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Joe Biden’s latest foreign-policy joke

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Joe Biden's latest foreign-policy joke

Barely a month into his presidency and Joe Biden’s foreign policy already looks like a joke.

On Sunday, 48 hours after removing Yemen’s Houthi rebels from a State Department terrorist blacklist and ordering an end to US support for the Saudi-led military effort against the Houthis, the Biden administration turned around and asked the Iran-backed group to stop committing acts of terrorism on civilians and cease military operations.

The State Department considers it a master plan to end the war. It got the Saudis to endorse the idea of a negotiated settlement, then called on the Houthis to stop inflicting suffering — which would indeed be a big step.

But there’s no hint of any penalty if they don’t (maybe put them back on the blacklist?) — and they surely now think they’re closer than ever to winning. After all, Biden won’t return to backing the Saudis.

It’s beyond naive.

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Opinion

‘Normalcy’ is the last thing Biden’s hard-left base wants

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‘Normalcy’ is the last thing Biden’s hard-left base wants

Joe Biden ran for president on a “return to normalcy.” His challenge is that there are three competing definitions of normalcy for him to contend with.

Biden didn’t actually use the slogan “return to normalcy.” But as numerous political observers noted during the campaign, that was both Biden’s implicit appeal and his best shot at victory. As Jonathan Martin and Sydney Ember of The New York Times wrote in March 2019, “Biden, in speeches at home and abroad, has used much of the first part of this year pledging to restore the dignity he believes that the country has lost in the Trump years.”

For much of the primary season, the competition among Biden’s Democratic opponents was over who could offer the most radical agenda. When it became clear to rank-and-file voters — and a few key Democratic leaders — that such radicalism could cost Democrats the general election, Biden surged to front-runner status.

The interesting thing about Biden’s return-to-normalcy campaign is that it predated the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. That isn’t how it worked with the original version.

Under Woodrow Wilson, America was racked with extraordinary turmoil. World War I cost more than 100,000 American lives and yielded few tangible benefits for the United States. In fighting the war, Wilson stirred nativist passions, crushed political dissent, imposed food rationing and widespread censorship and stoked racial unrest.

Race and labor riots and anarchist bombing campaigns made the tumult of the 2020 summer riots and protests pale by comparison. And then there was the pandemic of 1918. Some 650,000 Americans died from the Spanish flu. Adjusted for population, that would be 2 million deaths today.

It was against this backdrop that Republican Sen. Warren Harding of Ohio promised a return to normalcy. “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise,” he declared. He won the 1920 election in a landslide with 37 out of 48 states and 404 Electoral College votes.

Biden has accomplished the easiest of the three normalcies already. Simply by refraining from venting his id on Twitter, he has turned down the political temperature.

But there are two other normalcies Biden has to address. Today, for most Americans of either party, a “return to normalcy” means being able to eat out, go to work and, most of all, send their kids back to school. If the first normalcy was instantaneous upon his inauguration, this second one is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Biden is getting a grace period, but national exhaustion with the pandemic is cumulative, and patience is in short supply.

Biden’s reluctance to forecast when Americans will return to anything like a pre-pandemic life may be prudent. He clearly believes in under-promising and over-delivering — a marked contrast with Trump. But there is certainly hardball politics involved as well.

The Biden administration’s reluctance to dial down the government’s crisis rhetoric is surely part of the strategy to cram through, on a partisan basis, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, complete with an enormous increase in the national minimum wage. Given that a large number of former Obama administration apparatchiks are now in the Biden administration, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they believe “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Similarly, Biden’s sometimes painful effort to stay on the good side of teachers unions — a core constituency — illuminates how the Democratic base isn’t on the same page with most of the public on what constitutes normalcy.

And that points to the third normal. Among party activists, the presidency is supposed to be an engine for social progress. A restoration of serenity and equipoise, which Biden hinted at in his inaugural, is the last thing the base wants from this White House. The base wants action of the sort they expected from Obama. Indeed, they want Obama-plus, given that the new conventional wisdom on much of the left is that the Obama years were a “wasted opportunity.”

Biden’s almost unprecedented suite of executive orders dismantling much of Trump’s legacy but also pushing a base-pandering agenda on everything from energy to racial and transgender issues is its own kind of a return to normalcy — the normal partisan and ideological activism we’ve come to expect from presidents.

This third normalcy is the most regrettable, but it’s likely to be the most enduring, which is why our politics will ultimately be equipoise-free for the long haul.

Twitter: @JonahDispatch

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Facebook backs down on bullying in a win for journalism

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Facebook backs down on bullying in a win for journalism

Facebook has backed down from its bullying, making a deal with the Australian government less than a week after it tried to intimidate it into dropping a bill to make tech giants pay for content that drives their traffic. It’s yet more reason the United States should follow the Aussies’ lead.

Facebook went nuclear against Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code last week, barring users worldwide from sharing Australian news and even pulling the pages of such critical government services as bushfire warnings and COVID information.

Google, also a target of the bill that would mandate tech giants reach agreements with news organizations to pay for use of their content, did the right thing and started negotiating, making revenue-sharing deals with The Financial Times, Reuters and News Corp., the largest owner of newspapers by circulation in Australia (and The Post’s parent company). Facebook, in contrast, opted to play bully.

It didn’t work — indeed, the intimidation campaign prompted Canada to start following in the Aussies’ footsteps and help build a coalition of countries to make the tech giants play more fairly worldwide.

“There’s no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Aussie Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Tuesday. “Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia.” He said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has promised to make revenue-sharing deals with Australian news organizations and will restore Aussie news to users within days.

In exchange, Australia agreed to give Facebook more time to negotiate and add to the bill a mediation process before final arbitration between tech giants and media outlets. And the treasurer will take into account a company’s contributions to the country’s news industry — signaling that Facebook knows it must give back to the journalists whose hard work has helped make its site a success.

It’s a win for Down Under and for journalism. Washington should take notice and make the tech giants who make billions from advertising pay American media their fair share, too.

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It’ll take gritty, emphatic leadership to rescue NYC from its Ghost Town funk

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It'll take gritty, emphatic leadership to rescue NYC from its Ghost Town funk

The last thing New York City needs is another shutdown. But the worst mayor in America just tried to kick kids off a couple of Central Park ice rinks.

The rinks, you see, are run by the Trump Organization, and because Orange Man Bad, they had to go — and to hell with the kids. To hell with the city.

Sure, Mayor de Blasio changed his mind, and so there are kids on the ice again. Anyway, given the weight bearing down on New York right now, maybe the Wollman and Lasker rinks don’t count for much. Right? But hold on a minute. They matter a lot, because normalcy matters — and because normalcy won’t return by itself.

Gotham is one of the world’s greatest cities, but it is also an idea. It has always been a dare — you make it here, you can make it anywhere, right? — and so now the challenge is as much moral as it is structural: Can we measure up? Can we regain the swagger we all took for granted a year ago?

Crises come, and crises go, but the Big Apple over time has been blessed with leaders who understood that making the wheels turn takes smarts, but also spirit. In the 1970s, as the city struggled with the necessary retrenchments of near-bankruptcy, there was the always-ebullient Ed Koch to help the bitter medicine go down. He asked, “How’m I doin’?” but you mostly knew that he was doin’ just fine, thank you.

After 9/11, Rudy Giuliani was everywhere, stoic and defiant. His presence at every firefighter’s funeral offered eloquent testimony to empathetic, but emphatic, leadership. Then came Mike Bloomberg, to guide the city through post-9/11 recovery and the Great Recession. He brought stern competence, a touch of sly humor and abiding self-confidence.

If ever mayors were made for their moments, those guys were. They understood that what matters most about leadership is to be seen leading.

But de Blasio — clueless, pinched and blinkered by ideology — wanted to kick kids off the ice. You begin to see the degree of difficulty here.

Not that the news is all bad. Gov. Cuomo, bless his bitter soul, says movie theaters can begin to reopen; indoor dining, in a manner of speaking, is coming back again, and pretty soon there might be baseball.

Little steps for little feet, for sure, but don’t knock it, because the enormity of the challenge now facing New York dwarfs every crisis the city has weathered since the British chased George Washington off Brooklyn Heights in 1776.

“Come visit us down in the financial district, all six of us,” said a friend the other day. “Nobody lives here anymore.”

Nobody drives very much on Fifth Avenue south of 59th Street anymore, either, at least mid-morning. And those sidewalk-clogging Midtown crowds are a memory. Sure, you can almost always get a cab, if you have somewhere to go, but if you get there a little early, having passed all the vacant retail space along the way, good luck finding a coffee shop to kill a few moments.

These are anecdotes, of course. But 8-plus million people live here (or maybe it’s 8-minus now?), and their daily impressions can pretty quickly add up to morale-crushing received wisdom: Subway slashings aren’t common, but everybody knows they happen, and that demented vagrants are everywhere. Who’s willing to chance it?

Only those with no choice. Thus, so much for New York’s critical transit arteries — and eventually, as things add up, maybe for the city itself.

This newspaper has been cataloguing New York’s big-picture challenges all week, each one daunting in its own right. Do they comprise a city-killing perfect storm?  This seems inconceivable, but then again, who would have thought that New York would ever have elected a soulless husk like de Blasio?

Now comes another mayoral election year. The stakes are higher, infinitely so, but will the voters be wiser? Or will the city truly become America’s Ghost Town?

It’s up to you, New York, New York. Don’t blow it.

Twitter: @RLMac2

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