Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Political Digest September 28, 2010

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree (or disagree) with every—or any—opinion in the posted article.

Military thwarted president seeking choice in Afghanistan
Excerpt: This stark divide between the nation's civilian and military leaders dominated Obama's Afghanistan strategy review, creating a rift that persists to this day. So profound was the level of distrust that Obama ended up designing his own strategy, a lawyerly compromise among the feuding factions. As the president neared his final decision on how many troops to send, he dictated an unusual six-page document that one aide called a "terms sheet," as though the president were negotiating a business deal. (Listen up, Troops. Today we ship out. We are going to fight and kill and bleed and some of us die for a great lawyerly compromise as defined by our president. This balanced strategy was carefully hammered out between the advice of senior military leaders and the demands of leftwing bloggers. Your families and country will be watching how you carry out the terms of this business deal. Make them proud! Dismissed. ~Bob)

Obama looks to reenergize youth vote, get late Democratic surge for midterms
Excerpt: President Obama will swoop into the heartland this week in a high-stakes bid to boost enthusiasm for Democrats by reigniting the coalition of young and minority voters who were critical to his success two years ago. With polls showing independent voters swinging toward Republicans in Wisconsin and the nation's other battlegrounds, Democrats are turning elsewhere to make up ground. So on Tuesday in Madison, Obama will stage the first in a series of rallies on college campuses designed to persuade what some call his "surge" voters - the roughly 15 million Americans who voted for the first time in 2008 - to return to the polls this fall.

Three states may keep us guessing into November
Excerpt: Everyone agrees that the House majority will be in play 36 days from now. But what if we don't know who won the House on Nov. 2 - or even Nov. 3 or Nov. 5? It's a very real possibility, given the heavy use of voting via mail in at least three West Coast states: California, Oregon and Washington. (Motor Voter, guaranteeing that the dead can vote everywhere, not just in the Democrat-controlled cities. ~Bob)

John Maynard Keynes, R.I.P.
Excerpt: But if it sounds too good to be true, it is. If such income growth were possible, the country and the world would now be awash in prosperity, given that the federal government increased the national debt by $1.88 trillion in fiscal 2009 and could run deficits of $1.6 trillion and $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2010 and 2011, respectively. Between 2012 and 2015 it will add at least another $3 trillion to the national debt. Why not go for even greater deficit spending, if Keynesian theory worked so magically? Of course, many Keynesian enthusiasts have recommended stimulus packages two and three times what the Bush and Obama administrations sought two and three years ago, with little to no recognition that an escalation in the size of the deficit can, at least beyond some point, curb any multiplier effect (if there were the prospects of a positive one) as the budget deficit rises and crowds out expenditures in private sectors of the economy. In the 1960s Keynesianism was followed as fiscal religion, but by the 1970s economists found it to be a snare and delusion for a simple reason: The political version of Keynesianism is a one-sided theory, with almost total emphasis on what the federal government spends. It pays virtually no attention to the potential private-sector offsets to the greater deficit spending by government or to how current fiscal policies could have negative long-run real income effects that can feed the current generation’s expectations of impaired futures. Keynesianism, in the form practiced in political circles, has no appreciation for how people’s expectations can affect their current spending and investing plans. The late great economist Milton Friedman frequently peppered Keynesian enthusiasts in the 1960s and 1970s with a remarkably simple question that needs to be remembered today: Where does the government get the money it spends on roads (or bridges to nowhere)? Friedman followed with an equally revealing observation: When the government engages in deficit spending, it must borrow the extra funds from someone who could have spent them on private-sector projects. An increase in government spending could be totally offset by a decrease in—or a “crowding out” of—private spending, as lendable funds are diverted from private to government uses. The net effect can be no net increase in aggregate demand—and no multiplier effect. Indeed, with the inevitable waste in government stimulus projects, the multiplier effect could as easily be negative as positive.

Merit pay study: Teacher bonuses don't raise student test scores
Excerpt: Offering middle-school math teachers bonuses up to $15,000 did not produce gains in student test scores, Vanderbilt University researchers reported Tuesday in what they said was the first scientifically rigorous test of merit pay. The results (pdf) could amount to a cautionary flag about paying teachers for the performance of their students, a reform strategy the Obama administration and many states and school districts have favored despite lukewarm support or outright opposition from teachers' unions.

Gone with the Wind
Excerpt: When President Barack Obama seized the Gulf Coast oil spill to push for a clean energy bill, he spoke of wind power, though wind has little immediate connection with oil: Wind produces electricity, not the kind of fuel that oil provides for cars. The problems with wind and solar power are simple: The math doesn't add up, says the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The president's push for government-funded wind and solar energy -- and away from sources like coal and oil -- isn't new. Obama's February budget proposal for 2011 included a 48 percent increase in government subsidies for wind power -- from $83 million this year to $123 million in 2011. On solar energy, the president asked for a 22 percent hike -- from $247 million to $302 million. Experts point to already-proven energy sources they believe deserve more attention: natural gas and nuclear energy. Natural gas, in particular, is abundant and available now. It is also easier to extract than oil and cleaner than coal. And -- like nuclear power -- natural gas trumps any wide scale potential promised by wind or solar energy. To make wind and solar energy sources consistently reliable on a wide scale would require massive amounts of reliable storage -- technology that doesn't exist on a cost-effective basis. Forcing utility companies to generate more of their power using wind and solar would likely raise energy costs for U.S. consumers, says the Foundation. In addition: The Nature Conservancy, a U.S. environmental group, published a report last year estimating that wind power requires about 30 times as much land as nuclear energy, and four times as much land required for natural gas. The high costs, unreliability and land usage are not just a problem for prosperous nations like the United States -- the dynamic is especially unrealistic for developing countries in desperate need of cheap energy for basic survival. Connecting the developing world to affordable sources of energy -- including sources like coal and oil -- and moving the poorest populations away from using sources like wood and dung, remains a critical way to raise the standard of living in some of the most miserable places in the world.

More Proof We Can’t Stop Poverty by Making it More Comfortable
Excerpt: Between then and now, the federal government spent more than $13 trillion fighting poverty, and state and local governments added another couple of trillion. Yet the poverty rate never fell below 10.5%. (Okay, so they didn’t change the poverty rate. But they got a lot of votes for Democrats and made a lot of “poverty-fighters” fiscally comfortable, so the real goals were met. ~Bob.)

ObamaCare Will Dramatically Reduce Choice in Private Insurance
One of the ways in which ObamaCare will reduce individuals' and businesses' choices of health insurance is through regulating the medical loss ratio (MLR) -- the amount of dollars an insurer spends on medical care divided by the total premiums. For example, if an insurer earns $10 million in premiums and spends $8.5 million on medical claims, its MLR would be 85 percent. Under ObamaCare, policies that cover large businesses will have to achieve an MLR of 85 percent, while those for small businesses and individuals will have to achieve an MLR of 80 percent. That shouldn't be too hard, should it? asks John R. Graham, director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

Note on articles below
These are two related articles about the Green movement and its evolving relationship with government in the USA. The first is a short editorial from Pajamas Media, who contributed to the reporting of the second, the second, a five-part series from the Washington Examiner that starts on Monday, 27 Sep 2010. By clicking on the links at the Examiner, readers can access at least two of the articles and some related stories now. If you wonder why costs at stores keep going up while the government reports inflation to be low or non-existent, these articles may help explain it. Ron P.

How the Environmental Movement Became Just Another Washington Power Bloc
Excerpt: Starting today, the Washington Examiner is running a special report on “Big Green”: the alliance of progressive activists, environmental groups like the Sierra Club, and the Democratic Party that has become perhaps the most powerful single lobby in Washington today. It was, to some extent, a “stealth” campaign. “Conservationists” had been around for a hundred years, and the original Environmental Protection Agency was, after all, pushed through by Richard Nixon. Partly because of events like the Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland in 1969, there was a general agreement in the 1960s that pollution of the air and water had become too obnoxious and that something had to be done. The environmental movement quickly got involved with the New Left, becoming a sort of side-show for anti-war demonstrations while pollution became one of the litany of evils of what had been traditional American life. Along with real issues like river and lake pollution, there had been Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb, published in 1968; the Club of Rome’s book The Limits to Growth, in 1972; and a succession of other doomsday scenarios in the popular press. What started as a largely bipartisan issue in the 60s began to transform into a more distinctly partisan issue in the 70s. Looking back, what was happening was a natural agreement of interests: in all of these groups, there was the general assumption that the various evils of humanity could only be remedied by government action, led by the enlightened. This meant that government must become stronger, have more power, and broaden its authority to deal with these new problems.

Examiner Special Report - Big Green: Environmentalists aren’t really about clean air and water
Excerpt: Excerpt: Environmentalists talk about America’s land, water and air, but their movement has become mostly about expanding regulatory power over the American way of life. Some environmentalists will admit this reality, as in 2004 when the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope said that “environmentalism is part of a broader progressive movement.” It wasn’t always that way. More than four decades ago, Americans decided it was time to clean up the air and water, and to have a more realistic balance between economic and environmental needs. Great progress followed, thanks to laws like the Clean Air Act of 1970. Along the way, environmentalists acquired power in politics and became entrenched in policy-making positions throughout government. They got comfortable wielding political, regulatory and legislative power. And many found in the movement a very comfortable living. Environmentalism went from cause to business to special interest.

New discovery may lead to a malaria vaccine
Excerpt: For decades, it has been known that malaria parasites use proteins called glycophorins as a means of entering red blood cells. This new research reveals an alternative pathway used by the parasite to enter red blood cells. The pathway does not involve glycophorins, instead requiring the binding of a parasite molecule named PfRh4 to Complement Receptor 1 (CR1), a common protein found on the surface of red blood cells. “The parasite is like a master burglar – it will try a variety of different methods to get into the house, not just the front door,” Professor Cowman said. “Although the human body has evolved a variety of methods to keep the parasite out, it keeps finding new ways to get in.” Professor Cowman said the PfRh family of surface proteins is involved in the recognition of red blood cell receptors, which allows the parasite to attach to the red blood cell surface and gain entry. “We think that the parasite uses this protein to correctly identify the red blood cell and say ‘Yes, this is the one we want to invade’, it’s like a quality assurance process,” Professor Cowman said. “The PfRh4-CR1 pathway is one of the most important of the pathways we’ve identified for entry of malaria parasites into cells,” Professor Cowman said. “We are now at the stage where we have identified the best combination of proteins for a vaccine, and are ready to start clinical development. When both glycophorin and CR1 pathways are blocked, there is a 90 per cent decrease in infection of the cells with the parasite. These results suggest that if a vaccine were to stimulate the immune system to recognise and generate antibodies to the prevalent invasion pathways, there is a good chance it would lead to a significant decrease in malaria infection.” (This would be good news. Banning DDT to save birds, at the behest of Gore’s hero Rachel Carson, cost millions of third world kids their lives, without a tear of regret from environmentalists. Not to mention the current surge in bedbugs in the US. ~Bob)

The Tax Issue Isn’t about Fiscal Policy
Excerpt: Broadly speaking, the Right believes that your stuff is yours. The Left believes your stuff doesn’t really become your stuff until the government says it is. So the Right sees taxes as a way to pay for necessary government services. The Left sees taxes as an instrument of social control and redistributive justice.

The Iranian Mess
Excerpt: The chimpanzee has returned to Tehran, where he is unlikely to have as much fun as he did in New York. Thanks to the New York Post, we now know that in between blaming America for the 9/11 terrorist attack, Ahmadinejad had an unannounced dinner with Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. Wouldn’t you love to have a transcript of their conversation? One will get you ten that there were other unannounced meetings as well. One of the supreme leader’s favorite newspapers has announced the arrival in Tehran of a delegation from Oman to facilitate the release of the remaining two American hikers from imprisonment. If that is true, the deal was undoubtedly hammered out during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn in New York. Back home, he is facing a new round of strikes in the bazaars, where the gold sellers have shut down their shops around the country, from Tehran to Torbat Haydariyeh, Nayshabour, Sabzevar, Isfahan, Tabriz and Shiraz, to protest against the rising taxes. And he is still in the midst of a battle over the political system; he claims that he is superior to Parliament, and that he is in charge of foreign policy. The elected representatives reject the first, and the supreme leader will not accept the second. So the chimpanzee is now fighting on three fronts, as well as facing a mounting barrage of criticism from the opposition Green Movement. You may recall that the green leaders feared they would be arrested when Ahmadinejad returns from his boffo performance at the United Nations, and in order to impress the leadership with the strength of their mass following, they called on the people to chant every night from their rooftops. The chants of “Allah o Akbar” and “Death to the Dictator” have been very loud, and Mousavi and Karroubi have hammered away at the illegitimacy of the regime. Will the regime risk an open confrontation with millions of their own people? And if it does, how will the people respond? Nobody really knows, and in all likelihood there is a lot of heated rhetoric in the corridors of power at this very moment, between those who fear that a direct move against Mousavi and Karroubi would result in a very violent civil war, and those who fear that failure to move would produce the implosion of the regime.

Poll: Rocky road seen ahead for Obama
Excerpt: A significant majority of voters are considering voting against President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, expressing sour views of his new health care law and deep skepticism about his ability to create jobs and grow the sluggish economy, according to the latest POLITICO / George Washington University Battleground Poll. Only 38 percent of respondents said Obama deserves to be reelected, even though a majority of voters hold a favorable view of him on a personal level. Forty-four percent said they will vote to oust him, and 13 percent said they will consider voting for someone else. It’s Obama’s policies that are hurting him right now. By a 13-point margin, voters are down on the health care law. In an especially troubling sign, more than half of self-identified independents — 54 percent — have an unfavorable opinion of the law, compared with just 38 percent who have a favorable opinion. And by an 11-point margin, voters trust congressional Republicans to create jobs more than Obama. His approval rating stands at 46 percent, according to the poll of 1,000 likely voters, conducted Sept. 19 to Sept. 22. The tea party movement, which has emerged as the biggest threat to Democrats’ dominance of Washington, is viewed favorably by 43 percent of respondents, compared with 35 percent who view it unfavorably.

Bill O'Reilly is popular, but Rachel Maddow is unknown to likely voters
Excerpt: More people are getting their news about the upcoming election from cable television than any other source, and from Fox News more than any other cable channel, according to a POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll released Monday. The poll found that 81 percent of those polled get their news about the midterm elections from cable channels, like Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, or their websites, compared with 71 percent from national network news channels, such as ABC, NBC or CBS, and their websites Among cable news channels, Fox was the clear winner, with 42 percent of respondents saying it is their main source, compared with 30 percent who cited CNN and 12 percent who rely on MSNBC.

Report: Fla. adds 2 seats, N.Y. loses
Excerpt: A new estimate of House reapportionment gains and losses resulting from this year’s Census reveals a larger-than-expected impact on Florida and New York. According to Washington-based Election Data Services, which reviewed new Census data from a private-sector demographic firm, Florida would gain two House seats and New York would lose two seats. They would join two other states that already were projected to have multiple-seat changes. Based on the tentative Census data, Texas is expected to gain four House seats and Ohio likely will lose two seats. According to the EDS estimate, six other states each would gain one seat: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. Eight states would each lose one seat: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In addition to the Florida and New York changes, the other major switch in the projected reapportionment is that Missouri will lose a House seat instead of Minnesota, according to EDS President Kimball Brace. He released the study for a redistricting seminar of the National Conference of State Legislature in Providence, Rhode Island, this weekend.

Defense goes all-in for incumbents
Excerpt: Who would have thought that a Democratic incumbent’s most loyal supporter in a rebellious political climate would be a defense contractor? A review of the industry’s giving, however, shows that to be the case in some of the most hotly contested House and Senate races this year.

GOP lawmaker acts to shield whistleblower
Excerpt: A Republican lawmaker has sternly warned Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. not to take any action against a high-ranking Justice Department official who told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that the government's dismissal of a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party was a "travesty of justice." In a letter, Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the testimony Friday of former voting rights section Chief Christopher Coates was protected by federal law and admonished Mr. Holder against any possible punishment. "I trust that Mr. Coates will face no repercussion for his decision and expect you to inform political and career supervisors to respect his decision," Mr. Wolf said, noting that the federal Whistleblower Protection Statute ensured his right to testify in the New Black Panther Party case.

The Re-Hollowing of the Military
Excerpt: On May 3, 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a speech at the Navy League in Washington to an audience of veterans, retired and current defense-industry executives, and supporters of the tradition of American naval power. Gates gave it to them. He told his audience that the time had come “to re-examine and question basic assumptions” about how their beloved Navy works, “in light of evolving technologies, new threats, and budget realities”—specifically, a federal deficit in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion. “Do we really need 11 Carrier Strike Groups for another 30 years,” Gates asked, “when no other country has more than one?” That seafaring strength is a source of pride for Navy League members, as is the United States’s having a navy second to none. The audience’s surprise at hearing the secretary of defense question the value of America’s overwhelming naval predominance as unnecessary soon turned to dismay. “We simply can’t afford to perpetuate a status quo,” Gates told his listeners. By “status quo,” he meant a navy that maintained 11 carriers, 57 submarines, and a battle fleet larger than the next 13 biggest national navies combined. Five days later, at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, Gates delivered the next salvo in the Obama plan for reducing the size of the U.S. military. Evoking the memory of Ike as the progenitor of -smaller but “bigger bang for the buck” defense budgets in the 1950s, Gates preached the virtue of putting America’s military forces on a strict monetary diet. “The gusher” of defense spending after 9/11 is being “turned off,” he announced, “and will stay off for a good period of time.” Not only will the country be better off not having “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry,” he assured listeners, but the military itself will be. “I say the patriot today is the fellow who can do the job with less money,” Gates concluded.

Who is Behind Powerful Suxnet Computer Worm Infecting Iran’s Nuclear Station?
Excerpt: A powerful computer code attacking industrial facilities around the world, but mainly in Iran, probably was created by experts working for a country or a well-funded private group, according to an analysis by a leading computer security company. The malicious code, called Stuxnet, was designed to go after several “high-value targets,” said Liam O Murchu, manager of security response operations at Symantec Corp. But both O Murchu and U.S. government experts say there’s no proof it was developed to target nuclear plants in Iran, despite recent speculation from some researchers. Creating the malicious code required a team of as many as five to 10 highly educated and well-funded hackers. Government experts and outside analysts say they haven’t been able to determine who developed it or why. (Iran may not be the only one in the region developing new technology. ~Bob.)

Report: US would make Internet wiretaps easier
Funny, the people who screamed about Bush wanting to tap calls from terrorist countries are pretty quiet nowadays. ~Bob. Excerpt: Broad new regulations being drafted by the Obama administration would make it easier for law enforcement and national security officials to eavesdrop on Internet and e-mail communications like social networking Web sites and BlackBerries, The New York Times reported Monday. The newspaper said the White House plans to submit a bill next year that would require all online services that enable communications to be technically equipped to comply with a wiretap order. That would include providers of encrypted e-mail, such as BlackBerry, networking sites like Facebook and direct communication services like Skype. Federal law enforcement and national security officials say new the regulations are needed because terrorists and criminals are increasingly giving up their phones to communicate online.

Making ObamaCare an Issue this Fall
Excerpt: Now that we are in the midst of the final sprint of election season 2010, the issues that will decide the election are becoming clearer by the day. It’s about the economy and jobs. It’s about taxes. It should also be about healthcare reform. However, a recent Hotline poll showed Republican campaign insiders downplaying ObamaCare as an issue. We understand why the Republican consultants are doing this-they think the issue is too controversial and not a slam dunk winner. These are, however, the same “experts” who crowed that PA-12 was a shoe-in and HI-01 unwinnable.

U.S. military imprisons warriors for battlefield errors
Excerpt: As President Obama took to the airwaves Tuesday evening to announce the end of the combat mission in Iraq, he paid tribute to the men and women who served there, were killed or wounded there, and to their families for the sacrifices they made. But there was one glaring omission: It is believed there are more young American soldiers serving prison time for having done their jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan than at any other time in our nation's history. In fact, there may be more than in all of World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined — 114 cases, according to the website of the United American Patriots, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping U.S. military hire and pay for civilian defense counsel. It is a tragic story largely misunderstood by the mainstream media and, in all likelihood, one of which the Obama administration is completely unaware, given that most sentences were pronounced under the previous administration. Exclusively men and primarily in their early 20s, these are young servicemen who are not guilty of the rape and killing of innocent women and children, as commonly is the public misperception (thanks to the late John Murtha). Instead, they are troops who have been charged with wrongdoing on the battlefield, in the heat of battle against an enemy with no uniform or identifying markers. "It is often unclear who poses a threat and who does not. There is no uniform to identify the enemy. You have layers of [rules of engagement], stress, fatigue, and when something goes wrong, they then face accusations that bring life sentences. I fear we may be eating our own," retired Brig. Gen. David Brahms told me. He's a military defense lawyer in Oceanside, Calif. These are accusations that bring life sentences and plea-bargain deals – two very important aspects of this story. When someone is accused of premeditated murder, if convicted, he faces a military sentence of mandatory life in prison, either with or without parole. That leads to the prosecution offering plea-bargain deals, which typically bring sentences of five to 25 years in exchange for pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Jihad to Subvert the Constitution
Excerpt: The following are some of the most important—and, particularly for Western non-Muslims, deeply problematic—tenets of shariah, arranged in alphabetical order. The citations (in full in the linked report, edited here for length) for these findings are drawn from the Koran, schools of Islam and other recognized sources are offered as illustrative examples of the basis for such practices under shariah.

North Korean elite secretly jostle for the reins of power
Excerpt: The last such meeting of the party was the 1980 congress – a shorter event than this week's conference – at which Kim Jong-il, then 38, made his political debut with an appearance that confirmed he was in line to succeed his father, Kim Il-sung, the founder of modern North Korea. Delayed once this month – either because of damage to roads by recent flooding or because of disagreements over who should lead it – the congress will be held at a critical moment. Buffeted by economic and food crises and a pariah once again after its alleged sinking of a South Korean warship, the country is also under intense pressure from its closest ally, China, which is fearful of a complete North Korean collapse, to both introduce market reforms and make itself more accessible to the world. (...) Some South Korean analysts believe any decisions may be kept secret because the party's elite fear that giving too much away about life after Kim Jong-il could turn him into a lame duck and destabilise the country. And while much has been made of the formal confirmation of Kim Jong-un as successor to the family business of dictatorship, close observers of the country are far more intrigued by other manoeuvrings around Kim Jong-un's anticipated promotion. Other senior figures have been reinforcing their positions. The most prominent is Chang Sung-taek, Kim Jong-il's powerful brother-in-law, whose faction appears to have been pushing aggressively to the fore in recent months. And while observers have predicted the danger of collapse in North Korea before – not least during the 1990s – they believe the country may be entering a period of increasing instability. (As is often the case, the Brits have more civilian news boots on the ground than we do in this remote and insular country. This is not good news. North Korea is nuclear-armed, and has sold technology in the past to Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and may have contributed to Pakistan's nuclear research in return for A. Q. Khan's help in building their own bomb. While I'd love to see them turn into a peace-loving democracy tomorrow, I doubt the coming instability will do us any good. Ron P.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the article in Cons. Underground, "I'm Tired." Well done,sir!
    I too am a former Marine--69-71, active, but was not westpac--GTMO and cruises out of Lejuene is all, but I treasure the time as one of the few things I am most proud.
    Thank you for your article, again.
    (A. Huddleston, Birmingham--and in search of a job. Heh.)