatic role to aid residents of Gaza.
That leaves President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, an adversary of both Israel and Hamas, as the primary Palestinian interlocutor. Weak at home but increasingly active on the international stage, he shuttled from Cairo to Istanbul on Friday for what were described as cease-fire negotiations.
“The fact that Abbas is involved this time, unlike all previous cases, could mean something,” said Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster and analyst. “He does not have a lot of leverage here, but the little he has might allow for a three-way deal — Hamas, Abbas and the Israelis. That’s the way things might be smoother than to wait for the battlefield itself to determine the outcome, which could take a very, very long time, and a great deal of bloodshed.”
The bloodshed continued Friday as an artillery shell killed three children of Ismail Abu Musalam in their bedroom near the northern entry to Gaza around noon — the third day in a row in which groups of youths were killed — and another shell killed eight members of the Abu Jarad family, four of them children, at night. The Palestinian death toll topped 280, plus 2,000 wounded, as airstrikes continued over the relatively contained ground operations.
The Israeli military said it uncovered 10 tunnels, struck 240 targets, killed 17 militants and detained 21 others for questioning on the first day of the ground operations. A 20-year-old soldier, Eitan Barak, was shot and killed in the early hours — the second Israeli death of the war; seven soldiers were wounded.
Sirens signaling rockets from Gaza sounded all day and night throughout southern and central Israel — one of several over Tel Aviv sounded during Mr. Obama’s telephone conversation with Mr. Netanyahu. The Israeli military counted 135 rockets in the first 24 hours of the ground operations, 40 of them blocked from hitting cities by the Iron Dome defense system. One damaged an empty kindergarten and a synagogue.
Mr. Netanyahu — who had won plaudits from Israeli leftists this week for embracing an Egyptian cease-fire proposal, agreeing to a United Nations request for a humanitarian pause, and not invading Gaza sooner — expressed regret Friday “for every mistaken strike on civilians.” But he also said he was engaged in “unending” diplomacy to create “the international space” so Israel could “act systematically and with power against a murderous terrorist organization and its partners.” 
International reaction fell mainly along predictable allegiances to Israel and the Palestinians, but there was some movement on the margins. Analysts attributed that to the battle’s roots in last month’s abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers, to Hamas’s dwindling roster of friends, to Israel’s quick embrace of Egypt’s cease-fire proposals, and to the mission’s modest stated goals.
Mr. Obama reaffirmed his “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” suggesting it was based on his understanding that “the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels.” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused Israel of “committing genocide,” raising further questions about his ability to play any kind of constructive role.
In Europe, concern over casualties was mixed with a commitment to Israel’s right to self-defense. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced he would travel to Israel on Saturday to express solidarity with people on both sides and try to mediate.
“Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire,” Jeffrey Feltman, the United Nations undersecretary general for political affairs, said at an emergency session of the Security Council. He added, however, “we are alarmed by Israel’s heavy response.”
Einat Wilf, a former center-left member of Israel’s Parliament, said world leaders who had generally focused on Mr. Netanyahu’s “hawkish positions” had seen him be “very prudent” so far. “There’s one thing that’s really clear for me is that on the Israeli side there’s incredible reluctance to enter into anything large-scale,” Ms. Wilf said. “I think this is one of the reasons we’re getting substantial backing; there is a sense that there’s no trigger-happy person at the helm, quite the contrary.”
Yaakov Amidror, Mr. Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, said the prime minister’s approach had “cost him with his own constituency — the majority of it do not like cease-fires in such occasions” — but that for now the government seemed to be ignoring calls for retaking Gaza.
“This operation is very limited geographically,” Mr. Amidror said. “Most of the operation will not take place in crowded areas with a lot of population, but areas used for agriculture. The land operation, it’s very easy to see where it will be finished. If nothing bad will happen, we will identify the locations of the tunnels, we will blow them up, and we will retreat.”
But he added, “How to finish the whole operation in terms of stopping the rockets and the missiles, this is much more complicated.”