- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The determined activists behind Stop Hillary PAC — a grass-roots political action committee founded six months ago solely to deter Hillary Clinton from making a 2016 run for the White House — are still devoted to their task, spokesman Garrett Marquis tells Inside the Beltway.

And they’re excited. The group has been invigorated by a few choice revelations in an upcoming memoir by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that suggest the former secretary of State opposed the 2007 troop surge in Iraq as a calculated political strategy. At the time, voters were knee-deep in the critical lead-up to the presidential campaign that was to follow. Proper talking points were vital.

“Secretary Gates confirms what so many American have already known, Hillary Clinton is disingenuous and deceitful. She will do anything, including mislead the country, by putting her political ambitions ahead of the safety of Americans at home and abroad,” Mr. Marquis says.

“From Whitewater to Benghazi and now the truth about her opposition to the troop surge, Hillary continues to show her true colors and why Americans can’t trust her now or as president,” he concludes.

IS DENNIS A DIPLOMAT?

Now immersed in his fourth visit to North Korea, Dennis Rodman and a cast of former basketball greats will stage an exhibition game before the isolated nation’s most elite citizens on Wednesday, all to celebrate the 31st birthday of dictator Kim Jong-un. Mr. Rodman insists it’s hard but productive work, and that the leader is his close pal; the athlete screamed as much to CNN in an aggressive interview with Chris Cuomo. The network correspondent dryly noted he was relieved the encounter was via video rather than in person.

Yes, well. The world looks on anyway, waiting for spectacle. Or something. Both State Department and White House remain elusive on the Rodman phenomenon, insisting that the trip is one of a private citizen and that’s that.

“Sports exchanges can be valuable. Sports diplomacy can be valuable. And it’s something that we pursue in many places around the world, including through direct support. But this is a private trip,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told the daily press gathering on Tuesday.

“I don’t think we should ignore the real suffering in this gulag state,” counters Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who is minority leader of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “And Dennis Rodman wants to go there and play basketball. It would be like inviting Adolf Hitler to lunch. What Dennis Rodman is doing is very ill-conceived.”

But then there’s this from Jesse Jackson in a Tweet: “Ping pong diplomacy worked in China, and basketball seems to work in North Korea.”

Or it could all be an odd diplomatic hybrid which has some legs, ramped up by a news media eager for fabulous controversy and stunts. Mr. Rodman and his team are “unlikely emissaries,” says a New York Times analysis, conducting “a strange trip that has left the world’s diplomatic corps puzzled and, perhaps, a little jealous over the access the players may receive.”

PINING FOR THE POLL BOOTH

Americans are looking forward to the 2014 midterm elections more than either the Academy Awards or the World Cup soccer tournament, offering some proof that the nation is politically engaged indeed. A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday reveals that 51 percent of the citizenry is “especially looking forward” to the election, compared to 24 percent who anticipate the Oscars and 22 percent who will follow the tournament.

Only the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics eclipse the midterms in the survey, winning 55 percent and 58 percent, respectively of the public attention.

And a small note to political strategists: the Grand Old Party is pining for the poll booth more than Democrats and independents. The survey found that 63 percent of Republicans are looking forward to Nov. 4, compared to 53 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of the independents.

The poll of 1,005 adults was conducted Jan 2-5.

HOLA NEW JERSEY

“I did not want the young men and women who were preparing to go to college this month to wait a minute longer, or a semester longer, to get what I believe they deserve — which is an equal opportunity to advance their education in New Jersey. And that’s exactly what they’re getting now under the legislation we made law in December, and that we celebrate today.”

— New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, upon signing the New Jersey “Dream Act” on Tuesday, which allows students who are in the U.S. illegally to attend state colleges and universities at resident rates. The Garden State is now one of 15 states providing “tuition equality” for undocumented students.

KINGS OF EXPORT

Good news here, courtesy of the American entrepreneurial spirit. The U.S. exported a record $194.9 billion in goods and services in November, according to the Commerce Department.

“Once again, American entrepreneurs are proving why exports are so critical to our economic growth.” said Fred P. Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, an independent federal agency.

Who’s buying our stuff? Among those nations with the largest percentage of U.S. purchases: Panama, where the imports have increased by 27 percent, followed by Russia (21 percent), Hong Kong (20 percent) and the United Arab Emirates, also 20 percent.

And more nice numbers: Exports of U.S. goods and services over the last 12 months totaled $2.3 trillion, which is 43.7 percent above the level of exports in 2009.

THE CHAMBER’S INSIDE SKINNY

On the radar for Wednesday: U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue delivers his annual “State of American Business” address from the organization’s monumental headquarters in the nation’s capital, right across Lafayette Park from the White House. The speech begins at 9:30 a.m. ET.

“The speech will outline the top challenges facing the business community in the coming year and introduce the chamber’s 2014 policy agenda,” a spokesperson says. See it streamed live here: www.uschamber.com

CULTURAL MOMENT

“You’re either broke or you’re dead.”

— Motto of Obamacare the Game, a Monopoly-like amusement developed by Kentucky entrepreneur Jack LeFeber and sold online (obamacaregame.com).

“It’s more fun than a death panel, and the ultimate gift for frustrated fiscal conservatives and disillusioned Democrats alike,” he says. “Unlike the government website, ours actually works.”

POLL DU JOUR

49 percent of Americans cut back on their spending in the last year; 36 percent had no plans to cut back, 15 percent planned to cut back but did not follow through.

44 had no plans to pay down their personal level of debt in the last year; 41 percent paid down their personal level of debt; 15 percent planned to, but did not pay it down.

41 percent of Americans expect the U.S. economy to “stay the same” in the next year; 41 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of independents agree.

32 percent of Americans overall expect the economy to “get worse” in the next year; 47 percent of Republicans, 13 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of independents agree.

25 percent overall expect the U.S. economy to improve; 12 percent of Republicans, 46 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents agree.

Source: A Harris Poll of 2,311 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 11-17 and released Monday.

Querulous commentary, talking points to jharper@washington times.com

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