“Friendship Blossoms” Between Romney and Anti-Israel Paul

— by Max Samis

As we’ve noted previously, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Representative Ron Paul have grown quite close on the campaign trail. Many believe that Romney will need Paul’s support to win the Republican nomination, and Romney has told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he would vote for the anti-Israel Paul if he were the nominee. Several weeks ago, The Washington Post reported on the “strategic partnership” that the two candidates have formed.

According to NBC News:

In addition to the Paul campaign’s latest TV ad, here’s more evidence in the emerging Mitt Romney/Ron Paul bro-mance: The Paul camp is now passing around oppo[sition research] on Rick Santorum.

With Santorum potentially on the brink of upsetting Romney in Michigan next week, the Paul campaign is targeting the former Pennsylvania senator for what it says is hypocrisy — after Santorum criticized Romney on the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Now, The New York Times reported that there is a “friendship [blossoming]” between the two candidates. The New York Times wrote:

In a Republican presidential contest known for its angry rivalries, the Romney-Paul relationship stands out for its behind-the-scenes civility. It is a friendship that, by Mr. Paul’s telling, Mr. Romney has worked to cultivate. The question is whether it is also one that could pay dividends for Mr. Romney as he faces yet more setbacks in his struggle to capture the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.

Ideological similarities among supporters of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich suggest that if Mr. Gingrich dropped out, many of his backers would coalesce behind Mr. Santorum. But as Mr. Paul steadily collects delegates, one thing that remains to be seen is whether his affinity – at least on a personal level – for Mr. Romney could help the former Massachusetts governor as the fight drags on…

“I talk to Romney more than the rest on a friendly basis,” Mr. Paul said. “I throw Romney’s name out because he’s made a bigger attempt to do it. The others are sort of just real flat.”

In an interview on CBS this past weekend, Mr. Paul volunteered that since his rivals were largely identical in policy substance, “when it comes down to those three, it’s probably going to be management style more than anything else.” According to one person close to the Paul campaign, it would be accurate to infer from that phrasing — “management style” — that Mr. Paul has a willingness to listen to overtures from Mr. Romney, who has been trying to sell himself to voters as a proven manager.

Increased Sanctions Continue to Pressure Iran’s Economy

— Max Samis

It has been several weeks since President Barack Obama first increased sanctions on Iran, effectively cutting off Iran’s central bank from the global economy. To this point, the evidence is overwhelming that these sanctions have had a strong effect on Iran’s economy and government.

Previously a major importer of steel, Iranian steel traders have found their business “grinding to a halt.”

More after the jump.
According to Reuters:

Iranian buyers cannot obtain dollars or euros, forcing them to offer letters of credit in alternative currencies such as the Indian rupee, Korean won and Russian rubles.

Most steel traders, wary of currency risk and taxation issues, are not willing to accept this form of payment.

‘Now you can really feel the effects of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe…It is very difficult to do any business with Iran at the moment,’ a steel trader at a Swiss metals trading house said.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Iranian oil flow has taken a massive hit. Reuters wrote:

Iran could be forced to place unsold barrels into floating storage or even shut in production in the second half of this year, the IEA said on Friday in its monthly Oil Market Report.

‘International sanctions targeting Iran’s existing oil exports do not come into effect until July 1, but they are already having an impact on crude trade flows in Europe, Asia and the Middle East,’ it said.

‘Although there are five months before restrictions on existing contracts take effect, European customers have already curtailed imports of Iranian crude and Asian buyers are lining up alternative sources of supply,’ the IEA said, adding that European customers were likely to look to Russia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia for replacement barrels.

Bloomberg added that owners of over 100 supertankers have now said they will stop loading oil supplies from Iran.

In an interview with Haaretz, Dennis Ross, Obama’s former Middle East advisor, stated that ‘The fact is [Iran’s] currency has devalued by half in the last six weeks… I’d say sanctions are working, if that’s the case.’ Haaretz wrote:

These sanctions, Ross said, are the crippling sanctions Israel has called for, and can affect Iran’s behavior. When the Iranians feel they are under sufficient pressure, they look for a way to reduce it, Ross said, and right now they are under pressure they have not been under before. ‘It’s not an accident that suddenly they want to meet with the P5 +1,’ Ross said, referring to the forum of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

Ross also stated his belief that sanctions are forcing Iran to the negotiating table in an op-ed in The New York Times. Ross wrote:

Iran cannot do business with or obtain credit from any reputable international bank, nor can it easily insure its ships or find energy investors. According to Iran’s oil ministry, the energy sector needs more than $100 billion in investments to revitalize its aging infrastructure; it now faces a severe shortfall.

New American penalties on Iran’s central bank and those doing business with it have helped trigger an enormous currency devaluation. In the last six weeks, the Iranian rial has declined dramatically against the dollar, adding to the economic woes Iran is now confronting…

Now, with Iran feeling the pressure, its leaders suddenly seem prepared to talk. Of course, Iran’s government might try to draw out talks while pursuing their nuclear program. But if that is their strategy, they will face even more onerous pressures, when a planned European boycott of their oil begins on July 1.

As sanctions continue to take effect, international pressure will only continue to increase against Iran’s nuclear program.  

Rick Santorum Crushes Romney In Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado


Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) turned the Republican primary upside-down yesterday winning all three contests yesterday over the “frontrunner” Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

According to FiveThirtyEight blog’s Nate Silver:

In Minnesota, a state which Mr. Romney carried easily in 2008, he has so far failed to win a single county – and got just 17 percent of the vote. That put him 27 points behind Rick Santorum, and 10 points behind Ron Paul, who finished in second.

Missouri is a less important result since its beauty contest primary did not count for delegate selection and since turnout was understandably low there. But Mr. Romney lost all 114 counties in Missouri – and the state as a whole by 30 points, far more than polls projected.

Then there was Colorado, a state that has reasonably similar demographics to Nevada, which Mr. Romney carried easily on Saturday. Colorado has somewhat fewer Mormon voters than Nevada, which hurts Mr. Romney – but it has somewhat more wealthy ones, which favors him. The betting market Intrade gave Mr. Romney about a 97 percent chance of winning Colorado entering the evening. But he lost the state by 5 points to Mr. Santorum.

Mitt Romney will have some time to contemplate this turn of events. The next contests are the Arizona and Michigan primaries on Tuesday, February 28 followed by the Washington State and Maine caucuses on Saturday, March 3, and Super Tuesday, March 6 with voting in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

The next debates currently scheduled will be held by CNN on February 22 at 8pm in Mesa, Arizona and a super Tuesday debate March 1 at 8pm in Atlanta, Georgia.  

States Won

  • Santorum: IA, CO, MN, MO
  • Romney: NH, FL, NV
  • Gingrich: SC
  • Paul: none

Watch the White House Kasher Kitchen in Preparation for Hanukkah

— by Jason Attermann

The New York Times detailed the White House’s efforts to ensure that the catering at the annual Hanukkah celebration was certified Kosher for their Jewish guests. Led by Rabbi Levi Shemtov of the American Friends of Lubavitch, the White House kitchen staff joined with some mashgiachs to completely and flawlessly kasher the kitchen.

Extract after the jump.

The following night would bring the Hanukkah party for 550 guests, politicians and Supreme Court justices among them. Rigorous koshering (sometimes called kashering) would ensure that the kitchen would be in compliance with Jewish dietary laws. Guests could eat without qualms, knowing their religious commitment had been respected.

‘We do the basic cleaning,’ says the White House’s executive sous-chef, Tommy Kurpradit, as he directs five workers (he learned about koshering from Bush White House Hanukkah celebrations). ‘Then the rabbis do the super-cleaning.’

Imagine the earnest anxiety of non-Jews eager to please the observant; the exacting scrutiny of the observant, dedicated to ancient laws; a ticking clock; and a soupçon of Marx Brothers….

White House usher [Daniel] Shanks has been on staff for 17 years. He recalled Clinton White House events when kosher meals were brought in for guests, and a time when a separate kosher table was set up.

‘To see us evolve to do as much as we do now,’ he says, ‘it’s a great honor.’

US: “Nuclear Iran Unacceptable;” Iran: “Sanctions Hurt.”

— by David Streeter

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS News that a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable” and that the United States “will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.” The exchange between Panetta and CBS’ Scott Pelley went as follows:

Pelley: If the Israelis decide to launch a military strike to prevent that weapon from being built, what sort of complications does that raise for you?
Panetta: Well, we share the same common concern. The United States does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us and that’s a red line, obviously, for the Israelis. If we have to do it we will deal with it.
Pelley: You just said if we have to do it we will come and do it. What is it?
Panetta: If they proceed and we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.
Pelley: Including military steps?
Panetta: There are no options off the table
Pelley: A nuclear weapon in Iran is…
Panetta: Unacceptable.

Panetta’s statements coincide with recent admissions from Iranian government officials that the country is sustaining damage from the recently-increased sanctions.

Coverage from the New York Times follows the jump.

Iran’s veneer of stoicism toward the Western sanctions that have disrupted its economy showed some new strains on Monday, as the deputy oil minister acknowledged a decline in domestic petroleum production because of dwindling foreign investment, and four-year-old talks between the Iranians and Poland’s biggest natural gas developer collapsed.

The Iranians also suffered an embarrassment after prematurely announcing that a Russian oil company had committed $1 billion to help revive a dormant oil field in Iran’s southwest. Hours later, the Russian company, Tatneft, denied on its Web site that a deal had been signed. And there were signals that Saudi Arabia, which Iran had confidently predicted last week would not increase oil production to compensate for any Iranian shortfall caused by the sanctions, was becoming increasingly irritated with Iran.

Together, the developments portrayed Iran, with the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves and second-largest natural gas reserves, as struggling more than it had admitted from the effects of the Western sanctions, despite its official denunciations of them as desperate measures doomed to fail or backfire.

The sanctions, imposed to pressure Iran into ending its suspect nuclear program, were strengthened last month, with the possibility of more onerous restrictions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry looming from the United   States and the European Union. Under a measure that is likely to be signed into law by President Obama, foreign entities that do business with Iran’s central bank, the conduit for Iran’s oil revenue, could face severe penalties if they do business in the United States.

Iran’s deputy oil minister, Ahmad Qalebani, appeared to have made an unusual disclosure about the effects of sanctions in an article reported by the official Iranian Students’ News Agency, which quoted him as saying Iran’s crude oil production in 2011 had declined from the year before. He said the decline was ‘due to lack of investment in oil field development.’

Iran produced about 4 million barrels a day of oil in 2010 and is producing about 3.5 million barrels this year.

Mr. Qalebani’s disclosure followed recent warnings by other Iranian officials that the effects of sanctions had become more acute. The foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying, ‘We cannot pretend the sanctions are not having an effect.’ The governor of Iran’s central bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, told reporters in Iran last week that the country must act as if it were ‘under siege,’ Agence France-Presse reported.

Sukkah vs. Sukkah



Artists in New York will display a dozen sukkot in Union Square just after Yom Kippor. You can vote on your favorite design in The New York Times. The winners will be announced in Union Square at 5:30pm on September 20 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and “a special guest”.

The sukkot will be auctioned off with proceeds going to support homeless initiatives in New York City.