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Chemical Warfare

Has Syria Crossed Obama's Red Lines?

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Alessio Romenzi/AFP/Getty Images

Will the United States join Britain and France in responding to Syria's use of chemical weapons?

Britain and France have written separately to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations that there is credible information suggesting Syria’s government has used chemical weapons in the civil war on multiple occasions since last December, diplomats said Thursday. ...

The assertions by Britain and France are stronger than that of the United States, which has said that it is assessing claims of chemical weapons use in Syria, but has not come to any conclusions. President Obama has said the use of such weapons in the war would constitute a “game changer” that could lead to an American military response.

Go Go Go

Natural Gas: Better than Coal

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Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are falling in the US:

Energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is widely believed to contribute to global warming, have fallen 12% between 2005 and 2012 and are at their lowest level since 1994, according to a recent estimate by the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department.

Why? In large part, because of this:

Last year, 30% of power in the U.S. came from burning natural gas, up from 19% in 2005, driven by drilling technologies that have unlocked large and inexpensive new supplies of the fuel.

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This Tim Kirby, a 31 year-old from the Ohio suburbs, is quite the guy. With his own show on RT (a network paid for by the Russian Government), Kirby blasts America while making sure to remind Russians that Vladimir Putin is their guy:

As the Kremlin rallied support for its ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans imposed late last year, Mr. Kirby, who is 31, appeared on prime-time talk shows to say that one quarter of American children take pills that affect their brains, and that they are endangered by religious sects whose members oppose medical care or dance around poisonous snakes. "Every 6 or 10 years a snake bites a child, the child dies and that's the news of the day and the process repeats itself," he told a national television audience in February.

When demonstrations erupted around the country over Vladimir Putin's plan to return to the Kremlin in late 2011, Mr. Kirby took to the airwaves to say that Mr. Putin was just taking a page from Washington's playbook. "In America there is a tendency for whoever is sitting in power to be the winner," he said. "In Russia it's the same: Putin is there, we understand it's best not to risk anything. ...

Radio Mayak says it doesn't know precisely how many listeners tuned into Mr. Kirby's shows, but they say he's a hit. Russia's Ministry of Communications rated it the best political talk show in Russia in 2012, but the format was abruptly changed last summer after Mr. Kirby got an on-air tongue-lashing from a Kremlin critic for suggesting fascism needn't be outlawed. Now he appears on Thursdays, as a regular guest of another talk show host. The station said the move was a promotion, so more listeners could hear him as they drive to work.

Good Morning

Manhunt in Boston

Buzzfeed's Andrew Kacyznski was up all night following the FBI's chase of the Boston Marathon Bombing suspects. His recap:

"Robbery, MIT shooting, Officer killed. Carjacked. Gun battle. One suspect killed. One at large."

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(Ian Kenyon, Twitter)

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DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images

Justin Trudeau's comments on the Boston bombing, as stated in an interview with Peter Mansbridge of CBC. Pick up jaw, reinsert in head.

PETER MANSBRIDGE:
Let me try to ask this as fairly as I can, because it's only a couple of hours after something has happened that clearly was not an accident, in Boston. People have died, many people are injured. You're the Canadian prime minister, what do you do?

JUSTIN TRUDEAU (LEADER OF THE LIBERAL PARTY OF CANADA):
First thing, you offer support and sympathy and condolences and, you know, can we send down, you know, EMTs or, I mean, as we contributed after 9/11? I mean, is there any material immediate support we have we can offer?

And then at the same time, you know, over the coming days, we have to look at the root causes. Now we don't know now whether it was, you know, terrorism or a single crazy or, you know, a domestic issue or a foreign issue, I mean, all of those questions. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents, at war with a society.

The Constitution Project

'Indisputable Torture'

I want you all to know we at the FrumBlog are indeed aware of The Constitution Project's report on the treatment of detainees post-9/11.

I am planning on writing about that report - which stretches more than 550 pages - after I read the entire thing. (Please do bear in mind that we're also reading the 844 page immigration bill. Busy, busy news week, but we'll get there.)

Having read the abridged version, I can say with some confidence that if the full report lives up to its claims, it will be virtually impossible for the United States government to claim torture did not occur in the years following 9/11.

The New York Times Editorial Board makes just such a claim here (the namesake for this post's title), but I think I'll wait until I've read the entire thing myself before weighing in.

Fix the Debt

We're Worried About the Wrong Debt Crisis

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Washington Post

The Washington Post's Zachary Goldfarb writes that the real debt crisis hurting America is that of underwater mortgages putting a drag on American growth:

The authors found that being underwater makes a big difference. As the chart below shows, Zip codes with fewer than 15 percent of homeowners only cut back only a little – spending only half a cent less for every dollar their home fell in value. But in Zip codes where more than 50 percent of homeowners were underwater, borrowers cut back five times as much – spending 2.5 cents less on car purchases for each dollar of reduced housing wealth.

[Chart: UW= percentages of homeowners with underwater mortgages, meaning they owe more on the note than the home is worth. As you can see, the more homeowners in this situation, the more they will cut back on discretionary spending.]

Tomasky takes to task the four Democratic Senators who voted against background checks:

Sickening. The whole thing. The four cowardly Democrats, too. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Mark Pryor, and Heidi Heitkamp. Heitkamp won’t face her voters again for five years. Baucus has been around long enough to be able to be bigger than this. Begich and Pryor, who face reelection next year, have the least lame excuses of all, but they are cowards too.

Jonathan Chait provides a useful corrective: 

Safety vs. Freedom

How CISPA Could Chip Away at Your Right to Privacy

CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, passed the House of Representatives yesterday. The bill is designed to foster intelligence sharing between companies in order to help prevent cyber attacks. 

Right now, companies are unwilling to share information because they believe that it would get them into trouble with the law. CISPA would rid them of civil and criminal liability that may be a result of this data sharing. 

In theory, this is a good idea: hacking could possibly becomes our nation's biggest national security threat. But in practice, this could mean that personal information you have stored with one company or group could wind up in the hands of another company or the government.

Good!

TIME Magazine Honors Malala

Good call, TIME. We at the FrumBlog are big fans of Malala, who has overcome being shot in the head by barbarous Taliban gangsters in Pakistan, and is now recovering in Britain.

More on Malala here, herehere, here, and here.

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My Mother

'Barbara Frum: A Daughter's Memoir'

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I'm very pleased to announce that my sister's beautiful biography of my late mother, Barbara Frum, is no longer out of print. It is available in an e-book edition, courtesy of Vook publishers, from both Amazon and at Apple's iBookstore:

Well...

How Do We Know a Theory is Correct?

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Further to our reader friend's comment on Reinhart-Rogoff:

The debate over budget austerity as the path to recovery from depression reminds me of a story told of Albert Einstein.

In the fall of 1919, Albert Einstein received an urgent telegram informing him that astronomers had observed evidence of the bending of light by the sun’s gravity, validating a key prediction of his general theory of relativity. He handed the cable to a student, who began congratulating him. “But I knew that the theory is correct,” he interrupted. And what, she asked, if the observations had disagreed with his calculations? “Then I would have been sorry for the dear Lord,” Einstein answered. “The theory is correct.”

Of course, the only reason we retell the story is precisely the data did corroborate Einstein's theory. If not, he might have continued believing himself a genius - but nobody else would have.

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MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking of perverse consequences: The Rubio/Gang of Eight immigration plan will unintentionally create a subsidy of up to $3,000 per year to employers who hire newly legalized workers over U.S. citizens, notes Jed Graham at Investors Business Daily.

In avoiding one controversy — the cost of providing millions of newly legalized immigrants with ObamaCare subsidies — the Senate "Gang of Eight" may have risked walking into another.

The bipartisan legislation released Wednesday dictates that those granted provisional legal immigrant status would be treated the same as those "not lawfully present" are treated under the 2010 health law.

That means they would neither be eligible for ObamaCare tax credits nor required to pay an individual tax penalty for failing to obtain qualifying health coverage. It also means some employers would face no penalty for failing to provide such workers affordable health coverage.

Good News

Infant Mortality Rates Keep Falling!

Some good news this morning. According to the New York Times, infant mortality rates, particularly for African-Americans, steadily decreased between 2005 and 2011:

The decline came after a period of stalled progress. Although the infant mortality rate dropped significantly over the 20th century, it remained static from 2000 to 2005, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By 2011, however, the rate had dropped to 6.05 deaths of babies less than 1 year old per 1,000 births, down from 6.87 in 2000. Some of the most striking improvements were in Southern states, which still have higher infant mortality rates than most of the country.

The rate of infant deaths declined the most among black mothers — a drop of 16 percent from 2005 to 2011. Historically, infant mortality rates among black women have been more than twice those among white women.

About the Author

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David Frum

David Frum is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of eight books, including most recently the e-book WHY ROMNEY LOST and his first novel Patriots, published in April 2012.

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